U. Chem-E-Car team ranks first in competition


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Photo by Paul Solin |

More than 300 people participated in the University’s Chem-E-Car competition, 274 of which are students from 25 different schools.


The University’s hydrogen fuel-cell team took first in a daring display of chemical craftsmanship this weekend during the Chem-E-Car Competition — a battle of chem-mechanical wits settled through alternative energy shoebox-sized cars.

The University hosted the three-day competition filled with professionals and students from various schools in the mid-Atlantic area. The competition is one of many in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Mid-Atlantic Student Regional Conference.

“There are about 300 people total, 274 of which are students from 25 different schools,” said Sumit Sikka, president of the University chapter of AIChE.

This is the first time the University’s Chem-E-Car team has ever placed first in the competition, said Sikka, a School of Engineering senior.

“The hydrogen fuel-cell car cost about $800 total,” said Emanuel Scoullos, a School of Engineering senior.

The hydrogen fuel-cell cars split water into hydrogen and oxygen and use that energy for transportation, he said.

“According to the rules, the car needs to run on some alternative energy,” said Gary Spingarn, captain of the Chem-E-Car team. “You need to stop your car, but you can’t use traditional electrical or mechanical breaks.”

The team uses a chemical reaction to stop the car, called an Iodine Clock reaction, said Spingarn, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. The Iodine Clock reaction idea is credited to Maya Gelman, a School of Engineering junior.

The other team’s car ran on biodiesel fuel, said Anurag Sakhamuri, a School of Engineering senior.

“The differences are pretty major. We have an engine that runs on our very own synthesized biodiesel,” said Daniel Granda, a School of Engineering junior.

Their ideas were fleshed out in the fall, and more of the building started in the spring, he said.

“We want to emphasize the fact that it’s a green car, so we’re using things you can easily find at home. In total, the car cost about $300 to make,” Granda said.

The goal is to raise awareness for biodiesels and to make more people consider biodiesel as an alternative energy fuel, he said.

“Biodiesel is much safer to use and transport than gasoline. The only way to ignite it is to take a bottle of Windex and spray it against a fire directly to some biodiesel. Gasoline would ignite immediately,” Granda said.

The engines in the competition are usually fuel cell or batteries, he said.

“Next year, if we start seeing more biodiesel cars, you’ll know who started it,” said Elliot Taylor, a School of Engineering sophomore.

The car has seen a few hiccups in performance along the way, Taylor said.

 “The biodiesel car unfortunately didn’t run at all,” Sakhamuri said.

Despite the car’s performance, the use of a new engine definitely turned some heads, Scoullos said.

The track varies from year to year, but competitors are told about the track long beforehand, Spingarn said. This year the track was plastic.

“Sometimes, there are hard rubber floors, sometimes it’s plastic. They don’t care if there’s a bump here or there, we just have to deal with it,” he said.

The University’s hydrogen fuel-cell car was the only car to stop directly on the line, Spingarn said.

“There are several rules for disqualification: Deviating 45 degrees from the starting path, having dangerous exhausts, going past 100 feet or using chemicals rated for high flammability,” he said.

One of the more common disqualifications is the 100-feet rule, Spingarn said.

“Before the competition, a series of judges determine whether your car is safe or not. If you have [too much] reactivity, a flame will make your car explode. We can’t have that,” he said.

Most of the funding for the Mid-Atlantic Student Regional Conference came from well-known companies and organizations such as Colgate-Palmolive, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Bristol-Myers Squibb and the Rutgers Alumni Association, Spingarn said.

If every school rotates the opportunity to host it, the University won’t host it for another 30 years, he said.

“It was perfect timing for us to win. The top-five teams here move to the nationals, which is hosted in San Francisco around October,” Spingarn said.


By Andrew Rodriguez

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