Zooming around in a more sustainable, environment-friendly way

The streets of Manila aren’t exactly what you would call a drive-gung-ho place, as it is one of the busiest cities in Asia and in the world.

By Alvin R. Cabral

Published: Sat 15 Mar 2014, 10:22 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 5:55 PM

So when a tiny bit of it is transformed into a makeshift race track, everyone could’ve been asking, what were they thinking?

Shell knew exactly what they were thinking.

The global oil and gas giant recently brought the Shell Eco-marathon to the Philippines for the first time, and their message is clear: someday — somehow — the dream of a world having vehicles running on alternative, cleaner fuel may be realised, and will help alleviate the other problems associated with it.

The Shell Eco-marathon is one of the most innovative and demanding student competitions globally, testing youngsters to come up with sustainable solutions to the world’s energy challenges.

There are two vehicle categories that students could choose to bring their imaginations and creativity to life: Prototype, streamlined vehicles focused on maximising fuel efficiency through innovative design elements; and UrbanConcept, focusing on more road-worthy fuel-efficient vehicles. The students are free to input any design and technical elements into their vehicles to maximise fuel efficiency, as long as they meet Shell’s stringent standards for safety.

And the one main rule is simple: the vehicle that runs the farthest — not the fastest — on a single litre of fuel wins. So it’s not about literally zooming, but symbolically zooming your way to successfully blending hardware with “energy-ware.” And there are six categories — petrol gasoline, alternative gasoline, diesel, alternative diesel, hydrogen and battery electric.

A total of 126 teams participated, with three from the UAE — Abu Dhabi High Tech from Abu Dhabi Men’s College – Higher Colleges of Technology, the AUD Team from American University in Dubai and WithOut Limits from Ruwais Colleges – Higher Colleges of Technology. Three other countries from the region were also present — four from Qatar, three from Egypt and two from Lebanon. India, the Philippines and Pakistan had 17, 15 and 11 teams, respectively. Indonesia had the most entries with 20, while Thailand — considered the powerhouse of the Asia event, dominating since it began in 2010 — had 11. Brunei, China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam were also represented.

Also happening alongside the Shell Eco-marathon was the Shell Powering Progress Together Forum, in which over 350 delegates from the government, business and civil society were in attendance. The event’s aim was to inspire new ideas and partnerships to address the complex issues posed by the energy-water-food nexus in the Philippines, as well as across Asia.

Abu Dhabi High Tech’s ‘Blackwidow’

Discussions highlighted that while this is “Asia’s time,” the region must seek to innovate new solutions, make choices and take action in addressing these complex challenges to sustain its growth trajectory. Furthermore, according to the United Nations and Shell Scenarios, global energy, water and food demand is seen to increase 40 per cent to 50 per cent by 2030 due to increased population and growth needs. This will place tremendous stress on these vital resources as energy is used to move and treat water; water is required to produce energy; and both energy and water are required in the production of food.

And on the lighter side of all this, the Shell Energy Lab was also there to provide an interactive experience to visitors, with active challenges, learning experiences and amazing technology — some of which might actually surprise you. The Energy Lab was definitely a hit among students and for anyone not tired of learning, as well as an insight on what the future would look like.

Starting line

From 2010-13, the Shell Eco-marathon was held at the Sepang International Circuit in Kuala Lumpur. This time around, it’s the Quirino Grandstand — a historical landmark in the Philippine capital fronting the Manila Hotel and the monument of national hero Dr Jose Rizal in Rizal Park — that would be the venue. Traffic was rerouted for a number of roads, but motorists didn’t seem to mind this, their eyes peered instead on wondering what a race track was doing in the middle of Manila.

The roots of the Shell Eco-marathon can be traced all the way back to 1939, stemming from a friendly bet between two scientists in Shell’s Illinois facility. Since then, it has hopped around the world — the European version began in France in 1985, the Americas edition was held at the California Speedway in 2007 and the Asia event started in Kuala Lumpur in 2010.

