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Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team heads to final rounds of EcoCAR competition


The Virginia Tech Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team Left to right, members of Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team, Patrick Walsh, masters student from Richmond, Va.; John Saffran, senior from Woodbine, Md.; Lynn Gantt, graduate student from Yorktown, Va.; Brad Bowman, senior from Christiansburg, Va.; John Ely, senior from Richmond, Va.; and Andy Karpin, senior from Olean, N.Y. All focused their studies in mechanical engineering.

BLACKSBURG, Va., June 7, 2011 – The Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team of Virginia Tech is in Michigan this week as part of the final rounds of the international EcoCAR Challenge, a three-year design competition that seeks to inspire science and engineering students to build more energy-efficient “green” automobiles. Next week, the competition concludes in Washington, D.C., where judges will select a winning team.

The Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team already has done well in the three-phase competition, winning second nationally during Phase Two in 2010. A total of 16 collegiate teams from across the United States and Canada are participating in the competition, which is chiefly sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors.

Based in the College of Engineering’s Joseph F. Ware Jr. Advanced Engineering Laboratory, the team says their goal is to take a standard automobile and reengineer to be more efficient, reducing greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining consumer acceptability, stock appearance and safety. It won $10,000 in prize money with the second-place win in 2010.

Approximately $100,000, based on contributions by industry sponsors, will be handed out at the June 16 award banquet the top six teams are announced.

“Now that the vehicle has shipped, we will be making final preparations for presentations and display posters,” said Doug Nelson, a professor of mechanical engineering and founding adviser of HEVT, on June 1. Finale events kicked off June 5 at General Motor's Milford Proving Grounds in Milford, Mich., and conclude June 16 at the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, D.C.

Judges will place the competing cars -- 2009 crossover SUVs, donated by General Motors -- under a series of engineering tests similar to those used by the automotive industry on vehicles being considered for production. Judges will grade by safety and technical inspections; dynamic and static consumer acceptability tests; and braking, acceleration, autocross, and emissions and energy consumption testing, according to the EcoCAR website. Team members also will be tested on vehicle presentations, and outreach efforts to their member universities and communities.

As part of Phase 1 of the competition, during the 2008-2009 academic year, the team was tasked with creating a virtual model of its re-imagined SUV that would improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions while retaining the vehicle’s performance and consumer appeal. It placed sixth during this phase.

Phase 2 occurred after the donated car was delivered in fall 2009, and included major overhauls. Out went the factory-supplied V6 engine and corresponding transmission, and in went a 4-cylinder 2.4L General Motors ECOTEC engine and 4-speed automatic transmission. A 600-pound battery pack that holds power modules donated by A123 Systems Inc. was placed where the spare tire compartment was located in the boot of the car. Dozens of other changes were made.

The vehicle is now comprised of components from three different GM vehicles, plus a high-voltage battery pack system, battery charger, and two electric motor controllers, according to team members. 

The College of Engineering at Virginia Tech is internationally recognized for its excellence in 14 engineering disciplines and computer science. The college's 6,000 undergraduates benefit from an innovative curriculum that provides a "hands-on, minds-on" approach to engineering education, complementing classroom instruction with two unique design-and-build facilities and a strong Cooperative Education Program. With more than 50 research centers and numerous laboratories, the college offers its 2,000 graduate students opportunities in advanced fields of study such as biomedical engineering, state-of-the-art microelectronics, and nanotechnology. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.