The Penn State EcoCAR 2 team recently had the privilege of meeting with the head honcho of the headline sponsor U.S. Department of Energy: The U.S. Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu! Chu spoke at Penn State’s Eberly College of Science Commencement on May 5th, 2012, and took time to meet with the team afterwards. Team members showed Chu PSU’s vehicle from EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge, and then gave a detailed explanation of the architecture planned for the Chevy Malibu. This led to an in-depth discussion on the current ethanol economy in the U.S. (the team chose E85 as the liquid fuel for its vehicle), and projections for the cost of ethanol production in the future. Chu is very optimistic about ethanol and other types of renewable energy. However, he emphasized that more research into energy technology and vehicle efficiency is vital in order to push renewable energy into the mainstream and attain affordability. Chu also discussed methods of increasing MPG ratings on non-hybrid vehicles as a method to reducing oil dependence.
In addition to having great insights about the energy economy, Secretary Chu had a great grasp of the inner workings of hybrid vehicles, pointing out various aspects of the vehicle and talking with the engineers about how they chose parts. It felt to the team almost as if he was another engineer working with Penn State! After learning about the team architecture, he was particularly interested in the choice of a small Weber engine (typically used in snowmobiles) for the Malibu, calling it an innovative use of space.
Meeting with the Secretary of Energy on graduation day was the perfect capstone to a year of hard work. His support was incredibly encouraging, and set Penn State EcoCAR 2 on the right track for the last push until final competition in Los Angeles!