So, why Philippine capital? It’s actually a double celebration: this first-ever Shell Eco-marathon Manila coincides with Shell’s 100th-year anniversary of operations in the Philippines, under its subsidiary Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation. “When we [thought of] Manila, we’re thinking about the fact that this is also the 100th year of Shell in the Philippines,” Jeremy Bentham, vice-president of business environment at Shell, told Khaleej Times at the event. “It mostly brings together the history of Shell with where the important things in the world are currently happening.”

Bentham said that the Asian region in general and the Asia-Pacific are where “so many of the significant developments in the world are happening.”

“So it’s very natural that Shell has extended an activity such as the Eco-marathon from Europe, then into the Americas, and eventually into Asia,” he added. Renewable and sustainable resources — the focal point of the event — according to Bentham, is an area in which Shell is actively involving itself in, pointing out that “over a billion dollars” have been spent in this arena in the “past few years.”

‘Red’ from American University of Beirut’s Go-AUB team.

“It’s a growing focus of our research and development and deployment activities…within our industry, Shell is the biggest investor in R&D,” he added. Asked if the Shell Eco-marathon would take place somewhere in the Middle East in the foreseeable future, he said “that would be up to the planning team.”

Racing mood

Over at the paddocks area, the teams were working on their prototype vehicles, designs of which can be taken out directly from comic books to sci-fi films. From capsule-shaped contraptions to ones made out of wood, they were determined to prove themselves to the rest of the pack. Most of these teams work on their vehicles for up to a year — but they still make sure they cope up with the academics.

With the venue a melting pot for several nationalities, most of the words ringing through the air could not be understood, but it conveyed one thing: determination. Several test runs were conducted before the actual race to ensure safety and optimum performance.

And when it was time to go, the teams went all-out. Former Philippine president and current Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada led the guests of honour, and as he flagged off the official start of the race, so did the fun — not to mention the tension — of the students consequently began.

In the end — after many starts and stops, thinking and tinkering — Indonesia and, once again, Thailand dominated the field with four and three champion titles, respectively. Team How Much Ethanol from Panjavidhya Technological Colleges Thailand drove for 2,730km on one litre of ethanol, the highest mileage at this year’s event.

“Our winning formula was to focus 97 per cent of our efforts on designing the car and three per cent on the engine. Our car was custom-designed around our designated driver for optimal performance and we built the engine to maximise the capacity of our car,” Chumphol Sitthios, team manager of Panjavidhya Technological College, would later say in a statement. And for good measure: “we also practiced on a Thailand circuit, which has a similar layout to Luneta [Rizal] Park.”

The UAE’s WithOut Limits and Abu Dhabi High Tech finished third and fourth, respectively, in the prototype diesel category. Qatar University’s Gernas was second in prototype alternative diesel, while the same school’s Gernas 2 team was ninth in prototype battery electric.

Race for fuel efficiency

As the Shell Eco-marathon drew to a close, the participants — winners in their own right — rode off to a blaze of glory as the sun set on Manila Bay. And while not everyone got the prizes — $2,000 each for the winners and $1,000 each for the runners-up in each category — maybe the biggest prize of them all is being a part of the event, giving their all and in some way contributing to what the future may look like.

Photos: AP/Shell

And if they enjoyed the “City of Our Affections” and want to do it all over again, they need not worry; the Shell Eco-marathon Asia will be in Manila for a while.

“When we first applied to bring it in, the understanding is that it should be in a location for at least three years,” said Bobby Kanapi, vice-president for communications at Pilipinas Shell. “We will be here until 2016 [and] we’re looking forward to a bigger and better Eco-marathon; we’ve had the commitment of the government.”

Kanapi would later give a more extensive interview to Khaleej Times.

So if the results of Shell Eco-marathon Asia 2014 are any indication, we can expect more innovation, more creativity and more-of-everything-else from these hardworking students, whose talents Shell is trying to hone further.

The ideas of these teams can go a long way; literally speaking, Team How Much Ethanol’s grand prize-winning, only-on-one-litre-of-fuel drive is the equivalent distance of Manila to Jakarta.

— alvin@khaleejtimes.com

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