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The University of Waterloo Engineering Department recently held a day of exploration for local elementary students and their parents. The goal was to educate the community on the amazing projects being undertaken at the university. The University of Waterloo Alternative Fuels Team (UWAFT) was front and center for the event, holding interactive outreach presentations that displayed their engineering expertise and the opportunities of being a team in the EcoCAR Challenge.

In total more than 1,500 students and parents passed through the EcoCAR exhibit. Students were particularly interested in learning how hydrogen could be sourced as a fuel for the team’s vehicle.  Since hydrogen can be separated from water (H2O) through electrolysis, the team’s engineers demonstrated how electricity generated from clean sources like the sun could be used to create hydrogen and power a fuel cell vehicle.

UWAFT members Paul Nowosielski and Gurhari Singh explain the environmental benefits of their Hydrogen Fuel Cell Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle

The day after the engineering department event, UWAFT was at it again, as the EcoCAR exhibit hosted 7,000 high school students and their parents for Waterloo’s annual March Break Open House.  As aspiring university students and future engineers, these youngsters discovered that much of their future learning at university could very well occur outside the classroom. UWAFT highlighted the main goals and challenges of the EcoCAR competition, as well as showcasing the team’s work with industry and government to help green the automotive industry.  Parents were eager to get their children involved in a program that offers the fantastic undergraduate opportunity to work on real-world vehicles that could make a difference for generations to come.

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Rain or shine, Earth Day events go on. Despite the gloomy forecast, Virginia Tech’s Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team (HEVT) drove more than four hours from Blacksburg to Washington D.C.’s National Mall to show off their EcoCAR at the EPA’s Earth Day events last weekend.

The EPA Earth Day tent housed “green” exhibits, including the Virginia Tech EcoCAR booth, as well as the 55 university teams competing for EPA’s P3 award. The P3—people, prosperity, and the planet—is a competition that provides funding for top collegiate sustainable design programs. Though Virginia Tech was not among the competitors this year, HEVT was honored to be exhibiting among future-forward ideas similar to the EcoCAR competition.

Saturday’s rain storm made for quite a mess, but there were still plenty of visitors at the HEVT booth. Visitors loved the team’s toy hybrid cars and were excited to talk about the vehicle and the competition. On Sunday, the skies cleared up and visitors were able to spend time with the VTREX and visit our table inside the EPA tent. It was exciting to talk to attendees of the EPA event as well as passers-by who were simply out to enjoy the sights of D.C.

Overall, the event was a huge success for HEVT since the team was able to reach not only EPA Earth Day supporters, but hundreds of other D.C. visitors and residents. Thank you to EPA for putting on such a great weekend!

This month the OSU EcoCAR team sat down with Andy Mastrondardi, Director of University Programs at Freescale Semiconductor, Inc, an EcoCAR Platinum Sponsor. The team talked to Andy about his EcoCAR involvement from a personal perspective and from Freescale’s perspective. Watch the video below to see Andy provide some great insight into the EcoCAR competition from a sponsor’s point-of-view.

Check back next month for a special edition of OSU EcoCAR’s Sponsor Series – the team will be interviewing a representative from dSPACE, another Platinum Sponsor.

The University of Victoria EcoCAR team held its first vehicle showcase of the year at the Vancouver Central Library. The showcase gave the public a unique opportunity to learn about the cutting-edge technologies the EcoCAR team is using to build its hybrid vehicle as well as the tremendous benefits next-generation vehicles and green technology can bring to consumers and the environment.

The team rented two spaces on the inner promenade of the library for the event. The students set up a booth that included the UVic EcoCAR, monitors displaying videos and tools used for virtual testing, and posters showing the different components of the car. The team also handed out brochures and vehicle spec cards.

Approximately 5,000 people walked through the inside promenade of the library during the event, and the team was able to benefit from the foot traffic. Enthusiastic passer-bys of all ages stopped at the booth to see the car and ask questions. The two most common questions included:

–          Why should we choose hybrid technology?

–          What makes next generation hybrid technology different from standard hybrid technology?

Overall, the students received very positive feedback from their audience. The people of Vancouver were really enthusiastic about a competition that encourages the development of next generation vehicles.

In the morning, the UVic students also had the chance to visit with Paul Connors, Deputy Director and Trade Commissioner, Vancouver Regional Office, and Eric H. Barker, Senior Advisor, Clean Energies, Pacific Region. Both were excited about the EcoCAR initiative and offered the UVic students any assistance they could provide.

Thousands of car enthusiasts braved the blustery winter wind earlier this year to visit the Pittsburgh International Auto Show, an event that truly had something for everyone. Some hunted for the KidsZone to get their children intricate balloon animals and some searched for the best French fries, but others made their way to the Green Street area to learn more about ‘greener’ automotive options.

At the end of the long, green carpet in the midst of the latest hybrids, electric and alternative fuel vehicles, stood the Penn State EcoCAR team’s Green Street exhibit. Several engineers and outreach members spent the weekend explaining new technologies, answering questions and describing the EcoCAR competition.

Penn State team members were surprised by how much support they received, even in University of Pittsburgh territory! Many people who visited the exhibit were blown away that college students were capable of designing and implementing such complicated advanced vehicle technologies.

The Penn State team with their vehicle in Yuma, AZ

It was a rewarding experience for students to talk with visitors about Penn State’s vehicle architecture and its similarity with the Chevrolet Volt. With all the recent hype about the Volt, many people were already familiar with the type of extended-range electric vehicle that Penn State has. Countless individuals praised the car’s electric motor with a small backup biodiesel engine, and many predicted that the entire automotive industry will move in this direction soon.

