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ME students join Clean Snowmobile Challenge

Glenn Bower

An engineer for all seasons — snowmobile program advisor Glenn Bower. (large image)

The snowmobile trails may be a little less congested this winter, as 15 mechanical engineering students trade snow boots for work gloves. These students are joining 16 universities in the Clean Snowmobile Challenge, the newest collegiate design competition from the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

The contest challenges students to reengineer an existing snowmobile for improved emissions and noise while maintaining or improving the performance characteristics of the original snowmobile. The modified snowmobiles are also expected to be cost-effective.

The first step in modifying the new Polaris snowmobile will be adding a motorcycle engine. "Snowmobiles usually have two-stroke engines, which are less efficient than four-stroke motorcycle engines," said Glenn Bower, the team's faculty advisor. "While this engine is more environmentally friendly, it adds weight to the snowmobile. To compensate, the students selected a 110 horsepower engine."

From what Bower and his students saw while attending last year's competition, this engine will be above and beyond what other teams select, but will still be quiet and clean. Using a Mototron control system, UW-Madison's snowmobile will convert the original carbureted engine into a closed-loop port-injection engine. Using exhaust catalysts, this snowmobile will be cleaner, quieter and more fuel-efficient than commercial sleds.

"ME students learn about these techniques in their classes, and projects like this allow them to apply their engineering theory," said Bower. "They have to design the new snowmobile, build what they've designed, then test what they've built. If it doesn't work the first time, they do it again."

The third annual competition will be held in Jackson Hole, Wyoming during the last week of March.