Students win Best Design Proposal, get 337 mpg at Supermileage 2008

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

University of Tulsa mechanical engineering students achieved outstanding results during their first-ever entry into the Supermileage competition, an annual international program sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers. TU students earned first-place honors for their design proposal and their vehicle succeeded in getting 337 miles per gallon (mpg) fuel economy.

"To achieve a first-place finish in any event at a car competition in the first year to compete is extremely rare and especially commendable," said John Henshaw, professor of mechanical engineering and faculty sponsor of TU’s Supermileage team. "Now we’re extremely motivated to go back next year and do even better."

Supermileage 2008 was held June 5–6 in Marshall, Mich. with 30 teams coming from universities around the world, including Canada, Mexico, India, Italy, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The competition challenges students to craft a single-person vehicle with one goal in mind — fuel economy — to raise public awareness of technological advances in energy efficiency. Each vehicle uses the same 3.5 horsepower Briggs and Stratton lawn mower engine and must travel six times around the proving ground track at an average speed of at least 15 miles per hour.

The TU team won first place in the Best Design Proposal event, which combines a written report submitted in advance of the competition with an oral presentation given at the competition. The team’s greenness at the competition actually worked to their advantage in winning the Best Design Proposal.

"Unlike many of the other teams who had inherited a car, we were very capable of explaining everything about our car since we had built it from the ground up," said team leader Jesse Doyle, who graduated from TU in May in mechanical engineering. "The judges were also very impressed that we weren’t trying to do too much at one time. We had worried that our car was almost too simple. We realize now that the reason that our car did so well in the end was because of its simplicity."

TU finished 10th place overall — the best finish of any first-time entry. The TU vehicle achieved 337 mpg in the fuel economy event, which is the central component in the competition. First place went to the University of Laval in Canada, which set a new record of more than 3,000 mpg.

The TU team’s design consisted of an aluminum honeycomb base, donated by Nordam Group, Inc., reinforced with aluminum C-channel and a steel rear roll cage. The three-wheeled vehicle was powered by a 3.5 horsepower gasoline lawn mower motor and a transmission system of clutches and roller chains from the engine to a multi-speed hub used to power the back tire.

The team’s design parameters were weight, cost and efficiency.

"We learned a great variety of things, especially how to go out and do our own research on a concept without a textbook to follow," said team member Josh Emerson, a senior mechanical engineering major from Owasso, Okla. "The project took us through the whole process of approving a design with the team, 3D modeling of the design and then creating an actual physical part."

Steve Tipton, professor of mechanical engineering and faculty sponsor of TU’s Supermileage team, said the team has plenty of ideas ready for next year’s Supermileage event. Updates will include a wind resistant fairing and modification of the engine to include a custom-built fuel injection system, which was not quite ready for this year’s competition.

"The team was tenacious. They battled numerous small problems, like bolts and tubing vibrating loose, but their car completed over 35 miles during the day of the competition," Tipton said. He also said their quick thinking led to another gas-saving technique.

In the middle of the competition, the students modified their car so they could run in a “pulse and glide” mode, accelerating to a high speed, then killing the engine and coasting to save fuel. They made their last two of five total runs in this mode, and improved their mileage performance with every run.