Newswise — A record number of electric snowmobiles have registered for the 2011 SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge, set for March 7-12 at Michigan Technological University’s Keweenaw Research Center. This year, they will be greener than ever.

The Clean Snowmobile Challenge is a collegiate design competition of the Society of Automotive Engineers. In the internal combustion category, engineering students from participating schools take a stock snowmobile and reengineer it. Their aim: to reduce emissions and noise while maintaining or boosting performance.

The zero-emissions category, for battery-powered sleds, is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, which uses electric snowmobiles while conducting research in pristine arctic locations.

Thirteen teams are participating in the internal-combustion division, with seven entered in the zero-emissions category, the most since the division was added in 2006. The total number of entries—20—is the highest in Challenge history.

While electric snowmobiles themselves may have no emissions, their batteries must be charged with electricity. In the past, much of that electrical power has been generated by coal-fired plants, which emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

But last year, Challenge organizers took a step to mitigate those greenhouse gas emissions.

“We put a solar panel out back of the Keweenaw Research Center,” said Jay Meldrum, the Challenge’s co-director. “In a year’s time, one solar panel lets us bank enough energy to charge all the zero emissions sleds. We have already made eight kilowatt hours of energy, and we’re going to make a lot more.”

That means that by the time the student engineers arrive in March, the solar panel will have generated at least as much electricity as the electric snowmobiles will use during the competition.

“This year, they will really be green,” Meldrum said. In addition, the Keweenaw Research Center will be installing more solar panels over the coming months.

Throughout the week, the internal combustion sleds are tested for noise, emissions and fuel economy, while the zero emissions snowmobiles are rated by how far they can travel on a single charge and how much they can pull. The internal-combustion machines will be engineered to run on flex fuel with a wide range of ethanol content. Competitors won't be told what fuel they are using until after the Challenge.

The public is welcome to Grand Opening ceremonies on Tuesday, March 8, which culminate in the Endurance Run north to Copper Harbor. The public is also invited to the acceleration and handling events, on Saturday, March 12. Winners are announced at the awards banquet later that evening.

Participating schools include Clarkson University of Potsdam, N.Y., Michigan Tech, North Dakota State University, the University of Alaska–Fairbanks, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison, which are each fielding an internal combustion and a zero emissions sled; Ecole De Technologie Superieure of Montreal, Kettering University of Flint, Northern Illinois University, State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of Idaho, the University of Maine, the University of Waterloo (Ont.), and the University of Wisconsin–Platteville, internal combustion; and McGill University of Montreal and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, zero emissions.

The Keweenaw Research Center and the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics are cosponsors of the SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge.

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