SAE Zero Emissions team tops Clean Snowmobile Challenge, earns NSF invite to Greenland

Snowmachine Team

Members of the UAF SAE Clean Snowmobile team pose with awards from the 2012 competition. From left to right are Craig McKenzie, Ian McKee, Christin Davis, Isaac Thompson, Rubert Russell, Samual Brewer, Ben Neubauer and Amanda Mertes.
Photo Credit: Michael Golub

The challenge: Modify a standard snowmachine to battery power and reduced noise output while maintaining power and performance; do it for minimal cost; and complete it in eight months. Then travel more than 3,200 miles to put the machine up against other competitors in a variety of technical and performance challenges.

Members of the University of Alaska Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE) Zero Emissions team rose to the challenge, taking home first place in the 2012 SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge Zero Emissions Category held at the Michigan Technical University campus March 5-9.

The win earned UAF an invitation to Greenland to contribute to clean Arctic research efforts. The Zero Emissions category, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, is an attempt to support innovations in the area of clean snow travel. NSF funds an array of research endeavors in Arctic areas where results are vulnerable to contamination from transportation vehicles like snowmachines. To preserve the integrity of such research, NSF is seeking zero emissions vehicles for on-site transportation.

Nanook EV team co-captain Isaac Thompson, electrical engineering senior in the College of Engineering and Mines, will travel with the winning sled to Greenland on NSF's dime.

"They are taking snow and atmospheric samples, and don't want to contaminate their samples," Thompson explained. "If all goes well, I will be in summit camp for about three days. The machine, if it is working properly, will stay in summit camp for the rest of the summer."

Dates are not yet set for the trip as they depend on scientists' research schedule. Thompson said the machine will likely be shipped back to Fairbanks in the fall.

UAF faced off against MTU, Clarkson University, McGill University, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and University of Wisconsin Madison. Nanook EV team members were co-captains Golub and Thompson, and undergraduate students Christin Davis, Russell Carroll, Craig McKenzie, Ben Neubauer, Amanda Mertes, Karlin Swearingen and Adam Burnett.

The Nanook ICE team competed for the second year, tasked with re-engineering an internal combustion engine to reduce emissions and noise. Sleds are required to utilize biofuels and are judged for design, noise, exhaust emissions, fuel economy, cold start ability, acceleration and handling.

The team consisted of co-captains Golub and mechanical engineering graduate student Sam Brewer; and undergrads Tachit Chairat, Robert Russell, Ian McKee and Mitchel Halverson. The team finished eighth among 12 competitors.

Faculty advisor Ed Bargar said a key benefit of the competition is to prepare students for real-life engineering projects. The SAE event not only requires students to design and build an effective machine, but to get a "taste" of other tasks required to complete an actual project.

Snowmachine Drive

UAF electrical engineering student and SAE Zero Emissions team co-captain Isaac Thompson drives the team's electric snowmachine during the acceleration event at the 2012 SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge held in Houghton, MI March 5-9.
Photo Credit: Michael Golub

"The two teams involved in these competitions, and the members of the student SAE group in general, have been involved in this competition for several years. Each year their overall efforts improve," he said. "Hopefully they will again learn from their experiences this year and make further improvements for the next competition."

Golub noted that "a lot of coordination went into making it all possible." The team overcame such challenges shipping 72 batteries and a backup motor to Michigan, and securing funding. Both teams garnered strong local support from various university entities-College of Engineering and Mines, UAF Sustainability Fee, and others-and a variety of businesses that offered monetary and in-kind donations such as parts and discounts. Golub said neither construction of machines or travel would have been possible without such sponsors.

Next up for the team is to compete in the Shell Oil Eco-marathon, a national energy efficient vehicle competition, held in Houston, Texas March 29-April 1. Following that it's on to plans for SAE 2013.