Clean Snowmobile Challenge Marks 10th Anniversary

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

When the SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge kicks off March 16, 2009, at Michigan Technological University, it will celebrate a milestone: a decade devoted to developing greener, quieter snow machines.

Set for March 16-21 at the University's Keweenaw Research Center, the Clean Snowmobile Challenge is a collegiate design competition of the Society of Automotive Engineers. Engineering students from participating schools take a stock snowmobile and reengineer it. Their aim: to reduce emissions and noise while maintaining or boosting performance.
A record 18 teams have registered, the most since the first Challenge was held in Wyoming. Five will compete in the zero-emissions division, with 13 in the internal-combustion division.

The entries in the internal-combustion division will face a new hurdle: none will know the ethanol content of their fuel, which will range be E10 [10 percent ethanol, 90 percent gasoline] up to E85. "I want them to be prepared for anything," said Jay Meldrum, director of the Keweenaw Research Center and co-organizer of the Challenge.

Designing for flex-fuel will give the teams hands-on experience in applying strategies that are commonplace in cars--but not in snowmobiles.

"They'll need to incorporate some kind of technology that can guess what kind of fuel they have," Meldrum said. "No matter which way they do it, they have to adjust the engine map."

The first Challenge was inspired by the need for quiet, less-polluting snow machines to use in pristine wilderness areas, such as Yellowstone National Park. Clean-burning ethanol has been a fuel of choice for many teams over the years. Thus, it's no surprise that the Michigan Corn Farmers have been among the Challenge's most loyal supporters.

"The state's corn farmers, through the Corn Marketing Program of Michigan (CMPM), are proud to once again join with Michigan Tech to give students the opportunity to become involved with biofuels, such as ethanol," said Jody Pollok-Newsom, CMPM executive director. "By experimenting with different blends of ethanol to fuel their snowmobiles, the students are learning the tools necessary to advance biofuels in the future and the importance of eliminating the need to import foreign oil."

Over the years, student competitors have designed a number of clean, green sleds that rely on ethanol for fuel and provide the range and excitement demanded by snowmobile enthusiasts. Entrants in the Challenge's zero-emissions division, however, don't expect to build a machine that can fly down the trails at 60 mph.

Electric snowmobiles aren't known for high performance. But they are workhorses at remote arctic research sites, where any vehicle emissions can contaminate ice and air samples collected by scientists.

The zero-emissions division has gradually grown, and now has a record five entrants. The winning team will have a chance to bring their snowmobile to the National Science Foundation's Summit Station research site in Greenland.

The following teams have entered the internal-combustion division: Clarkson University, Potsdam, N.Y.; University of Idaho, Moscow; University of Wisconsin-Platteville; Michigan Tech; University of Wisconsin-Madison; Northern Illinois University, DeKalb; Kettering University, Flint; Ecole de Technologie Superieure, Montreal; University of Maine, Orono; State University of New York at Buffalo; University of Waterloo, Ontario; North Dakota State University, Fargo; and the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Entrants in the zero-emissions division are University of Alaska-Fairbanks; University of Wisconsin-Madison; Clarkson University; South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Rapid City; and McGill University, Montreal.

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

For more information on the Challenge, visit .

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.