Land speed record for biofueled Utah State racecar

  • 02-Oct-2012 01:27 EDT
USU at Bonneville Salt Flats 2012.jpg

USU's driver Michael Morgan did multiple runs with the Aggie A-salt streamliner at the 2012 World of Speed competition at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The biodiesel run consumed 400 mL (13.5 oz) of fuel vs. the 350 mL (11.8 oz) of fuel used per run on the petroleum diesel fuel.

Not only did a team of 20 Utah State University (USU) students from the school’s colleges of agriculture, engineering, and science construct a one-of-a-kind racecar, but they also developed a new biofuel from the waste liquid of a cheese-making process.

“It was a riot to help design and build the USU Aggie A-salt streamliner,” declared the car’s driver Michael Morgan. The senior undergrad, who is majoring in biochemistry, also assisted a graduate student with “the conversion of the fuel from biomass to pristine biodiesel.”

As one of the vehicles competing in various categories and classes at the 26th World of Speed event, the USU racecar set its record run on Sept. 10, 2012. The combination racecar/biofuel development project marked the first such undertaking by USU students.

With assistance from industry partner Utah Chassis and Machine, team members transformed straight sticks of chromoly steel tubing into a tubular steel chassis and formed flat sheets of aluminum into the car’s body panels.

“Most of the parts were machined and built in the Utah Chassis and Machine shop in Salt Lake City or inside the Student Prototype Lab at USU. Very few of the parts on the car are off-the-shelf, other than the safety equipment as mandated by the Southern California Timing Association and the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association (USFRA) rule book,” explained Morgan.

Partially exposed front 22-in tires (22x2.5-17) flanked the car’s carbon-fiber nose cone while the rear 28-in fully exposed tires (28x4.5-15) represented the car’s widest point at 49 in (1245 mm).

With Morgan behind the steering wheel, the car weighed approximately 800 lb (363 kg). Its power source was a 1-L, two-cylinder diesel engine producing 22 hp (16 kW). The 870-cc engine mated to a CVT (continuously variable transmission) previously used in a snowmobile application.

Atop the competition’s expansive hard, salt crust surface, the USU racecar completed runs using different fuels. Morgan initially drove the car on petroleum diesel fuel (diesel #2), including a run with a 64.396-mph average that set the land speed record for diesel streamliner/subclass I.

“And, we made one run on 100% (B100) yeast biofuel,” said Morgan. The dragster-styled racecar’s 3-mi (4.8-km) run on the yeast biofuel had a nearly identical time to the record-setting speed.

In creating the biofuel, the students developed yeast platforms capable of converting waste from a cheese-making process into triglycerides, explained Lance Seefeldt, a professor with USU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Through patent-pending extracting and conversion methods, the triglycerides were then turned into biodiesel.

Under the guidance of Seefeldt and agriculture professor Bruce Bugbee, several students are working to create sustainable biodiesel that’s derived from industrial waste using yeast and bacterial platforms as well as from carbon dioxide and the sun using microalgae platforms.

“The fuels that are being made have been tested in diesel engines and essentially perform just like commercial biodiesel that’s made from soybeans,” Seefeldt said, referencing tests by students and professor Byard Wood, head of USU’s Mechanical, Aerospace, and Engineering Department.

At next year’s World of Speed, USU students want to reclaim their record since a competitor later shattered the team’s mark with a speed of 72.102 mph. As noted by Ellen Wilkinson, USFRA’s secretary, “This record could change again.”

The USU team plans to elicit a faster racecar by designing and constructing a more aerodynamic vehicle profile as well as making modifications that will improve the engine performance.

And that new and improved 2013 car will be fueled with new biofuels created by USU students.

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