NSF's Arctic Division Fuels Clean Snowmobile Challenge

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

Young engineers developing clean snowmobiles—quiet, low-emissions machines that still smoke in the performance department--got a boost recently, thanks to a $10,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs.

The funds are earmarked for four teams entered in the zero-emissions category at the annual SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge, set for March 19-24 at Michigan Tech. The Society of Automotive Engineers event attracts teams of engineering undergraduates from across North America. The goal: design a snowmobile with lower environmental impact—less noise and fewer emissions—without sacrificing the performance that snowmobile enthusiasts crave.

“We’re very pleased that NSF has taken an interest in the 2007 Clean Snowmobile Challenge,” said Jay Meldrum, executive director of the Keweenaw Research Center and lead organizer of the Challenge. “We think it’s an excellent fit, particularly considering the unusual demands placed on scientists doing sensitive measurements in polar regions.”

NSF operates several research stations in remote, pristine locations in Antarctica and the Arctic, including one on the summit of Greenland's ice cap. Cleaner snowmobiles may benefit science in these places, where snowmobile emissions can interfere with data gathered on global atmospheric constituents.

The NSF donation includes a $2,000 grant to each of the four teams entering all-electric sleds in the competition: McGill University in Montreal, Utah State University, the South Dakota School of Mining and Technology and Clarkson University in New York. Another $2,000 was given to help underwrite the Challenge.

In addition, the NSF will fund a trip for top two finishers to Greenland’s Summit Station, testing their snowmobiles in field conditions.

Other schools participating in the Challenge 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.

Even if the Clean Snowmobile Challenge were not attracting a record number of zero-emissions entries, it probably would still be the cleanest ever. Teams will receive bonus points for using biofuels, and about half a dozen are engineering sleds that run on E85 ethanol or B10 biodiesel.

The Clean Snowmobile Challenge arose in part from an interest in encouraging the use of cleaner, quieter snowmobiles in public lands. Yellowstone National Park has been a major sponsor during the eight years of the competition, along with the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association.

Originally held near Yellowstone, in Wyoming, the Challenge is now in its fifth year at Michigan Tech. The competition is headquartered at the university’s Keweenaw Research Center, which maintains a 500-acre winter test track for use by the military, the automotive industry and snowmobile manufacturers.

“Hosting the Clean Snowmobile Challenge is a natural for us,” Meldrum said. “We have the snow, the test course, and a great staff that enjoys working with students.”

The Challenges is hosted at Michigan Tech by the Keweenaw Research Center and the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics.

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.