'Supermileage' team aims for 2,000 mpg

Jun 07, 2012
'Supermileage' team aims for 2,000 mpg
The Penn State Behrend Supermileage car weighs 98 pounds and could, in the proper conditions, get more than 2,000 miles to the gallon.

(Phys.org) -- John Pearson’s Oldsmobile gets maybe 21 miles to the gallon. His school car – a custom-built, carbon-fiber test vehicle – is a bit more efficient: It could, in the right conditions, exceed 2,000 mpg.

A team of 15 students, including Pearson, of McKean, Pa., will travel from Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, to the Eaton Corporation’s Marshall Proving Grounds in Michigan on Wednesday, June 6. They will race 31 other university teams, trying to squeeze the most mileage out of a single tank of high-octane gasoline.

The Society of Automotive Engineers sponsors the annual competition, which is called the International Supermileage Challenge. The goal is to raise public awareness of fuel economy.

The competition started 30 years ago, when gas cost $1.30 a gallon.

Pearson, a mechanical engineering student, brings another interest to the competition. “I like building stuff, doing stuff with my hands,” he said. His brother, Taylor Pearson, also is involved.

Others on the team see job potential in the car project. “When you go into a job interview and they ask you how you might solve a problem, you can point to this and talk about what you did,” said Tina Raeke, of Millcreek Township, Pa., who graduated this spring with a mechanical engineering degree.

Thirty Penn State Behrend students have worked on the car since December. They started with a Briggs & Stratton lawn mower engine.

The finished car weighs 98 pounds and it sits just an inch off the ground. Inside, there is room in it for just one person -- Pearson has to cross his legs to get the hatch closed.

“It’s like an Easy-Bake Oven,” he said. “It’s really, really hot in there.”

Team members painted the white, with blue racing stripes. In its original black color, the carbon-fiber composite might have softened and weakened on the track.

The drivers will use a push-button ignition to start the engine. Just as quickly, they’ll stop it: The target speed, Taylor Pearson said, is between 15 and 15.1 mph. Every 10th of a mile faster than that will cut between 30 and 50 from the car's efficiency.

The slow speed changes the tone of the race.

“This is a lot of fun,” John Pearson said. “But it is an odd race to watch. Everybody’s out there going 15 mph.”

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User comments : 18

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Moebius
2.3 / 5 (9) Jun 07, 2012
We probably need to stop mandating mileage and mandate car weight. Lower the weight of all cars to under 2000 lbs and mileage will go way up. This will also decrease pollution and climate warming too even if the mileage stayed the same because there is an environmental cost to producing a lb of machinery. Cutting the weight of a car in half would have many benefits, direct and indirect.
kaasinees
2 / 5 (12) Jun 07, 2012
You are dumb.
LagomorphZero
3 / 5 (2) Jun 07, 2012
@Moebius: they have cars like that already, called motorcycles :)
aroc91
4.1 / 5 (9) Jun 07, 2012
Explain your position, kaasinees. This trend of everybody having HUGE vehicles is despicable. There's no room to complain about gas prices when everybody's driving an SUV they don't need. A friend of mine traded in his Focus for an F150 as gas prices continued to rise, even though he doesn't use it to haul anything. He then has the audacity to bitch that it takes 80-100 bucks to fill up his tank. I still don't know what he was thinking when he got it.
Vendicar_Decarian
4 / 5 (3) Jun 07, 2012
Motorcycles have very poor aerodynamics and hence per unit weight get far poorer gas mileage than cars, although much better in absolute terms.

Encapsulate a motorcycle in a smooth shell and you can easily double it's gas mileage, from around 70 mpg to 140. (presuming a speed of around 30 mph.)

http://www.automo...pressor/
Burnerjack
5 / 5 (1) Jun 07, 2012
@ Moebius: While <2000LB cars would indeed be more efficient than something heavier, the integrity of the "safety cage" must be in compliance with government standards. Yes carbonfiber and such would assist in attaining this goal, compared to present meathods, they would likely to be exceedingly expensive. Safety cannot be the sole domain of the rich. F1 cars are quite safe when view in the context of the speeds they attain, but would you want to fork over the cash for the road going equivalent? Example needlessly amplified for dramatic effect, but does get my point across. Stong, lightweight, repairable is what is required, I'm sure the automotive industry is well aware of this goal already.
Burnerjack
4.5 / 5 (2) Jun 07, 2012
It wouldn't surprise me if in the near future we'll see multifuel external combustion engine-electric hybrids. They can be run on fuels such as gasoline, diesel, natural gas and even alcohol. It should be noted that alcohol can be generated using vegetable matter, garbage and even sewerage as feed stocks. While many may decry methane as a greenhouse gas (and a powerful one at that) once burned, it isn't. I suspect "political flatchulence" alone could wean us off of Arab oil.
Vendicar_Decarian
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 07, 2012
Lowering speeds will disproportionately lower fuel waste and reduce the strength needed for the vehicle components, thus allowing even lower weights and improved efficiency.

"the integrity of the "safety cage" must be in compliance with government standards." - Burnerjack

Lower speeds are a win*win*win strategy.

