Clean Snowmobile Challenge on Track for March

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

Clarkson University's winning entry in the 2011 Clean Snowmobile Challenge
Clarkson University's winning entry in the 2011 Clean Snowmobile Challenge

Seventeen green machines are coming to snow-white Upper Michigan March 5-10 for the 13th annual SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge, held at Michigan Technological University’s Keweenaw Research Center.

The Clean Snowmobile Challenge is a collegiate design competition of the Society of Automotive Engineers. A total of 12 teams are registered in the internal combustion category. Engineering students from participating schools take a stock snowmobile and reengineer it. Their aim: to reduce emissions and noise and increase fuel efficiency while preserving the riding excitement demanded by snowmobile enthusiasts.

Five teams are entered in the zero emissions category, for battery-powered sleds, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. NSF uses electric snowmobiles while conducting atmospheric research in pristine arctic locations.

For the first time, teams will be invited to present design studies on a new concept, at least for snowmobiles: a hybrid electric vehicle.

“This would address the need for an extended-range electric snowmobile,” says co-organizer Jay Meldrum. “You could take an electric snowmobile, put a 50-horsepower motor on the back, and drive it till you run out of power. Then you could turn your recharger on and go farther.” The fuel-powered motor would serve essentially as a generator for the snowmobile’s discharged batteries.

He called the hybrid design a “range-anxiety reliever.” “Electric snowmobiles only go about 20 miles without a motor,” he says. “For scientists conducting research out on a glacier in Greenland, it could get them back home.”

Fuel economy—no matter what recipe the fuel—is again a top priority in this year’s Challenge. Sleds in the internal combustion category will need to adapt to fuels with a range of ethanol concentrations, from E10 (10 percent) to E39 (39 percent). “If a team doesn’t design for that, they won’t do well,” Meldrum says.

Fuel economy will be measured in three ways. During the Endurance Run, teams are rated in part on their snowmobiles’ mileage during the 100-mile trek. Fuel usage will also be measured during the indoor emissions testing. Lastly, the Challenge includes a mobile emissions test that incorporates a fuel flow meter.

In addition to the NSF, major sponsors include the USDA Forest Service; the National Park Service; automotive parts supplier DENSO; Emitec Inc., a supplier of emissions-reduction technology; Phoenix International, a John Deere company; Aristo Catalyst Technology; Mahle; and Gage Products, which is providing fuel. A new sponsor is Camoplast. The Sherbrooke, Quebec-based company is a global leader in rubber-track technology.

Local businesses provide services, donations and in-kind contributions. Volunteers from the Michigan Snowmobile Association have pitched in every year to provide logistical support and guidance to team members.

The teams that have registered for the Challenge in the internal combustion category are Clarkson University, Potsdam, N.Y.; École de Technologie Superieure, Montreal; Kettering University, Flint; Michigan Tech; North Dakota State University; Northern Illinois University; State University of New York at Buffalo; and the Universities of Alaska Fairbanks, Idaho, Waterloo (Ontario), Wisconsin-Madison and Wisconsin-Platteville.

Teams registered in the zero emissions category are McGill University, Montreal; Michigan Tech; South Dakota School of Mines and Technology; the University of Alaska Fairbanks; and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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

For more information, visit Michigan Tech's SAE Clean Snowmobile site.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 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.