MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Next week, several Minnesotans will be competing with some of the brightest engineering minds in the world — and they haven’t even graduated high school.

The young engineers are sophomores, juniors and seniors. All are part of the St. Thomas Academy Experimental Vehicle Team. And they’ve earned their way into the Shell Eco-Marathon world championship in Sonoma next week.

They’ll be competing against engineering universities around the world for the most efficient car.

“People definitely think we’re a little bit crazy,” Alex Moeller, who is a team captain of the project, said. “We spend usually two, two and a half hours after school every day.”

st thomas academy car High School Students Ultra Efficient Vehicle Accepted Into International Competition

(credit: CBS)

Their precocious behavior has earned them all a trip to California.

“We’re competing against engineering universities, so that’s a huge deal for a bunch of high school students,” their teacher Caroline Little said.

And they earned it — 14 boys spent 3,000 hours perfecting their electric car.

“We designed the car with efficiency, lightness and speed,” Moeller said.

They used 3D printers to design a 30-mph, 220-pound working vehicle.

“Weight is a really big factor, because the more weight you have to push around the more energy you’re going to use, and the more energy you’re going to waste,” Moeller said.

The materials are ultralight — they even punched holes in the gas pedal to trim weight. Moeller showed off the vehicle with teammates Nicholas Kern and Joe Zirhent, who will drive the vehicle in the competition.

Still, there have been some challenges along the way.

“We rolled our car, and that wasn’t fun,” Moeller said.

“The whole engineering design process is all about failing, succeeding and then learning from those failures. That’s what it’s all about,” Little said. “I really hope that they learn that when they leave the program.”

The boys’ electric vehicle is so efficient, it gets the equivalent of 3,000 miles per gallon. The team flies to Sacramento for the competition Wednesday.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield


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