USU students build electric snowmobile
LOGAN - No one hacks and gags on carbon monoxide when Utah State University senior engineering student Nathan Hansen of Midway goes, "Vroom, vroom," on his senior design project - the oft-disparaged snowmobile.
That's because Hansen and 11 other engineering students at the northern Utah campus have designed and built a zero-emissions, electric sled that they believe can bring together sledders and the environmentalists.
Design teammate Steven Hanson, an engineering student from the Weber County community of West Point, said the group's invention isn't ready to market to die-hard hill climbers, but the prototype has potential for trail-riding in environmentally sensitive areas such as Yellowstone National Park. In fact, the team's double sled rides nicely atop a chassis provided by park officials who support the endeavor.
Yellowstone's environmental manager, Jim Evanoff, said park officials are especially intrigued by the team's goal. This, he said, would help Yellowstone preserve its Class One airshed status - an EPA requirement to maintain pristine air quality.
"As the first national park in the world, it is our responsibility as stewards of this national treasure to preserve and protect it for future generations," Evanoff said.
Hansen said the senior project also has garnered the attention of the National Science Foundation and will be in use this summer when scientists drive the clean machine to remote areas of Greenland to measure pollution levels.
Before heading north, though, the team will take the sled to Michigan on March 13 to compete in the national Clean Snowmobile Challenge sponsored annually by the Society of Automotive Engineers.
Hansen is confident that the USU design team and sled will outperform the competition, but he has high hopes for his rivals, too, "because these machines need a lot more credibility than they're receiving right now."
Nathaniel Hollingsworth, engineering senior from Northern California, said the project could be a building block for a new industry trend.
"Every technology has a beginning. In a few years, this kind of technology could take off and really dominate the market," he said.
Though stymied by 380 pounds of rechargeable batteries - there are lighter, but much more expensive options on the market - the Hansen team has built the electric sled to travel great distances at 20 mph and pull a 1,500-pound trailer.
"We've intentionally built this snowmobile to be a low-speed trail-and-utility machine because the competition specifies that that is what the criteria should be," said Hansen, who built the first prototype with his father, chemical engineer George Hansen, as a hobby more than five years ago.
"It's funny because we're both not snowmobilers. We don't own any snowmobiles," Hansen said. "It's just an idea we had to build them and see how they do."
Learn more about the design team and the electric snowmobile at http://www.engineering .usu.edu/mae/projects/es.