Penn State team finishes third in national EcoCAR contest

Penn State's entry placed third overall in the national EcoCAR: The NeXT Challenge's Year Two Finals, held May 17-27.

The three-year competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and General Motors (GM), challenges engineering students from across North America to re-engineer a GM-donated car to minimize the vehicle's fuel consumption and emissions while maintaining its utility, safety and performance.

The Penn State team won awards for best social media program, best AVL drive quality and best technical report. It also placed second in A123 battery design, third in outreach and was the runner up in the well-to-wheel greenhouse gas emissions, best tailpipe emissions and best fuel consumption categories.

An online chat will be held with the Penn State team and the first- and second-place winners at the contest's behind-the-scenes blog at www.greengarageblog.org at 3 p.m. on June 4.

The competition's second year tasked the 16 U.S. and Canadian teams with implementing their vehicle designs that were simulated in Year One.

Penn State's car, an extended range electric vehicle, features a 330V lithium-ion battery pack coupled with a GM 120 kW electronic traction system and 75 kW UQM electric generator.

The vehicle includes a 4-cylinder, 1.3-liter biodiesel engine that achieved more than double the fuel economy of the baseline vehicle, or 57 mpg gas equivalent.

The first part of this year's competition was held May 18-23 with a series of safety and technical tests on each vehicle at GM's Desert Proving Grounds in Yuma, Ariz., similar to those conducted on prototype vehicles to evaluate their production readiness. Each car was tested on its ability to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining consumer acceptability in the areas of performance, utility and safety.

Additional events were held May 23-27 at locations throughout San Diego, Calif., culminating with an awards ceremony at the House of Blues.

"I think the best part was taking part in the vehicle dynamic testing in Yuma at the GM Desert Proving Grounds. The team was able to take part in braking and acceleration testing, autocross events, fuel consumption and emissions testing and dynamic consumer testing," said Marty Lechner, a mechanical engineering senior. "These events didn't go off without their complications. The team faced a variety of issues, including wrong sized fuse and high-voltage wires, dropping a washer inside the ETS inverter, leaking intake and coolant, issues with datalogger software, previously unknown battery power limiting from the A123 battery management system and a non-functioning air conditioning system."

"During the last 12 months, these teams faced a difficult challenge -- to build an innovative vehicle and continually refine and improve its operation," said Pat Davis, the DOE Vehicle Technologies Program manager, in a press release.

Mississippi State University and Virginia Tech finished first and second in the competition, respectively.

Looking forward, Penn State team leader and graduate student Derek Bailey said, "The team needs to work on a lot of things in Year Three to be able to place in the top three again. Since Year Three consists of consumer acceptability, the team plans on light-weighting components in the vehicle, working on a paint job and exterior and interior aesthetics and refining all components and controls within the vehicle."

The team, advised by Gary Neal, a research engineer with the Applied Research Laboratory, includes 35 undergraduate students and six graduate students. About a dozen members traveled to the Year Two Finals.

During the contest's first year, the Penn State team finished 7th overall and won accolades including the Donald Streit Sportsmanship Award and the best social networking award. The team also took third overall in outreach and second at the contest's opening skit night.

More on the contest can be found online at the contest's official site at http://www.ecocarchallenge.org/ online. The Penn State team's site is at http://www.hev.psu.edu/ online.

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Last Updated June 22, 2011