UW Today

March 1, 2012

UW students to design alternative-fuels vehicle for EcoCAR 2 competition

News and Information

The UW campus is seeing more alternative fuel vehicles like the Toyota Prius, the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt. In the lower level of the mechanical engineering building annex, UW students are working on a car that aims to leave them in the dust, from an environmental standpoint.

A team of more than 40 students is competing in the EcoCAR 2 competition, an international contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors Co.

Over the next 2 1/2 years the students will take a 2013 Chevy Malibu, strip out the motor and drive train, and turn it into a low-emissions vehicle with a 50-mile electric range. Once the battery runs out it turns into a hybrid with 50 mpg fuel efficiency.

UW EcoCAR team members at an April workshop in Austin, Texas. From left: Josh Wilke, Rafael Vertido, Ken Pizzini, Trevor Fayer, Nick Wilson, Trevor Crain, Tyler Rose, Rich Wurden and Michael Abowd.

UW EcoCAR team members at an April workshop in Austin, Texas. From left: Josh Wilke, Rafael Vertido, Ken Pizzini, Trevor Fayer, Nick Wilson, Trevor Crain, Tyler Rose, Rich Wurden and Michael Abowd.

The UW is one of 15 teams selected from hundreds of  hopefuls to participate in the three-year contest. After passing a series of milestones, the completed vehicles will be put through their paces at the GM proving grounds in Arizona and Michigan. Teams will be judged on their ability to design a fuel-efficient, low-emissions vehicle that still meets consumer demands for a driver-friendly car.

Some schools, like Purdue, Penn State and Ohio State universities, have a long tradition of entering automotive contests. While the UW competes in the Formula SAE contest, this is its first time entering a competition to design and build a consumer vehicle, which members say involves a very different set of design constraints and tools.

“Were building the facilities from the ground up, which is a whole new set of challenges,” said Tyler Rose, a UW MBA student and the teams outreach coordinator.

Trevor Fayer and Trevor Crain, both first-year masters students in mechanical engineering, are the technical leads. They first got involved in automotive research through a senior-level mechanical engineering capstone design project that became known as Voltaic Drive Systems, the winning entry in the Foster School of Business 2011 Environmental Innovation Challenge.

Mechanical engineering professors Brian Fabien and Per Reinhall encouraged Fayer and Crain to submit an entry for the EcoCAR challenge; the two faculty members now act as the teams co-advisers.

The EcoCAR 2 teams membership is mostly different from the Voltaic team, and it will try a completely different technical approach. Team leaders have recruited roughly 35 engineering students and five business students so far.

“This is really a student-led competition,” Fabien said. “The faculty advisers are just that. Once in a while we get in the lab and tinker with the toys, but its incredible how the students have just risen to the challenge and taken over.”

The team is installing a hydraulic vehicle lift, an auto machine shop, and a network of computers equipped with the same computer-automated design tools that GM uses to design its cars. These will belong to the UW when the contest is over. The team hopes the facility, which its calling the UW Advanced Vehicle Technology Research Lab, will allow UW students to conduct more research on alternative vehicles.

General Motors engineering mentor Michael Abowd (3rd from left) presents the $25,000 EcoCAR 2 seed money.  From left: UW professors Brian Fabien and Per Reinhall; Abowd; team members Tyler Rose, Trevor Fayer and Trevor Crain.

General Motors engineering mentor Michael Abowd (3rd from left) presents the $25,000 EcoCAR 2 seed money. From left: UW professors Brian Fabien and Per Reinhall; Abowd; team members Tyler Rose, Trevor Fayer and Trevor Crain.

Competition sponsors provided $25,000 of startup funds, which was matched by the UWs Department of Mechanical Engineering. Now the team is looking for local sponsors to provide cash and in-kind donations for the construction phase.

The UWs vehicle design, unveiled last week, is a plug-in hybrid that incorporates both an electric motor and a small backup diesel motor.

“Instead of having all of your drive train under the hood, you have an electric motor on the rear wheels and a gas motor on the front wheels,” Fayer explained. “You can use them separately or combined, in unique fashions, and gain some efficiencies. Theyre linked through the road rather than directly to each other in a gear train.”

The UW team consults about once a week with partners at GM and the Department of Energy, and members travel to five-day workshops several times a year.

The contest acts as a recruiting tool for automobile manufacturers. Over the 10 such contests sponsored by the Energy Department, some 98 percent of the thousands of students involved have gone on to work in the automotive industry, Fayer said, and the pattern is likely to continue.

“We went to a workshop with eight students, and we came back with six job and internship offers,” Fayer said.

Since last falls kickoff, the UW team has focused on designing its energy-storage system. When the vehicle arrives this summer, students will start dismantling the car and installing new parts. In a little more than a year they expect to have a fully functioning, licensed automobile.

“Its been a whirlwind up until now,” Rose said, “but when we get the vehicle, things are really going to take off.”

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For more information, contact Rose at 310-699-2323 or mtylerrose@gmail.com.