Students in driving seat with flower power

A GROUP of students are using flower power to impress the judges in an international technology competition by driving to the contest in Paris in a car fuelled by sunflower oil.

The three students from NUI Maynooth and their college lecturer left on the ferry for England yesterday and plan to drive the rest of the way to the French capital by this evening.

Aodhán Coffey, Brian Byrne and Karl O’Dwyer, who study engineering and computer science, were winners of the Irish leg of the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition, and felt the best way to demonstrate their unique motoring fuel conversion kit to the judges at the world final in Paris was to literally drive the message home.

“Most of the kits out there already are dual-tank models, so you need an extra tank in the boot for the biofuel,” Aodhán explained.

“You start the car on diesel and then switch over to the alternative fuel. Our kit works off the existing tank and it doesn’t need any diesel. It also runs on any kind of vegetable oil as we have an embedded computer that gauges the temperature, so it’s a very flexible system.”

Aodhán, Brian and Karl, who call themselves Team AcidRain, reckon that they can produce their conversion for less than €300 per unit, putting it easily within reach of the average motorist.

“That compares to about €1,400 for the kits already out there and with mass production we could get our price down even more,” said Aodhán.

They already have one very strong vote of confidence: their mentor, college lecturer Tom Lysaght, was so impressed with their project that he allowed them install the prototype in his own Opel Vectra and has joined the trio for the road trip to Paris.

Their one drawback is that they have had to carry their extra fuel in the car, but sponsors, Frylite, Ecocar and Kia Motors, helped stock them up with the necessary reserves.

The Imagine Cup is now its sixth year and this year’s contest attracted 200,000 entrants from 100 countries.

Team AcidRain are one of two Irish teams to make the final cut. ParkIT, the duo of Kieran Stafford and Cristina Maria Luminea from Sligo Institute of Technology, are also going to France with the software they have devised to take live feeds from car park cameras and convert them into information that tells a motorist through their SatNav or mobile handset where the nearest and most suitable free space is.

Paul Rellis, managing director of Microsoft Ireland, praised the standard of the two entries.

The Maynooth squad’s progress can be tracked on their website www.acidrain.biz

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