The team's car, Tigergen III, will be part of the Shell Eco-marathon challenge, an international event, with the American competition taking place every year in Houston.
MU students started building their first solar-powered vehicle in 1990, under the direction of adviser Richard Whelove. Twenty years later, Whelove is still advising the team, but now, the team works with hydrogen.
The team made the switch seven years ago. Back then, they were competing in the American Solar Challenge, a competition that takes place once every two years and gives teams a chance to test their solar-powered vehicles by driving their solar-powered cars 2,500 miles from Texas to Canada.
As the competition lost funding and began to decline, Whelove and his students decided to switch tohydrogen, hoping the competition would amend its rules to include other fuel types. But the rules remained, so the team found the Shell Eco-marathon in 2008.
Now, for the third time, the team is about to take part in the annual event.
Cars that run on solar power, hydrogen, battery electric and different internal combustion fuels can be entered in either the UrbanConcept or the Prototype category. The first category has more requirements, including suspension, brakes and four wheels. Prototype cars tend to be more conceptual vehicles that are made to achieve the highest mileage rates possible, adviser of the Tigergen III team, Richard Whelove said.
The MU team chose the UrbanConcept category, preferring to gain experience that would probably be more applicable after graduation, Whelove said.
The team is composed mostly of engineering students, but there are a few business students this year.
"I think we’ve got a wonderful team," Whelove said. "I’m always amazed. It seems like the teams get better and better every year. And they’re fun to be around. They’re bright, smart, intelligent students, and so that’s fun for me."
Team President Victoria Hezel said the team was pleased with its performance last year.
Tigergen II finished with a 476 mpg equivalent of gasoline, a figure Shell calculates using the flow meter readings from the best of six six-mile races to determine how much hydrogen was used. The MU team was the only one in the hydrogen fuel cell UrbanConcept category last year.
This year, the team hopes to achieve a rate of 500 mpg at least. Hezel said the goal is always to improve on the previous year's results.
MU will have more competition this year. Teams from the University of Houston, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne and University of Alberta, Canada, will be competing in the same category.
Although 30 members of the MU team have been actively building the car, only 15 students will be accompanying Whelove to Houston during spring break to compete.
From an educators standpoint, Whelove said he thinks they've already exceeded their goal just by having a multi-discipline team work together to build the vehicle and tackle problems together in an effective manner.
"How we’ll compete and compare to other teams, I’m not sure," Whelove said. "There are more teams coming into this division and we’ve chosen the most difficult, technically challenging event. I hope we do well; I hope we win, but I think we’ve already become winners based on the fact that we’ve stepped up to the challenge."