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The Shell Eco-marathon is a race like no other. For over 30 years, universities from all over Europe have built and raced cars, not to see who can reach the chequered flag first, but to find out who can drive the farthest distance on one litre of fuel. It’s unconventional racing competition that champions sustainable mobility, fuel efficiency and innovation. These topics are a perfect match for NGK SPARK PLUG – the world’s leading ignition and sensor specialist. Therefore, the company was excited to accept an invitation to support the University of Rostock by providing their team, ‘Hanseatic Efficiency’, with its technical equipment

Learning by doing
For the University of Rostock, the Shell Eco-marathon offers the perfect opportunity for students to engage incollaboration. “Students from different faculties such as mechanical or electrical engineering and physics learn how to work together as a team on a real engineering task. So, in effect, it’s a very useful form of work experience that will benefit them in their future careers”, says Nikita Vetter, team manager of ‘Hanseatic Efficiency’. In addition, the project allows them to put their knowledge to the test. “It’s a truly ambitious and innovative environment and it allows our students to combine theory with practice”, he says.Founded in 2008, ‘Hanseatic Efficiency’ entered its first competition the following year, which in itself, is a worthy achievement. Because gaining access to the competition is no simple feat, with teams having to undergo several design phases. This culminates in a technical inspection by the Shell Eco-marathon team who examine the critical aspects of the vehicle as well as its safety features.

Participating teams can choose between two categories: the ‘UrbanConcept’ category which involves 4- wheel vehicles that have familiar road features and the ‘Prototype’ category which generally involves 3-wheel vehicles, with an emphasis on being light in weight and ultra-efficient. Each category is divided into three subcategories which are determined by the type of engine used: 1) the internal combustion engine (ICE) category which permits the use of petrol, diesel and ethanol, CNG and GTL 2) the Battery-Electric category and 3) the Hydrogen Fuel Cell category.

The Prototype category is where ‘Hanseatic Efficiency’ competes, participating in the ICE sub-category, since its inauguration in 2017. “We prefer this category because it has more to do with pushing the vehicle to its technical and physical limits. There is less of an emphasis on the principle of obtaining road approval in this category. These prototypes can reach particularly high ranges because they can drive under ideal conditions. For example, there is only one driver, three tyres and we try to brake as little as possible”, says Mr. Vetter.

The new ICE category, he believes, has improved the competition. “It offers better comparability between prototypes with combustion engines. The direct comparison of these prototypes, regardless of the fuel used, promotes the competition for the most efficient combustion engine”, he says.

Over a decade of experience
With over ten years of experience as a team, ‘Hanseatic Efficiency’s’ vehicle has undergone many iterations and changes, resulting in major advances. These can be seen in the team’s current car, the ‘Larus’, which was launched in 2018. “The experience that we have gained, as well as the advances in technology that the last decade has witnessed, is viewable in our current vehicle”, says Mr. Vetter.

“Over the years, we have lowered our drag coefficient by streamlining the vehicle’s body and using internal tyres and rear-view mirrors. We also now use an engine control system and intake manifold that were both self-developed. The charge exchange has been improved by the adjustment of the valve timing, by using cam variations and the introduction of a gearbox has reduced chain speed. These variations resulted in the combustion engine running at an optimum speed for as long as possible. We have also availed of advancements in 3D printing technology; the many 3D-printed parts that we use help to reduce the vehicle weight”, he informs.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic has put a halt to Shell Eco-marathon this year, ‘Hanseatic Efficiency’ is eager to continue improving its ‘Larus’. “We have reworked the chassis to make it lighter, finetuned the body to achieve the best possible CV (drag coefficient) values. Currently we are rewriting the microcontrollers to the programming language C++ (which is replacing Bascom) that will make it easier for new team members to get up to speed. We are also rebuilding our steering to help improve driver safety and working on the implementation of a real-time location system for the car in order to improve communication between the car and the team. This will be a true improvement for our two female drivers Nadine and Caro when sitting behind the steering wheel”, he says.

NTK oxygen sensors
NTK oxygen sensors kits are being supplied for the first time by NGK SPARK PLUG, providing an additional benefit to ‘Larus’. Oxygen sensors are designed to maintain a perfect air-fuel ratio and ensure optimum fuel conversion in difficult engine conditions to reduce harmful emissions and minimise vehicle fuel consumption.

“The NTK oxygen sensors are playing a decisive role”, says Mr. Vetter. “They will help us to achieve a particularly economical combustion process which will ultimately help us to reduce our emissions, which is one of the main points of the Shell Eco-marathon”, he says.

“For NGK SPARK PLUG, a competition like the Shell Eco-marathon is a great fit for our company’s values”, says Tobias Reichmann, Sales Account & Business Analyst Automotive Components Group at NGK SPARK PLUG. “The competition not only contributes positively to the goal of reducing vehicle emissions, but also allows us to support and promote the youth of today and at the same time strengthen our impact on innovation and sustainability”, he says.

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