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Students building hydrogen fuel cell hybrid Malibu in national competition

March 1, 2012

Students at CSU, one of the 15 North American universities selected to participate in the EcoCAR competition, will build the only hydrogen fuel cell plug-in vehicle in the contest.

Real-world, hands-on experienceProfessor Tom Bradley with students on the CSU EcoCAR team

The students are working to turn a donated 2013 General Motors Chevrolet Malibu into a hybrid vehicle. The three-year EcoCAR 2 competition was first announced in April 2011, and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, Argonne National Laboratory and General Motors and 20 other government and industry leaders. The project gives students the opportunity to gain real-world, eco-friendly automotive engineering experience while striving to further improve the energy efficiency of a highly efficient vehicle.

Much like the challenges facing automakers, EcoCAR engineering students must balance the challenge of increasing the vehicle’s energy efficiency and reducing the vehicle’s greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum consumption with maintaining performance, safety and overall consumer acceptability of the original Malibu.

To meet these technical challenges, each EcoCAR team designed their own unique Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) architecture and used what industry calls a crowd-sourcing format to select the powertrain components that they will integrate into their advanced technology vehicles. This technique mimics industry’s global vehicle development process.

Sponsor contributions help students gain experience

This hands-on experience is made possible by sponsor contributions, including Siemens AG, that exceed $71 million in software, hardware and cash donations to the CSU team, and more than $745 million to the 15 teams combined.

“We really believe that the hydrogen fuel cell plug-in hybrid vehicle architecture represents the way that automakers will design vehicles 20 years from now,” said Thomas Bradley, the team’s faculty advisor and assistant engineering professor at CSU. “To CSU, this is more than a student design competition - it is a chance for our students to research and develop the future of personal transportation.”

How it works

A hydrogen fuel cell plug-in vehicle uses the electrical output of a fuel cell to power the motor and charge the vehicle’s battery. The vehicle is fueled by gaseous hydrogen from a hydrogen refueling station and/or by charging the battery from a standard wall outlet. In the fuel cell, hydrogen and oxygen are combined in an electro-chemical reaction that creates electricity with only water as a byproduct. Operating on hydrogen and electricity only, instead of gasoline, results in zero tailpipe emissions from plug-in fuel cell vehicles.

“For this competition, we wanted to donate a vehicle that reflected today’s consumers’ needs, and the new 2013 Malibu made the most sense in terms of its size and flexibility,” said Kent Helfrich, executive director at General Motors in Electronic Controls and Software Engineering. “EcoCAR2 students will take our Malibu and re-engineer their vehicle to reduce its environmental impact, yet still deliver real-life, practical results. This is not an easy job, but it’s very rewarding. It’s what we do at GM every day.”

'Future in hybrid technology is happening now'

“The future in hybrid technology is happening now,” said Patrick Davis, program manager of DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Program. “It used to be that we were on the edge of this type of technology - now we are there and these students are attempting to take it even further.”

The first year of EcoCAR 2 emphasizes the use of math-based design tools and simulation techniques for designing a successful vehicle foundation. Each team will receive a 2013 Malibu at the end of the first year of competition in May. In years two and three, students will rebuild the vehicle based on their new architecture and continue to refine, test and improve the vehicle’s operation.

About EcoCAR 2: Plugging in to the future

EcoCAR 2: Plugging In to the Future is a three-year collegiate engineering program that builds on the successful 24-year history of DOE advanced vehicle technology competitions by giving engineering students the chance to design and build advanced vehicles that demonstrate leading-edge, eco-friendly automotive technologies. General Motors provides each of the 15 competing teams with a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, as well as vehicle components, seed money, technical mentoring and operational support. The U.S. Department of Energy and its research and development facility, Argonne National Laboratory, provide competition management, team evaluation and logistical support. Through this important public/private partnership, EcoCAR 2 provides invaluable experience and training to promising young minds entering the North American job market. EcoCAR 2 follows the widely acclaimed competition series EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge.

Sponsors of the DOE program include Natural Resources Canada; MathWorks; California Air Resources Board; Clean Cities; dSPACE, Inc.; A123 Systems, Inc.; Freescale; AVL Powertrain Engineering, Inc.; National Science Foundation; ETAS; Snap-On Tools; Magna E-Car Systems; Magna Powertrain; Robert Bosch, LLC; FleetCarma; Siemens PLM Software; CD-adapco; Ventor CANtech, Inc.; Woodward; and Caterpillar.