Engineering Students Design Chemically Powered Vehicle for Competition

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UT's Chem-E-Car design.

UT’s Chem-E-Car design.

The skills of chemical engineering students at UT will be put to the test in an international competition that challenges them to build a specific type of car in record time.

Thirteen students compose one of thirty-one teams to compete in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’s 2013 International Student Chem-E-Car Competition at the institute’s Annual Student Conference. The competition will be held on Sunday, November 3.

Students are challenged to design and construct a chemically powered vehicle within certain size constraints. The vehicle must be developed to also carry a specified cargo. The teams will be told at the time of the competition the distance that the car must travel and the specified cargo that the vehicle will carry.

UT’s team is prepared. The students have designed a vehicle using a proton exchange membrane fuel cell, which converts chemical energy into usable electrical power. Hydrogen is the fuel and oxygen from the air produces electrical power. Water and heat are the only byproducts, making their design a green one.

“Fuel cells are a popular power source in the competition because of how environmentally safe they are while still providing enough power to move the car,” said Kelli Byrne, team captain and a senior in chemical engineering.

The competition gives the students an opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom to tackling real-world problems like energy.

“One of the most useful concepts that we’ve learned through having hands-on experience with our car is finding out that things don’t always work the way you want,” said Byrne. “Just because you can solve a problem on paper doesn’t mean that it would work in the real world.”

The winner will be determined by a combined score for traveling the correct distance and for creativity. First, second and third prizes will be $2,000, $1,000, and $500 respectively. UT team’s won the regional competition to qualify for this one.

To find out more about the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, visit the website.

C O N T A C T :

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460, wheins@utk.edu)

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