HOUSTON -

Thousands were on hand at Discovery Green in downtown Houston Friday morning for the official kick off of this year's Shell Eco-Marathon.

Mayor Annise Parker and Marvin Odum, the president of Shell Oil Company, played host for the fourth year the event has been held in Houston. Parker said it makes sense to have such an important energy-conscious event in the energy capitol of the United States.

"We are a car-centric city and where better to have discussions about fuel efficiency than here in Houston?" she said. "We're also planting seeds for young people who will be the leaders in technology."

Students from all over the Americas are converging on Discovery Green seeking maximum distance on minimum energy. To give you an example of what kind of entries are entered, last year's winner hit the equivalent of 2,188 miles per gallon! 

"They are the technology leaders of the future and any idea that  they develop in an automotive area, in an energy area, they will be the solutions that take us forward," said Norm Koch, the technical manager for the Shell Eco-Marathon.

Koch has been involved for 13 years and said it's always exciting to see the many ways teams use innovation to try to get an edge.

One of those teams is from Houston's Westside High School ,where three cars were created from the Computer Integration Manufacturing class -- including one made almost entirely from bamboo.

"It was just something we thought up," said Brian Canlas, a senior headed to Texas A&M with plans to become a mechanical engineer. "Last year we won the best eco design award using bamboo and this year we want to win the exact same award!"

Also in town were the husband-and-wife team of John and Helen Taylor, who are giving advice to all drivers about ways to be fuel efficient. They should know. They completed a 21-day trip through 48 states and averaged 69.985 miles per gallon!

John Taylor said we can all do better by using common-sense habits, like taking off from a stop a bit more gently, trying to drive in straight lines and remember to be smooth and consistent.

Included in the exhibits at the George R. Brown Convention Center is a "Mobility Footprint Zone" that includes a kinetic dance floor where the dancing creates the energy.  There is also a Formula 1 Car and what's billed as the "Yellow Brick Road" where visitors can learn about the past, present and future of energy and what we can do to help address the world's growing energy demand.

All of the events are free to the public and the Shell Eco Marathon runs through Sunday afternoon at Discovery Green Park.