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The Rides of March: Spring=Snowmobile Season at Michigan Tech
Michigan Ag Connection - 03/03/2009

While most of the Northern Hemisphere will be celebrating the return of robins and daffodils on the first day of spring, college students from across the Snow Belt will be finetuning their sleds to compete in the SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge.

Set for March 16-21 at Michigan Technological University, the Challenge will celebrate a milestone: a decade devoted to developing greener, quieter snow machines.

The competition is made possible by a two-foot snowpack custom-made for winter sports, even in the spring. Snowmobiling, skiing and snowshoeing typically stretch well into March in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula, thanks to the region's 200-plus inches of annual snowfall.

The Clean Snowmobile Challenge is a collegiate design competition of the Society of Automotive Engineers. Engineering students from participating schools take a stock snowmobile and reengineer it. Their aim: to reduce emissions and noise while maintaining or boosting performance.

A record 18 teams have registered, the most since the first Challenge was held in Wyoming. Five will compete in the zero-emissions division, with 13 in the internal-combustion division.

The entries in the internal-combustion division will face a new hurdle: none will know the ethanol content of their fuel, which will range be E10 [10 percent ethanol, 90 percent gasoline] up to E85. "I want them to be prepared for anything," said Jay Meldrum, director of the Keweenaw Research Center and co-organizer of the Challenge.

Over the years, student competitors have designed a number of clean, green sleds that rely on ethanol for fuel and provide the range and excitement demanded by snowmobile enthusiasts. Entrants in the Challenge's zero-emissions division, however, don't expect to build a machine that can fly down the trails at 60 mph.

Electric snowmobiles aren't known for high performance. But they are workhorses at remote arctic research sites, where any vehicle emissions can contaminate ice and air samples collected by scientists.

The zero-emissions division has gradually grown, and now has a record five entrants. The winning team will have a chance to bring their snowmobile to the National Science Foundation's Summit Station research site in Greenland.

The Clean Snowmobile Challenge is sponsored at Michigan Tech by the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics and the Keweenaw Research Center.

For more information on the Challenge, visit http://www.mtu.edu/snowmobile/.

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