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EcoCAR 2 Giving Students Skills to Advance Eco-Friendly Automotive Technologies

April 18, 2014

EcoCar 2

Plugging In To The Future: EcoCAR 2 team members test mechanical systems for the an innovative split-parallel, plug-in hybrid electric vehicle technology that may give Rose-Hulman an edge when the design competition wraps up in early June. Rose-Hulman is one of 15 U.S. colleges in this competition, organized by General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy. (Photo by Shawn Spence)

The EcoCAR automotive design competition’s surname is “Plugging In to the Future,” and that’s precisely what Rose-Hulman students have been doing in learning valuable skills to become the next generation of innovative automotive engineers.

The three-year vehicle development cycle in the EcoCAR 2 advanced automotive design competition culminates on June 1-12 in Milford, Michigan, and Washington, D.C. Fifteen teams will compete in more than a dozen dynamic and static events that will refine their vehicles into near-production prototype vehicles.

Since EcoCAR 2 kicked off in April 2011, Rose-Hulman students have been hard at work designing and refining advanced propulsion technologies for implementation in a General Motors-donated vehicle. The competition offers an unparalleled hands-on, real-world educational experience that’s part of Rose-Hulman’s Advanced Transportation System (ATS) initiative.

“From day one, the program’s goal has been to provide our students with the hands-on skills and advanced training that will set them apart in their careers by challenging them with some of the most difficult problems facing the automotive industry today,” says ATS Director Zac Chambers, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

EcoCAR 2 Director Kristen De La Rosa adds, “We believe that if we can provide the right training ground for (students) when they’re in school, they will develop and really go into the industry ready to bring new technology to the market and bring new innovations.”

The challenge has been to reduce the environmental impact of a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu by improving its fuel efficiency and reducing its emissions while retaining its performance and consumer appeal.

Rose-Hulman’s solution has been the development of an innovative split-parallel, plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. The car utilizes E85 ethanol- and electrical-produced power systems in order to provide performance not normally seen in a hybrid, while refusing to sacrifice efficiency.

The vehicle is powered on the front axle through a conventional internal combustion engine powertrain, while an all-wheel drive component is provided by a high-voltage electric traction motor sending its power to the ground through the rear axle.

The two systems combine to work in “parallel” with one another independently powering each axle. An additional electric machine “splits” power off of the internal combustion engine’s accessory belt to allow for charging of the vehicle’s high-voltage battery at engine idle. Combined, the two powertrains provide Rose-Hulman with an exciting and powerful vehicle that’s one of its kind in the EcoCAR 2 competition.

“We’re hoping to hit a home run with this unique technology. If we’re successful, we could have some delightful results in the upcoming Year Three Finals,” says Chambers.

Rose-Hulman’s EcoCAR 2 team consists of engineering students in diverse disciplines such as mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering, computer science and software engineering, and even chemical engineering. The team works closely with students from nearby Indiana State University to provide communications and business programs, further enhancing the educational experience.

EcoCar2 in tests

On The Right Track: Rose-Hulman’s EcoCAR 2 vehicle participated in comprehensive road testing during last year’s competition at General Motors’ Western Proving Grounds in Arizona. (Photo courtesy of EcoCAR 2)

Siemens is an EcoCAR 2 competition-level sponsor and is a world-leading provider of product lifecycle management (PLM) software and services. Siemens’ software has been utilized in the classroom at Rose-Hulman, and the EcoCAR 2 team has used Siemens’ NX 7.5 software to perform virtual fitment. This ensured that all the components physically fit in the vehicle. NX was utilized during the design of the car and helped with managing the vehicle’s development process. The team also used NX CAD software to design custom powertrain mounting brackets and NASTRAN to make sure they meet the competition’s safety factors. In the classroom, professor Chambers teaches a crash course on NX and has created a tutorial on building beam finite element analysis (FEA) models of mounting brackets.

EcoCAR 2 is a part of Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions sponsored by General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy. Rose-Hulman alumnus Zack Pieri, a GM engineer, is former participant in ATS competition teams and now serves as a mentor for his alma mater’s team.

“Engineering advanced technologies that help reduce dependency on petroleum, improve fuel economy, and reduce emissions is the key to developing sustainable transportation,” says John Haraf, GM’s director of hybrid vehicle integration and controls, in an EcoCAR 2 press release. “These students are the next generation of engineers who will help make that vision a reality, and their hard work and dedication throughout the first two years shows they can rise to the challenge.”