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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!

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:

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!

EcoCAR’s 2011 Spring Workshop came to a successful close today, as all sixteen teams finished up testing at the EPA facilities. In addition to comprehensive vehicle inspections, the two week workshop included a Ride & Drive event for local media as well as learning and networking opportunities for the student team members.

Teams will now focus on what they learned at the Spring Workshop as they race to complete their vehicles for the competition finals in June!

Take a look at this video to hear what students, administrators, and media members had to say about the event:

The second wave of student teams are wrapping up safety tech inspections and dynamometer testing at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Fuels and Vehicle Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor, MI.

After an impressive week of dyno testing with Group A, Group B teams Embry-Riddle, Missouri S&T, North Carolina State, Rose-Hulman, University of Victoria, University of Wisconsin, University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), and West Virginia University had their turn.

“When coming to EPA, our team was looking forward to motor tuning testing in order to optimize performance and ensure another motor failure does not occur. We also wanted to perform a full battery depletion to determine our vehicle’s range,” said University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) team leader Gavin Clark.

UOIT was also the first vehicle in Group B to pass safety tech inspection and the first to test a vehicle on the dyno. Their vehicle was the fourth full-electric vehicle to perform dyno testing at EPA’s NFVEL facilities.

“We spent one whole day charging our vehicle and then performed a battery depletion test. The result was a total of 233 miles on a single charge. To do this we were on the dyno for nine hours using a variety of urban dyno drive schedules (UDDS), highway drive and steady state cycles,” said Clark.

Other teams, like Rose-Hulman, have utilized dyno testing to refine custom transmission shift maps in their vehicle.

“We have been using the UDDS, highway fuel efficient tests, and FU505 cycles to refine our custom automatic transmission shift maps,” said Rose Hulman’s Faculty Advisor Zac Chambers.  “Our results have been very insightful – being able to test in a controlled environment with no ‘runway’ restrictions is a tremendous opportunity.”

Before the Spring Workshop draws to a close, all remaining teams will have their shot at dyno testing. The University of Victoria, Embry-Riddle, and North Carolina State have already begun dyno testing and are excited to analyze the data.

“The dyno facility at the EPA NVFEL is mindboggling,” said Chambers. “We are still overwhelmed that we got to test our vehicle at the location where all vehicle fuel economy and emissions numbers are validated!  This was an experience our students will never forget.”

Check out the slideshow below to see photos of the Group B teams in action!

Since the early stages of competition, public interest in the innovative vehicles designed and built by the EcoCAR teams has surged.  At the EcoCAR “Green Ride & Drive” event yesterday, hosted at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory (NVFEL), the media was invited to interact with sponsors and students to see just how well the teams have taken performance and consumer appeal into account in their advanced technology vehicles.

Student engineers and Outreach Coordinators spoke to the media about the aspects of their vehicles that make them appealing to consumers, as well as the technical details of their vehicles’ architectures. Representatives from local Michigan media outlets got a close-up look at just what makes the EcoCAR vehicles special, and rode shotgun while they went out for a spin. The media presence included the Detroit News, Automotive News, AutoWeek, Detroit Auto Scene, SAE International Magazine, Xconomy Detroit and WOSU, a PBS station in Ohio. Reporter Scott Burgess from the Detroit News was on hand and captured the essence of EcoCAR in this story.

“It’s rewarding to be able to test the emissions and control systems that we have been refining throughout Year Three of the competition,” said Penn State team co-leader, Michael Zahradnik. “We also enjoyed showing off our vehicle to the high-level sponsors involved in the program and the media attendees.”

The University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) team spent the sunshine-filled morning talking with visitors and taking them for rides in their EcoCAR. The team’s full-function electric vehicle is powered by high energy density lithium polymer cells, and is expected to have a 250 mile range on a single charge when it is complete.

“It’s nice to get the opportunity to bring our EcoCAR to EPA’s facilities and show the results of our hard work in the garage,” said UOIT team leader, Gavin Clark. “Several attendees were impressed with the vehicle’s acceleration and power, something that they hadn’t expected from a full electric vehicle.”

MS&T Team Leader Kevin Martin Show's Off the Team's Vehicle

During the afternoon, employees at EPA’s NVFEL had the opportunity to spend time with the teams and take a peek under the hoods of the advanced technology vehicles. In addition, there was time for special awards recognition to the many EPA employees that helped to facilitate the team testing over the last two weeks.

The EcoCAR Ride & Drive event allowed guests to share the students’ passion and enthusiasm, and generated even more buzz and excitement in anticipation of the competition finals in May, when all vehicles will be put to the final test!

