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Not so long ago, Justin Kern was helping West Virginia University rebuild their FutureCar during the FutureCar Challenge. Since then, Justin has gone on to become an organizer and now sponsor of advanced vehicle technology competitions (AVTCs).

After graduating from West Virginia University, Justin was hired by Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) to work on hybrid electric vehicle powertrains. In particular, he was able to perform chassis dyno testing of hybrid vehicles and supported the installation of the 4WD chassis dyno at ANL. During his time at ANL, he also acted as a technical coordinator for AVTCs and helped with the FutureTruck competition.

“College student competitions provided me with hands-on experience with advanced technology concepts that I would normally not have had a chance to experience,” he said.

Today, Justin works at Bosch, a sponsor of the EcoCAR competition. As a senior calibration engineer, he has become an expert in Motronic engine control software for gasoline direct injection engines.

“I work in the engine management systems group as a calibrator.  Our job is to take the engine control system and adjust parameters to ensure all the customer and legislated requirements are met.  I spend time in prototype vehicles working to get them functioning, and running tests to evaluate their performance in areas like drivability, emissions, cold starts and many other metrics.  And as a certified Motronic trainer, I teach classes for our customers.”

“From FutureCar to today’s EcoCAR Challenge, the changes in the student competitions parallel the industry advancements,” Justin said. “As a sponsor of the competition, it is nice to be able to provide this learning experience to future engineers, knowing how much I valued and gained from it.”


Süd-Chemie AG, a global specialty chemical company, recently donated a crucial piece of technology to the West Virginia University EcoCAR team. 

Süd-Chemie’s manufacturing plant in Needham, Massachusetts, equipped the WVU team with a SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) catalyst, an effective technology to reduce the amount of NOx emissions in the vehicle’s diesel exhaust system.

WVU mechanical engineering students Alan Kuskil (left) and John Booton install the SCR catalyst into their EcoCAR.

The WVU team sent a request to Süd-Chemie because they wanted to work with a catalyst manufacturer that had a lot of experience. Alexander Guliaeff, Süd-Chemie North American technical sales engineer, responded and immediately contacted Süd-Chemie researchers in Germany and asked them to look at the WVU students’ design specifications.

“We asked our colleagues in Germany to manufacture the team’s catalyst because they develop more advanced catalysts for the European market and would be able to help us select the best one to meet the team’s needs,” said Guliaeff.

“We were thrilled when we received the catalyst,” said mechanical engineering student Alan Kuskil. “Süd-Chemie specifically designed it to fit our engine, so it’s a custom-made catalyst, not something you pick up off a shelf. It’s great that they gave us a brand new piece of technology that is going to be very beneficial for us as we head into competition finals.”

The WVU team now anticipates NOx reductions of more than 90 percent compared to running the engine without an SCR system!

Members of the WVU EcoCAR team pose with their vehicle and the SCR catalyst. (The team’s faculty adviser Dr. Scott Wayne is pictured far right).

The West Virginia University EcoCAR team has been hard at work the last few weeks studying for semester finals and preparing their vehicle for the Year Two competition in Yuma, Arizona!

The team has been focused on installing its high voltage battery module. The module is an integral part of the vehicle because it will provide power to all high power systems. The high power systems include (but are not limited to) the steering, braking, fuel and exhaust systems of the vehicle. It is separate from the engine battery, which provides power mostly for systems on the vehicle’s dashboard.

West Virginia team members in the shop with DOE safety and technical inspector, Stephen Boyd

Engineering team leader, Brody Conklin, is confident in the team’s abilities to get everything done on time.

“I think we are right on schedule,” said Conklin. “The team is working hard day in and day out to get the car in top shape for the testing and inspections at Yuma.”

While many members of the team are working on installing parts in the vehicle, others are working on creating parts for the vehicle’s exhaust system which will allow for more eco-friendly emissions.

Seniors, Alan Kuskil and Adam Lupo, spent several hours drafting product designs for these parts.

“The exhaust system is one of the most important parts of the vehicle because its goal is to lower emissions,” said Kuskil. “ The issue right now is trying to create a system that improves the quality of emissions while maintaining the rest of the vehicle’s abilities.”

An inside look at the EcoCAR!

The team is eager to head to Yuma next month to show off their hard work!

In Year 2, the West Virginia University EcoCAR team worked diligently to spread the word about the EcoCAR competition to local students. The team started its outreach by sending an informational letter to school principals asking if they’d like the team to present to their students. The response was overwhelming!

In total, the WVU team has reached more than 1,100 students by visiting seven schools, in five counties and across two states. Although K-12 outreach is a scored element of the EcoCAR competition, it wasn’t a chore to the WVU team.

The WVU team talking to local students about EcoCAR

“We really enjoyed traveling to each school and talking with students and teachers about our participation in the EcoCAR program. It was a great way to promote WVU’s involvement in a national competition, but also a way for us to reach out to kids and get them thinking about college and potential careers. The kids’ excitement showed through the thank you cards and ‘Good Luck WVU’ posters they made for us and those memories will always stay with our team,” noted Nicole Fernandes, the WVU team’s outreach coordinator.

One of the many "Good Luck" posters!

Each visit was different, but every student and teacher welcomed the team into their school with interest and hospitality.
“At the end of our presentation we give the students a chance to ask questions about EcoCAR. During one visit, a boy sitting in the front row kept shooting his hand up to ask a question. He then proceeded to propose a new challenge for the EcoCAR engineers; to make an EcoCAR out of a Mustang! The boy said he would send in his own designs to help,” recalls Marilyn McCarthy, an outreach team member. “It made me feel like we had impacted his life.”

