Students make final preparations for EcoCAR contest

It's 1 a.m. and students can be seen working late into the night at Penn State's Hybrid and Hydrogen Vehicle Research Laboratory on this, the final day of preparation before their vehicle ships for the 2010 EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge competition May 17-27. Sixteen North American universities are expected to compete in a series of events that will test vehicles and teams at the GM Desert Proving Ground in Yuma, Ariz., and at locations throughout San Diego, Calif.

Sizing up the status of the Penn State vehicle, the team is tweaking details but the key systems are ready. "Where we are right now is a combination of jubilation and relief," said Marty Lechner, diesel engine and generator team leader. Much more work will be in store when the competition events begin.

"It's been a roller coaster ride of emotions," smiled Gary Neal, the team's faculty adviser. Thirty-five undergraduate and six graduate students comprise the Advanced Vehicle Team. Twelve students will travel to and take part in the competition.

The Penn State team earned high honors in last year's competition for their design of a plug-in extended range electric vehicle that runs on B20 biodiesel. Penn State placed seventh out of the 17 universities that competed in the first major milestone of this three-year competition.

Sponsored by General Motors and the Department of Energy, the competition challenges university engineering students across North America to re-engineer a 2009 Saturn Vue, with goals to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions while retaining the vehicle's performance and consumer appeal.

For the first year of competition, students were tasked with creating innovative concepts for their vehicle design and given the opportunity to use advanced software and computer modeling tools which allowed for testing and refinement under the simulation of real-world conditions.

Penn State's vehicle design includes a plug-in series architecture with an estimated electric range of 20 miles due to an energy dense, air-cooled lithium-ironphosphate battery pack. The vehicle will use a 1.3-liter GM diesel engine to drive a 75kW electric generator that produces electricity to power the vehicle. Finally, a 120 kW electronic traction system will be used to propel the vehicle.

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Last Updated May 11, 2010