After three years of painstaking research and grueling competition, the EcoCAR Challenge has found a winner, Virginia Tech.

The EcoCAR Challenge is a three-year collegiate advanced vehicle technology engineering competition established by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and General Motors. Sixteen colleges and universities from across the U.S. and Canada participated in the competition.


After three years of competition, the 16 teams from universities in the U.S. and Canada cross the finish line at E’Lefant Plaza near the DOE headquarters in Washington, D.C. Credit: U.S. Government Work

The basis of the competition was to develop a vehicle that will reduce environmental impact by reducing fuel consumption and emissions, while also retaining safety, performance and overall consumer appeal. The teams were given a GM gasoline-powered vehicle and were tasked with altering its fuel system to develop their choice of alternative fuel and technology solutions.

Modeled after GM’s global vehicle development process, students gained real-world engineering experience in process and design performance. The students engaged in learning a variety of alternative vehicle performance components including full-function electric, range-extended electric, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell technologies, as well as incorporating lightweight materials into the vehicles and improving aerodynamics and utilizing alternative fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen. The competition also asked that students design and build advanced propulsion solutions based on California Air Resources Board zero emission vehicle regulations.

The first phase of the competition in year one consisted of using math-based design tools to select the best method of advanced vehicle power train while using software to assure their chosen components fit into their vehicle along with the electrical, mechanical and software systems functioning properly.

In year two, during the second phase of the competition, the teams received their vehicles donated by GM and began applying a year of research and project development. The teams also participated in engineering tests similar to GM’s testing and engineering protocols.

In the final phase during year three, teams tested their vehicles for emissions and energy consumption at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich. The vehicles were tested to meet the following goals of incorporating technologies that reduce petroleum consumption on the basis of total fuel cycle well-to-wheel analysis, overall vehicle energy efficiency, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and overall consumer satisfaction in areas of performance, utility and safety.

The testing held in Ann Arbor, Mich., allowed them to fine tune their vehicles for one of the last legs of the competition – testing their vehicles against the rigors of General Motors’ Milford Proving Ground. Finally, the competition concluded with an event held June 5-16 at the DOE headquarters in Washington, D.C.


The winning team, Virginia Tech, accepts the top award June 16 at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Credit: U.S. Government Work

An awards ceremony at the Library of Congress was held June 16 to announce the overall winners of the competition, with Virginia Tech taking away the top honors for designing and building an extended-range electric vehicle using E85. The team’s winning vehicle achieved fuel efficiency of 81.9 miles per gallon, putting them over their competitors.

“Designing an extended-range electric vehicle using E85 was challenging but clearly worth it in the end,” said Patrick Walsh, co-leader for the Virginia Tech team. “The entire team has put so much time and effort into designing and refining our vehicle, and we’ve gained valuable knowledge and hands-on experience that will prepare us for our engineering careers.”


Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy, sits down with a winner of the EcoCAR Challenge competition. Credit: U.S. Government Work

“The ingenuity and dedication shown by the students of Virginia Tech in building this next-generation vehicle will help them launch careers as leaders in the clean energy field,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. “With the experience and skills these innovative students have gained through the EcoCAR competition, they will help reduce our nation’s reliance on oil imports and keep U.S. industries competitive in the global marketplace.”

Ohio State University came in second place with its E85 extended-range electric vehicle running on E85 that placed high marks in consumer satisfaction, fuel economy and acceleration. Taking third place, the University of Waterloo’s hydrogen fuel cell plug-in hybrid electric vehicle impressed the judges with the vehicle’s intricate architecture.

The participants from the 16 schools and their vehicles included:

WVU EcoCar Team

West Virginia University’s team poses with its vehicle that runs on B20. Credit: U.S. Government Work

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