For the 14th year running, the Keweenaw Research Center at Michigan Tech is bringing talented student engineers to compete over spring break for the quietest, cleanest snowmobile.
The events, part of a sanctioned SAE International competition, range from an endurance run to emissions and noise tests to acceleration and handling courses. Check out the schedule of events.
Cleaner and Quieter
The student teams come from all over the northern U.S. and Canada to engineer, test and showcase quieter and cleaner snowmobiles of their own design. They start off with standard modern sleds and then take apart, modify and build a sled with reduced emissions and noise. The teams compete in three categories: internal combustion—gasoline; electric, also called zero emissions; and diesel utility.
Each category has a unique purpose. Internal combustion sleds are the most common, of course, making their designs important for recreation and other uses. Held to the same noise and emissions levels, diesel utility sleds could never win a race, but are tested for pulling heavy loads. The electric sled is designed for polar scientific missions where hydrocarbon emissions would skew data collection; they could also have use in remote locations where fuel is difficult to come by.
Laws passed in 2006 define emissions and noise standards for snowmobiles, which the students are challenged to surpass. With the chance to collaborate with industry experts, the educational opportunity has a real-world connection.
Jay Meldrum is both the director of the Keweenaw Research Center and the director of sustainability at Michigan Tech; he has helped organize the Clean Snowmobile Challenge since its early days in Yellow National Park.
"First, this is an educational program," Meldrum says. "I call it competition-based engineering education."
The week-long competition starts on Monday, March 6 and ends on Saturday, March 11 with an awards ceremony honoring the winners of many categories. Day one is devoted to technical inspections, making sure all teams meet the rules. Day two features a 100-mile endurance run from the Keweenaw Research Center to Copper Harbor. Day three includes technical presentations and a public display of the sleds at the Copper Country Mall. Day four includes emissions tests, noise tests and subjective ride evaluations. The final days continue the tests; the Saturday morning acceleration and handling competitions are open to the public.
The tests are rigorous and challenging for students. But the challenge means it's a chance to show off, Meldrum says, pointing out that sponsors and industry reps have worked with students to improve their company products and services.
"Although this is not necessarily a technology development program, new technology 'leaks out' of this event," he explains. "Early on, we learned that some noise comes from the engine but about 50 percent comes from the track and track components; this led to new design for the track and the components that support it to significantly reduce emitted noise."
As another example, the University of Idaho in 2007 first demonstrated the use of direct injection of fuel and oil mixture on a 2-stroke snowmobile. Bombardier Recreational Products, a company that assisted the team and markets under the Ski-Doo name, later incorporated this technology into their product line. Now Ski-Doo is considered the quietest and most fuel-efficient sled in the industry. Other innovations, such as the use of catalytic converters, have shown that snowmobile gas emissions can be reduced significantly, nearly reaching the theoretical limit of the current standard.
For Meldrum, the volunteers, industry partners and students, the hard work is year-round. In a single week, it all pays off in a cleaner puff of smoke.