The Asian Shell Eco-marathon, a competition held annually by Shell in Europe, the Americas and Asia, inviting students from all over the world to “design, build and drive the most energy-efficient car” got underway in Kuala Lumpur  on Thursday.

The Eco-marathon has seen Pakistani teams participating enthusiastically since 2009. As the Asia wing of the competition began in 2010, more teams from various engineering universities in Pakistan have entered each year, joining others from all over the continent at the Sepang International Circuit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Last year the Pakistani contingent comprised nine teams and after the rigorous initial stages, three of them reached the track and completed their runs. The competition was tough and they came back without any awards but in high spirits.

As a result, more teams have risen to the challenge from Pakistan this year, with 13 teams travelling to Malaysia to test their innovations against the best of Asia.

The cars designed for the competition are divided into two basic categories: “UrbanConcept,” and “Prototype.” This year’s Shell Eco-marathon Asia sees a total of 80 Prototype and 43 UrbanConcept entries.

Among the Pakistanis, is a team from NUST PNEC with an UrbanConcept car that they have built for the competition.

“The UrbanConcept category is one where the car design must be closer to a practical real-life vehicle, such as the cars you see on the road,” explains Kanza Basit, the six-member team’s manager.

“Cars in this category must be designed with four wheels, and need to adhere strictly to the competition rules – for instance, each and every dimension for the chassis is specified to us, and we had to take care to follow them in order to qualify.”

The team, who have designed a car named “Bolt”, comprises mechanical engineering students from the university and have chosen gasoline as their fuel source.

Other fuel sources are battery, hydrogen, solar, ethanol, FAME (biodiesel), GTL (gas-to-liquid), and diesel. For each category, there is a $2000, and $1000 award for first and second place consecutively, and many other awards that can be earned off the track as well, such as awards for safety and design, team spirit (won by a PNEC team in 2009 in Germany) and perseverance in the face of adversity.

“The competition requires us to go as far as we can within one litre of fuel, and in our local tests we have been able to reach about 110 kilometers,” Basit tells This figure is very close to the record of 117 kilometers that was set by a Thai team last year in this category, and comes closer to that figure than any competitor did in 2011.

“We are hoping that we will get better mileage on the track, because the surfaces here are not ideal, and we are holding back in order to avoid any damage to our vehicle until we go to the track.”

Thus far, Thailand has dominated the Asian competition over-all. “Luk Jao Mae Khlong Prapa” set a mammoth distance record of 2,213.4 kilometres on one litre of ethanol using a prototype car.

There are entrants from Pakistan in the Prototype category as well, such as “N5”, a six-member team from NED university, with a car that runs on ethanol. Their car is called “E+” and has a chassis made entirely of aluminum.

“The Prototype category is for cars that are slightly more futuristic, streamlined and experimental,” explains Ibrahim Nihal, their team leader, “the basic rule is that they must have three wheels. You can have two in the front and one in the back, or vice-versa”.

N5 is the only team using ethanol from Pakistan, and one in four teams using ethanol in the whole competition. “Ethanol is cheap, practical and has low-emissions, such as nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide,” saysNihal, “it is also a cheap and practical fuel that is abundant in our country. These are some of our major reasons for choosing this fuel.”

While the record for this category is massive, N5 is only able to get 150 kilometres from a litre of ethanol in their tests in Karachi, and are aiming for 160 kilometres. They are not feeling daunted by the distant record however, and are determined to keep a positive attitude about the competition: “This is a very challenging task, and a lot of work is required to master the technology. We are excited about going out there and getting some exposure and participating” says Nihal.

According to Shell, the “super-mileage challenge”, is “designed to inspire student innovation and develop future technologies”.

The competition aims to create interest in alternative energy for meeting the deficit of conventional fuels, as well as the search for greener vehicles with fewer emissions. The competition seems to have captured the imaginations of young Pakistani engineers, who are now in Kuala Lumpur making final preparations for their laps.

The event will continue until 8 July and will feature daily updates from the Sepang International Track, where we will be following the progress of the Pakistani teams as well as the others from all over Asia.

Pakistani teams participating at the Shell Eco-marathon 2012 are:

•    Captive Eye: Hitec University Taxila Cantt, Prototype, Gasoline

•    Hammerhead: Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology, Prototype, Gasoline

•    Hitec-08: Hitec University Taxila Cantt, UrbanConcept, Gasoline

•    N5: NED University of Engineering and Technology, Prototype, Ethanol E100

•    NED Pakistan: NED University of Engineering and Technology, UrbanConcept, Gasoline

•    NUST-PNEC-Prototype: National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Karachi, Prototype, Gasoline

•    NUST-PNEC-Urban: National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Karachi, UrbanConcept, Gasoline

•    NUSTAG UC: National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Punjab, UrbanConcept, Gasoline

•    Pak-Octane: Hitec University Taxila Cantt, Prototype, Gasoline

•    Stallions: FAST University Islamabad, Pakistan, Prototype, Battery Electricity

•    Team Atlas Copco: University of Engineering and Technology, UrbanConcept, Battery Electricity

•    Team UOL: The University of Lahore, Prototype, Gasoline

•    Team Victory: NED University of Engineering and Technology, Prototype, Hydrogen