Clean Snowmobile Challenge Set for March 19-24

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

This year’s SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge could be the cleanest in the event’s eight-year history. The teams are slated to earn a big bonus for using ethanol fuel, and up to four all-electric sleds are competing.

Set for March 19-24 at Michigan Tech, the Clean Snowmobile Challenge is the Society of Automotive Engineers' newest collegiate design competition. Teams of engineering students from participating schools take a stock snowmobile and reengineer it to reduce emissions and noise while maintaining or improving performance.

This year, teams can earn an additional 100 points for using 85 percent ethanol fuel, said Jay Meldrum, director of the Keweenaw Research Center, which co-hosts the Challenge along with the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics. The competition is based at the center, home of the finest winter driving test facility in the Midwest.

No one is going to be building an ethanol-powered snowmobile for commercial use anytime in the near future, Meldrum admits. “But as a renewable source of energy, ethanol is very topical now,” he says. “Plus, it’s difficult to design an engine to use high-ethanol fuel, so it gives the students excellent experience in tackling some tough engineering problems, and they carry those skills forward to the job market.”

In 2008, Challenge participants won’t have a choice. “Next year, we’ll require them to use a renewable fuel, such as E85 or biodiesel,” Meldrum says.

As many as four entries won’t be burning any fuel at all. Teams from McGill University in Montreal, Utah State University, the South Dakota School of Mining and Technology and Clarkson University in New York plan to enter all-electric sleds in the no-emissions division of the Challenge.

Other teams registered include Kettering University, of Flint, Mich., Michigan Tech, Minnesota State University at Mankato, the State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of Idaho, the University of Maine, the University of Minnesota at Duluth, the
University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of Wisconsin at Platteville.

This is the fifth year Michigan Tech has hosted the SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge. “Initially, I said I’d be really happy if we made it to the third year,” Meldrum says. “But it has become progressively easier. Everyone has embraced it, and more and more people are willing to help, both with their time and through financial support.”

Members of the Michigan Snowmobile Association will again be volunteering, serving as liaisons for the teams and providing security at the test site. “They are a great bunch of guys, and they do a phenomenal job,” says Meldrum. “I don’t know what we’d do without them.” In addition, the MSA voted this year to give $500 to help underwrite the expenses of any Michigan team participating in the Challenge.

Teams will register March 19. The Grand Opening, followed by the Endurance Run to Copper Harbor, starts at 11 a.m. on March 20.

The snowmobiles will be on public display from 6 to 8 p.m. March 21 at the Copper Country Mall. The public is also invited to view the Polaris Acceleration and Objective Handling events at 10 and 11 a.m. Saturday, March 24, at the Keweenaw Research Center test course.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.