MTU again hosts hi-tech snowmobile competition

Joshua Vissers/Daily Mining Gazette Members of the first Michigan Technological University team competing in the diesel category with their sled, a modified 2016 Arctic Cat chassis with a Kohler diesel engine. Left to right are Nicholas Mangus, Jacob Kaisler, team co-leaders Justin Scholl and Nick Brodowski, and Alyssa DePauw.

Michigan Technological University (MTU) is hosting 22 teams from across North America participating in the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Clean Snowmobile Challenge this week.

Each team of college students work during the school year to innovate snowmobiles. Then they gather at MTU’s Keweenaw Research Center to compete in categories including fuel economy, noise level, acceleration and handling.

The sleds are divided into two categories, diesel and gas. The gas category is also known as Spark Ignited (SI). The diesel category is known as the Combustion Ignition (CI) division. All diesel engine combustion is ignited by compression in the cylinders, not with a spark.

The winner of the event earns the traveling trophy named the Maclean-Fogg Cup, after the event’s major sponsor. This is the 20th year for the competition. This year, MTU teams competed in the SI division and, for the first time, the CI division as well.

The SI team started with a 2016 Yamaha RS Venture. SI sleds can be no more than three years old, so this is the last year the Venture can be used. The CI team is using a 2016 Arctic Cat chassis with a Kohler diesel engine. Diesel sleds can be used for up to five years. The age restrictions are in place to encourage innovation on the most up-to-date production models possible.

The CI team is particularly happy with their chassis and engine choice because they did not have to modify the frame or steering column to fit them together. Many other CI teams were forced to alter either the frame or the steering column to fit new engines on their sled.

“Any of the fabrication or the modification of the snowmobile is all done by members of the team,” Josh Carpenter, the SI team lead, said.

On Monday and Tuesday, the CI division had their lab emissions test on a dynamometer. The tests measure carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and unburned hydrocarbons.

“Our filters came out really good,” Justin Scholl, MTU CI team co-leader, said.

According to Nick Brodowski, the other team leader, the test is done by holding the engine at full-throttle for two minutes.

“One of the bigger problems is you’re not moving,” he said.

The lab environment changes the airflow and load on the engine compared to regular use. This can make passing the emissions test more difficult, according to Brodowski.

A second emissions test is done on the trail, with each sled pulling a specially-designed trailer with testing equipment on it. Carpenter said this method allows each snowmobile to be tested under a range of real-world conditions.

Scholl said they achieved their results using engine tuning with an electronic engine control unit, a diesel oxidation catalyst and a diesel particulate filter.

The SI team hadn’t received their results yet, but also electronically tuned their engine and tested four different catalytic converters before choosing one.

The competition concludes on Saturday.