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A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Engineering students successful in two automotive competitions

By Liz Crumbley

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 35 - July 16, 1998

A team of about 60 Virginia Tech engineering students tied for first place with students from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in the 1998 FutureCar Challenge held at the Chrysler Technology Center near Detroit, Michigan. In addition, Doug Nelson, associate professor of mechanical engineering, received the 1998 FutureCar Challenge Faculty Advisor of the Year Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The awards were presented to Nelson and the Virginia Tech Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) Team on June 10 at the end of this year's challenge, held at Chrysler's Technology Center near Detroit.
The national competition, sponsored by the big three automakers and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), challenged student teams from 13 engineering schools to at least double the fuel efficiency of mid-sized cars without sacrificing safety, performance or comfort.
In addition to tying for first place overall, the Virginia Tech Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) Team received "best" awards for acceleration, dynamic handling, overall engineering design, vehicle design inspection, consumer acceptability, and solo performance. The Tech team has a history of success in this competition--they placed first overall in the 1996 challenge and second in 1997.
The Tech students converted a Chevrolet Lumina donated by General Motors into an electric vehicle by replacing the original engine with a battery pack. The Tech vehicle also includes a mock-up of a fuel-cell stack, because the students will use this advanced technology for the second leg of the competition in 1999. Of the 13 teams competing in the competition, only students at Virginia Tech and Texas Technological University were selected to receive 20-kilowatt proton-exchange-membrane (PEM) fuel-cell stacks worth $250,000, supplied by the DOE and Energy Partners Inc. of Florida. The Virginia Tech students have modified their Lumina so that the battery pack will supply peak power and the fuel-cell stack will supply average power and re-charge the batteries.
Nelson, who became the founding advisor of the Tech HEV Team in 1994, received a cash award of $20,000 from NSF. The money will be used by Nelson and the team for their continuing work and research in the FutureCar Challenge.