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One of the benefits of Virginia Tech’s VTREX is its electric vehicle (EV) capability. To ensure the car runs as efficiently as possible in this year’s competition, the team has upgraded the rear electric traction motor and designed a custom subframe to mount it. The new motor is more powerful and more efficient, and therefore will help the team meet its target gasoline equivalence of 100 miles per gallon, while offering excellent acceleration.

Installing the rear traction electric motor and subframe took the engineers about two weeks to complete. Taking their time allowed the team to make sure everything was installed properly and would pass the EcoCAR Competition safety requirements.  HEVT is currently testing their vehicle at the Spring Workshop at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s facility in Ann Arbor, MI.

Check out the video below to see Kat from HEVT run down the team’s latest modifications, and stay tuned for more updates from the Spring Workshop!

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As the deadline to ship their EcoCAR (the VT-REX) out for EPA testing creeps closer, the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team at Virginia Tech (HEVT) is working hard to make significant changes to its vehicle. Last week, the team focused on making improvements to the 360 Volt, A123 Lithium Ion Phosphate battery pack. While incorporating the battery, HEVT has been challenged to maintain adequate cargo space and eliminate a large gap between the floor pan and the battery base plate, but these issues have been addressed in the latest round of improvements.

For starters, HEVT lowered the battery using a new layout that contains all battery modules within the frame rails of the car. This adjustment helps open up more space in the trunk and lowers the center of gravity in the rear, which helps alleviate over-steer. In addition, the passenger compartment is now completely sealed from outside elements including carbon monoxide, road debris, and noise.

Changes to the battery, including a redesign of the high voltage battery pack, are largely motivated by the installation of a more powerful rear traction motor. HEVT engineers dedicated the majority of the week to rewiring the low voltage communication harness as well as the high voltage wires in order to accommodate the new battery module layout.

To complete the battery upgrades, HEVT needs to finalize the wiring, permanently mount the modules to the base plate, and finally secure the top of the battery case. The team is confident that these modifications will ensure the VT-REX is a highly efficient and “green” vehicle by improving its electric capabilities.

Check out the video below to watch HEVT updating its EcoCAR battery!

With the biggest football game of the year fast approaching, we were reminded to congratulate Virginia Tech’s football team and its impressive 11-3 record for the 2010 season. At the height of football season, it was inevitable that EcoCAR activities and football games could clash, but the effective and purposeful way that the Virginia Tech EcoCAR team used football games to promote EcoCAR was a touchdown!

Alumni and their families check out the VTRex and ask the team members about the car

For instance, the Virginia Tech EcoCAR, the VTREX (VT Range-Extended Crossover), appeared alongside the Virginia Tech Solar Decathalon Europe champion vehicle, the Lumenhaus, as focal points at the VT College of Engineering alumni tailgate back in September. Not only did the EcoCAR team members get to showcase their VTREX and answer tailgaters’ questions, but they engaged engineering alumni. The alumni in attendance were quick to offer their expertise and some even joked about returning to Virginia Tech as a student, just to be part of the EcoCAR team!

One of the outreach coordinators, Rachel, and some of the team volunteers

As a university student, interacting with someone already in your chosen field is a rewarding experience, and last week, some EcoCAR students did just that.

Five EcoCAR teams spent the week at the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI) Research & Innovation Conference in Atlanta – the division of the NSF that has been a long-time sponsor of the DOE Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions, such as EcoCAR.

Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Penn State, and Missouri Science & Technology were at the conference to demonstrate the wealth of knowledge they have obtained through their experiences in EcoCAR and to display vehicles and educational exhibits to the 1,300 attendees in fields ranging from academia to industry and government. Two of the teams, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, also showcased their EcoCARs at the conference.

Georgia Tech EcoCAR team members talking to guests at the NSF Conference

Georgia Tech EcoCAR team members talking to guests at the NSF Conference

“The NSF supports EcoCAR because it gives young engineers an opportunity to get some hands-on, real-world  experience in moving a vehicle from a stock vehicle to something far more advanced,” said Dr. Donald Senich, senior advisor of the Innovation and Industrial Partnership at NSF.

