Islamabad – There is a look of concern on Haider Khan’s face, the kind of concern parents have on their faces when they see their child participating in a competition from the sidelines: a mix of excitement, fear and expectations but mostly anxiety for their child’s safety and well-being.
It is a sweltering May afternoon in Rawalpindi — 42 degrees Celsius — but Khan, 21, is not sweating, perhaps because he is a student from Peshawar where the summers are equally brutal.
He is, however, anxious, as a team from Shell Pakistan inspects the fuel-efficient car Khan and his seven friends from the University of Engineering and Technology (UET), Peshawar, spent a year designing, building and testing.
Khan and his team members — all of them final-year mechanical engineering students — make up one of the 13 student teams from eight Pakistani universities which have registered to compete in the Shell Eco-marathon in Malaysia in July.
The Eco-marathon, an annual event which takes places in Asia, Americas and Europe separately, challenges students to build vehicles that can travel the farthest distance using the least amount of fuel. In other words, the car which travels the most number of kilometers per litre of fuel wins.
At the July competition, the 13 Pakistani teams including the car designed by Khan and his team — a 184 kilogram, 78cc grey four-wheeler named “Octa Mechanica” which does around 65 kilometres per litre (kml/l) — will be pitted against 137 other teams from 15 different Asian countries.
On Saturday, five of the 13 Pakistani teams prepared for the event by participating in a launching ceremony at the College of Electrical & Mechanical Engineering (E&ME) in Rawalpindi. There, the cars performed laps and Shell experts tested the cars for the Shell Ec0-marathon’s safety guidelines so any problems in the cars can be fixed before the competition date.
Khan’s car passed most of the tests, with a few suggestions from the specialists, and he was relieved.
“We learned twice as much by building this car than what we learnt from the academic textbooks in four years of engineering school,” he said.
For their car, Khan’s team modified a 125 cc bike’s engine. They used an aerodynamic, fibre glass body to increase mileage and are also trying to attach an Electronic Fuel Injection system for more improvements.
Khan said the inspiration to enter the competition — this is the first time two teams from UET Peshawar are competing — came after they saw other Pakistani teams participate.
True enough, Pakistan is no stranger to the Shell Eco-marathon.
The team from E&ME College has participated in the event for the past three years, each time improving their mileage and performing better in the Asian contest.
In order to increase the mileage, we have tried to reduce the car’s weight and to minimize friction losses, explained Muhammad Usman, a final-year mechanical engineering student from E&ME College.
Usman said E&ME’s latest car is built from light-weight Aluminum and they have reduced friction in the energy-to-tyre transmission by using uni-directional clutch bearings.
Like Khan’s team, the E&ME car falls under the “Urban concept” gasoline category, one of the two major categories for the Eco-marathon; the other being “Prototype” cars. The urban concept cars have to be as close to commercially produced cars as possible while the prototype cars could be more futuristic: three-wheelers and comparatively smaller in size.
Usman, who is managing the 2013 E&ME college team, said the competition has become a sort of tradition for their college.
“The seniors train the juniors not only in technical expertise but also how to get sponsors to fund the work,” he said.
Sponsors are important because funding and resources are the two major challenges faced by the Pakistani students.
“There is not too much awareness about such innovation in Pakistan and we were disappointed by the response from Pakistani companies when we went looking for sponsors,” Khan said. “At times, we had to put Rs70,000 each from our own pockets into the project.”
Even when the universities support testing and trials, the urban concept cars cost around Rs400,000 to Rs500,000; the prototypes half as much.
But on top of the research and development work, the teams have to bear airfare for students and freight charges for transporting the cars to Malaysia, Usman said. He said they were still looking for a sponsor to finance an even lighter carbon fibre exterior for their car.
On Saturday, Shell Pakistan subsidized some of the costs by awarding six cash prizes worth Rs 0.9 million altogether — Khan’s team and Usman’s team won separate awards worth Rs200,000 each for most innovative car and best mileage respectively.
Shell Pakistan Managing Director Omar Sheikh said in addition to bringing recognition for Pakistan on the world stage, the competition also has some direct benefits.
“Such an event encourages top talent in the country and it motivates young enterprising individuals,” Sheikh said. “It is also a way for Shell Pakistan to foster innovation in the area of energy.”
In 2012, the E&ME team stood eighth in the urban concept category by clocking in around 68km/l. This year, the team aims to better their record.
“We are trying our best to make it to 100km/l,” he said, with a confident grin. “That’s the target we have set ourselves.”