BYU Supermileage Club prepares for 2024 competition

Members of the BYU Supermileage club work on their vehicle’s engine in preparation for the 2024 Shell Eco-marathon competition in April. The team is using what they learned from last year’s victory, combined with new tools, to further improve their vehicle’s performance. (Ethan Pack)

After taking first in 2023, the BYU Supermileage club hopes for another victorious year.

At the Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2023 competition held at the Indianapolis Speedway, the team’s supermileage vehicle turned out roughly 1,916 miles to the gallon, securing them the victory, according to the competition’s website. This year, the team is using what they learned to optimize their vehicle, according to Dino Christensen, the vehicle’s driver.

“Last year, since we’re so close to 2,000 miles per gallon, we definitely want to get there and that’ll help us beat the school record. But there’s been some talk of getting closer to 3,000 miles to the gallon, so we’ll see how we go,” he said. Christensen was the driver for last year’s competition as well.

The team’s reach goal is to achieve more than 3,000 miles to the gallon, which would put them in range of the competition record, according to Christensen. 

The team is using a new tool this year, called a pressure transducer, which allows them to see exactly what’s going on in the engine as it runs and how it can be improved, according to Austin Kofoed, a member of the supermileage capstone project.

“It shows us exactly what’s happening for one combustion event, how the engine is responding and that’s been new this year and really helped us diagnose exactly what’s going on in the engine and what can be improved,” he said. In addition to the engine, the team is also focusing on redesigning the air intakes to make them more efficient.

The team ran into issues at the competition last year that threatened their chances of winning, Christensen said. His biggest takeaway was the team’s resilience.

“People just put their shoulder to the wheel and just did what they needed to do to create solutions, find solutions and make the systems work together,” he said.

At last year’s event, the vehicle ran six miles, or three times around the track, on 17 milliliters of fuel, according to Dale Tree, BYU mechanical engineering professor and the club’s faculty advisor.

“So if you think one of the little syringes might give a child medicine with, I think either five or 10 milliliters … give [it] three of those,” he said. “You measure the distance and how much gas you’re using, and then you take the miles and divide it by the gallon. So you don’t burn a whole gallon, you just burn out a little bit.”

The team has spent time optimizing their vehicle to cut down on anything that might waste fuel, such as drag, friction or weight, Tree said. Once the vehicle is rolling, the key is to keep it rolling with as little energy as possible.

“That’s kind of the fun of it, to see how extreme we can go in each of these areas; with the weight, with the aerodynamics and with the efficiency,” he said.

During the last two semesters, members of the supermileage team have spent roughly 15 hours a week working on their vehicle, according to Kofoed. When asked what he’s most excited for, his answer was simple.

“Winning,” Kofoed said. 

In addition to the prototype internal-combustion engine category, the team is also attempting to win off-track awards which are given to teams who make technical innovations, according to Kofoed. 

The competition will take place April 3-7, according to the competition’s website. The team has chosen not to compete on Sunday, Tree said, and will instead complete their portion of the competition on Saturday, April 6.

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