In its quest to develop alternative-fuel vehicles, General Motors is turning to college students for help.
The GM Desert Proving Ground in east Mesa will be the testing site for alternative-fuel vehicles developed by 17 university teams from across North America as part of a three-year competition sponsored by GM and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Called Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility, the contest is designed to help train future GM engineers and perfect new technologies that could help relieve the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.
The experimental vehicles were delivered to the proving ground Monday,
and testing will begin on Friday and continue through the middle of next week. The winners will be announced on June 8.
“These teams have done a phenomenal job,” said Micky Bly, GM’s director of engineering for hybrid vehicles and coexecutive lead for the Challenge X competition. “We are learning from these students, they are learning from us and we hope eventually we can get some of them to work for us.”
The competition, which is nearing the end of its second year, is designed to mimic GM’s vehicle development process.
During the first year, the teams designed the technology systems they wanted to use in their vehicles using the same design tools and software used by GM engineers.
In the second year, each team was issued a Chevrolet Equinox, a small SUV that they modified to run on the alternative fuels they selected. Those are the vehicles that will be put through their paces at the desert proving ground.
In the final year, the teams will make modifications and perfect their systems to have the vehicles ready for theoretical mass production.
Second-year awards will be given in a variety of categories from sportsmanship to top adviser to overall best performer judged on emission, performance and fuel economy. Winners will receive trophies and cash prizes.
Twelve teams have decided to run their vehicles on diesel fuel; two on hydrogen; two on E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline; and one on a combination of E85 and hydrogen.
All of the entries also use some form of hybrid technology that incorporates an electric system to enhance mileage and performance, Bly said.
Each of the technologies has its advantages and disadvantages, requiring the teams to determine which offered the optimum combination of performance and emissions, he said.
“Hydrogen is hard to do, but it does offer the lowest emissions,” Bly said. “Diesel has the best mileage, but there is an emission penalty. So these teams had to make some great decisions.”
Because of GM’s increased development work with hydrogen, a mobile system will be installed in the next few weeks at the desert proving ground to store and pump hydrogen fuel, said GM spokesman Jerry Wilson.
The company had hoped to have the permanent system ready for the Challenge X testing, but that schedule can’t be met, he said. Instead, a smaller portable unit will be used to fuel the Challenge X hydrogen vehicles, Wilson said.