EcoCar Challenge

Midwest team tests E85 hybrid
By Holly Jessen | May 13, 2011

As the three-year competition for the first Eco-Car challenge wrapped up in early June, the U.S. DOE announced the 16 universities selected to compete in EcoCar2. A partnership of General Motors and the DOE, the competition is meant to prepare future engineers for opportunities in clean energy and advanced vehicle industries. “The department is proud to support a program that provides real-world, hands-on experience to the students who will lead the way in designing and building the next generation of automobiles,” says DOE Secretary Steven Chu. “We look forward to seeing the exciting vehicle designs that these promising engineers of the future develop.”

On the list of competitors in EcoCar2 is the team from Ohio State University, which is wrapping up work on the first competition. The OSU team, made up of graduate and undergraduate students, chose E85 for the first year competition for a variety of reasons, says Eric Schacht, an electrical engineering graduate student at OSU. Although the renewable fuel is a likely frontrunner for its EcoCar2 effort, the final decision has not yet been made. The team chose E85 from options of electricity or four standard fuels: B20, E10, E85 or hydrogen, Schacht says. The team then converted two compressed natural gas engines to E85, helping it to achieve high efficiency with a compression ratio of 12:5:1, higher than the compression rates for a standard gasoline engine. “The team’s vehicle is for the first time in these competitions getting emissions levels below the U.S. certification level,” he adds. “The engine efficiency is actually averaging 40 to 41 percent, whereas the diesels it is competing against are only getting 38 percent and the gasoline engines closer to 35 to 36 percent.”

In addition to using E85, the vehicle is a hybrid electric. It uses electricity for about the first 40 miles, after which the E85 engine automatically turns on. “When the engine is on, the vehicle runs as a hybrid electric vehicle with regenerative braking and two modes, a low-speed-series hybrid mode and a highway-speed-parallel hybrid mode,” he says.  —Holly Jessen