June 4, 1998

High performance Wayne State ethanol car wins 1998 Ethanol Vehicle Challenge

A team of Wayne State University engineering students has won the 1998 Ethanol Vehicle Challenge with its re-engineered 1997 Chevy Malibu.

The Team Ethanol WSU vehicle outperformed entries from 13 other top engineering schools throughout the country. It was one of two Michigan schools entered in the eight-day event at the General Motors Proving Grounds in Milford, Mich., and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), General Motors, and Natural Resources Canada. The victory was all the more noteworthy because it followed a brief scare just before the competition's opening ceremony, when a small engine fire broke out.

WSU President Irvin Reid, who took the car for a brief spin during a recent visit with College of Engineering students and faculty, was excited by the victory, saying, "Congratulations! I am delighted I got a chance to drive the winning car. I share the campus community's sense of pride in the achievement of our students and faculty."

Reid also offered personal congratulations to Chin Kuo, dean of the college, "for your excellent leadership and the goodwill you have brought through the creative way you have led your faculty and students."

The task for each Ethanol Challenge team was to modify a 1997 Malibu to operate on E85 fuel (85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline). Vehicles powered by ethanol, which is made from corn, could contribute significantly to reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and also help reduce American dependence on imported oil.

The Wayne State vehicle, which attained 29.2 miles per gallon highway driving and a top speed of 81 mph from a standing start in a little more than 16 seconds, demonstrated that certain modifications of a stock gas-powered car will convert it to ethanol with very clean emissions without sacrificing performance and fuel economy.
The Wayne State design also can be implemented in the manufacturing process fairly simply, competition officials noted.

The Wayne State ethanol team spent nine months in the school's automotive testing labs developing custom-made streamlined pistons to take better advantage of ethanol's high compression ratio. Team members attributed their car's first-place performance in acceleration and fuel economy to this modification. Several other significant changes were implemented, including the introduction of a special coil heater attached to the engine manifold to improve cold starts.

The small engine fire ignited after a team member started the car minutes before the May 25 opening ceremony. After a few tense hours to determine the cause, team members reinsulated and rerouted a wire connecting the coil heater, which was positioned too close to an engine component. Apparently the wire short-circuited after the insulation degraded as it rested against the engine component - which superheated when the car was particularly active earlier.

After completing all the events in Milford that Friday, the 14 teams caravanned to Washington, D.C., where they were met by hundreds of cheering supporters gathered at the DOE building grounds.

As the automobile industry moves to address federally mandated environmental goals, more and more ethanol vehicles have been introduced into the marketplace. Although current technology has not been able to overcome cold starting and fuel economy issues, competitions like this enable automobile engineers to use the experiences and innovations of student engineers to advance the technology.

"General Motors is keenly interested in the continued development of alternatively file led vehicles," said Dennis R. Minano, GM's vice president of public policy and chief environmental officer. "The Ethanol Vehicle Challenge not only provides an opportunity to work with many motivated students, but also contributes significantly to a better understanding of the use of ethanol as a fuel."

The College of Engineering will hold a celebration marking the return of the team and car from Washington, D.C., at 11 a.m. Friday, June 5, in the college's courtyard. The event is open for the media to interview the team members. For more information, please call the College of Engineering Communications Office at (313) 577-6531.

Wayne State's Team Ethanol

John Auld, Grosse Pointe Farms; Christopher Day, Livonia; Greg Goleski, Clinton Township; Jeff Jarvis, Warren; Clifford Lyons, Detroit; Anthony Morelli, Fraser; Paul Nahra, Macomb Township; Bogdan Nitu, Detroit; John Shinska, Columbus, Ohio; Jeff Wuttke, Sterling Heights; faculty adviser: Dinu Taraza, Grosse Pointe

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