With teams starting the second week of the Year Three Spring Workshop, a vision of what the future – or at least the competition finals – may hold for EcoCAR students is beginning to take shape.  Over the past few days the students have soaked up lessons learned from inspections, testing, and presentations by organizers and sponsors, and are feeling well-equipped to make the final adjustments to their advanced technology vehicles and outreach campaigns.

The weekend was packed full of activities for the students. In addition to getting some real-world experience with test procedures, students attended workshop presentations on specific hardware components, the upcoming competition finals, and even got some advice from competition veterans, such as Wisconsin’s faculty advisors Glenn Bower and Shawn Midlam-Mohler, who have both been part of advanced vehicle competitions for more than a decade. Teams also go to hear an exciting review of the inner workings of the Chevrolet Volt.

Team Outreach Coordinators were also busy at the Spring Workshop. Just like the vehicles, Outreach Coordinators were put to the test when they gave scored presentations of a sponsor success story, submitting a paper and a poster on a learning experience the team had received through the help of a sponsor.

But it hasn’t been all work and no play – student’s enjoyed last week’s Sponsor Social, where they had the opportunity to network with EcoCAR sponsors, who in recent years have hired many competition graduates.

Mike Carlson of Wisconsin talks to a dSPACE recruiter

“I was surprised to see so many sponsors at the sponsor social,” said University of Victoria Team Leader Jeff Waldner. “You can really tell they are interested in hiring EcoCAR students and are excited to see that so many students are interested to work in the automotive industry.”

Texas Tech team members talk with a Snap-on Representative

Several awards were given out at the Spring Workshop Sponsor Social as well. Woodward announced the first and second place teams for their MotorHawk Video Award with Ohio State University taking first place and the University of Waterloo coming in second place. Other awards included recognizing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for all of their work with the Spring Workshop and awarding Henning Lohse-Busch, Argonne National Laboratory, and Tom Schrodt, U.S. EPA, with the EPA Outstanding Researcher Award.

EcoCAR also recognized all the hard work that the engineering GRAs and outreach coordinators have put into the competition, with two separate dinners on Saturday and Sunday nights. The dinners were a time to acknowledge the value that the students have added to the competition.

“The outreach dinner was a blast,” said UOIT Outreach Coordinator Lesley McLelland. “The opportunity to spend time with competition organizers and sponsor representatives is hugely valuable and quite a privilege. In the end, that’s what the competition is about – real-world experience and building industry connections.”

With just a few days of vehicle dyno testing left, students are already gearing up for the final competition, and are eager to get home to fine-tune their vehicles.

It has been a busy week at the EPA’s National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory (NVFEL) in Ann Arbor, MI as five teams were able to complete several dyno testing sessions on both the 2WD dyno and 4WD dyno.

The Ohio State team was excited to use the 4WD chassis dyno at EPA because they only have 2WD dyno capabilities at their university.

“With the 4WD dyno, some of the major focuses of our testing have been tuning our electrically heated catalyst control and some engine transient testing on the EPA drive cycles,” said Ohio State controls team lead John Kruckenberg.

The Ohio State team was able to analyze their catalyst control in hopes of improving their emissions of cold starts and getting a better baseline for how their vehicle performs on the road.

The Ohio State team using the 4WD chassis dyno

“In the second four-hour drive cycle, we were able to complete the official EPA certification dyno test so we could compare our previous test cycles to that of our electric drive mode to see how the vehicle runs on a standard cycle.”

Other teams, like Mississippi State, decided to test their urea-injection system that reduces NOx emissions in diesel fuel. This type of testing helps determine the optimal amount of urea to inject into the system for emissions purposes.

Mississippi State team members testing their EcoCAR

“You must inject sufficient amounts of urea to reduce the NOx emissions to a suitable level; however, if an excessive amount of urea is injected, this will cause ammonia to accumulate in the catalyst potentially resulting in harm to the system,” said Mississippi State Faculty Advisor Marshall Molen.

The Mississippi State team conducting additional tests

The University of Waterloo was also able to complete several dyno sessions this week at EPA. Their fuel cell plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (FC-PHEV) is just one of two in this competition.

“We ran a combination of urban and highway cycles just to get a baseline for vehicle performance and to be able to data log our powertrain,” said University of Waterloo team leader Michael Giannikouris.

“We also had the opportunity to get to do custom acceleration tests that allowed us to tune certain controls parameters on the dyno.”As the Group A dyno testing came to a close, both students and advisors agreed that this workshop was really beneficial.
 
