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Hybrid racing car wins four awards

Release Date: 05-12-2008

Author: Josh Brown

Say "hybrid car" and a sedate, gas-sipping sedan may come to mind. Say "Formula One race car" and something rather more assertive may come to mind. What happens when you put them together?

For their innovative "GreenSpeed" hybrid gas/electric racing car, students from the University of Vermont's College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences won four prizes at the International Formula Hybrid Competition at the New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, NH, May 5-7, 2008.

Designed and built by members of a new student organization, AERO (Alternative Energy Racing Organization), the car won Chrysler's Best Hybrid System Engineering Award, the Best Hybrid-in-Progress Award, the Dartmouth College Thayer School Dean's Award for Most Innovative Design, as well as second place in overall technical design.

Check out this short documentary about AERO and their entry in the
2008 International Formula Hybrid Competition.

AWD and Regen Brakes
"We want to mix the excitement of driving a race car—fast!—with the fact that the climate is changing—and we can't keep burning fuel like crazy," said Thatcher Friant '10, a member of the club who helped build the 679 pound vehicle with a 40 horsepower electric motor that works in parallel with a gasoline engine.

The UVM AERO team made its inaugural participation in the competition against teams from Yale, Dartmouth, and more than a dozen other universities from as far away as Russia, Canada and Taiwan. Representatives from major automobile manufacturers were present and industry professionals served as judges.

The UVM team designed "GreenSpeed" as an all-wheel-drive hybrid with front regenerative braking that returns energy to the batteries. "These two things have not been done before" in the competition, said Doug Fraser, director of the Formula Hybrid Project at Dartmouth College that organized the event.

Aero Team 2008Behind the Wheel… Almost
The UVM team presented their design on May 5, with automotive engineers grilling them on technical aspects of the car. Though the electronic control systems were hampered by a software bug—which meant the car couldn't race—the UVM vehicle passed inspection during the acceleration and autocross competitions on May 6.

Then, after round-the-clock programming work by the students, on May 7, around 2:30 in the morning, the AERO car successfully fired for the first time. Wild cheers went up.

But just a few moments later, "alas, a short fried a key component in the controller board and we were out of the [endurance] competition," that started later that day, said Jeff Frolik, assistant professor of engineering and one of the AERO team's advisors.

NASCAR Green?
Still, the UVM car's design stood out among the entries, said professional race car designer Andrew Burston who was one of the judges. "What they've done is really smart, bold," he said, and praised the team's powerful battery and elegant four-wheel-drive system.

"This new hybrid car uses both gas and lithium batteries, and burns gas more efficiently through regenerative braking with a smarter engine that gets more gas joules onto the road," says Andrew Laing '08, the AERO team leader.

The team began work in earnest in January, designing the car, welding the chassis, collecting donations, and machining parts. One of the most exciting moments came when the gas motor was joined with the hybrid drive system, says Laing. "The culmination of our team's hard work occurred when the engine started—it was just incredible!"

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

But there don't appear to be a great number of NASCAR fans who share Laing's concern. "It's been difficult to get people in motorsport interested in sustainability," said Burston, who spent years designing racing cars for the famed Lola Group. "But things are beginning to change and cars like this one point the way to toward clean cars that are quick."

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Several dozen UVM students worked on the car, including Laing, sophomore Brian Leach, who lead the team working on the mechanics, senior Ed Johns, who headed the electrical team, and senior Christopher Farmer who helped create the battery system. UVM lab technician Floyd Vilmont provided expert welding and other assistance.

The UVM AERO car cost approximately $30,000. Financial support came from APR (Anderson Power Products), Mr. Ronald Brand, CTS Corporation, Hazelett Strip-Casting, IEEE Green Mountain Section, ITherm Technologies, MicroStrain, PowerStream Technology, Tyco Electronics, Vermont Space Grant Consortium, UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, and the UVM Transportation Center. Individual donors included Ronald Brand, Carrie and Nathan Stahler, Charles Lohe, James C. Iatridis, John Cohn, Diane Mariano, Karyn Roberts and Saiyid Abu Rizvi. In-kind support was received from Clarkson University, Capitol Steel, Hazelett Stri-Casting, Midtown Machine & Tool Supply Company, NSA Industries, Lyndon, VT, Omron, Tri-Angel MetalFab, and the UVM Instrumentation and Model Facility (IMF). Technical support was provided by eVermont, iTherm Technologies, and SBElectronics.

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