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EcoCar2 challenge includes Purdue team

Fifteen teams of university students, including one at Purdue, are on a quest. They’re taking part in a three year effort to take an existing car and reduce its environmental impact. Performance and safety can’t be compromised, and it still has to be marketable to those looking to buy such a car.

Haley Moore is the leader of the EcoMakers team. She explained to reporters during a recent open house the plans her Purdue crew has for the 2013 Chevy Malibu. They work out of lab space in the Grounds Service Building on campus. In her role, she’s learning how to manage the task at hand and people.

“I have discovered, as project manager, when you show up with candy or pizza, they’re like, ‘Oh!’”

The mechanical engineering technology graduate student says the EcoCar2 competition allows them to put into practice everything they’ve learned in the classroom and get real-world experience.

“We’re training engineers, business majors and communication majors to go straight in, to work for companies and they already have this base knowledge," she says. "So, once they go to work for companies, they can jump in feet first into projects to figure out what to do.”

The three year effort is beginning the second phase. The teams will start making physical changes to their cars. They need to be functional in less than a year, but not necessarily showroom-ready. That has to be completed by the end of the competition.

“So, theoretically, by next year they could take our vehicle and put it on the production line," says Moore. "So, it would be operating as when you buy it from your local Chevy dealer.”

But before it can get to any showroom, it has to undergo a lot of work. That includes adding an electric motor and batteries, making space for that in the trunk and reinforcing the rear suspension. There will be two engines, so the team has to get both operating separately and in unison.

Whitney Belt, graduate student in mechanical engineering and the electrical team lead, points out a more than 200 pound electric motor is planned for the trunk space. He says they will have to compensate for it and more.

“Our batteries are going to be about 400 pounds, so there’s a lot of weight," he says. "We’re definitely going to have to find ways to reduce weight to increase our fuel economy or increase our distance we can drive before we have to refuel or recharge. So, yeah, weight is a huge factor in this.”

They also have to keep safety in mind – especially with the amount of electricity needed to run a car engine.

“We’re talking about, it will have a max of 340 volts," says Belt. "Pretty substantial… definitely don’t want to touch that.”

Guiding the 48 student team when needed is a group of faculty advisors. One of them is mechanical engineering professor Peter Meckl, who oversees the diagnostics.

“We’ve been doing all sorts of things in simulation and CAD design the past year," he says. "Now we have the ability to put it all into practice. We have the electric motor. We will be getting the battery packs. We have the vehicle. The students are really excited about it.”

Moore believes the end result will be something great.

"Not just for the Lafayette community, but maybe worldwide with helping the environment," she says.

"Then again, confusing, very stressful, but I will say our Purdue education has helped us out greatly with those problem-solving skills. So, it’s just a matter of sitting down, plugging and chugging, as everybody says.”

While the EcoMakers team did not win the first round of the competition overall, it did place in a few categories. The students and faculty say they’re happy with that, since this is the first time Purdue has taken part.

You can learn more about the EcoMakers and the EcoCar2 competition HERE.