A group of West Virginia University students are paving the way to a greener future through their participation in EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge, a three-year collegiate advanced vehicle technology engineering competition.
The competition challenges college students to explore alternative fuel solutions by re-engineering a 2009 crossover sport utility vehicle donated by General Motors. The EcoCAR Challenge is sponsored by General Motors, Argonne National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Clean Cities program; the West Virginia Clean State Program is West Virginia’s Clean Cities coalition.
WVU’s proposal to participate in the program was one of only 17 accepted throughout the nation, ranking fourth overall, said Nicole Fernandes, who served as marketing and outreach coordinator for the 2009-2010 school year. The EcoCAR Challenge is divided into three stages, with each stage taking place over the course of one school year. The WVU team has completed two years of the program and will begin stage three in August.
“The first year, each team received $10,000 to begin developing their vehicle designs. After successfully demonstrating their design to a panel of expert industry judges, at the end of the first year, the teams received their donated vehicle and they began to implement their design into that vehicle. Emissions and fuel efficiency testing takes place in year two,” Fernandes said.
“The third year will be spent perfecting and optimizing their design, getting the best possible fuel economy and performance and developing a marketing strategy for it.”
WVU’s team, composed of students from the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism and the College of Business and Economics, pools their knowledge and resources to design and market the vehicle. The object of the challenge is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance fuel efficiency while maintaining performance and stability.
“Each team comes up with its own eco-friendly design, using a different kind of fuel and a different kind of engine. WVU’s design is unique,” Fernandes said.
WVU’s EcoCAR will use a blend of B20 biodiesel fuel. It is designed with a two-mode hybrid transmission, powered by a 1.3 liter turbo diesel engine and a lithium ion battery pack. The team’s goal is to improve the vehicle’s gas mileage to 36 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway, a significant improvement over the stock vehicle’s original 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.
The competition has taken WVU’s team to Toronto, Boston, the Daytona International Speedway, and, most recently, to Yuma, Ariz., and San Diego, where they demonstrated their vehicle on GM’s proving grounds. In the first year WVU placed eighth and was the recipient of the “Team to Watch” award. At the second-year competition, the WVU team ranked 11th place overall.
As marketing and outreach coordinator, Fernandes’ job was to help spread the word about WVU’s EcoCAR design via speaking engagements, traditional media and social media. The team’s outreach program accounts for 40 of the 1000 points on which each team is graded, she said. The team maintains a website and has YouTube, Facebook and Twitter pages detailing the team’s progression.
A significant portion of the outreach program is dedicated to presentations to students in grades K through 12. Altogether, the team has addressed about 1,100 students throughout six counties in West Virginia and Pennsylvania on subjects such as sustainability, environmental initiative and hybrid vehicles.
Fernandes said the team received lots of positive feedback from their school visits.
“This was something they really enjoyed. Teachers told us those students who had not been considering college changed their minds once our team came to their school to talk to them about our EcoCAR project and the competition.”
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