Mar 072012
 
Authors: Kate Simmons

A car that runs on water, instead of gasoline, may seem like a product of the future. But, what once seemed a pipe dream, may become reality right here at CSU as a group of undergraduates work to make their mark on the future of auto engineering.

“Hydrogen fuel cell technology is the way of the future and we’re plugging into that future,” said Jon Miksch, a senior mechanical engineering major and one of the 33 undergraduate CSU students participating in EcoCAR2, a nationwide engineering competition.

As one of the 15 schools competing in the competition, CSU will receive a Chevy Malibu directly off the production line in June 2012. The eco-friendly parts CSU students develop and add to the car must be fully functioning in the car by March 2013.

By spring 2014, it must be production-ready, said Dr. Thomas Bradley, an associate engineering professor and faculty advisor for the project.

“All around, it’ll end up being a three-year project,” said Benjamin Geller, a CSU PhD student and team leader overseeing the project. He explained that CSU was accepted as one of the schools in the competition after writing a successful proposal to the Department of Energy and General Motors.

“They (EcoCAR) were looking for leaders in innovation and Colorado State Mechanical Engineering has demonstrated lots of innovation when it comes to vehicles and innovation,” said Mary Timby, CSU vehicle renovation team’s public relations manager.

The project is part of the senior design program in the Department of Engineering, but all students from different departments are encouraged to apply to help work on the car.

“There are a lot of parts that are technical, but we have a lot of creative parts as well,” Bradley said.

Bradley said he envisions textile majors helping design the interior of the car, art majors helping to make fiberglass molds and communication majors working the public relations aspect.

“The way I see it, we’re in competition with the best schools in the country and we’re doing it all on a national stage so we want to represent all the talent and all the capabilities CSU has to offer,” Bradley said. “The more we can showcase what CSU does, the better we’ll do.”

Because this project has ramifications that effect the automotive industry, the environment and politics, to name a few, Geller said he’s excited about the opportunities that will open up for everyone involved.

“There’s really no other opportunity that allows you to be involved with so many different players,” he added.

As a member of the energy storage team, Miksch is researching and developing the car’s batteries and hydrogen.

“Our team is trying to figure out a clever way to fit another seven battery containers into a car without taking up any interior space,” Miksch said. “The battery cases are made out of carbon fiber to prevent people from getting shocked by the battery charges. We’re also trying to make it 200 miles before you have to stop and recharge it.”

“When you use hydrogen as a fuel, it takes a special engine but the only emission is water vapor. You can breathe air right out of the emission pipe,” he added.

Collegian writer Kate Simmons can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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