Authors: Nathan Quinlan, Maeve Duffy, Rory Monaghan, College of Engineering and Informatics, NUI Galway
How efficient is your car? Most family cars need four to six litres of fossil fuel to cover 100km (45-70 miles per gallon, in more familiar measures). Hybrids run at the better end of that range, and perform more consistently across various driving situations. Small advanced diesel engines approach three litres per 100km or 100 miles per gallon (though with some hidden costs, as we have recently learned).
Why should we care about vehicle efficiency? How about that fact that Ireland depends on imports for 90 per cent of the energy it uses, at an annual cost of nearly €7 billion? A total of 40 per cent of our energy is spent propelling planes, trains and automobiles, which are 97 per cent oil-driven and are responsible for 20 per cent of national greenhouse gas emissions.
We can achieve major impacts on Ireland’s energy security, greenhouse gas emissions and national energy bill by expanding the public transport infrastructure, using indigenous sustainable fuels such as renewable electricity and biofuels for transport, and improving the efficiency of transportation.
In the summer of 2013, a group of NUI Galway engineering students and staff decided to see how far transport efficiency could be pushed. With the support of Shell E&P Ireland, we entered Shell Eco-Marathon (SEM), a global competition which had never seen an Irish competitor.
SEM finds the world’s most energy-efficient cars built by students, which happen to be the most efficient cars built by anybody. In three events (Europe, Asia and Americas) teams test their cars on a 10-lap 16km test course. It’s a race where speed doesn’t count, as long as the average speed is at least 25 km/h. The winner is the one that uses the least amount of energy.
Engineering student projects are usually low-stakes simulations of professional tasks. This one is different: an SEM team is a small business that has to deliver a complex innovative product on a rigid deadline. Success is measured in an unforgiving and public way in international competition. As the student team began to appreciate the scale of the challenge, dreams of glory gave way to realism.
Our officially stated aims for the 2015 competition were to get through pre-race technical inspection and complete a run to register a score. In private, we allowed ourselves a slightly loftier goal: not to come last. The NUI Galway team opted to enter the battery-electric prototype class, named itself the Geec (Galway energy-efficient car), and got to work.
Right: The team at the launch of the Geec in April 2015. L to R: Maeve Duffy, Nathan Quinlan, Tarek Nigim, Sorcha Tarpey, Eoin Clancy, Kevin Dunne, Hugh McSweeney, Maryrose McLoone, Cian Conlan-Smith, Niamh Keogh, Cian Lyons, John O’Connell, Paul Mannion, Daniel Fahy, Rory Monaghan, Barry Flannery, Erin Kelly. Not pictured: Adam Fleming, Mark Kelly, Wisdom Agba, John Mannion, Joseph Arkley, Fearghal Kineavy, Seán Bolton.