Five Electric Snowmobiles Enter the Clean Snowmobile Challenge

HOUGHTON, Michigan, January 26, 2012 (ENS) – Running zero emissions snowmobiles, teams of engineering students from five universities are among the 17 teams entered in the annual Clean Snowmobile Challenge slated for March on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

They will be riding the quietest machines competing in the 13th annual Society of Automotive Engineers Clean Snowmobile Challenge at Michigan Technological University’s Keweenaw Research Center March 5-10.

Teams registered in the zero emissions category are McGill University, Montreal; South Dakota School of Mines and Technology; the University of Alaska Fairbanks; the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the host school, Michigan Tech.

In last year’s Challenge, the University of Wisconsin-Madison took first place in the Zero Emissions Class.

The UW-Madison zero-emissions sled at the 2011 Clean Snowmobile Challenge. (Photo by John Hatch courtesy UW-Madison)

The zero emissions category for battery-powered snowmobiles is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, one of the government agencies that uses electric snowmobiles in the field. Researchers riding clean, silent snowmobiles can conduct in pristine arctic areas with minimal environmental impact.

The ultimate goal of the zero-emissions competition is to develop sleds that will allow scientists at the North and South Poles to travel between research stations without any emissions, which can skew data results.

The small town of Houghton that hosts Michigan Technological University is in snowmobiling heaven – the northwestern portion of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, on a snow-covered spur of land that sticks out into Lake Superior.

Environmentalists often complain about noisy, air polluting snowmobiles that ruin the outdoor experience for others. Zero emissions, battery-powered electric sleds answer both of those concerns.

For the first time this year, teams will be invited to present design studies on a new concept for snowmobiles – a hybrid electric vehicle.

The fuel-powered motor would serve as a generator for the snowmobile’s discharged batteries.

“This would address the need for an extended-range electric snowmobile,” says Clean Snowmobile Challenge co-organizer Jay Meldrum. “You could take an electric snowmobile, put a 50-horsepower motor on the back, and drive it till you run out of power. Then you could turn your recharger on and go farther.”

Meldrum called the hybrid design a “range-anxiety reliever.”

“Electric snowmobiles only go about 20 miles without a motor,” he said. “For scientists conducting research out on a glacier in Greenland, it could get them back home.”

For the 12 snowmobiles in the internal combustion category, fuel economy is a top priority.

“If a team doesn’t design for that, they won’t do well,” Meldrum says.

Fuel economy will be measured in three ways and a range of ethanol concentrations, from E10 (10 percent ethanol) to E39 (39 percent) will be tested.

During the 100 mile Endurance Run, teams are rated in part on their snowmobiles’ mileage.

Fuel usage will be measured during the indoor emissions testing, and the Challenge includes a mobile emissions test with a fuel flow meter.

Engineering students from participating schools take a stock snowmobile and reengineer it to reduce emissions and noise and increase fuel efficiency while preserving the riding excitement demanded by snowmobilers.

Fuel economy will be measured in three ways. During the Endurance Run, teams are rated in part on their snowmobiles’ mileage during the 100-mile trek.

Fuel usage also will be measured during the indoor emissions testing, and third, the Challenge includes a mobile emissions test using a fuel flow meter.

Major sponsors include government agencies that need to run clean, quiet vehicles into remote areas, such as the USDA Forest Service and the National Park Service.

Parts and technology suppliers also are major sponsors: automotive parts supplier DENSO; Emitec Inc., a supplier of emissions-reduction technology; Phoenix International, a John Deere company; Aristo Catalyst Technology and engine components supplier Mahle. A new sponsor is Camoplast of Sherbrooke, Quebec, a rubber-track technology company. Gage Products is providing fuel for the Challenge.

Local businesses provide services, donations and in-kind contributions. Volunteers from the Michigan Snowmobile Association have pitched in every year to provide logistical support and guidance to team members.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.