CU Denver students zoom to the winner's circle with a vehicle that gets 1,254 miles to a gallon

On April 26, eight University of Colorado Denver mechanical engineering seniors won first place in the hydrogen fuel cell category at the Shell Eco-marathon Americas competition in Houston, after designing and building a vehicle -- named Archetype -- that could go 1254 miles per gallon powered just by a hydrogen fuel cell and made out of carbon fiber. "We picked the hydrogen fuel cell category because the school has competed on that competition three years now," says team captain and CU Denver senior Ben Johnson. "Last year we won, too, so it's been a successful project and it has been something that we wanted to continue."

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The eight-annual competition -- held in Houston from April 24 through April 27-- brought together 125 high school and college teams from Canada, Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico and the U.S., and challenged them to design and build ultra energy-efficient vehicles.

After spending eight months designing and manufacturing Archetype, the CU Denver team members tested the vehicle on a 0.6 mile track, to demonstrate that their design could go the furthest with the least amount of energy. "It was very stressful," Johnson says. "We had a very short time frame and I had to make sure everyone was staying on time. And it was the first time we've done a lot of this, so none of us had any machine experience until now."

Basically, the competition consisted of completing ten laps on the .06 mile track in 24 minutes and 15 seconds. "It wasn't necessarily a race, but it was just whoever could get the highest fuel efficiency in that period of time while completing ten full laps," Johnson explains. And since the CU Denver team got the highest score, it was awarded first place in the Prototype Category, reserved for futuristic vehicles that achieved extreme full efficiency.

This is not the first win for CU Denver in the hydrogen fuel cell category: In 2013, the school's team took first place with a vehicle that attained the equivalent of 205 miles per gallon of gasoline. And with some feedback from that team, the 2014 crew made changes that kept Archetype running without gas for the majority of the track -- going up to 1,254 miles on a single gallon.

With victory in hand, Johnson and the rest of the team are getting ready to graduate -- and thinking about the future. Johnson would like to get into the aerospace industry. "There is a very heavy industry in Colorado," he says. "I've done a lot of work with satellites and spaces operations, so I would like to get more on the design side of working with satellites or other kind of space technology."

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