Fuelling success

Fuelling success

July 6, 2016


In an impressive debut at the prestigious Shell Eco-marathon, a team of Queen’s engineers overcame numerous roadblocks to finish tops in its division for most energy-efficient vehicle.

The student team from the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science competed in the hydrogen fuel cell prototype division of the eco-marathon, which brings together teams of university, college and high school students from across North America in a challenge to design, build and drive the most energy-efficient vehicle.

“I think it was the collaboration of the team and the persistence and problem-solving throughout the competition. It would have been easy to say ‘No, that’s it – we can’t fix these problems’ and just enjoy the rest of the competition without competing,” says Matt Swift (Sc’17), technical director for the team. “But nobody had that attitude and everyone wanted to make sure the car was ready to go and that we could compete in the final competition.” 

[Queen's Fuel Cell Team]
The Queen's Fuel Cell Team accepts its prize for placing first in its division for the most energy-efficient vehicle at the Shell Eco-marathon. (Supplied photo)

Previously, the team had competed in the SAE Clean Snowmobile competition, which challenges students to re-engineer an existing snowmobile to reduce emissions and noise, but had not made it past the inspection stage. 

The new competition, however, got off to an auspicious start, says Mr. Swift.

“The first time we went through the inspection, we passed most of the stages right away and then had a few things to fix,” he says, adding that a number of hydrogen leaks were detected in the fuel lines. “So we went back and tried to do the best we could and went for another inspection and ended up getting through, which was really huge to the team, even at that stage.” 

After getting through the checks, the team hit the track.

There was trouble from the start. The vehicle couldn’t make it up an incline at the start of the 0.6-mile track, so it was back to the work area to find a solution. 

I had never been in a leadership position as big as this one and had never managed a team, so I think that was huge for me. Those are really useful skills to bring to the workplace after I finish my studies.
— Matt Swift (Sc'17), Technical Director, Queen's Fuel Cell Team

This is where the team members gained a lot of valuable experience, Mr. Swift explains. They also got some help diagnosing the issue from a coach from another team.  

“It was a lot of troubleshooting and trying to figure out what the actual problem was because we weren’t really sure,” Mr. Swift says. “It was a great problem-solving experience. We needed to get it done and in a short amount of time so we could get other tests done.” 

The team had a total of four runs in the competition – and the second run went smoother. However, as the vehicle neared a larger hill at the end of the course, it came to a halt once again. Then, another complication.

In the rush to get out of the way of other competitors, one of the spindles holding a wheel and its brake snapped off. 

It was a welded piece they had made themselves in McLaughlin Hall, and they didn’t have the tools to repair it. 

Fortunately, they came across a manufacturing shop that was offered free to all competitors. The team told the shop what they needed and provided drawings, as well. 

 “We came back an hour later and they had fixed it. That was huge and it was something we didn’t know we would have the opportunity to have at the competition.” 

With one more chance, the team decided to warm up the fuel cell ahead of time, hoping that would resolve the power issue. It worked. The vehicle completed the 10 laps – 6 miles, almost 10 km – without a hitch.  

Then they waited for the results, which left them “awestruck.” 

QFCT was first in their division – and it wasn’t close. They posted a result of 83.9 miles/m³ hydrogen, and the next best result was in the 60s. 

Like the other design teams supported by the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and the Queen’s University Engineering Society, QFCT allowed Mr. Swift to gain valuable hands-on experience outside the classroom. 

“For me personally, the management side of things was really important. I had never been in a leadership position as big as this one and had never managed a team, so I think that was huge for me,” he says. “Those are really useful skills to bring to the workplace after I finish my studies.” 

Smith Engineering