BYU: Students engineer most fuel efficient vehicle on the continent, drive away with national title
Brooklynn Jarvis Kelson, BYU
Engineering students at BYU have built a vehicle that can travel from Provo to Niagara Falls on one gallon of gas. To be exact, it can travel 1,915.83 miles per gallon, an astounding distance that is not only the best in the United States, but the best across the Americas.
Despite long odds and countless obstacles, the BYU Supermileage Team took home first place at the vaunted Shell Eco-marathon, an international competition hosting teams from across North and South America trying to build the most fuel-efficient vehicles on Earth.
This year’s event was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, (which BYU’s car could have easily coasted to on less than a gallon of gas at 1,531 miles from Provo), home of the Indy 500. Ironically, BYU’s car can’t top 25 miles an hour, a far cry from the breakneck speeds typically clocked at the famous racetrack. But for the BYU Supermileage Team, speed was irrelevant; they were in it for the long game.
“It felt very rewarding to win because it really demonstrated how well we worked together as a team,” student Yazan Tuffaha said. “Seeing the team pull together — everybody was contributing as much as they could — it was a great feeling.”
The students’ success was contingent on their ability to design and build the most fuel-efficient car. Out of four races, BYU’s winning performance indicated that their car could travel farther than any other vehicle in the competition: it outperformed the second-place car by more than 100 mpg. More impressively, the students overcame a plethora of last-minute nightmares.
Brooklynn Jarvis Kelson/BYU
Just weeks before the event, the team’s carefully crafted engine was compromised, requiring a complete rebuild. They also discovered that an important part had been damaged upon arriving at the track. Fortunately, things were quickly repaired, and it was off to the races.
But then, within the confines of the speedway, students wrestled with a flat tire, faulty starter mechanisms and various other malfunctions. Notwithstanding their many frustrations, their quick thinking and ingenuity brought the team — and the car — together for a win.
“Making sure you’re fully committed is a big thing, especially when you face tricky problems,” said student and team member David Leavitt. “The mindset had to be, ‘I have this problem, but I’m fully invested in trying to solve it the best way that I can.’ And I think our results proved that we did.”
BYU has competed at the Eco-marathon in years past, but this was the first time since before the pandemic. Their expectations were measured, considering it was their first competition in four years, yet preparation for the contest required an undeviating focus from each team member.
With an expert eye, BYU professor and team adviser Dale Tree helped the team of students overcome the multiple setbacks, especially at critical moments.
“I just love this, you know?” Tree said. “There were so many little issues that popped up in the final moments, and the students had to use the principles they had learned to find the answer. There was no website with the answer, no textbook with the solution. That was a true learning experience.”