University of Vermont

College of
Engineering and Mathematical Sciences

UVM students race to save our environment

Release Date: 02-05-2007

Author: Dawn Marie Densmore
Phone: Array Fax: 802-656-8802

The AERO Team"Race to Win!" is the motto that speaks to the enthusiasm and excitement of a key group of energetic UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS) students who have formed a new UVM student organization called Alternative Energy Racing Organization (AERO). AERO's first project — called GreenSpeed — is to create a UVM hybrid racing car. This gas-electric hybrid vehicle will be powered by a motor that can simultaneously use electricity AND gasoline to power the car, and it will be designed with the ability to run solely on electricity.

The beginning

Project GreenSpeed began when Doug Fraser, director of the Formula Hybrid Project from Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, contacted CEMS Professor Jeffrey Frolik. Fraser had news of a new hybrid competition he was initiating with the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) designed to give engineering students the opportunity to explore hybrid technologies.

On a rainy evening in November, UVM students gathered to listen to Fraser discuss the development of their Formula-Hybrid race entrant built to compete at the International Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire this spring. "The car [is] quite fast," Fraser reported. "It out-accelerated a Shelby Cobra, a Dodge, a Viper, two motorcycles, and a drag race Plymouth Duster over a 75-meter course."

Dartmouth's car might be fast, but a group of UVM students were determined to make theirs faster. So they acted fast — within weeks they drafted a Club Constitution, located a chassis from Clarkson University, and dubbed their new group the Alternative Energy Racing Organization, or AREO.

"I was amazed at the response I received from people about the project," says Andrew Laing, a junior electrical engineering management student and AERO president. "It's been quite exciting. I've received emails from individuals all over campus — men and women, engineering students, medical school professors, and business majors. The interest has been strong and diverse."

Laing's own passion for the project results from his deep concern over the impact of carbon emissions on the environment and, as he terms it, a love for "driving really fast."

Big plans

The club has big plans. Members are hard at work researching and designing hybrid power systems to gain an advantage over other college teams for the 2008 race in New Hampshire.

"This is not strictly an engineering challenge," Laing says. "A successful team has to manage its time, funds and participants." In addition to Project GreenSpeed, AERO will be working for the advocacy, research, and development of alternative energy systems for mobility engineering. The AERO Constitution states:

The purpose of AERO shall be to mitigate the environmental and political detriments of traditional energy systems by research, development, and advocacy of alternative energy systems useful for mobility engineering.
"What's great," says Laing, "is that we now have a student organization on campus that promotes Green Technologies."

Hybrid car chassis

Drawing of UVM GreenSpeed hybrid car by Brian LeachThe chassis of the UVM hybrid car was on exhibit in early February during the one-day Engineers Week activities for elementary, middle and high school students. The team plans to exhibit during other outreach events as well to emphasize the importance of new technologies designed to help solve global warming, and to let students know that they can have a really good time learning.

Brian Leach, AERO vice president and technical team leader of Project GreenSpeed, found the chassis right away, a gift from Clarkson University. Working with Floyd Vilmont, head of the UVM prototype lab, a trip was organized to pick up the chassis and within 6 weeks it was at UVM. "Clarkson's donation puts UVM students on a short track for getting started," says Vilmont.

According to Leach, the UVM hybrid car will be designed to run on gas as well as electric with a small 250 cc four-cycle dirt bike engine along with a powerful electric motor. "There will also be energy storage on board," Leach says, "and ultra capacitors used by Dartmouth are being considered due to their high rates of charge and discharge and their excellent weight to energy ratios with high power density."

SAE Formula Hybrid Competition

The SAE Formula Hybrid Competition challenges undergraduate and graduate college and university students to design, build, and compete in an open-wheel, single-seat racecar. These cars must conform to a formula which emphasizes drive train innovation and fuel efficiency in a high-performance application. The SAE Formula Hybrid Competition builds on the Formula SAE Program and takes it to the next level by adding a new layer of complexity as well as an additional technical challenge.

Typical SAE cars are small and light with high-performance motorcycle engines that run at 100 miles an hour and can go to 60 mph in 3-4 seconds. What Dartmouth has done is take the SAE car and convert it to a hybrid car. The hope is that students will discover new designs, gain field experience, learn new potential applications, and obtain better fuel economy that will get customers excited about hybrids. Five schools competed in the first event in 2006.

Sponsorships and donations for the UVM hybrid car

Estimates for the hybrid car components are $20-30,000, but students hope to bring the cost down through sponsorships and donations.

Anyone who might have products or components is encouraged to contact AERO Team president Andrew Laing. "We want to develop an engine platform that can be used from year-to-year and are looking for cooperation from a power sports supplier, as well as for expertise and professional opinions," Laing says.

Dr. Matthew Pointer, a UVM lung specialist, contacted the group early on. Pointer, a racing enthusiast, has seen students build incredible cars but not be able to drive them properly. He wants to ensure that students understand the dynamics of being behind the wheel. As a lung specialist he knows the impact dirty engines can have on human health and he is excited about hybrid vehicles changing the air quality surrounding racing.

"We have a lot of What Ifs," says Vilmont. "We welcome input to help us accomplish the goal while preserving the spirit of the car for speed as well as maintaining its environmental focus." When asked what the lab could use, Vilmont explained that UVM's prototype lab can provide basic equipment, but they could use Computer Numerical Control (CNC), which can produce components quicker and easier. "Our equipment can get the job done," he says, "but it will take us a little longer."

The team will be busy in the next few months going through a lengthy design phase. Testing will begin in 2008. The car will be created electronically before construction starts.

"We are very excited that UVM engineering students have taken on this challenge," says CEMS Dean Domenico Grasso. "It is the beginning of new possibilities, including perhaps a new project to create a totally green snowmobile vehicle with zero emissions." Frolik adds, "This project will highlight the potential of alternative forms of energy and will help society understand its benefits."

For more information

For more information, visit Alternative Energy Racing Organization (AERO), where you'll also find email addresses for the team officers and advisors.