Magnesium and acid aren’t likely to replace gasoline as a fuel source for the next generation of automobiles, but University of Missouri-Rolla students are betting the combination will power their car to a national victory.
The UMR Chem-E Car team earned a spot in the national competition, set for Nov. 12 in San Francisco, by placing second in a chemical reaction-powered, autonomous vehicle regional competition last April. The competition, sponsored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, challenges teams to design and build a shoebox-sized car that can carry an additional load a specified distance. The actual distance and load requirements will be announced 20 minutes before the beginning of the national competition.
“We are very hopeful about our performance in San Francisco,” says Dan Burtman of Blue Springs, Mo., a junior in chemical engineering. “We know that we have the talent and resources to do very well.”
In the regional 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,” Burtman says. “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.
Although the UMR team will enter a new vehicle in the national competition, the car features the same general design as the one built for the regional contest.
“All parts, especially the wheels, were rebuilt to be much more sturdy and precise than they were before,” Burtman says. “The car also features a transistor fabricated by Alex Carnes of Independence, Mo., a sophomore in electrical engineering. The transistor will keep the current coming from the battery constant.”
Members of the UMR Chem-E Car Team include:
Dr. Daniel Forciniti, professor of chemical and biological engineering and the team’s advisor, will travel with the team to San Francisco.