May 2012 | Home
Baseball's Jim Abbott ponders his "improbable life" in a compelling new memoir.
Odds are good that Dante Vasquez is the sole honorary Ghanaian chief living in Las Vegas.
In this month's column, Victor Katch has the ideal recipe for well-being: Sit less, move more. A lot more.
Explore this doomed ship's cinematic voyage from silent short to 3-D blockbuster.
Video: Business professor-cum-shark diver George Siedel will teach the LA cohort of the Executive MBA Program this fall.
An online magazine for alumni and friends of U-M.
Supermileage Team Aims to Mow Down the Competition
May 23, 2012
Can a car really get 3,300 miles to the gallon? The University of Michigan's Supermileage Team is on its way to proving it can—with a lawnmower engine.
"We are taking something that is in your backyard and turning it into something that's sleek, modern, and high-performance," says mechanical engineering senior Laura Pillari, project manager and co-founder of the team.
The new student team will enter its first competition this summer, the SAE International Supermileage Challenge, in Marshall, Mich. The competition challenges student teams to design and construct a single-person, fuel-efficient vehicle with a small four-stroke engine.
Driven to succeed
The team's goal this year is to beat the North American record of 3,169 mpg, and to better it by reaching 3,300 mpg.
"Fuel efficiency is one of those issues prevalent in society today," says chief engineer and co-founder Brett Merkel, a senior in mechanical engineering. "The technology we're coming up with can have far-reaching effects and be implemented in just a few years."
In fact, that process already has begun. The fuel injection system, designed by mechanical engineering student and team member Lihang Nong for the team's vehicle, is now the focus of a startup called PicoSpray. The company won the $20,000 second prize in the Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge earlier this year, and it was selected to spend a term as a tenant in the U-M student business incubator TechArb.
According to Merkel, the fuel injection system can drop the price of an engine for single-person vehicles (like motorcycles and mopeds) by 70 percent, and produce 50 times fewer emissions than current engines.
"Since those single-person vehicles are the primary mode of transportation in many third-world countries, it could have a resounding impact on emissions," says Merkel.
You won't see a car on the street that is getting 3,300 miles to the gallon anytime soon, the students say, but the technology is heading in that direction.
"The operative word is 'create'"
The team used a requirements-based design approach to the vehicle construction, a technique that's been used in the industry for quite some time, according to the team's faculty adviser and professor of engineering practice Harvey Bell. That said, most students don't get exposed to the idea until later in their education.
"I think these competition teams are one of the more significant parts of these students' engineering educations for that reason," Bell says. A 39-year veteran of the auto industry, Bell also serves as co-director of the Multidisciplinary Design Program. "The role that engineers serve in society is to create products and services that are beneficial to society. And the operative word there is 'create.' One of the challenges of an educational institution is to give students a chance to be creative, and these student teams do that."
The project was broken down into the individual requirements of the vehicle—chassis, engine, and body—and assigned to different groups within the team. Body team leader Karan Jain, a junior in mechanical engineering, remembers why he got started with the team. "I was just sitting on my grades alone and wanted to do something more," Jain says. "I wanted to have something that I'd accomplished while I was in college, not just sit in a classroom. This is tangible. It's right here. I can say 'I did that.'"
Merkel, who founded the Supermileage team with Pillari after attending the 2010 challenge as an intern at Eaton Corp., says the goal was not only to compete in the 2012 challenge, but also to make the team sustainable in the future.
"It's crucial to have diversity among the team," says Merkel. "The project management team supports the engineering team. It gives us legs to stand on. If we just went out and built the car this year and didn't think about the longevity and business of it, we'd be starting from scratch every year."
The team has received support from local companies like Ford Research & Design, NSK Motion & Control, and Falcon Motorsports. The 2012 SAE International Supermileage Challenge will be held June 7-8 at the Eaton Corp. Marshall Proving Grounds in Marshall, Mich.
is a writer and web content specialist on the communications and marketing staff in the College of Engineering.