A three-person team – two of them freshmen – from Clarkson University won the internal combustion division of the 2008 SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge.
“We used a very simplistic design based on a Polaris FST chassis,” said team leader Pete Giovenco. “We just wanted to make it to the competition, but it’s been the experience of a lifetime.”
Hosted by Michigan Technological University, the Clean Snowmobile Challenge is the Society of Automotive Engineers’ newest collegiate design competition. Engineering students from participating schools take a stock snowmobile and reengineer it, with the goal of reducing emissions and noise while maintaining or improving performance.
Event co-organizer Jay Meldrum, director of the Keweenaw Research Center, said that in Clarkson’s case, simplicity paid off. “They just boosted the pressure on their fuel pump and added a catalytic converter,” he said, adding, “They deserved to win.”
Clarkson also received the Lotus Engineering and Horiba Instruments Award for Lowest Emissions and the EMITEC Award for Best Value, which balances cost, fuel economy and performance.
All entries in the challenge’s internal combustion division were required to run on biofuel, and most, including Clarkson, chose E85 ethanol. Four schools competed in the zero emissions division, which was won by the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
UW Madison team leader Nick Rakovec credited excellent advising and teamwork for the battery-powered sled’s success. It uses a Delphi electric motor (once used by General Motors in its EV1 electric car) powered by eighty-four 28-volt lithium-ion batteries and is capable of running up to 20 miles on a single charge. “We can charge these batteries in half an hour,” Rakovec said. “If the National Science Foundation takes it to Greenland, they’ll be able to recharge it quickly.”
The team has earned a chance to send members and possibly its winning sled to the National Science Foundation’s Summit Station in Greenland. Arctic researchers use electric vehicles when traveling across the ice, since any emissions can contaminate samples taken from ice and the air. “It’s an incredible machine,” said Tracy Dahl of Polar Field Services, representing NSF. “The thing rips.”
UW Madison’s zero emissions sled also nabbed the Society of Automotive Engineers Award for Best Design in its class, first place for the Kreider and Associates Award for Best Paper, the DENSO Award for Best Ride, the Veco Polar Resource Range Event Award, and the Caterpillar Corporation Innovation Award.
Society of Automotive Engineers President Thomas Ryan described the Clean Snowmobile Challenge as a great opportunity for young engineers to learn the skills necessary to succeed in their careers. And he also praised their present efforts. “I rode a couple of your sleds, and I was impressed. You are leading us down the road that will get us back into Yellowstone.”
The challenge began following restrictions on snowmobiling in Yellowstone due to the noise and emissions of “old-style” snowmobiles. Ironically, today’s four-stroke and direct-injected two-stroke snowmobiles produce emissions and noise levels aren’t all that different from much of the summer traffic allowed into the park. In fact, they are cleaner and quieter than many of the summer vehicles that allow the park on a daily basis, creating a double-standard. “What you have done is prove solutions are possible,” said Jim Evanoff, an environmental protection specialist at Yellowstone National Park. “We support fully what you are doing.”
The Clean Snowmobile Challenge is sponsored at Michigan Tech by the Keweenaw Research Center and the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics in Houghton, Michigan.