Ice, Wind and Cold Can't Beat Clean Snowmobile Challenge Winners

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CSC Awards Main
Students work to make sleds quieter and lower emissions in the annual Clean Snowmobile Challenge, a SAE International university competition hosted by Michigan Tech.

Students work to make quieter and cleaner sleds as part of a SAE International university competition. This year's winners are École De Technologie Supérieure, University of Wisconsin–Madison and Michigan Tech.

Students had to battle ice, wind gusts greater than 50 miles per hour and single digit temperatures at this year's Clean Snowmobile Challenge hosted by Michigan Technological University. Despite the challenges, the teams—hailing from many northern US and Canadian universities—overcame the wintery conditions. Michigan Tech won first place in the zero emissions category, and École De Technologie Supérieure won the diesel utility class and tied with the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the internal combustion class.

The Clean Snowmobile Challenge is hosted by Michigan Tech’s Keweenaw Research Center and the Department of Mechanical Engineering –Engineering Mechanics. The events and tests are held north of Houghton at the Keweenaw Research Center, where student teams run a gambit of tests ranging from an endurance run to oral presentations to exhaust emissions measurements. On Saturday morning, only four sleds started in the bitter cold; one electric, diesel, and two internal combustion sleds using batteries, B15 biodiesel and E59 gasoline (59 percent ethanol), respectively.


This year, 13 teams competed with internal combustion engines, six with diesel engines and five with electric sleds—a record number of competitors. The overall winners are: internal combustion—École De Technologie Supérieure (tied for first), University of Wisconsin–Madison (tied for first) and the University of Minnesota–Duluth (third); diesel—École De Technologie Supérieure (first), North Dakota State University (second) and University at Buffalo (third); zero emissions—Michigan Tech (first), Clarkson University (second).

By winning first place in the internal combustion class, École De Technologie Supérieure earned the traveling MacLean-Fogg Cup and the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association award for first place. They succeeded in developing a quiet but feasible design, winning awards for PCB's quietest snowmobile CAMSO trac, BRC's most practical design, Polaris' best handling and Mahle's best engine design.

The University of Wisconsin­–Madison once again set the bar for low emissions in internal combustion engines, tying for first place; they have earned first place three years running now. They also took home awards for lowest in service emissions sponsored by Sensors, Inc., along with AVL's best emissions winner and Gage's best fuel economy winner. 

A rider on Michigan Tech's electric sled.
Michigan Tech's electric sled took first place in the zero emissions class.

The zero emissions category, which covers electric snowmobiles, posed a major challenge and only two teams were able to pass technical inspections. Michigan Tech won the John Deere Electronic Solutions award for first place; Clarkson University took second place. The category is of interest to many research organizations seeking ways to travel in polar regions without contaminating experiment samples; electric sleds could also be useful for remote travel where fuel is difficult to come by, but charging stations would be available.

Growing in competition—up from only two teams competing last year—the diesel utility class represents a unique group, one that students say focuses on hard work over performance, which is important for agricultural and small-engine based industries. École De Technologie Supérieure placed first, receiving the John Deere Power Systems award; North Dakota State University and University at Buffalo were close behind. Kettering University's team took home an EControls Can-Do E-Controls award.

The University of Minnesota–Duluth took third place in the internal combustion category and also won SAE International's best design award and Faurecia's most innovative emissions design. They also took home DENSO's innovation award, EControls CAN-DO E-Controls and a portable five-gas analyzer from Horiba worth $5,000 to help them in future years.

The Rochester Institute of Technology's internal combustion team also took home an EControls Can-Do E-Controls award. The University of Idaho won both EMITECH's best value award and Woody's best acceleration award. Clarkson University won CAMSO's best performance winner, taking home a CAMSO trac.

Next Year

For 15 years, the Keweenaw Research Center has hosted the Clean Snowmobile Challenge.  The first three years were held in and around Yellowstone National Park, sparked by discussions of excluding recreational snowmobile access.  The industry responded by working with the Environmental Protection Agency to develop emissions and noise standards that require snowmobiles to be clean and quiet.  To win in this event, the students competing in the internal combustion category have to beat those standards to score, while using ethanol-based fuel ranging from E10 to E85, similar to flex-fuel cars.  Next year’s event is scheduled for March 5-10, 2018.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.