60 mph to 50 mph for example will improve fuel efficiency by roughly 72 percent, all other things being equal.
sirchick
not rated yet Jun 08, 2012
Lowering speeds will disproportionately lower fuel waste and reduce the strength needed for the vehicle components, thus allowing even lower weights and improved efficiency.

"the integrity of the "safety cage" must be in compliance with government standards." - Burnerjack

Lower speeds are a win*win*win strategy.

60 mph to 50 mph for example will improve fuel efficiency by roughly 72 percent, all other things being equal.


You'd be lucky to maintain 50MPH in Uk for more than 3 seconds, traffic is a pain in the arse :D
Vendicar_Decarian
3 / 5 (2) Jun 08, 2012
All the more reason to lower the speed.

"You'd be lucky to maintain 50MPH in Uk for more than 3 seconds" - Sirchick
Eikka
not rated yet Jun 08, 2012
60 mph to 50 mph for example will improve fuel efficiency by roughly 72 percent, all other things being equal.


I'd like to see the justification to that claim.

The relative difference in speed is 0.83 which means the energy per distance, as it is relative to the square of speed, is approximately 30% lower.

The weight of the vehicle has little effect as long as the speed is constant and high, because rolling resistance is a constant and produces a linear relationship with speed. The rolling resistance would be reduced by 16%, but it is already insignificant compared to the air resistance at 50 mph.

All other things being equal, you might save 1/3 the fuel, or if you count it as how much you improve, it would be a 50% improvement in fuel efficiency.
Eikka
not rated yet Jun 08, 2012
Also, people who refer to a car's payload fraction as its "efficiency" are horribly misguided. Your car is not 5% efficient because it weighs 20 times your weight.

The energy required to accelerate 1000 kilograms to 100 kph is about 400 kWs, which is equivalent to driving at 100 kph for about 20 seconds.

It means that after 500 meters, the energy required to maintain speed becomes greater than the energy needed to get up to that speed, so if you're driving ten miles down the highway, the energy you spent at the on-ramp hardly matters anymore.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jun 08, 2012
so if you're driving ten miles down the highway, the energy you spent at the on-ramp hardly matters anymore.

Much traffic is, however, city traffic. Start-stop-start again. This eats into your consumption with a heavy vehicle.

In many countries traffic (especialy during rush hour) is so bad that this is more of the norm on highways than the exception.

So while from a physisc standpoint your argument is correct, it doesn't mesh with the realiyt of driving. The last time I could coast down an autobahn for 10 miles without the need for acceleration/deceleration are decades past. (and there are such things as hills...which mean you will have to get that weight up and over the hill and have to kill some of that energy by braking going down unless you want to break the speed limit)
Eikka
not rated yet Jun 08, 2012
And what goes for low speeds - if you crawl along at 20 kph, the energy required to accelerate to speed is about 15 kWs. A typical car will use about ½ liter of gasoline per hour just to idle and run all the accessories, which represents an energy consumption of about 4 kW, so the energy needed to accelerate to 20 kph equals about four seconds of idling the engine.

And that's why the weight of the car doesn't have such a dramatic effect on the fuel consumption of it.
Eikka
not rated yet Jun 08, 2012
So while from a physisc standpoint your argument is correct, it doesn't mesh with the realiyt of driving.


Indeed, but the whole point is that if you look at just one variable, the weight of the car, you'll be utterly misleading yourself. At any appreciable speed, the energy needed to accelerate the weight is actually quite neglible. If you slow down from 60 to 45 mph because of traffic, and then back to 60, that's almost nothing.

For example, it's not the weight of the car that makes cars consume lots of energy in stop & go driving, but the need of a great big engine to make that weight accelerate rapidly, which inevitably ends up running at partial load and idling all the time, and the efficiency of it drops dramatically.

Have an electric motor, and the weight of the car no longer matters as much, because it doesn't suffer the same penalty. It's meaningless to talk about car efficiency in terms of weight.
PPihkala
not rated yet Jun 08, 2012
Having a lighter car means one can have a smaller, lighter engine too. And that engine will have a better MPG compared to bigger one, because it will usually operate nearer to it`s maximum power. The reason for hybrids better efficiency is partly because the engine, when running, can be loaded nearer to it`s maximum power, despite vehicle speed, because the generation charges the battery.
Vendicar_Decarian
not rated yet Jun 09, 2012
"I'd like to see the justification to that claim." - Eikka

As you indicate the immediate savings due to reduction in drag is the square of the ratio of the speeds. This provides the win**2 component of the win**3 result.

The rest comes from the reduction in the weight of the vehicle engine, frame, safety devices, and fuel.

I really don't care to quibble over weather the result is win**3 or win**2.8.

Why you do is unknown.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jun 09, 2012
And that's why the weight of the car doesn't have such a dramatic effect on the fuel consumption of it.

That must be why car manufacturers are always trying to use lighter materials - even though they are more expensive, right?

Car manufacturers must post average consumption figures for their cars. lighter vehicles always have significantly lower consumption. Even at steady speeds this is true - because a heavier car always has a larger engine. A larger engine does require more fuel - even when just idling - than a smaller one.