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Aramco-Sponsored Student Wins First Prize


HOUSTON, - -As the automobile industry works to find solutions for the rising cost of gasoline, students such as the Saudi Aramco-sponsored team led by Aydh Alajmi are also trying their hand at developing more efficient methods of transportation.

Participating in the Shell Eco-Marathon Americas 2013 competition, Alajmi and his team - who won in the prototype hydrogen-fueled category – were part of 134 students from North and South America that took part in the seven-year old competition to design fuel efficiency vehicles.

Held in Houston from April 5-7, the competition awards cash and prizes to the winning teams in two categories: Prototypes which focuses on futuristic vehicles that achieve extreme fuel efficiency, and Urban Design which focuses on more practical vehicles that could conceivably be driven on roadways.

Drawing high school and college teams from the United States, Brazil, Mexico and Guatemala, students compete by building vehicles that can run on diesel, gasoline, ethanol, Fatty Acid Methyl Ester (FAME), hydrogen or battery electric for power and racing them over 10 laps.

Aydh Alajmi, 22, a Saudi Aramco-sponsored student who attends the University of Colorado – Denver, approached Saudi Aramco and requested a sponsorship for his team’s vehicle.

The company quickly responded to Alajmi’s request, and the nine-member team sponsored by Saudi Aramco, whose subsidiary, Aramco Services Company, is based in Houston, began building the “H2 Eco Challenger,” which achieved a maximum of 205 miles per gallon. (Last year’s winner in the same category achieved 169 miles per gallon.)

“When we first got our car on the track, I had a good feeling,” said Aydh Alajmi, 22, who served as the team’s project manager. “I never thought that six months ago, when we were doing fuel calculations back at school that I would be doing it here in real life. It’s unbelievable.”

The team built a 120-pound, three-wheeled vehicle from carbon fiber with a honeycomb core ribbing system that used hydrogen fuel cells for power. The vehicle also utilized a trapezoidal steering mechanism and mountain bike hydraulic disc brake system to minimize friction and drag. To further increase their chances of willing, the team selected a 112-pound male driver – making the 10 required laps around a 0.6-mile track extra light.

“The road was very rough. There were potholes and lots of vibrations, so that was a little scary,” said Surawud Martinez, 40, the driver. Wearing a headset that allowed the team to communicate to him as he drove the circular course, Martinez said, “Each time I was whipping around, they were telling me what lap number I was on and how to make better turns and passes.”

The team’s advisor, Ron Rorrer, associate professor of mechanical engineering, said he attributes the success of the project to it being solely student driven, including the vehicle’s design, materials and even how the vehicle was shipped to the competition. “When they pick the things they want to do, that’s where you get the commitment. That’s where you get a student for a three-credit hour class putting in 1,000 hours over nine weeks,” he said.

Alajmi can attest to that, admitting he even slept in the machine shop while trying to build the vehicle this spring semester. “This project has been my life. It’s been everything for me this past year. There are not even words to describe my feelings. We’ve been working even for 12 and sometimes 15 hours a day,” he said.

While this year’s winners basked in their successes, many teams had to cope with disappointment, as the competition was not without its hiccups. Many vehicles were towed from the course for various mechanical failures, and some teams were disqualified for not following the required technical and safety requirements, including wearing safety glasses as they made last-minute adjustments inside designated construction areas at the city’s George R. Brown Convention Center.

But the purpose of the competition is to learn lessons and experience the trial and error process of mechanical design, Rorrer said.

The team members included Alajmi, Martinez, Ryan Anderson, Ibrahim Alzamanan, David Edelman, John Van Ngo, Dong Nguyen, Ronnie Prado and Nick Wager.


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