More MPGs On The Trail: Fuel Economy The Focus Of Clean Snowmobile Challenge 2010

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By Marcia Goodrich

Michigan Technological University


A total of 19 teams have registered for the SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge 2010, set for March 15-20 at Michigan Technological University.


Held at the University's Keweenaw Research Center, the Clean Snowmobile Challenge is a collegiate design competition of the Society of Automotive Engineers. Engineering students from participating schools take a stock snowmobile and reengineer it. Their aim: to reduce emissions and noise while maintaining or boosting performance. The Challenge also includes a zero emissions division for battery-powered sleds.


"This year, the theme for the internal combustion division is fuel economy," said co-organizer Jay Meldrum. "After 10 years of hosting the Challenge, we know we can beat industry emissions standards. Now we want to improve fuel economy using E2X."


E2X is a gasoline-ethanol blend incorporating anything from 20 percent to 29 percent ethanol. "The reason we chose E2X is that most commercially available fuel will likely end up in that range over the next few years," Meldrum said. Contestants will have to design their sleds to accommodate the full range of E2X, since they won't know what blend will be used during the Challenge.


Fuel economy will be measured in three ways. During the Endurance Run, sleds are rated based on fuel consumption. Fuel economy will also be measured during the indoor emissions testing. Lastly, the Challenge includes a mobile emissions test that incorporates a fuel flow meter. "That's bleeding-edge technology," said Meldrum. Scott Miers, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics at Michigan Tech, is collaborating in that event with support from the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth.


Even as engine technology has improved, snowmobiles have not been known for fuel efficiency. "A lot of the energy is lost between the fuel tank and moving down the trail," Meldrum explained. "You can optimize how well engines burn fuel. But in snowmobiles, you lose energy with the continuously variable transmission and as you engage the track on slipping snow."


Students will be trying to reduce friction and improve efficiency of the entire drive train, he predicted. "I don't know what they'll come up with, and I'm sure it will be fascinating."


This year, the zero emissions competition is adapting to better reflect the needs of the battery-powered sled market. In previous years, zero emissions entries competed in the same acceleration and handling events as the internal combustion teams. This year, they will have their own event, pulling a load quickly over a one- or two-mile track. Battery powered snowmobiles are used primarily for research in remote arctic sites, where scientists measure traces of air pollution. "This was driven by the National Science Foundation, which helps sponsor the event," said Meldrum. "They want a machine that can haul a lot of stuff back and forth to a research site."


Other major sponsors include the USDA Forest Service, the National Park Service, automotive parts supplier Denso Corp., Emetic Inc., a supplier of emissions-reduction technology, and Aristo, a designer and manufacturer of emission catalysts. Local businesses provide services, donations and in-kind contributions. In addition, volunteers from the Michigan Snowmobile Association have pitched in every year to provide logistical support.


New sponsors include Phoenix International of Fargo, N.D., which engineers fuel injection systems, and the company AVL, which is providing software and hardware for emissions testing. SolidWorks is donating CAD software and hoodies for all the participants.


Entrants in the internal combustion division are Clarkson University of Potsdam, N.Y., Ecole de Technologie Superieure of Montreal, Kettering University of Flint, Michigan Tech, North Dakota State University, Northern Illinois University, the State University of New York at Buffalo, and the Universities of Alaska-Fairbanks, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota-Duluth, Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin-Platteville, and Waterloo of Ontario.


Teams in the zero emissions division are Wisconsin-Madison, Clarkson, Alaska-Fairbanks, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, and McGill University of Montreal.


The Clean Snowmobile Challenge is organized by the Keweenaw Research Center and the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech. More information is available from the Michigan Tech Clean Snowmobile Challenge site.

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