EcoCAR teams use E85 as part of winning strategy

Out of 15 teams competing in this year’s EcoCAR challenge, the first, second and third place winners all utilized E85.
By Holly Jessen | June 03, 2013

I was pretty excited when I saw the results of this year’s EcoCAR challenge. The first place winner, a team of students from Pennsylvania State University, entered an E85 plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. The second- and third-place winners were California State, Los Angeles, with a parallel through-the-road plug-in hybrid electric vehicle and Ohio State University, with a series-parallel plug-in hybrid electric vehicle—both of which also utilized E85 as alternate source of power.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the EcoCAR competition. Personally, I think it’s pretty cool. The three-year contest is sponsored by the Energy Department, General Motors and 30 other groups and managed by Argonne National Laboratory. Year three of the contest will culminate in the finals competition in May in Washington, D.C.

“Engineering advanced technologies that help reduce dependency on petroleum, improve fuel economy and reduce emissions is the key to developing sustainable transportation,” said John Haraf, GM’s director of hybrid vehicle integration and controls and one of GM’s EcoCAR leads, in a press release announcing the winners. “These students are the next generation of engineers who will help make that vision a reality, and their hard work and dedication throughout the first two years shows they can rise to the challenge.”

The thing that really caught my attention about this year’s lineup was that seven of the teams used E85 as an energy source and another four, biodiesel. Although all 15 teams utilized electric power of some kind, only four did so without tapping the energy of a liquid alternative fuel.

The teams that made alternative fuels a part of their strategy were from all over, including Tennessee and Mississippi. In other words, it wasn’t just the schools from the Midwest or Canada—places with a natural emphasis on agriculture and rural development—that saw the benefits of ethanol and biodiesel. This gives me a lot of hope for the future. Not everyone has fallen for the knee-jerk ethanol-is-bad mindset that critics work to spread like a contagious disease.

It’s not the first time that E85 was prominently featured as part of this contest. The year-one competition winner announced in 2012 was Mississippi State University. The winner in 2011, which took first place in the third year of that cycle of the EcoCAR contest, was Virginia Tech University. You got it, both E85 hybrids.

On another note, I wanted to remind readers of the Iowa State University survey of livestock producers’ use of distillers grains,  which is currently ongoing through June 19. There’s still time for ethanol producers or DDGS marketers to contact their large customers and make them aware of the survey, to encourage a stronger response. “The more livestock producers that we can get, the better,” said Kurt Rosentrater, an assistant professor in the department of agricultural and biosystems engineering at the university.

When the survey is completed the results will be analyzed and publicized, giving the livestock and ethanol industries a snapshot of what’s working well, what needs improvement and some of the trends in the marketplace, he said. The project is being funded by several groups, including the Renewable Fuels Association, the Distillers Grains Technology Council, the National Corn Growers Association and the Corn Utilization Councils from Iowa and Nebraska.