“The opportunity at the universities for a diverse group of students to build teams is extremely important in their education. NSF supports the program because it gives students such a unique and practical experience. ”

The NSF conference’s theme this year was Engineering for Sustainability and Prosperity,” and emphasized the role civil, mechanical, industrial, and manufacturing engineers play in addressing the world’s growing challenges of using energy and natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Teams utilized the opportunity to reach out to leaders in innovation and sustainability to talk about how they are addressing those same issues through the EcoCAR competition.

“Our team spent a lot of time over the winter break working on the vehicle so that it would be ready to show at this conference,” said Rachel Dobroth, outreach coordinator for Virginia Tech.  “It’s so rewarding to be able to show the vehicle to engineers and researchers in this field.”

The team leader of the Missouri S&T team, Kevin Martin, believed the NSF conference provided his team with a great opportunity to expand its outreach beyond our campus and Midwest.

“To get the opportunity to see what’s going on in the industry related to sustainability effects and see how vehicles can tie into that is great,” said Martin.

After a successful week at the NSF conference, the five teams feel proud of their accomplishments thus far, and about their experiences interacting and networking with industry leaders.

“I just enjoyed the interaction with the young people, with the individuals from General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy,” Dr. Senich said. “I think they’ve put together outstanding teams from the organizers’ side and the student side. And I feel like a member of the team.”

EcoCAR Team members at the NSF Conference

EcoCAR Team members at the NSF Conference

ClimateWire’s Darius Dixon contributed an article to The New York Times last week entitled, “Preparing Students to Roll Off the Campus and Into Big Automotive Jobs.” The piece features EcoCAR and explores the evolution of Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTCs), the students competing in them and their relationship with the auto industry. Not only does Dixon talk at great length about the competition, he also includes highlights from Virginia Tech and Mississippi State University in his narrative!

Dixon points out that initially, vehicle competitions aimed to advance technology and promote alternative fuels. Twenty-three years and 16,000 students later, the competitions have other emphases. EcoCAR’s own Kristen De La Rosa from Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) is quoted in the article saying that there has been a shift in the emphasis of the program from designing and developing future vehicles (pre-hybrid market) to an emphasis on providing the most real-world educational experience for the future leaders of the auto industry.

Teaching this type of systems-level thinking and skills, while emphasizing hands-on learning and real-world applications, presents another major set of AVTC benefits – opportunities for students to make an almost seamless transition into careers in the auto industry and related fields. Close relationships with General Motors (GM), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), ANL and other industry heavy-hitters have an influence on the EcoCAR experience – an admittedly good one according to Virginia Tech’s EcoCAR co-team leader, Lynn Gantt, who is quoted as saying, “Who wouldn’t want their industry involved in their education? Just about everyone among the team and sub-team leaders has a job offer from industry.”

How has EcoCAR or other AVTCs prepared you for the real world? Please share your comments, we’d love to hear from you!

For a deeper view into how EcoCAR students have gone on to work for companies like GM, DOE and ANL, check out: Life After EcoCAR: Jim Motavalli Examines Recruiting and Future Careers for Students, an Inside the Green Garage post featuring insights from auto journalist and EcoCAR enthusiast, Jim Motavalli.

The Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team of Virginia Tech (HEVT) received a huge honor from EcoCAR sponsor, National Instruments (NI), this summer.  Team members, Lynn Gantt and Michael Kearney, were invited to give part of the Academic Keynote For NIWeek 2010 in Austin and presented to more than 4,000 people from the industry, academic, and the technical community. This invitation was a result of Virginia Tech’s success in Year Two of the competition through the use of several National Instruments products, including LabVIEW, Veristand, and StateChart software and CompactRIO and PXI hardware.  Winning the Best Use of Graphical System Design award from National Instruments also helped the team secure the role at the conference. 

The team’s presentation covered the goals of EcoCAR, the vehicle architecture, control strategy, Hardware-In-the-Loop testing, and a hardware demo showing off the driver display created by the team and HIL testing – a lot  to squeeze into a seven minute presentation! The hard work paid off and the presentation received strong applause from industry and academic professionals, and event organizers.

HEVT was joined on stage by Racing Green Endurance from Imperial College in London, England.  Soon, they will be taking their student-built electric race car 26,000 km down the Pan-American highway from Alaska to the tip of South America.  Another group from Virginia Tech, the Blind Driver Challenge Team out of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) also presented at the conference.  This group of senior design students is working with NI and the National Federation for the Blind to develop a car that one day can be driven by the blind. 

