Students Advance Clean Snowmobiles

Zero Emissions Technology Races Ahead

Last week marked the 13th annual SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge (CSC) and the 10th year the event has been hosted by the KeweenawResearch Center of Michigan Technological University. This year the snow conditions were excellent, facilitating the event and enhancing the enjoyment of participants and spectators alike.

This was the 7th year I have attended the event, and the 4th since the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs  became a major sponsor. This year, CH2M Hill Polar Services (CPS) also sponsored the competition. This event is part of the SAE Collegiate Design Competition Series. What sets it apart is the focus on developing cleaner, quieter, more environmentally friendly and socially acceptable transportation. The target of creating the cleanest over-snow transportation, in combination with a great educational outreach opportunity, makes this event an excellent fit for the NSF’s arctic research effort.

Endurance and Range

A cleaner, quieter snowmobile isn’t much good if it can’t go the distance. The CSC is divided into two broad categories, internal combustion (IC) sleds and zero emissions (ZE) machines. The IC category is primarily intended for the recreational market, while the ZE side targets markets requiring clean operation that can handle the shorter range that accompanies battery operation.

The IC machines are challenged to complete 100 miles, while the ZE sleds are required to travel a minimum of 10 miles on a charge, with the team going the farthest on a charge typically winning the range event. Only three of the four ZE machines passed technical inspections for the range event, and of these, only the McGill University team was allowed to compete for points, as the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and Michigan Technological University teams missed the competition deadline literally by minutes. While the well-balanced and relatively trouble-free McGill machine won the event with a range of 9.78 miles, the UAF machine actually travelled 16.42 miles on its battery pack.

And the winner is…

UAF won the ZE category overall and was also voted the “most improved” from the previous year. As part of its support to the competition, the NSF supports field testing of suitable ZE vehicles at Summit Station, where atmospheric monitoring, snow chemistry and other experiments require pristine conditions. So I invited UAF team captain Isaac Thompson to come to Summit along with his machine. He accepted. I placed only one caveat: slow that snowmachine down.—Tracy Dahl