Next month, during the 25th running of the annual RACV Energy Breakthrough challenge at Maryborough in Victoria’s north west, many people will endure a long and tiring 24 hours.
Those who will be most sapped, among an expected crowd of 20,000, will be the 7000 participants from the 370 primary and secondary school teams who will race to see who can go farthest using either muscle power (in a human-powered vehicle, HPV), or a combination of petrol, electrical and human muscle in an energy efficient vehicle (EEV).
These low-slung, small and ingenious vehicles embody the aim of the Energy Breakthrough and can go farther and faster than you might imagine. In just 24 hours, a human powered vehicle team can travel the distance between Melbourne and Sydney, and then some. An energy efficient vehicle, such as the one Cobden Technical School fielded last year, covered 700km using three alternating batteries and three litres of petrol.
Despite that display of energy efficiency, the Cobden kids are unhappy that they were pipped at the post by a faster team.
“We came in second,” says their automotive technology teacher, Chris Brooks.
This year, Cobden is trying its hardest to win. Students work in class, through lunch hours and devote a whole lot of after-hours brainstorming to find ways to reduce the weight of the three vehicles the school will field this year, Cobden’s ninth year in the challenge.
Thomas McDonald, 17, wants to be a mechanic when he leaves school. He calls the car he is working on with his schoolmates, “the beast of the track”.
Teacher Chris says that the electrical and mechanical students from years 9-12 at Victoria’s last old-style technical college, are fielding three teams, 20 students – including two girls, and, guided by teachers, will design, fabricate, track trial, make adjustments and design their racing uniforms.
Students’ enthusiasm for the task is palpable. This season’s uniforms for The Cobden Crusaders and Phantom Racing are all flash and graffiti-like graphic dash.
The students who weld, wire and even raise much of the money needed to build a $10,000 vehicle, are extra busy because they’re building a fourth car for a team coming from Indonesia.
Cobden Tech principal, Rohan Keert, says that the mixed gender team from SMP5, Cobden’s sister school in Yogyajakarta, “will race alongside our teams”.
Martin Mark, for 20 years Central Goldfields local planning coordinator for the Energy Breakthrough says that the Indonesian team “is our first ever Asian entry. In the past we’ve had teams from New Mexico, the UK and representatives from South Africa.”
Energy Breakthrough started in 1991 with just 23 teams. Now it is among the biggest event of its type in the world and is so popular there is a waiting list of entrants. Martin says the Energy Breakthrough is so popular “because it is a great event for schools to incorporate into their curriculum. And because it has real life outcomes.”
At Cobden, the students are excited. The school has won its class three times, putting it in an elite category. This is an achievement in a country school with only 300 pupils.
Chris Brooks, who is also the team manager, says that when the race is happening, “the teachers don’t sleep, especially if we’re out front. These events bring in all the elements I’m teaching and it’s so good to test all those skills against other schools.
“It’s what I would have loved to have done when I was at school. Now, it’s one of the reasons I continue teaching.”
When: Event 19 to 22 November; Energy Expo Saturday 21 November.
Where: Maryborough, central Victoria.
Find out more: racvenergybreakthrough.net
Breakthrough keeps happening
This is the 25th year of the RACV Energy Breakthrough program. While schools and crowds continue to flock to the event (winner of Victorian Tourism Awards in 2013 and 2014) Energy Breakthrough has never lost sight of its objectives: Make science and technology fun for primary and secondary school students.
This Country Education Project takes students out of the classroom with a challenge to design and build an energy efficient vehicle in which a team sees how far it can travel in 24 hours.
The record for a human-powered vehicle is 934km.
The challenge allows teachers to engage the whole class. The workshop brings those with construction skills to the fore, while working with student designers and mathematicians. Some team members research diet and fitness programs; others engage in sponsorship and promotion or in graphic design.
Beyond the logistics of attending the four-day event, teams face a presentation in which individuals must tell judges how they contributed. This accounts for one-quarter of the score. Vehicles are examined by RACV technicians for design, construction and safety, while teams are quizzed on vehicle efficiencies.
RACV supports Energy Breakthrough because of its educational focus. It helps uncover the next generation of Australian engineers. And we need them thinking about environmentally sustainable personal transport.