U.C. Berkeley students look to revolutionize gas mileage

Some students at University California, Berkeley are building a car they hope will change the miles per gallon range.
February 25, 2014 7:57:19 PM PST
With gas prices on the rise again, it's all about miles per gallon. But, what if cars could go hundreds, even thousands of miles on a gallon of gas? Some students at University California, Berkeley are building a car they hope will do just that.

"We're aiming for maybe 1,000, or in the high hundreds [miles per gallon range]," said Super Mileage Vehicle Team Lead Rajith Jayaratne.

It's a proud tradition for the young engineers at U.C. Berkeley. They are competing in the Shell Eco-marathon, held each year in Texas. It's a race that's not about speed, but endurance.

"We have an hour to do as many laps as we can, and we have a set amount of fuel," said Jayaratne.

They do it by speeding up to 25 or 30 miles per hour, then cutting off the engine to coast as long as possible, before they fire the engine up again.

"It's only a one cylinder motor," said Super Mileage Vehicle Team member Milton Sanchez.

Plucked straight out of a lawnmower, it's the heart that beats inside a nearly weightless body.

Sheets of carbon fiber, vacuum sealed onto Nomex honeycomb, the same construction used on the high-tech yacht that won the America's Cup.

In a competition where every ounce matters, the contestants aren't exactly dealing with a luxury vehicle. In fact, for the driver, that hour on the racetrack is likely to be excruciatingly uncomfortable.

"I will be sitting here like this, kind of in sit-up position for about an hour, you know, the time I'm driving the vehicle. And my controls are going to be right here," said Sanchez.

The group will spend days testing different tires and learning from their mistakes. It's a different kind of learning than they do in the classroom.

"There's a lot of testing involved and everything can't go as perfectly as you could plan in a book," said Jayaratne.

But ready or not, the race begins on April 25.

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