California’s Polytech Institute of Technology has, like many other technical institutions in this country, for many years lived in the shadow of what most consider our best, MIT. Lately however, schools such as Cal Poly have shown they are more than up for the challenge, and a recent demo of an eco-car made at the school, that manages to eke out 584 miles on one gallon of gas, is no exception. Driver of the vehicle, Ann Peters, who is a junior at the school with a major in materials engineering, has been keeping a diary on National Geographic’s The Great Energy Challenge Blog, and writes that the vehicle was designed and built by a large number of students with a variety of majors, but that in the end it became truly, a team project. Technology magazine, ZeeNews, reports that the vehicle, called the Lamina, was introduced at this year’s Shell Eco-Marathon held in Houston. The Lamina won.
To achieve such mileage, Peters explains, required two significant methods of construction. The first was a body that would be as aerodynamic as is humanly possible while weighing much less than virtually any other vehicle. The other was to find or build an engine that could propel the car, but do so using far less energy than is the norm.
To solve the first problem ZeeNews reports, the team turned to plastic composites that can be machined, which in essence, Peters explains, turned out to be molding and grinding until the team was able to get the weight down to just 70 pounds, and this was after first designing it from scratch using state of the art computer modeling.
The second problem was a little more involved. After testing many engines and ideas, the team settled on rebuilding a Honda generator, normally used to supply electricity during a power outage. The process consisted of making tweaks, then testing the results, over and over until they were certain they’d found just the right combination of power and speed (the car travels at just 28 miles per hour).
Next, with the engine installed in the frame and with the body on, the team once again tested and retested ever part to see if they could squeeze out any more mileage. As it turns, out, their efforts paid off. 584 mpg is a record, and one that likely won’t be broken any time soon.
It’s also, Peters says, a barometer that allows others outside of such research to see how things are progressing and as because of that, offers a glimpse of where mainstream vehicles might be headed in the not to very distant future as gas prices continue to rise.