EcoCAR Challenge gets students scrambling in Arizona desert

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The University of Wisconsin team preparing their vehicle

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Not long ago we told you about the Moto Student competition, wherein teams of students from across Spain and the rest of Europe are competing to build racing motorcycles. Well, a similar competition is underway in the US, and it’s called EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge. In this contest, teams of North American engineering students are competing to convert GM-supplied vehicles into super-efficient, super-clean-running, high-tech wonders. The second year of the three-year contest wrapped up this week, with Mississippi State University (MSU) taking the top spot.

As EcoCAR describes it, the teams’ goal should be “to reduce the environmental impact of vehicles by minimizing the vehicle’s fuel consumption and reducing its emissions while retaining the vehicle’s performance, safety and consumer appeal.” Year One of the challenge saw the students using CAD tools to compare and select power trains and other components, and to check that the vehicles’ electrical, mechanical and software systems would all work in harmony.

This year, the teams took their ideas off the computers and incorporated them into real, live vehicles. Last Wednesday, all the teams and their SUVs squared off at the GM Desert Proving Ground in Yuma, Arizona. After six days of tinkering, inspecting and road testing, MSU’s Year Two win was announced this Thursday.

The MSU team chose to go with a biodiesel extended-range electric vehicle (EREV). Their hybrid is equipped with a 21.3 kWh A123Systems battery pack, providing an electric range of 60 miles. It also has a 1.3 L GM turbodiesel engine and 75 kW UQM generator in a series plug-in configuration. What that all boils down to is a gas-equivalent of 118mpg, city/highway combined.

“To finish a year of hard work and long hours in first place is an incredible honor for me and my teammates,” said MSU’s Matt Doude. “We look forward to the next chapter of the competition – with so much talent among the schools it will not be an easy road to another victory.”

EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge was established by the United States Department of Energy and General Motors, and is being managed by Argonne National Laboratory.

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