The Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2013 kicked off in Houston, TX this morning with a twist on the usual: Ladies and gentlemen, start your fuel-efficient engines. The area around Discovery Green was buzzing with high school and college students, all here with one mission: go as far as possible on as little fuel as possible. Last year, the winning team in the internal combustion category got 2,564.8 miles per gallon. That's quite an increase since the first Eco-marathon back in 1939, when the winner of a bet between two Shell engineers managed to get 49.72 mpg.
But today wasn't for competition. Not yet. Instead, it was a day for getting ready, with teams passing safety inspections, taking test runs around the urban track (the event takes place downtown) and making lots of last-minute modifications. We saw hacksaws, drills and hammers all being used with abandon around the paddock. Seeing a group of high school students cheer when their car's brakes worked, for instance, is something we just don't see everyday. Tomorrow, the competition really gets started, but we could feel the tension building today.
There are over 120 teams fielding 140 different vehicles in this year's Eco-marathon. Most of them are powered by gasoline or batteries (62 and 43, respectively). The rest of the powertrains use diesel (11), hydrogen (11), 100-percent ethanol (8) of 100-percent Fatty Acid Methyl Ester (5). The 140 vehicles are divided into two categories, "prototype" and "urban concept." You can investigate all the teams at the Eco-marathon site here and stay tuned for more coverage throughout the weekend. If there's any team you'd like us to check out, let us know in the comments below. Oh, and there also some Shell promotional videos below.
Now, we'll be delving into the PR stunt vs. real-world value of the Shell Eco-marathon debate in future posts, but for now we cannot let this post go to press without a mention of the area's recent oil spill. It wasn't big, as far as oil spills go, but 50 barrels (2,100 gallons) of crude spilled from a Shell pipeline into the Vince Bayou, which connects to the Houston Ship Channel and the Gulf of Mexico this week. In Eco-marathon terms, that's a lot – enough fuel to move a vehicle like a bazillion miles.