Good, Clean Fun with Snowmobiles Courtesy of Student Engineers

New designs seek to reduce noise and emissions without reducing the fun.

Although you may be sick of snow by now, there is still good fun to be had. And it can be good, clean fun thanks to the SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge (CSC), an annual engineering competition seeking to improve sustainability of the wintertime transportation.

As described by SAE, the CSC is “an engineering design competition for college and university student members that challenge[s] engineering students to reengineer an existing snowmobile to reduce emissions and noise.”

Snowmobiles have a reputation of being loud and damaging to the environment. Some of that reputation may be undeserved as technology improves. Noise levels have been reduced by over 90% since their roll-out, and emissions have been steadily dropping with the use of 4-stroke engines and advancing pollution controls. There is still room for improvement, however, so there is opportunity for student engineers.

Engineering new solutions to old problems is fertile territory for young minds. The competition, now in its 15th year, is challenging in many aspects as it measures performance in endurance, efficiency, design and more. The intended product is a touring snowmobile, most suited to maintained trails.

The designs should not only address environmental factors, but should also maintain functionality. The goal is to employ practical improvement strategies to meet performance metrics including a 100 mile range before refueling, a smooth trail speed of 45 miles per hour and the ability to cover a distance of 500 feet in 12 seconds or less.

There are internal combustion (IC) and electric (or zero emission) categories. The electric versions are often limited by range and performance compared to their IC counterparts. Just as electric automobiles are advancing, the technology is now becoming available to introduce competitive electric snowmobiles.

Zero emission snowmobiles are important for sensitive atmospheric studies in Polar Regions, and important to research. That need for new technology in that area led NSF to sponsor the electric potion of the competition.

The 2014 top honors went to Kettering University (IC) and McGill University (zero emission). The IC portion included sleds with 4-stroke and 2-stroke gas engines as well as diesel. Diesel will receive its own category in next year’s competition.

The brutal winter made for great snowmobiling conditions. An impressive nine of ten teams finished the endurance challenge with their experimental designs, but only one of four electric versions made it on the snow after a rigorous, pre-competition inspection.

Surely, all of the students gained valuable experience in design, performance and teamwork. If you have to endure the snow anyway, you might as well have some fun with it.


The video below describes the competition.


Image courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Madison News