Student-designed and built vehicle impresses at SuperMileage competition

Sally Abou Melhem <sa256@aub.edu.lb>, Office of Communications​​

This June, a team of mechanical engineering students from AUB’s Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA) embarked on a trip to compete with their student-designed and built super-efficient vehicle, at the 39th annual SAE SuperMileage competition that took place in Marshall, Michigan in the US.

In this annual fuel-efficiency competition, university teams compete to build a single-person vehicle that uses the least amount of gas to go a specified distance. Teams are required to use a specific engine but are allowed to make modifications to it. According to the SAE SuperMileage competition rules, competing vehicles must be conceived, designed, and fabricated by the team members, without direct involvement from professional engineers, university faculty and technical staff, or professionals in the motorsports community. 
From lab to competition
A group of MSFEA students built the first version of this super-efficient vehicle as their final year project in 2016-17. However, due to a lack of funding, the students decided to settle for building the vehicle and not going to the competition. 

In the following year, another group of students from the same faculty decided to carry the torch and optimize that same vehicle design, in order to compete with it at the SAE SuperMileage competition. The upgrades included altering the shape of the vehicle to reduce air resistance, decreasing the weight of the vehicle by 20 kg (from 90 kg to 70 kg) by building it fully using composite materials (carbon fiber), switching from a carburetor engine to an electric fuel injection one, and reducing the wheels and hubs to minimize friction with the road.

The students had a total of nine months to work on the vehicle. They were able to present their design in the fall semester, and managed to find the needed funding from sponsors as well as their faculty, allowing them to order the needed materials right afterwards. They used the spring semester to manufacture the vehicle and make tweaks to the design, spending around 16 hours daily in the lab. The team tested the vehicle on campus, and then in Aramoun Lebanon, and finally shipped it to the US during the first week of May, losing one month of preparation time due to the need to transport the vehicle halfway around the world. A few weeks later, the team was able to put some final touches to the vehicle during the five days prior to the competition.

The MSFEA team members participating in the competition included mechanical engineering students Mohamad Takoush (team leader and driver), Badih Tabet, Mazen Daher, Moustapha Mansour, Ahmad Mneimneh, and Yussef Karam. Accompanying them throughout the journey was Dr. Mohammad Harb, who was the faculty advisor and official university representative appointed by AUB. 

Dr. Harb commented on this experience emphasizing on the hard work that the students have put into this process, from building the vehicle to competing. “I have worked and been part of many student groups around the world, in Lebanon, China, and the US, but have never seen a group of well-disciplined and highly motivated students as this year’s group,” said Harb. 

“It is hard to imagine that a group of six undergraduate students with very limited resources were able to design, build, and test a durable super-efficient fuel vehicle, and to be recognized at an international level. Some of these students even decided to skip their own graduation ceremony to be at the competition in Michigan which happened to be the day before the ceremony,” Harb continued.

Ready, steady, go!
This year, 33 university teams from the US, Cana​da, Lebanon, and UAE participated in the competition. 

On the first day, the ​competing vehicles had to go through a series of thorough static and dynamic technical inspections to insure that they were safe to drive on the track. Only eight vehicles qualified, including the one designed by the MSFEA students, which was approved after fixing a leak between the engine and driver compartments, and was ranked 6th in this phase.

​On day two, the qualified teams and their vehicles had to complete runs of six laps around the 1.6 mile (2.5 km) oval track. The MSFEA team ranked in 7th place after successfully completing five runs, and reaching a maximum efficiency of 498 miles per gallon (212 km per liter). 
In the final results, the vehicle built by Penn State University- Behrend College’s students, which obtained the highest combined fuel economy rating plus design segment points, won the competition. The MSFEA team’s vehicle came in at 9th position.​

Dr. Harb stated that the MSFEA team has reached an amazing milestone by getting the vehicle fully built out of carbon fiber, tested in Lebanon, sent to the US, past the inspection phase, and on the track with such a high competitive mileage in less than nine months. He added that “everyone at the competition, including other teams, were astonished by the amount of work that went into this and the high mileage that we were able to reach as newcomers to the race.”

A new team of MSFEA students is planning to build on this success and hit the SAE SuperMileage competition tracks again next year, with a further enhanced version of the AUB students’ super-efficient vehicle, aiming to cover the same distance with half the amount of fuel that the 2018 version consumed.