Education & Outreach
Sustainable Mobility: Hybrid Vehicles Compete
Against a backdrop of concerns about energy scarcity and climate change, teams of students gathered in the Arizona desert earlier this year to showcase their ideas for building a cleaner, more fuel-efficient SUV.
A student team from Virginia Tech tests its hybrid vehicle on the handling course in Mesa, Ariz., during the second year of the Challenge X competition. The team won first place for lowest time to brake and for handling. Photograph is by Roy Feldman.
The students are participants in Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility, a three-year-long vehicle design competition aimed at developing the automotive technologies of the future. Specifically, teams reengineered a 2005 Chevrolet Equinox to minimize its energy consumption and emissions, while maintaining or improving its utility and performance.
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and General Motors Corporation (GM), the competition gives graduate and undergraduate students an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in vehicle research and design. Moreover, “Challenge X shows that the cooperation of industry, government and academia is an excellent approach to developing more energy-efficient and greener automotive technologies,” says Ed Wall, program manager for the FreedomCAR and Vehicle Technologies Office at DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
Seventeen student teams from the United States and Canada are participating in Challenge X. In their first year of competition, which began in the fall of 2004, teams focused on modeling, simulating and testing the components of their vehicle systems. In their second year, they installed the components into their vehicles and completed additional testing. Over the course of the upcoming third, and final, year of the competition, teams will work on refining their vehicle systems.
This past spring, at the conclusion of the second year of competition, the teams met at the GM Desert Proving Grounds in Mesa, Ariz., to compete in a variety of tests for handling, acceleration, emissions and vehicle design. The team from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., took top honors in the overall competition, as well as in a number of subcategories.
“Our inspiration for this project came from our students wanting to show that they could have a real impact on reducing petroleum imports and improving energy security,” says Doug Nelson, faculty advisor of the Virginia Tech team. “Along the way, this project can also have a positive impact on our economy and environment.”
Recently, Geotimes contributing writer Jennifer Yauck talked with Steven Boyd, a Virginia Tech graduate student in mechanical engineering and the team’s student leader for the past two academic years, about his team’s accomplishments, the place of alternative fuels and new technology in the future, and what he’s gained from the Challenge X experience.
JY: What is the atmosphere like at the Challenge X competition?
JY: What was your team’s strategy for increasing fuel efficiency and decreasing emissions?
We also wanted to make the vehicle more efficient, and we designed a hybrid system to do that. We used a smaller engine on the vehicle, which helps to increase the fuel economy a little bit. And then we paired that with electric motors that also help to increase the fuel economy and performance of the vehicle, so it has enough power to accelerate quickly and tow a trailer.
JY: What were some of the accomplishments of your vehicle?
JY: What approach did other teams take?
JY: What’s been the most rewarding aspect of the Challenge X experience?
JY: What have you personally gained from participating in the Challenge X competition?
JY: What do you think about the place of alternative fuels and new technology in the energy future of the United States.
JY: What are your career ambitions?
JY: What kind of car do you drive now, and what would you like to drive in the future?