Sheer wheel power

A team of Singapore students made an electric car so light that it is lighter than the driver.

By shedding about 25 per cent of the car's initial weight of about 60kg, it could travel much more efficiently.

At 44kg, the NTU Venture 9 (NV9) could attain an efficiency of 425km/kWh, which is equivalent to covering the distance from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur using one kilowatt-hour of power. This was possible as the car was made almost entirely out of carbon fibre.

The only downside to this car is its discomfort, as the driver is seated at a 30 degree angle, close to the floor while driving.

The NV9 was made from scratch by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) students for the annual Shell Eco-marathon Asia, organised by the Shell Oil Company.

The competition draws students from academic institutions in Asia to create innovative and fuel-efficient cars.

This year, 118 teams participated in the competition that was held in Manila from March 3 to 6.

NTU sent two teams and they bagged a total of six awards.

Foo Shiwei, team manager of NV9 preparing the car for its flag-off.
Photo: NTU

The driver of the NV9 from the team Nanyang E Drive, Miss Venus Chow, said: "The weather was really warm and the suit I had to wear didn't help at all. I felt like I was in a sauna for 30 minutes."

Despite the discomfort, Miss Chow, 23, was relaxed while driving NV9 around the tracks.

"It is a new experience for me and I will definitely do it again if I am given the opportunity," she said.

The team behind NV9 focused on creating an "aerodynamic" and "aesthetically pleasing" car that "stands out from the masses".

Their strategy was to reduce the weight of the car to make it more efficient.

They looked for components that could be made lighter.

For example, they had customised carbon fibre wheels redesigned to have thinner layers to make it even more lightweight.

They also miniaturised all the wiring.

In the competition, the team took part in five races and the best result from the five races would be used.

They began to have problems in the last two races. For example, the team had to scramble to quickly fix a critical steering component that broke. And on the fifth attempt, the seatbelt of NV9 broke off, cutting off power to the wheels and bringing the car to a stop.


Despite the numerous obstacles, NV9 bagged two awards.

The other car from NTU, Singapore's first 3D-printed urban solar electric car NTU Venture 8 (NV8), was the brainchild of team NTU Singapore 3D Printed Car. It picked up four awards at the competition.

NV8 (leftmost) on the race track in Manila.
Photo: NTU

The building process was not always smooth.

It was a challenge patching the car together from 150 printed pieces that "didn't connect well" with glue.

The team members had varying schedules and had to find time to construct the car.

When asked if the competition affected their grades, the team members said with a laugh: "Hopefully not! We should be responsible enough to manage our time well."

NV8 was selected to be among the five teams to compete in the Shell Drivers' World Championship in London in July.

Before that, though, the team plans to improve their car by tweaking areas such as the brakes suspension and reducing the weight of the power source.

A team spokesman said: "We are setting realistic goals for ourselves and hope to gain new knowledge. If we can win something, that would be great. The bottom line is to do our nation and region proud."

Associate Professor Ng Heong Wah, who mentored the two teams, felt that the students exceeded all of his expectations.

"Not only did the students use their engineering knowledge, they also went beyond what they learnt in their curriculum to find new ways to improve fuel efficiency and performance while ensuring the safety standards," he said.

"With new teams joining the race every year, the competition gets tougher, and our win was so close that it was down to mere decimals.

"These awards are proof of the students' relentless perseverance, determination, and drive to want to do NTU proud."

This article was first published on March 14, 2016.
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