Clean Snowmobile Challenge at Michigan Tech March 10-15

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

For the SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge, 2008 is the year of biofuel.

Set for March 10-15 at Michigan Technological University, 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.

Most events are held at the University's Keweenaw Research Center, home of the Midwest's foremost winter driving test facility.

Now in its sixth year at Michigan Tech, technology and contest rules continue to nudge contestants toward cleaner designs. Two years ago, the challenge created a special division for zero-emissions sleds, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. These battery-powered snowmobiles are used on scientific expeditions in the Arctic, where any emissions can contaminate atmospheric and ice samples. In addition, last year's teams in the internal combustion division were given a hefty bonus for using ethanol.

Ratcheting up the stakes, all 2008 entrants in the internal combustion division must power their snowmobiles with biofuel, says contest codirector Jay Meldrum, director of the Keweenaw Research Center. For most, that translates to E85 ethanol, though one entry is expected to run on B10 biodiesel.

It's not because biofuel-powered sleds are necessarily the wave of the future, Meldrum notes. "But this is an engine competition," he says. "A great deal of R&D on ethanol, from corn or wood or switchgrass, is happening at universities all over the country, and this requirement will give the student engineers a chance to tap into their faculty's latest research."

The Clean Snowmobile Challenge brings together industry, snowmobile enthusiasts, faculty and students from across North America, all working toward the common goals of providing hands-on education for young engineers and promoting greener, quieter snowmobiling. Ironically, the event grew out of a heated snowmobile controversy in Yellowstone National Park, which resulted in then-President Bill Clinton banning sleds in the park altogether. Access was restored by President George W. Bush, but only for guided tours using snowmobiles with the best available technology.

Since then, the challenge has become a model for successful collaboration among government, academia and industry. "When I went to the Greening of Yellowstone conference, the Clean Snowmobile Challenge came up time and time again as an event that successfully involves industry in efforts to solve a problem," Meldrum said.

Seventeen teams are competing this year. In the internal combustion division are Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y.; Ecole De Technologie Superieure in Montreal; Kettering University in Flint; McGill University in Montreal; Michigan Tech; Minnesota State University at Mankato; Northern Illinois University in DeKalb; the State University of New York at Buffalo; the University of Idaho in Moscow; the University of Maine in Orono; the University of Waterloo in Ontario; the University of Wisconsin at Madison; and the University of Wisconsin at Platteville.

Four teams have entered the zero-emissions division: Clarkson University; McGill University; the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Rapid City; and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Major sponsors include the USDA Forest Service, the National Park Service, automotive parts supplier Denso Corp., Emetic Inc., a supplier of emissions-reduction technology, and Aristo, a designer and manufacturer of emissions solutions, including catalytic converters. Local businesses provide services, donations and in-kind contributions. In addition, volunteers from the Michigan Snowmobile Association have pitched in every year to provide logistical support for the competition.

The public is welcome at several events. The Grand Opening, at 11 a.m. Tuesday, March 11, kicks off the Endurance Run, from the Keweenaw Research Center to Copper Harbor. At the Clean Snowmobile Challenge Preview, set for Wednesday, March 12, the sleds will be on display at the Copper Country Mall from 6 to 8 p.m.

On Saturday, March 15, the Polaris Acceleration Event begins at 10 a.m. followed by the Polaris Handling Event at 11 a.m., both at the Keweenaw Research Center. Come prepared to walk in snow.

The challenge concludes with the awards banquet on Saturday, at 6 p.m., in the Memorial Union Ballroom.

The Clean Snowmobile Challenge is sponsored at Michigan Tech by the Department of Mechanical Engineering–Engineering Mechanics and the Keweenaw Research Center.

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.