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Mechanical engineering students at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) have been participating in  Shell Eco-marathon Americas (SEMA) since its inaugural year in 2007. Since then, our team has built five prototype-class vehicles, with a top fuel efficiency of 858 miles per gallon (365 kilometers per liter).

Each new vehicle our team creates incorporates design improvements over our previous vehicles. Our most recently built vehicle for the 2011 SEMA event has electronic fuel injection (EFI) and a lightweight carbon fiber frame structure. This vehicle will be re-entered in the upcoming 2012 SEMA, but will incorporate more advanced EFI tuning methods and significant reductions in the overall vehicle and aerodynamic drag. Our team is also currently building a plug-in electric urban-class vehicle that will incorporate an environmentally friendly bamboo fiber composite body that will be entered in the 2013 SEMA.

The SEMA competition is an excellent opportunity for our engineering students to bring the concepts they learn in the classroom to life in a real-world project. Our students have learned and utilized new skills and have truly enjoyed seeing their hard work pay off on the track. Students consistently express the benefits they gained through the SEMA competition:

“Far and away, the best aspect of this project was coming together as a team to produce a working vehicle, knowing that as a team and as individuals, we were ultimately responsible for its success or failure.”

-Andrew MacDonell, ’09 Mechanical Engineering

Our team continually looks forward to the SEMA competition. It is always fun to see our competitors again, to see their new designs, and to collaborate with each other as fellow participants. The atmosphere of the SEMA competition is competitive, yet highly collaborative. Many teams are willing to help each other out, as we all are striving for the same goal – to increase our vehicle’s energy efficiency. We all feel this is something worthy to compete together for.

For more information about the LMU Eco Vehicle Project, check us out on the web at

Matthew Siniawski is Loyola Marymount University’s Eco Vehicle Project Faculty Adviser.