CSU students engineer eco-friendly car

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(Photo Credit: CSU EcoCAR Facebook)

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Over the past three years, the Colorado State University Vehicle Innovation Team has been developing a plug-in Chevrolet Malibu – that emits nothing but water.

Students engineered the vehicle to be so environmentally friendly that the emissions coming from the car are no different than what comes out of a kitchen sink.

“It’s a really good way to market the vehicle because you could literally drink the water that comes out of the tail pipe,” Emily Keats, the communications manager for the project.

The vehicle was designed and engineered for a competition called EcoCAR 2: Plugging In to the Future, held by the Department of Energy. 15 universities, including CSU, competed to best “reduce the environmental impact of a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu without compromising performance, safety and consumer acceptability,” according to the EcoCAR 2 website.

Though CSU’s car placed 8th, it stood out for its unique use of hydrogen based fuel. The car can travel a distance of 250 miles when fully charged on hydrogen and electricity, said Keats.

“We used hydrogen gas so the only tail pipe emission is water,” said Jake Bucher, a graduate engineering student on the CSU VIT. “All the other teams used some sort of petroleum based fuel which has a plethora of gases.”

Tom Bradley, an associate professor in the College of Engineering, the faculty advisor to the CSU VIT described the car as an outlier.

“We had higher standards for ourselves in building this hydrogen-powered, zero-emissions vehicle than are even really required by the competition,” Bradley said. “Because our vehicle was so unique, we had a lot of great feedback from the DOE and General Motors.”

Bradley emphasized the benefits of using hydrogen based fuel.

“There’s no CO2 (carbon dioxide) that comes out of the tail pipes,” Bradley said. “There’s no ozone or hydrocarbons or anything else. So, the human health effect and the greenhouse gas effect of the vehicle are much lower than any other in the competition.”

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The University first became involved in the competition in 2011, which is when the design process began. Their goal was to build the most complete car possible that would meet standards set by the DOE for fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and consumer acceptability.

“It’s an ongoing thing for the College of Engineering,” Bradley said. “We’ve had students developing the vehicle toward those goals for three academic years.”

Over those three academic years, approximately 100 students from the University have worked on the project.
Earlier this month, the CSU VIT took their vehicle to the General Motors Milford Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan to test the car in a variety of areas including drivability and fuel economy. Bradley was pleased with how the car performed especially in the drivability tests, and called the whole event a success.

EcoCAR 2 gave students hands-on experience with automotive design and encouraged forward thinking about how to reduce the environmental impact of a car. The competition may be over now but the CSU VIT is already thinking about where they can go from here.

“We’re going to continue on EcoCAR 3 starting next year and we’re going to do some cool stuff there,” Bucher said. “It will be a new project, new car, but it’s the same mentality.”

Collegian Staff Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached at news@collegian.com.