Back when gasoline was nearly $4 a gallon, “hypermiling” — choosing vehicles and driving techniques designed to squeeze every last mile per gallon out of a car — was all the rage.
Gas prices have dropped, but nine LSU students are taking fuel efficiency to an extreme this semester.
For the first time since 2009, LSU is fielding a team in the Shell Eco-Challenge, a competition to produce a vehicle with the best gas mileage. The Eco-Challenge will be held Thursday through Saturday in Detroit.
“I worked in my dad’s mechanical shop for a while before this, so I really was interested by the project to see how far we could actually go on one gallon of gas,” said Chris Brignac.
How far are they shooting for? The goal for LSU’s Eceaux Car is 800 miles per gallon. As other-worldly as that would be for a conventional vehicle, it’s considerably short of the college record of 3,587 mpg by Laval University of Canada.
“To beat that would be a great feat, but we’re trying to take baby steps this year,” Josh Joffrion said.
For mechanical engineering majors Philip Johnson, Jahin Parvez, Joshua Palmer, Kyle Temple and Joffrion, and electrical engineering majors David Anderson and Brignac, this is a senior project.
Sophomore mechanical engineering students Cullen Walsh and Aida Hendrickson also are part of the team so they can provide continuity to future efforts.
It’s a year-long project. The fall semester was devoted to design.
The spring semester is when the car gets built, tested and sent to competition.
Designing a car for maximum efficiency mixes a lot of different components. Generally speaking, the lighter the better, and the weight needs to be balanced. Aerodynamics come into play, as well as an engine that delivers the most power for the least amount of fuel. Tire pressure is important, too.
Then, there’s the human element — driving. Joffrion will be at the wheel in Detroit.
“Driving is a huge factor when it comes to mileage,” Joffrion said. “If you turn too sharp, you lose gas mileage. If you turn too wide, you still lose gas mileage. So, it’s a happy medium when you drive. Braking, acceleration — you don’t want to touch the brakes at all, really, and only for emergencies. … You want to make sure you don’t use gas unnecessarily.”
The Eco Challenge will be run on an L-shaped course set up on Detroit streets. Cars will be fueled with one gallon of gasoline and run 10 laps. Leftover gas will be measured to calculate how much was burned on the journey.
The cars are judged purely on efficiency, but must maintain an average speed of 15 mph.
“I’m usually a pretty efficient driver,” Joffrion said. “I don’t like to waste gas because I’m in college and work part-time jobs, so I like to save as much as possible. … I like to drive behind 18-wheelers, coast a lot, not touch the brakes if I don’t have to. It’s an everyday thing for me.
“When I’m driving four-wheelers and motorcycles, it’s totally different,” he added.
Shell has been holding the competition since 2009. For the engineering students, it’s an opportunity to put the concepts they’ve learned into practice, and the competition lets them test themselves against their peers.
“I think that’s one of the great things about the Shell Eco competition, that you get students from around the globe to get together and design these ideas that may be implemented in the future,” Palmer said.