Check out the cool videos below from the NI Keynote address:

This week’s “Where Are They Now” post features Stephen Gurski, a safety engineer in the Powertrain Division at General Motors (GM). At GM, Stephen is working on the launch of the Chevrolet Volt Extended Range Electric Vehicle. In addition to his full-time job, Stephen is serving as the GM Powertrain Lead for Year Three of the current Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC) series, EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge.

Stephen received a tribute for his years of AVTC service

Accepting the award

Stephen’s interest in engineering started in 1997 when his roommate invited him to attend a student club meeting. The club was the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team of Virginia Tech and their task was to convert the 1997 Chevrolet Lumina into a hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicle for the FutureCar Challenge. Stephen enjoyed working on cars and agreed to help the team obtain a set of axles for the vehicle, a small but important task. Little did he know that this decision would save his academic hardships and redefine his professional career.

For the next five years, Stephen dedicated his time to building advanced vehicles for the Virginia Tech team. Eventually, Stephen was selected as team lead during his last two years with the team. During those five years at Virginia Tech, Stephen finished his bachelor’s degree and continued on to complete a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.

After graduate school, Stephen landed a job as a technical coordinator and safety engineer for the AVTC program at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago. Stephen served as both a member and lead technical coordinator for the Argonne team for the finale of FutureTruck and majority of the Challenge X program. In 2007, he transitioned jobs internally at Argonne, becoming a vehicle dynamometer test cell and emissions engineer, which allowed him to evaluate the state of advanced vehicle technology in passenger and medium duty vehicles. Furthermore, Stephen contributed in researching the new EPA window sticker fuel economy labeling standards needed for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

Stephen concluded his employment at Argonne in the summer of 2008, where he transitioned into his current position at GM.

“Had I not chosen to participate in AVTCs as a student, I would not have finished either of my engineering degrees,” he said. “As a result, I’ve helped hundreds of students become world class automotive engineers, and now I’m redefining the future of personal transportation.”

This year, Virginia Tech awarded over 300 students with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering.  While most chose to work in defense in the Washington, D.C. area, many chose another career path.  This year, over a third of the students who worked on the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team of Virginia Tech as a senior design project for EcoCAR Year Two have secured various automotive jobs with Liebherr Mining Equipment, Altec Industries, General Motors and Ford Motor Company.  Five students on the team chose to work at General Motors, a headline sponsor of the EcoCAR Challenge, along with the Department of Energy.  These students chose to work for GM because of the information learned in creating an extended range electric vehicle that uses stored grid electricity and E85 fuel for propulsion.  While the EcoCAR students have only been working for a few weeks, they are already deep into their new assignments. Of the five students at GM, HEVT placed two in full-time positions.

Brian Fiore is currently working full-time with General Motors in the Powertrain department at the Milford Proving Grounds.  His official title is “6-Speed Algorithm Design Development Engineer”, which means that he works on the design and calibration of 6-speed transmissions.  This work involves writing code in C and then testing the code changes on a transmission controller in a physical vehicle.

Michael Kearney is working in Hybrid Vehicle Integration.  In Human Interface Displays and Gauges, he will be helping develop and test the algorithms being implemented in the hybrid driver displays for the Chevy Volt (such as EV range, efficiency, and charging) and upcoming PHEV and BAS+ (Belted Alternator Starter) platforms.

Four students are working as summer interns before returning to graduate school at VT.

Jesse Alley is working in the new state-of-the-art Battery Systems Lab in Warren, MI testing the air-cooled battery pack for the Chevrolet Volt. The goal of his work is to characterize the thermal management system at the pack level. Because the pack is the first of its kind and more are sure to follow, a secondary goal is to develop a methodology for characterizing the thermal system of a liquid-cooled battery pack.

Jonathan King is developing and testing a new optimization strategy for the BAS+ mild hybrid system. He will work on adapting the code developed for two and four mode transmissions to the BAS+ system. This will involve expanding the code to work with six gears and handle torque converter dynamics. The goal of the project is to determine whether fuel efficiency can be improved through the use of this system.

Lynn Gantt is working on Hardware-in-the-Loop validation for ABS (Antilock Brakes) and stability control validation for vehicles that are completely in math.  With this philosophy, GM can build a few test vehicle variations and validate the remaining combinations (several hundred) using lab tests.  His role as Team Leader prepared him for the global scope of his work with Korea on the Chevy Spark and Aveo.