Whether vehicles like Penn State’s EcoCAR will dominate the industry or not, it was encouraging to see the number of people interested in more environmentally friendly transportation. Throughout the weekend, people told the team their stories and explained why they’re making the decision to drive ‘green.’ If the Pittsburgh Auto Show is any indication, American drivers are ready for the vehicles in the EcoCAR competition to move from Green Street to every street!

In Year Two, it took the HEVT team several days to get their VTREX vehicle through all aspects of the safety tech inspection. This year, however, the team used its experience to make the process as painless as possible. Prior to shipping the vehicle off to the Spring Workshop, HEVT ran multiple mock inspections that went through every requirement on the official inspection list. All this hard work paid off since the VTREX was the first of all sixteen teams to pass Safety Tech inspection at EPA, which allowed the car to get straight to emissions testing.

Every EcoCAR vehicle was required to pass all parts of the safety tech inspection before it could be driven in any road tests or approved for dynamometer testing. Key points of the EPA inspection include checking to make sure critical fasteners are torqued to the proper specifications, checking to ensure that wires and coolant hoses are properly secured and safe from potential damage or movement and checking the high voltage systems to ensure everything is correctly labeled and properly installed.

Check out the video below to see HEVT team member, Jesse Alley, walk through the key points of the safety tech inspection:

In order to make the wheels spin on UWAFT’s hydrogen fuel cell plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, the EcoCAR students at the University of Waterloo have successfully integrated two electric motors into the vehicle’s drivetrain – one at the front wheels and one at the rear wheels.  To effectively use the electricity of the team’s GM-donated fuel cell and A123Systems-donated battery, UWAFT needed frequent successful bench tests of its Siemens AC induction electric rear motor.

Since this motor was not originally intended to be incorporated into the stock GM sub-frame, UWAFT has designed a unique rear mounting system that retained the original suspension mounting points, while also housing the sizable motor.  Knowing that the electric motor would need to be detached from the vehicle on a regular basis for testing, UWAFT specially designed the rear sub frame to ensure that disassembly was as efficient as possible. The design was a success, effectively accommodating the electric motor while making it possible for two people to disassemble in 15 minutes. This small mechanical modification has led to an increase in productivity and overall efficiency when working on the motor.

Watch the video below to see a bench test of UWAFT’s rear electric motor in action!

As part of Indiana University’s Sustainability “Themester,” the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology EcoCAR team brought their vehicle to Bloomington and put it on display. IU’s Themester is an initiative to engage the collective knowledge and creativity of the faculty and involve undergraduate students in the exploration of ideas that span all disciplines but relate back to one theme. The Fall 2010 theme at IU was Sustainability: Thriving on a Small Planet, so the EcoCAR competition was a fantastic tie-in.

IU was so impressed with RHIT’s EcoCAR that they featured the vehicle in the Themester’s closing ceremonies! Watch the video below to learn more:

Georgia Tech’s EcoCAR team had a great Spring Workshop, but the runup to the event was no picnic. For weeks leading up to the EPA testing, team members lost sleep getting the car back to life after two major issues threatened to sideline the vehicle.

First, electrical group members moved the Engine Control Module (ECM) into the new location where it would have less vibration, less wire clutter and less abrasion on the wiring conduit. The work seemed innocuous initially, but when they plugged the connectors back into the ECM and powered up the 12V disconnect, a fused popped, causing the vehicle to lose internal network communications and accessory power.

The team suspected the cause of the issue was wiring, so they spent two weeks stripping the conduits off the wiring harness, inspecting every wire going into the ECM, checking continuity in every pinout of the ECM connectors and reviewing the specification to see if any feature in ECM which would trigger this. They also shipped the ECM to General Motors for an inspection, but GM mentors informed the team that the component had no issues.

At a regular electrical group meeting only a few weeks prior to the Spring Workshop, the group was inspecting the new connectors GM had shipped when team member Carlos Cubero-Ponce ran in holding his laptop. He pointed at the schematic picture and revealed to the team’s shock that there was a simple answer to their electrical issue. The J1 connector was plugged in the wrong direction! Behind the pile of engineering documentations, the team had taken for granted that the connectors cannot be plugged in upside down.

Just days after resolving the ECM issue, Georgia Tech encountered another problem when an input shaft snapped off their 2-Mode transmission during testing. This required the team to replace the entire transmission, but luckily one arrived from GM without a day to spare. The team was able to make the proper adjustments to their vehicle and ship it off to the Spring Workshop just in the nick of time!

With the EcoCAR Final Competition just a few short months away, there is no shortage of work to be done. While the engineers were busy making final preparations for emissions testing at the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory, the Penn State outreach team has its own goals to accomplish.

Under the leadership of Penn State’s outreach coordinator, Allison Lilly, outreach team members are constantly brainstorming, planning and implementing events to promote advanced vehicle technologies. Each week there are events on campus, at local schools and in the community that present the opportunity to talk with people ranging from young children to state and federal officials.

Members have also heavily utilized social media and the team website as tools for two-way communication with community leaders and the general public. In addition to that feedback, the outreach team performed market research, which provides invaluable insights into consumers’ views of the automotive industry “going green.”

The Penn State outreach team will push themselves to finish strong during the remaining weeks of the competition. Even though there’s a shortage of time, there’s no shortage of opportunities—at least not for the dedicated members of Penn State EcoCAR.

Check out the video below to see local middle schoolers enjoying a visit from the team!

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