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Student news - Clean sweep for UW-Madison snowmobile team

A student drives the Bucky 750 flex-fuel snowmobile during the acceleration and handling events at the 2010 SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge, held at Michigan Technological University.
A student drives the Bucky 750 flex-fuel snowmobile during the acceleration and handling events at the 2010 SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge, held at Michigan Technological University. Larger Image

For the second year running, the University of Wisconsin-Madison rode to the top of both divisions of the SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge, held March 15-20 at Michigan Technological University.

Advised by Glenn Bower, a mechanical engineering faculty associate, the UW-Madison team was the only team to bring both an internal combustion sled and an electric sled to the collegiate competition, where students reengineer stock snowmobiles to reduce emissions and noise, while maintaining or boosting performance. This year, UW-Madison significantly widened its margin of victory with both sleds.

An early spring thaw meant temperatures of more than 60 degrees Fahrenheit at times, but the UW-Madison sleds successfully plowed through the slush. “It came down to having a running sled the whole time,” says Jacob Mauermann, a mechanical engineering student. “The warm weather made it difficult for everyone, so at the end of the day, it was about reliability as much as design.”

For the internal combustion division, sponsored by the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, the team demonstrated their flex-fuel Bucky 750 Clean-Fuel Sled. The sled posted a new record for exhaust cleanliness with emission levels more than 15 times cleaner than those of the 2nd place sled. The team’s “home-grown” fuel formula included ethanol from United Wisconsin Grain Producers, LLC (Friesland, Wis.) and an exhaust catalyst system from W.C. Heraeus GmbH (Milwaukee). Using a controller and software from Woodward’s Mototron Control Solutions (Oshkosh), the students refined their sled to automatically adjust to any blend of ethanol while producing virtually no exhaust emissions.

The National Science Foundation sponsors the zero-emissions division of the competition. After winning the 2008 and 2009 zero-emissions divisions, the UW-Madison sled, dubbed the Bucky EV, spent both summer at the National Science Foundation’s Greenland Research Facility, Summit Station, pulling equipment in environmentally sensitive areas. Bucky EV cut days from most experiments by eliminating the need to manually pull equipment to distant locations.

This year, the team debuted the Buck EV2, which has a higher efficiency drive than the Buck EV and a newer, lighter chassis. The students redesigned and rejuvenated cells taken from previous sleds, and even with the relatively weak battery pack, the sled mustered a whopping 100 horsepower during acceleration — faster than most of the internal combustion sleds.

In addition to winning the overall competitions, both sleds earned numerous awards. The Bucky 750 won the Gage Award for Best Fuel Economy and the AVL Award for Best Emissions, while the Bucky EV2 took the Award for Best Handling, PCB’s Quietest Snowmobile Winner and the Society of Automotive Engineers Award for Best Zero Emissions Design.

“I almost had a heart attack at the end,” says team member Shawn Spannbauer. “It’s almost too good to be true.”

The team’s sponsors include the UW-Madison College of Engineering, the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Polaris Industries, United Wisconsin Grain Producers, Weber Motor AG, and Woodward-Mototron Control Solutions.

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