Patrick Walsh has worked in the automotive industry before but this summer chose to spend it at Argonne National Laboratory as a research aide.  He is working on comparing the new, third generation (2010) Toyota Prius drive train to that of a second generation (2004) Prius. The end goal of the research is to determine where improvements or differences in performance or efficiency were achieved in the new model. The majority of Patrick’s time is spent in the Advanced Powertrain Research Facility, which includes a state-of-the-art 4WD chassis dynamometer capable of simulating vehicle road loads.

With seven E85, six B20 biodiesel, two H2 fuel cell, and one full-electric vehicle at the Year Two Finals, the contest was fierce as each team showcased their unique vehicle architecture and competed for the first place trophy.

In the end, Mississippi State University took top honors with their plug-in series hybrid. The team won more than 15 awards during the Year Two Competition Finals, including 1st place in Energy Storage Design, 1st place in Outreach, 1st place in every Emissions and Energy Consumption event, and had the Best Controls, Mechanical, and Vehicle Design Review presentations.

In Year Two, the Mississippi team integrated a variety of components into their vehicle to decrease emissions and maintain consumer acceptability. The team’s plug-in range-extended hybrid included a well designed, translucent energy storage system cover with an inventive liquid cooling system. They had an innovative high-voltage wire routing, urea injection system, and maintained stock cargo space. They even bettered the baseline vehicle by more than two seconds in the Autocross Event.

MSU's EcoCAR on the road!

MSU also won every dynamic event in the Emission and Energy Consumption category. For the first time in Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition history, the Mississippi team received the highest fuel consumption score. The team utilized more than 90 percent of their 21 kWh battery pack and finished both the 22 mile and 44 mile schedule without using any biodiesel. The team was also able to significantly reduce their petroleum use by charge depleting for 60 miles and bettered the baseline vehicle’s greenhouse gas score by more than 30 percent in the Well-to-Wheel Greenhouse Gases event. In the end, Mississippi State achieved Tier 2, Bin 7 emissions over the EcoCAR drive schedule and averaged less than 2 Lge/100km in fuel consumption.

Taking home second place at the Year Two Finals, Virginia Tech won a combined eight trophies including Best Electrical Presentation and Best Braking, and was the runner up in Best Petroleum Energy Usage and Best Tailpipe Emissions. The team’s E85 engine with a 15 kilowatt belted alternator and 80 kilowatt rear traction drive successfully completed every dynamic event.  Virginia Tech’s vehicle stopped within mere seconds during the Braking event and won Best Static Consumer Acceptability with a clean engine compartment, five passenger seating, and a fully functional touch screen.

The Virginia Tech EcoCAR during emissions testing

Penn State University placed third overall with a 1.3L, B20 biodiesel series hybrid. At the Year Two Finals, the team took home eight awards, including Best AVL Drive Quality, Best Social Media, 2nd in A123 Battery Design, 3rd in Outreach, and was the runner up in Best Fuel Consumption and Best Tailpipe Emissions. The team’s fuel consumption averaged around 4.1 Lge/100 km and the EcoCAR displayed impressive acceleration linearity and quick throttle response during the Drive Quality dynamic tests. In addition, the team was able to host more than 50 outreach events and increase media relations by more than 400 percent in the outreach program.

The PSU team working under hood

Although Mississippi State, Virginia Tech and Penn State were the top three teams in Year Two, there was a variety of other awards given out during Finals. You can find the complete list of winners, here.

With only one year left, the EcoCAR competition will get fierce as all 16 EcoCAR teams fight for the number one spot in Year Three. Who will it be? Check back to the Inside the Green Garage blog throughout Year Three for team and competition updates!

What is your team’s secret to winning? What kind of fuel economy did your vehicle get? What was the best part about being at the GM Desert Proving Ground in Yuma?

Check back to the Inside the Green Garage blog tomorrow at 3 p.m. ET for an opportunity to talk shop with the EcoCAR Year Two winners – Mississippi State, Virginia Tech and Penn State. Simply click below to join the chat and ask the teams your questions.

Webchat with the Top Three Universities from Year Two EcoCAR Challenge

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