This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

June 17, 2009

Ohio State University Wins First Year of EcoCAR Challenge

A team of students from Ohio State University (OSU) earned top honors at the EcoCAR competition on June 12 for their design of an extended-range electric vehicle. The three-year competition, officially called "EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge," tests the engineering acumen of university students from across North America, as they endeavor to convert a 2009 Saturn VUE into an electrified vehicle with improved fuel economy and reduced emissions. While achieving those goals, the teams must also retain the vehicle's performance and consumer appeal. The teams could explore such electrification options as fuel cells, electric vehicles, hybrids, plug-in hybrids (hybrids with oversized battery packs that can be plugged in to recharge), and extended-range electric vehicles (electric vehicles with an engine and generator to extend their range). The competition is sponsored by DOE and General Motors Corporation (GM) and is being managed by DOE's Argonne National Laboratory. Seventeen universities from the United States and Canada are participating in the competition.

For the first year of the EcoCAR challenge, students were tasked with designing the vehicle, drawing on advanced software and computer modeling tools to achieve the optimal fuel efficiency and minimal emissions. OSU's design recharges its battery pack using a 1.8-liter Honda engine fueled with E85 (a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline) to achieve a three-fold increase in fuel economy relative to the production version of the Saturn VUE. About half of the teams chose an extended-range electric vehicle, while one team chose a full-function electric vehicle, two chose fuel cell-powered plug-in hybrids, and six chose plug-in hybrids. All of the teams employ lithium-ion battery packs with plug-in capability in their designs, and all of the teams that used liquid fuels designed their vehicles for renewable fuels. Next comes the hard part, as the teams actually have to build what they designed. And in the final year, teams refine their vehicles to near-showroom quality. See the EcoCAR challenge Web site, the press releases from GM and OSU, and the OSU EcoCAR Web site.