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Flat-pack cardboard and plywood car scoops Eco-Design award at Shell Eco-Marathon


July 16, 2012

Aston University's hydrogen-fueled, flat-pack cardboard and plywood creation

Aston University's hydrogen-fueled, flat-pack cardboard and plywood creation

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Aston University's entry into this year's Shell Eco-Marathon may look a little low-tech, but that didn't stop the hydrogen-fueled, flat-pack cardboard and plywood car from scooping the Eco-Design award at the European event, held in Rotterdam in May.

The use of environmentally-friendly materials extends right down to the tire covers, made from a bio-resin incorporating hessian fibers. The panels of the body are made from a plywood-cardboard-plywood composite, with the outer layers obtained from a sustainable source, qualifying them for certification by the British Forestry Commission.

The body is designed to for flat-pack shipping and assembly, allowing for more efficient shipping, which no doubted contributed to the team's winning of the prize.

The apparently nameless car, powered by a Nexa Ballard hydrogen fuel cell, was entered into the "UrbanConcept" category of the Eco-Marathon. The event saw 3000 students from 24 countries and 200 teams competed in the European event, in which cars don't race in the traditional sense, but instead seek to demonstrate fuel efficiency.

This year's European event saw three records broken. Team Electricar Solution from France achieved a range of 262.6 km (163.2 miles) per kilowatt-hour in the same "UrbanConcept" category as the team from Aston. DTU Roadrunners from the Technical University of Denmark achieved a fuel efficiency of 611.1 km per liter (1437 mpg) in the same category, beating their own record by 102.1 km per liter (240 mpg).

MAC Eco Team from the Netherlands smashed the fuel efficiency record of 138 km per liter (325 mpg) set in the Prototype category in 2011, achieving 416.3 km per liter (979 mpg).

Sources: Aston University, team website, Shell; via Gas 2.0

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

What are your odds of surviving being bumped by a truck while driving it?


Slowburn. It's about competition, not prying your gas truck out of your hands.

The Hoff

Competition is fine but over the life of a daily driver I'd bet the weight penalty of a flat pack car would out weigh the fuel savings of being shipped in a flat packed condition. especially with the move to inclosed car carrier trucks.


Expect to see them on the shelves of IKEA this time next year...... actually, Im more interested in the material/manufacture costs. If cheap enough, could easily see this sort of easy to self maintain/repair vehicle get a slice of the third world market (where safety is generally irrelevant). Don't think it'll ship with a hydrogen fuel cell though.... how about sticking a simple engine on it?


Slow: so glad you brought up odds of encounters with trucks; what are they anyway? If I drive 50,000 miles/year for 500 years, will that be enough driving to become a truck/car collision fatality?

Frank Lee

Frank the odds of being hit by a car/truck are great. The odds of survival has a lot to do with the vehicle. I am 35 never had an accident in over 500k miles. Once I almost go hit by a car passing me. I slowed abruptly to avoid a definite collision and got rear ended for the trouble. My SUV with traction control had a busted bumper and broken tail light. In this thing I would of been dead.

I am not saying safety is the only thing to consider in a car design, if we had computers driving I would be fine with the above, but as long as humans are behind the wheel I am not taking the chance.

That said I don't think the above car is intended for real world use anyways. This is just an expensive adult version of the boy scouts pine wood derby.

Michael Mantion

re; Frank Lee I was really asking about crash safety in general whether it be a bump by a truck or T-boned by a Honda running a red light.

The flat pack design sounds heavy for the structural integrity it provides and the energy consumed by shipping the car from the factory to the dealer/destination is an infinitesimal percentage of total lifetime energy consumption and dragging the extra weight around will quickly eat whatever savings that were achieved in shipping.


Too bad they didn't post the WEIGHT of the little deathtrap- slow must have access to information they didn't present. Mike- go research what the REAL odds are of being a traffic fatality, using REAL statistics, then get back to us on how dangerous it is out on the roads. After that we can work on assessing the risk of dying in something small vs something large.

Frank Lee

Sounds like a throw away car. Put it on the road with lead acid batteries and a range of 300km, bet it would sell. Safety? Fill all empty spaces with foam rubber or urathane.


Hi, I'm one of the designers for the car, happy to answer any questions about it.

The idea behind the car was to explore alternative materials, manufacturing processes, logistical processes and areas within the life cycle of the car that negatively affect the environment. The car is not something that will go straight in to production, but a collaboration of ideas that question current automotive production and consider the future of automotive technology.

What’s the point in designing a concept car for the future that is built using the same materials and processes of today’s cars?

The total weight of the car is 170kg, it does 50mpg and about 25mph.


Also, this article doesn’t mention the folding mechanism of the car that shortens the wheelbase to less than that of a smart car

Here’s a link to a YouTube video if you’re interested in seeing it in action.



Common guys, relax, this is a competition for students. You know, they are the people who actually can still learn and be learned, not know-it-alls like yourselves. Many a good idea has been hatched from competitions like this, and alot of experience gained.

Would you want the student teams to design multi-ton SUV's?

I am impressed by this design, well done to the team.


This is really a great idea, I'm sure something good for the automotive industry will come out of this.


While I'm not fond of H2 foolcells, the chassis is really cool.

Slowburn do you ever have anything good to say? Many people chose vehicles that won't survive a bad wreck. They just make a point of staying out of them. Afterall how many MC's are there?

Why do you think everything has to fit you or it's no good? From your posts nothing seems to to be.

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