June 15, 1999 Car exceeds California low emissions standards
A team of engineering students from the University of Illinois at Chicago won the 1999 Ethanol Vehicle Challenge on May 26, demonstrating both their engineering prowess and the commercial promise of ethanol, a corn-based fuel.
More than 200 students from 14 colleges and universities competed in the contest, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, Natural Resources Canada and General Motors. The UIC team won first place overall, first place in fuel economy, best flame-arrestor design (to prevent flames from an external source from reaching the fuel tank) and tied for first place in emissions tests with the University of Texas at El Paso and Wayne State University.
Government and the automotive industry are interested in ethanol because it is inherently cleaner burning and because it is derived from corn, and thus has the potential to reduce American dependence on foreign oil.
Much of the UIC team's success came from its dogged determination to reduce emissions and fuel consumption, according to Brianno Coller, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.
"That required a lot of painstaking tinkering with the engine on the part of the students," he said.
A catalyst provided by AlliedSignal, Inc. and a secondary air-injection system designed by the UIC team were keys to reducing emissions. The catalyst reduces all three components of emissions - hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen. The secondary air-injection system picks up unburned raw fuel that remains in the exhaust stream after combustion, in particular reducing hydrocarbon emissions.
"With these two devices, we came up with a system that exceeds the California Low Emissions Vehicle standards," said UIC team leader Michael Svestka, a senior.
The team is particularly proud of its design for cold-starting the engine, he said. Ethanol is less volatile when cold, leaving the engine prone to hesitate when the driver first presses on the gas pedal.
"To get the engine to start at zero degrees Fahrenheit, we had to heat the air and the fuel," said Svestka. To heat the air, the team arranged for it to flow over electrically heated coils, "kind of like those in your toaster, only magnified 10 times," he said. They warmed the fuel by bringing it near engine coolant that had been heated during a previous engine run and stored in a kind of super-insulating thermos.
Their ingenuity paid off.
"It's great to win first place," said Svestka. "The competition was very tight. We beat the second place team by only six and a half points out of a thousand."
Last fall, General Motors gave each team a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck running on ordinary gasoline. Over the course of the school year, working tens of hours a week on their own time, the students re-engineered the trucks to run solely on E85 (85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline primer).
The students and their faculty advisors were responsible for finding sponsors. UIC's 12-member team, guided by Coller, raised well over $100,000. Sponsors gave in-kind gifts as well as cash. Automotive Research Labs, Inc., of Harvey, IL provided emissions tests, for example, while AlliedSignal Inc. provided experimental new catalysts for use with the E85 fuel. Ethanol was provided by the competition, but the students also were able to refuel at Argonne National Laboratory and at a commercial gas station in Des Plaines.
In May, teams presented their designs to General Motors and Department of Energy officials, explaining how they confronted the inevitable design trade-offs. Judges also examined the engines, rating them on craftsmanship and their potential use in a realistic production line.
The competition began in earnest May 19 at General Motors' Proving Ground in Milford, Michigan. Teams had to demonstrate a significant improvement in fuel economy and a reduction in exhaust emissions compared to conventional pickup trucks, while maintaining driveability, performance, and consumer appeal. The competition wrapped up with a 600-mile motorcade from Lansing, MI to Springfield, IL, making stops at the state capitol buildings, the GM assembly plant in Fort Wayne, IN, and the Williams Ethanol plant in Peoria, IL.
UIC team members were Svestka, of Bolingbrook; Phil Baranek of Westmont; Andrew Chow and Brian Gorman of Skokie; and Patrick Barasa, Mirko Barbir, Justin O'Connor, Peter Probst, Robert Ruda, Giuseppe Sammartino and Christopher Gano of Chicago. UIC sponsors were the Illinois Corn Growers Association; the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs; Federal-Mogul Corp.; BERU; Borg Warner Automotive; Centaur Thermal; AlliedSignal, Inc.; RC Fuel Injection and Automotive Research Labs, Inc., of Harvey, IL.
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