The engineering team members agree that impacting young students’ lives was a very poignant part of the school visits.

“I remember going to Liberty High School in Clarksburg, WV where we gave a presentation at their science career day. A teacher stopped us in the hallway on our way out and thanked us for coming. She said that many of the students we spoke to would be first generation college students, and we really opened their eyes. It made me think about how fortunate I am to be part of the EcoCAR competition. It was also nice to know I was influencing students,” noted engineering team radar, Alan Kuskil.

Finding team members who had the time to visit the schools was sometimes difficult.

“Our team gets really busy, and the school visits sometimes conflict with our schedules, but knowing we have a positive influence on students makes it completely worth it,” said Kuskil.

“Having the EcoCAR team at our school showed our students that they can go to college and participate in cool, exciting competitions. It was very motivating,” said Larry Rogers, a teacher at Lumberport Middle School, in Lumberport, WV.

Not all 1,100 students will want to build and redesign hybrid-electric vehicles in the future, but knowing that they saw the potential to make a difference in the world made the team’s presentations very rewarding!

The WVU EcoCAR team recently received support from a local public official at one of its K-12 outreach events.  Team members Cate Mihelic, Marilyn McCarthy and Andrew Blazek were invited to give a presentation on the EcoCAR Challenge to 120 fifth and sixth-grade students at East Park Elementary School in Fairmont, West Virginia.

The WVU team was very excited to have the support of Fairmont City Manager, Jay Rogers, at the event.  Mr. Rogers was happy to learn about West Virginia University’s involvement in the EcoCAR competition and thanked the team for talking about their project to the students of Fairmont.

“We talked to the students about how important it is to study math and science and the hands-on learning opportunities that the EcoCAR Challenge gives college students,” said Mihelic, a WVU outreach team member. ” The event was also special because Mr. Rogers was really interested in our message and offered us his support as we progress through the competition.”

WVU team members have been participating in various K-12 outreach events around the state of West Virginia to educate young people about the opportunities they have to work towards a greener future.

Controls team members Andrew Blazek and Zhenhua Zhu practice their Hardware-in-the-Loop demonstration

The West Virginia University EcoCAR team recently returned from the Winter Workshop in Daytona Beach, Florida, where they showcased their Hardware-in-the-Loop design and team Web site at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and the Daytona International Speedway.

“Presenting our Web site and outreach report to the judges was a great learning experience and something that will definitely benefit me in my career,” said Cate Mihelic, a WVU team member.

The workshop also gave the team an opportunity to meet industry experts from dSPACE, National Instruments, General Motors and Argonne National Laboratory.

WVU EcoCAR team members are now ready to devote their spring semester to working on their vehicle and preparing technical and outreach reports for the final competition in Yuma, AZ and San Diego, CA.

“We are serious about this competition,” said Brody Conklin, the WVU engineering team leader. “We performed well in Daytona and I think our team has a strong work ethic that will lead to success in May!”

The WVU EcoCAR team at the Sponsor Social at Daytona International Speedway

Last month, West Virginia University team member, Cate Mihelic, traveled to Lumberport, WV to teach seventh and eighth grade students about the EcoCAR Challenge. The visit to Lumberport Middle School was very special to Cate because she is a former student!

“Returning to my middle school was a really exciting experience,” said Cate. “I’m happy that my participation in the EcoCAR competition was interesting to the students, as well as my old teachers. It felt great to share information about the WVU EcoCAR program and make the school administrators and faculty proud.”

Not only did Cate present to the students, she was also interviewed by WBOY, a Clarksburg, WV television station! To read more about her school visit and watch the news story, click here.

Cate Mihelic, WVU EcoCAR outreach team member

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The WVU EcoCAR team recently received a visit from Cheat Lake Middle School’s First Lego League Robotics team!  The team, comprised of nine sixth-grade students, visited the EcoCAR team at their garage and had the opportunity to learn more about the EcoCAR Challenge and educate the WVU students about their lego robotics project.  An objective of the 2009 First Lego League Competition is to learn more about energy-efficient transportation.

The sixth-grade students were excited to see the WVU team working on their EcoCAR inside the garage.

“The students were fascinated by our project and the more we explained it, the more their curiosity grew,” said Alan Kuskil, the EcoCAR team radar. “Their parents and teachers were also very intrigued.”

The visit proved to be a valuable experience for both the sixth-grade students and the WVU EcoCAR team. 

“I was blown away by the interest the young students showed in our project. Questions like, ‘What kind of alternative fuels are you using in your design?’ and ‘What are your goals in this project,’ showed me that they were much more than an average group of sixth-graders,” added Kuskil.

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The WVU EcoCAR Team at F1 Boston

The WVU EcoCAR Team at F1 Boston

F1 Champ Andrew Wiedrich

F1 Champ Andrew Wiedrich

The West Virginia University EcoCAR Team kicked off the Year 2 Competition by chalking up their first victory as the F1 Race Champs! Andrew Wiedrich led his team to victory by placing first out of nine schools in the Track Two Challenge at the Formula One in Boston.

“I was extremely excited that I won. Starting in eighth place out of nine schools I had my work cut out for me, but somehow I was able to sneak through to the front of the race,” said Wiedrich.

He added, “After the race I was so pumped up on adrenaline that I was shaking!”
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