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Ohio State Engineering Students Take Top Honors in Designing Vehicle of the Future

June 12, 2009

A team of Ohio State College of Engineering students today won first place, surpassing 16 other teams from around the world, in the first year of a three-year U.S. Department of Energy competition to improve automotive technology.

Ohio State is one of 17 universities participating in EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge, in which students must re-engineer a 2009 Saturn Vue to achieve improved fuel economy and reduced emissions while retaining the vehicle’s performance and consumer appeal. The competition is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors as well as Natural Resources Canada and others.

“I can't imagine a better group of students to represent Ohio State and our College of Engineering,” said Shawn Midlam-Mohler, research scientist at Ohio State’s Center for Automotive Research and co-adviser the team. “I just don't think it is possible to describe the level of commitment that many of our team members have for this project — doing what they do while being full-time students is simply incredible. Everybody is already looking forward to year two, in which they get to build the vehicle they designed, so look for much more excitement over the next year.”

Giorgio Rizzoni, director of Ohio State’s Center for Automotive Research and the other team adviser, said the students’ desire to learn about all of the technologies contributed to their motivation on the project.

“Out of our entire team, just one student has graduated. Not bad for a national championship year,” Rizzoni said. “These are the students who will make it possible for GM to reinvent itself and become a success story again.”

Successful completion of this first year of EcoCAR, which took place in Toronto this week, earned the Ohio State team a key to a new 2009 Saturn Vue and a place in the second phase of the competition, which will take place at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

Eric Schacht, team captain and a senior in electrical and computer engineering, attributed the team’s success to the teamwork among team members and sponsors and the diversity of capabilities of the students, whose various majors include mechanical, electrical and computer and engineering physics as well as communications and biology.

“We specifically set out to design a vehicle that performed very well off of all-electrical that would plug into a wall and charge up at home as well as a vehicle that could perform after the battery ran out and it transitioned to running off of E85 ethanol,” Schacht said. “Over the summer we will receive engines donated by Honda, so we will begin tuning our engine to be ready to go into the vehicle once it arrives in August. Our engine is actually a compressed natural gas engine that Honda built and we will convert to run on the E85. We’re doing the complete conversion and all the tuning and software ourselves. Right now all we have is the hardware.”

General Motors is providing production vehicles and parts, seed money, technical mentoring and operational support. The U.S. Department of Energy and its research and development facility, Argonne National Laboratory, are providing competition management, team evaluation and technical and logistical support. Through sponsoring such advanced vehicle engineering competitions, GM and the U.S. Department of Energy are developing the next generation of scientists and engineers.

In this first year of the EcoCAR competition, each team received $10,000 to begin developing their vehicle designs.

During years two and three, students will build the vehicle and continue to refine, test and improve vehicle operation. At the end of years two and three, the re-engineered student vehicle prototypes will compete in a week-long competition of engineering tests.

In the Department of Energy’s previous competition, a four-year event called Challenge X, Ohio State’s team Reverb placed third in the nation to improve automotive technology in vehicle efficiency and tailpipe emissions using a Chevy Equinox.

Students from any academic major who are interested in joining the EcoCAR team should contact osuecocar@gmail.com. The EcoCAR engineering team needs students interested in building the car, and the EcoCAR business team needs diverse academic backgrounds for outreach activities.

Follow the Ohio State EcoCAR team online at www.ecocarchallenge.com. Watch the team on YouTube. The main competition Web site is www.ecocarchallenge.org