An electric hybrid vehicle running on E85 fuel proved to be the right technological combination for a team from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, which won top honors Thursday in a General Motorssponsored competition to demonstrate alternative energy vehicles.
The team from Blacksburg, Va., beat 16 other university groups by producing a vehicle that was tops in fuel economy, emissions and performance during a week of testing at GM’s Desert Proving Ground in Mesa. The U.S. Department of Energy joined GM to co-sponsor the Challenge X contest, which was designed to test new ideas to reduce America’s dependence on imported energy while giving engineering students across North America real-world experience in advanced engine design.
The E85-electric combination, which reduced the vehicle’s petroleum consumption by 75 percent, could be a major contributor to relieving the nation’s energy problems, said Steven Boyd, a graduate student and leader of
the Virginia Tech team, which won a $7,000 prize. the technology envelope the furthest by using a hydrogen fuel cell, but the team was not able to get the SUV running by the contest deadline and thus was eliminated from consideration for an award. Still, the technology may have the best long term promise, said Matt Stevens, the team’s cocaptain.
“Once we got it going, it worked,” he said. “The fact that a group of students
could make it work — that is a major leap.”
GM engineers believe that hybrid and E85 systems provide the best short-term solutions leading to hydrogen vehicles in the future, said Daniel Hancock, vice president, GM engineering operations.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but it is a good way to do it — combining a hybrid with a domestic fuel source,” he said.
The team re-engineered a 2005 Chevrolet Equinox SUV as a split-parallel hybrid that uses two electric motors to improve mileage and performance and an engine that runs on E85 — a blend of 85 percent ethanol produced from domestically grown corn and 15 percent gasoline.
A team from the University of Wisconsin, Madison took second place with a hybridbiodiesel combination, while Mississippi State finished third, also with a hybridbiodiesel design.
Many of the vehicles suffered operational glitches during the test driving.
An Equinox modified by a team from the University of Waterloo in Canada pushed consumers, and more models are being brought onto the market. “We will need a diversity of power-train solutions,” he said. Hancock was impressed with the quality of the work done by the students, saying “this is not simple stuff they are doing.”
The three-year contest has one more year to go.
During the next 12 months, the teams will refine their designs to make them easier to drive in real-world conditions. They will be tested again next year at a GM proving ground in Michigan. The long-term goal is “to remove vehicles from the energy debate,” Hancock said.