University of Missouri-Rolla students showed their chemical engineering savvy last week by placing second in chemical reaction-powered, autonomous vehicle competition in Stillwater, Okla. The car’s performance earned the team a spot in the national competition set for November in San Francisco.
The competition, sponsored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, challenged teams to design and build a shoebox-sized car that could carry an additional load a specified distance. The actual distance and load requirements were announced 20 minutes before the beginning of the competition.
A homemade lead-acid battery powered the UMR Chem-E Car, which was asked to travel 68 feet and carry a 450 gram load. A magnesium strip, connecting the battery and motor, and an acid concentration were used to control the car’s distance. When the strip dissolved into the solution, the car came to a stop.
“The UMR Chem-E Car, costing less than $100, beat thousands of dollars worth of fuel cell-based cars,” says Dan Burtman of Blue Springs, Mo., a junior in chemical engineering. “It was very fortunate for Oklahoma State University (OSU), which won first place, that a wheel broke off of our inexpensive chassis 15 minutes before the competition. The audience laughed as our crudely bandaged car turned more than 90 degrees off course during the first run.”
The UMR team regrouped before its final run, adjusting the aim and distance to reflect the direction the car traveled with the broken wheel.
“The UMR Chem-E Car landed about two and a half feet from the line, pulling into first place until OSU’s last run, which beat UMR by about half a foot,” Burtman adds.
Members of the UMR Chem-E Car Team include:
Dr. Daniel Forciniti, professor of chemical and biological engineering and the team’s advisor, traveled with the team to Stillwater.