As demand for alternative or more environmentally sustainable vehicles increases, the battle will become more and more about which fuel offers the greatest proposition. Hydrogen fuel cell, compressed natural gas and ethanol-powered cars will compete for consumer demand, but today that battle is already underway on the race track at the annual Shell Eco Marathon Asia.

Attracting teams from research and academic institutions across the Asia Pacific, Middle East and African continents, the four day event ran from 26 February 26 to 1 March on the Luneta Park urban circuit in Manila in the Philippines, and pitted vehicles fuelled by alternative diesels, electric batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and solar power against each other to see who could travel the furthest on a single unit of fuel. Here, we look at some of the most innovative, energy-efficient vehicles of today.


Solar prototype tilts its way to success

Competing in the prototype (battery electric) category, the Nanyang E Drive vehicle achieved a distance of 218.4km from a kilowatt hour of solar power. Developed by students at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, the three-wheeled vehicle was able to maximise engineering and power efficiency in its design. Drawing inspiration from motorcycle engineering, the prototype model included an in-built tilting ability that enabled it to minimise the loss in speed through sharp corners.

Through the use of handmade and contoured solar cells on the vehicles body, the team were able to maximise the power generated at each angle. Winston Tan, a final-year electrical and electronic engineering student, who worked on the car, said: "The streamlined car’s unique tilting mechanism adopted from motorcycle racing where racers would lean left or right during sharp turns to maintain their handling and speed won the judges over."

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CNG-powered cars line up for the first time

Offering a lower-carbon alternative to petrol and conventional diesel fuels, compressed natural gas (CNG) is experiencing a strong growth in demand in the Asia Pacific consumer market, where there are now more than 5.7 million vehicles compatible with the fuel. Produced by compressing methane at high pressure, and offering an opportunity to divert deposits from wastewater treatment plants and landfill sites, the fuel type made its first appearance at this year’s race.

While the absence of a track record from previous races appeared to dent its popularity as a fuel choice, with only three cars opting to fuel their cars with it, the teams that did relished the challenge. "We decided to challenge ourselves by using CNG, although more research was needed. It releases less carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, which is essentially what today’s cars aim for to reduce the greenhouse effect," said Voong Shuh Wee of the Eco-Chaser team at Monash University in Malaysia.


Ethanol goes the distance again

Global uptake of ethanol as an automotive fuel is continuing to increase, most starkly in Brazil, where cars running on 100% ethanol are taking to the roads.

Having set the overall record in 2014 on a gas-powered engine, Team Virgin from Skonnakhon Technical College in Thailand managed to clock the longest mileage of the event with an ethanol-fuelled vehicle.

Travelling 1,572km on a litre of ethanol, the team was unable to match its 2014 performance on gas, but still more than tripled the distance of the closest competitor. The combination of light carbon fiber bodywork, an innovative drivetrain system and a feedback system that helps the driver know when to reduce fuel usage while still maintaining speed, enabled the team to take the overall victory.

While the result failed to match the 2,730km/l achieved by Team How Much Ethanol in 2014, it served to strengthen ethanol’s position as the dominant fuel in the series, with gas-to-liquid competitors failing to keep in line in the prototype alternative fuel class.


CDT team use vegetable oil waste to race

Fueled by fatty acid methylester (FAME), produced by removing the impurities from waste vegetable oil and processing it with methanol, the Clean Diesel Team from Japan took its concept car to a new record distance of 1,245km per litre of biofuel. The distance more than doubled the record for a biodiesel car in the 2014 series.

Combining a car design that maximized thermal efficiency to get as much power out of the heat as possible with a lightweight and aerodynamic carbon fiber body, the team more than doubled the previous record distance. Awarding the team the prize for best design, the judges praised the team for turning a "conventional approach into creative implementation".


Lubrication testing pays off on efficiency

Achieving fourth place in the urban concept diesel category with a distance of 70.8km per litre, the TIP Mileage Proto team from the Technological Institute of the Philippines highlighted just how big an impact effective and intelligent application of lubrication can have on fuel efficiency. Having tested a range of alternatives in the design process, the team used low viscosity synthetic oils, which they found as providing the most benefits in terms of fuel economy.

To further enhance performance, the team used a brush type oil dispenser with a timer to ensure that the driving chain was evenly and constantly kept clean and lubricated. In addition, the team used wheel bearings with a plastic retainer so as to improve energy efficiency.

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