Automotive challenge draws fans of energy-efficient cars

May 20, 2010

University Park, Pa. — Penn State will hold its 21st Century Automotive Challenge beginning Friday, May 21, through Sunday, May 23.

The event will open to the public on Saturday, May 22, with a public display of the vehicles from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Larson Institute's parking lot, located off of Hastings Road between the Materials Research Laboratory and Research Centers A, B and C on the U. Team members will be on hand to answer questions.

Also on display will be Penn State's two award-winning Shell Eco-marathon vehicles, three Department of Energy-sponsored advanced vehicle competition vehicles and a two-mode hybrid built by students in the Larson Institute's Graduate Automotive Technology Education program.

Sponsored by the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute, the competition centers on creating the most energy efficient vehicles. A grant check from General Motors to the University will be presented during the event.

"It's a contest that's open to everyone, including high school and college teams, who is passionate about building energy efficient cars but may not have access to national and international competitions," explained Joel Anstrom, director of the University's Hybrid and Hydrogen Vehicle Research Laboratory and competition coordinator. "It's designed to be a regional competition open to schools, small teams of friends and family, entrepreneurs and tinkerers."

He continued, "North Haven Community School comes the furthest to compete, from an island in Maine. Teacher John Dietter is bringing seven students and their electric Volkswagen van, which they drive all year on the island."

Unlike other contests which may focus on one type of fuel source or vehicle, the Penn State competition is open to everything.

"All types of vehicles compete in categories based on market segments, not vehicle technology," Anstrom said. The contest expects a multitude of cars representing a range of advanced vehicle technologies, including a locally-owned electric Volkswagen Beetle, a Cooper MINI E and a Tesla Roadster.

Participants will be judged through inspections, dynamic tests and a range event.

"Methacton High School from Eagleville, Pa., has an advanced environmental science program which includes the conversion of a three-wheel car called the 'Lorax' to electric drive," he said. "Last year they finished second in their category by achieving the equivalent of 119 mpg gasoline equivalent."

Ken Barbour of Deptford, N.J., competed in last year's event with a modified 1991 Geo Metro convertible.

"The 2009 event was a lot of fun," he said in an e-mail. "I had the second fastest time in autocross and achieved a 42-mile range with only 10 Wal-Mart boat batteries. I wanted to show people that the car I converted by myself for less than $5,000 could fulfill daily driving needs and be a lot of fun."

Barbour is returning this year and plans to bring his Cooper MINI E this time around.

The Center for Sustainability's MorningStar solar home will again be included in this year's competition.

Participants will be challenged to model their vehicles' charging schedules in a "lifestyle efficiency" contest. Using solar panel data from the MorningStar, teams must calculate and optimize the kilowatts hours of energy they would draw off the home's solar array, compared to how much they might take from the traditional electric grid.

"The contest is designed to demonstrate everyday driving in a future of distributed power generation at home and work along with renewable fuels," Anstrom said.


  • Returning for this year's competition is a team from Methacton High School in Eagleville, Pa.

    IMAGE: Michael Casper

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 18, 2010