The drive for a new and better way of doing things is built into the car designed by students from Italy’s Italy’s Politecnico di Torino, and entered in Shell Eco-marathon Europe 2012 this week in Rotterdam.
Most students in the fuel efficiency competition choose ultra-lightweight material like carbon fiber to shave mileage. But for their urban concept vehicle, XAM, the Torino students chose a soft natural fiber, covered with a resin to make it hard enough to serve as a chassis. It is not as lightweight as carbon fiber, says electrical engineering student Francisco Fuentas, but it is 100 percent recyclable. “The reason is innovation–we wanted to prove new materials,” he says.
Also, the team, which calls itself “Team H2politO—Molecules Going Hybrid” and includes 53 students, has installed a hybrid gasoline-electric system that uses a “supercap,” – a supercapacitor—instead of a battery. It carries greater current and lasts longer. “We think we are studying a new possibility,” says Fuentas. In the commercial world, supercapacitors are still considered expensive, but the technology is advancing rapidly and it is thought they may replace or supplement batteries in a growing number of applications, including in vehicles.
In this video, Fuentas, a native of Colombia who earned his electrical engineering degree in Bogota but is studying for his master’s degree in Torino, talks about what students gain from working on the fuel efficiency competition.