Vehicle Arrives for EcoCar 2 Competition

A group of University of Tennessee, Knoxville, engineering students feel like sixteen-year-olds when they received the keys to a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu they are going to remodel to make more eco-friendly.

Ryan Howell, graduate student in mechanical engineering; Mitchel Routh, graduate student in mechanical engineering; David Irick, mechanical, aerospace, and biomedical engineering (MABE) research assistant professor; Scott Curran, research associate in MABE; Emily Wise, graduate student in business administration; Michael Pickelsimer, graduate student in electrical engineering; and Katelynn Routh, senior in communications studies.

The graduate and undergraduate students are part of a team competing in EcoCAR 2: Plugging In to the Future, a three-year collegiate engineering competition established by the US Department of Energy and General Motors. They've spent the past year planning their design with the goal of making the GM-donated car a better, more efficient hybrid vehicle than what is currently on the roadways. Now, they get to see their hard work pay off as they begin to implement their design into the car.

The EcoCAR 2 competition challenges the next generation of automotive engineers to reduce the environmental impact of a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu without compromising performance, safety, and consumer acceptability. UT is one of fifteen universities in North America participating in the challenge.

A year into the competition, the students have used math-based tools to model and design their own unique architecture for a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. They'll select the system's powertrain components the same way major automakers do.

The arrival of the Malibu marks the official entry into Phase II of the competition, where the design is applied to the car. The design, called series-parallel plug-in hybrid electric vehicle architecture, will improve the vehicle's environmental impact and efficiency in three ways.

First, the vehicle will be able to couple and de-couple the engine from the wheels while still providing electric power from the battery and/or generator to drive an electric motor. Second, the vehicle will have a large, high-voltage battery pack which allows the vehicle to run on electric power. If the battery—which can be charged using a standard wall outlet—gets depleted, the vehicle will use a combination of an engine and electric motor. Third, the vehicle will utilize E85 fuel which is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline and burns cleaner.

While translating their design into reality, the team is also developing a working vehicle that meets the competition's goals. The competition culminates at the end of each academic year when all of the schools and their vehicles come together to compete in more than a dozen static and dynamic events. UT won sixth place in Phase I's competition. Winners receive cash awards. Since 1989, UT has had more than 500 students participate in similar projects.