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Car of the future

By Staff | Apr 28, 2009

Students from West Virginia University’s College of Engineering and Mineral Resources are wrapping up the first year of a collegiate competition to design an environmentally friendly car by enhancing vehicle fuel-efficiency and cutting down on vehicle emissions.

WVU’s proposal in the EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge, a three-year competition between teams of students at multiple universities across the nation, was among 17 that were accepted out of 65 universities that submitted proposals last spring.

The Mountaineer’s proposal was also ranked fourth in the group, according to Cara Slider, a graduate student at WVU and the EcoCAR team’s outreach coordinator.

The challenge is sponsored by General Motors, Argonne National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy. The competition challenges teams to explore vehicle solutions that minimize energy consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while maintaining the vehicle’s performance and consumer appeal. 

The winner of the competition gets to bring bragging rights to their university and have the chance of having their EcoCAR mass-produced. 

Over the next three years, WVU’s EcoCAR team will reengineer a stock 2009 Saturn Vue into a vehicle that is more economically and environmentally friendly. 

The first year of the competition is the stage for research, design and outreach. Teams received $10,000 from General Motors to begin developing and testing their vehicle designs. 

In the past year, WVU’s team has completed the design of the vehicle along with developing an outreach plan to promote awareness about the competition, according to Dr. Scott Wayne, the EcoCAR team advisor and WVU professor of mechanical engineering. 

“We’ve selected which components we will use to modify the vehicle,” Wayne said. “Everything from what engine we’ll use, to the hybrid drive system and the batteries we’ll use to power the vehicle.” 

WVU’s EcoCAR design will use a two-mode hybrid transmission, powered by a 1.3-liter turbo diesel engine and a lithium ion battery pack.

For fuel, the EcoCAR will use a blend of B20 biodiesel fuel, an alternative fuel that emits lower levels of greenhouse gases and pollutants. 

The team has designed the modifications they will have to make to the vehicle using computer-aided design tools as well as doing analysis to make sure that what they are modifying doesn’t affect the structural integrity of safety of the vehicle. 

“The key focus area is on designing the vehicle, because the automotive industry is really placing an emphasis on doing more design and development using virtual space because it’s more cost-effective,” Wayne said. “The cost of building prototypes is pretty substantial.” 

By using computer-aided design, the team has been able to plan out every single modification before even receiving the Vue, rather than jumping in and modifying and designing on the fly, which could lead to potential mistakes. 

“We want to make sure we’ve got it right before we start building,” Wayne said. “It’s the only car we get.” 

The WVU EcoCAR team will receive their 2009 Saturn Vue sometime in August, when the second year of the competition begins. The stock vehicle gets around 18 miles per gallon during a combined city and highway driving cycle, and the team is hoping to increase that to about 34 to 35 mpg. 

Reducing the greenhouse gas emissions and making sure the standard emissions are clean are also key components.  During the second year, the team’s goal is to begin actually making the modifications without jeopardizing performance or making sacrifices in things such as drivability, acceleration, towing capacity or safety. 

“We want to make sure we maintain the consumer appeal,” Slider said. “This is going to be a car that we hope people would actually want to drive.” 

In the third and final year of the competition, team members will focus on making any additional improvements on the vehicle. The rest of the final year will be devoted to working on the marketing aspects of the vehicle and getting the modified Saturn Vue ready for production. 

At the end of the third year, the 17 teams will compete to test their vehicles to determine if they meet goals such as incorporating technologies that reduce petroleum energy consumption, increase fuel-efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and maintain consumer appeal in areas of performance, utility and safety.  

“It’s an extremely challenging competition,” Wayne said.   

Contact William at wjones@graffitiwv.com