This post was contributed by team member Kevin Leong
While many Embry-Riddle students enjoyed Spring Break on exotic beaches, four members of the ERAU EcoEagles team went north instead – to the Transportation Research Center (TRC) in East Liberty, Ohio, where the Year Three Emissions Testing Event (ETE) took place. During the ETE, each of the 15 EcoCAR 2 teams had the rare opportunity to perform industry-grade, state-of-the-art emissions testing on the dynamometers at the TRC.
“In addition to emissions testing, the teams’ vehicles underwent tech inspections where the organizers looked at everything: things we did wrong, things that weren’t good enough, things we could improve on,” said Dr. Patrick Currier, the faculty advisor for the EcoEagles. “We talked a lot with the other teams there. Purdue University has the same diesel engine, so we shared our experience with them to help them work through their problems.”
As noted by Currier, collaboration with the organizers and the other teams is crucial in the later stage of Year Three. “A lot of teams were having issues with problems that we had come across earlier in the year and successfully resolved,” said Chris Rowe, the electrical team lead. “Everyone needs a little help; everyone knows a little more than someone else. There is always a knowledge transfer when dealing with testing.” Despite the fact that they’re officially competitors, the teams are still willing to collaborate, loan tools, and share wisdom among their peers.
The organizers, many of whom work for either Argonne National Laboratory or General Motors, provided additional insight into the many design issues the teams faced. One major issue the EcoEagles struggled with was having unburned hydrocarbon emissions in their vehicle’s exhaust. “The data that we received helped us characterize our engine’s performance,” said Derek Bonderczuk, the controls team lead. “A lot of unburned hydrocarbons indicate incomplete combustion.” Incomplete combustion usually means the engine is operating less efficiently than normal. The team collaborated on Facebook with the off-site EcoEagles members and alumni who work for General Motors. “We thought that this was caused by a clogged diesel particulate filter, but the other possibility was that the engine was not broken in yet, so everything wasn’t seated properly.” After the team subjected the engine to an extensive load for an hour, the team was in contact with General Motors engine experts from Italy to further troubleshoot the problems.
“We also noticed that our Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system, an after-treatment for our exhaust, wasn’t working correctly,” Bonderczuk notes. “We were able to gather data on the SCR system despite its broken state.” Bonderczuk and Rowe, along with Yuchi Meng, the mechanical team lead, worked tirelessly during the week they were at the TRC. Many of the problems that were found were minor procedural issues, such as bolts being improperly marked or wires being routed near sharp edges. Some problems, however, caused the entire testing procedure to halt. “These couplers are supposed to be solid,” Currier tells me as he hands me a burnt piece of a soft rubber coupler. “We seem to have figured out what is causing us to lose all of these couplers and the team is already working hard on a new design.”
“Right now, we are probably in the more fun stage of the competition, where we are less concerned with getting things to work as we are with making things better,” says Bonderczuk. Rowe seems to agree with Bonderczuk, noting, “The organizers were pretty pleased with our progress. It gives us a good feeling about where we are in the competition, and how we will do at Final Competition.”