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Photo via Ecomarathon website

Detroit is home to two things that often go hand-in-hand – the automobile and innovation, and from April 22 through 24, the city will host the Shell Eco-marathon Americas. The eco-marathon presents a unique challenge to high school and college students around the world.

The Eco-marathon is a great opportunity to encourage students’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects. Participants design and build their own vehicles, with the goal of creating the most energy-efficient one possible. This gives them a first-hand look at the struggles, innovation, and creativity necessary to solve some of our world’s most pressing energy problems.

The Eco-marathon started in 2007 with 17 teams competing on a two-mile race track in Southern California. In 2010, the event moved to downtown Houston. In 2015, when the Eco-marathon moved to Detroit, 113 teams and over 1,000 students from five countries traveled to the Cobo Center.

This year, teams will try to beat the current Americas record of 3,587 miles per gallon equivalent.

The competition is split into two categories. There’s the Prototype class, which focuses on maximum efficiency over passenger comfort. There’s also the UrbanConcept class, which encourages more practical designs.

In addition to these classes, cars are also divided by energy type – internal combustion engine or electric mobility. Internal combustion cars are powered by fuels including gasoline, diesel, or liquid fuel from natural gas and ethanol. Electric mobility cars are powered by hydrogen fuel cells and lithium-based batteries.

During the eco-marathon, teams make as many attempts as possible to travel the farthest on the equivalent of one liter of fuel. The cars drive a fixed number of laps around the circuit at a set speed. Organizers calculate the cars’ energy efficiency and, based on their calculations, name a winner in each class and for each energy source.

However, there are awards off the track as well. Teams receive awards for achievements like safety, design, and teamwork.

During the weekend of the Shell Eco-Marathon Americas, the general public is invited to the Cobo Center for free, family friendly interactive events.