An eco-challenge for engineers

A student team from Missouri S&T has three years to design the best eco-friendly car in North America.

Seventeen teams from the United States and Canada have been selected to participate in the EcoCAR competition, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, General Motors and Natural Resources Canada.

The challenge will test students’ abilities to re-engineer a Saturn VUE to achieve improved fuel economy and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, while retaining the vehicle’s performance and consumer appeal. Each team will be tasked with finding a different solution to the larger problem. In addition, the teams will incorporate lightweight materials into the vehicles, improve aerodynamics and utilize alternative fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen.

The Missouri S&T students were awaiting word about what kind of re-engineering they would be undertaking as this magazine was being printed. The team is hoping to work with hydrogen or plug-in technologies.

“With our emphasis on alternative energy research, the EcoCAR challenge is a natural fit for Missouri S&T,” says Chancellor John F. Carney III. “The knowledge and experience gained from this project and other design competitions better prepare our students to address our world’s environmental and energy issues.”

During the three-year program, General Motors will provide production vehicles, vehicle components, seed money, technical mentoring and operational support. The U.S. Department of Energy and its research and development facility, Argonne National Laboratory, will provide competition management, team evaluation, and technical and logistical support. By sponsoring such advanced vehicle engineering competitions, GM and the U.S. Department of Energy are developing the next generation of scientists and engineers.

“We’re excited to see what these student engineers will develop over the next three years,” says Beth Lowery, GM’s vice president of environment, energy and safety policy. “The objectives of EcoCAR are right in line with our strategy.”

In the first year, teams will develop their vehicle designs through the use of GM’s Global Vehicle Development Process – the modeling and simulation process currently used to develop all of GM’s vehicles. During the second and third years of the competition, students will build the vehicle and continue to refine, test, and improve its operation. At the end of years two and three, the re-engineered vehicle prototypes will compete in a week-long competition of engineering tests. These tests will be similar to the tests GM conducts to determine a prototype’s readiness for production. An analysis of greenhouse gas emissions will then be conducted.

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