“It has been great to work with EPA personnel and equipment,” said Will Dickerson, team member for Mississippi State. “We are able to get a better understanding of the kind of testing procedures that are relevant to today’s emissions testing.”

Group A teams started testing this week during the EcoCAR Spring Workshop held at  EPA’s National Fuels and Vehicle Emissions Laboratory (NFVEL).

“Dynamometer testing at EPA allows us to test vehicle emissions as well as fuel and energy consumption in a controlled and repeatable environment,” said Henning Lohse-Busch, Principal Mechanical Engineer at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and ANL Dyno Testing Event Captain.

All EcoCAR teams planned the drive cycles they would use to test their vehicles in advance of Spring Workshop. Some of these drive cycles include cold starts, highway driving cycles, and urban dyno drive schedules (UDDS).

Each team has the chance to complete two four-hour testing sessions to evaluate their emissions and fuel energy consumption. The first four-hour session goal is to evaluate the team’s powertrain according to their test plan. The second four-hour cycle starts with a cold test Federal Test Procedure (FTP), followed by a pair of highway drive cycles.

“The second testing session is very similar to what the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have to go through, so each team gets to experience what the real-world OEM process is like,” said Lohse-Busch.

As of mid-week, four teams have been able to perform the first four-hour dynamometer testing cycle based on their test plans, including Virginia Tech, Penn State, Ohio State and Mississippi State. Penn State and Virginia Tech were able to complete both four-hour test cycles late in the day on Wednesday.

 

Faculty Advisor Doug Nelson with VT's EcoCAR

“We have been running our vehicle really hard but we are getting great data from testing,” said Katie Kirsch, controls team member for Penn State. “We’ve been able to run a cold start urban cycle and two highway cycles to test our diesel emissions. From the data we collected, we can take it back to Penn State and then tweak our emissions system before competition in June.”

Not only is the vehicle dyno testing important to the students, but EPA has also been able to seize the opportunity to do further testing for their own research purposes.

“EPA was able to have the both Penn State and Virginia Tech complete additional full-charge test sequences on the vehicles,” said Lohse-Busch. “In fact, Virginia Tech was able to complete nine UDDS cycles in an electric vehicle (EV) mode during testing, getting about 68 miles in EV. Both the teams and EPA have found this workshop really insightful.”

As we head into Day Four, Group A teams will continue to test their vehicles on the dyno and Group B vehicles will arrive at EPA for the initial safety tech inspection. Be sure to check back on the Green Garage Blog for more updates!

Penn State's vehicle on the dyno!

After weeks of preparation for the EcoCAR Year Three Spring Workshop, teams began to arrive at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory ready to pass safety tech inspections and begin dynamometer and emissions testing on their vehicles.

Vehicles staged in the inside pit area

Vehicles staged in the inside pit area

The Spring Workshop is unique, in that the EcoCAR teams are divided into two groups for vehicle testing. Group A, which consists of Georgia Tech, Mississippi State,  Michigan Tech, Ohio State, Penn State, Texas Tech, University of Waterloo, and Virginia Tech, will take part in the inspections and dynamometer testing during the first week of the workshop.

Group B will arrive later this week and start their safety inspections and vehicle testing during the second half of the Spring Workshop. Group B consists of Embry-Riddle , Missouri S&T, North Carolina State, Rose-Hulman, University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), University of Victoria, University of Wisconsin, and West Virginia University.

Starting last Friday, March 4, organizers and EPA staff helped unload the Group A vehicles off of the transport trailers and into the pit area to begin safety tech inspections.

University of Waterloo vehicle being unloaded off of the transport trailer

University of Waterloo vehicle being unloaded off of the transport trailer

As of Monday, four teams passed their full safety tech inspection on the first day, including Virginia Tech, Penn State, Ohio State and Mississippi State.

Penn State's vehicle preps for safety tech inspections

Penn State's vehicle preps for safety tech inspections

“Building off of what we did last year at the safety tech inspections at Year Two Finals, we were better prepared for what we needed to get done to pass this time,” said Eric Schacht, team leader for Ohio State University.

Ohio State talks to Bruce Willis, GM, and Danny Bocci, Argonne National Lab, about their safety tech inspection

Virginia Tech, who was the first team to pass safety tech, was pleased that they were also the first team to start dynamometer testing.

“It’s been a great experience so far,” said Virginia Tech team member, Andrew Karpin. “We really appreciate EPA and other sponsors for letting us have a viable option to improve our vehicle by doing  dyno testing. It will help our team out immensely come Final Competition.”

As the rest of the teams pass safety tech inspections, they will begin implementing their test plans on one of EPA’s dynamometers.

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