Students Build More Efficient Engine
DENVER (AP) - Colorado State University students have built a dramatically cleaner and more efficient version of the internal-combustion engine commonly found in everything from scooters to motorboats to snowmobiles.
If taken seriously, they say, it could help overhaul the snowmobile industry and influence the debate on whether to allow the vehicles in national parks.
"If the debate is about emissions, noise and power, this is a revolution," said environmental engineer Lori Fussell, founder of the Clean Snowmobile Challenge, in which university teams compete to develop a quieter, cleaner snowmobile engine. "It could very much be the answer."
Though proponents say the engine is promising, snowmobiling groups are taking a wait-and-see approach.
There are questions about durability, reliability and cost. The modified two-stroke engine would add about $500 to snowmobiles already costing from $6,000 to $8,000.
"Snowmobiling is a very discretionary product, and if it's priced too high people simply won't buy it, so there has to be a belief that the market will purchase the machine," said Ed Klim, president of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association.
Two-stroke engines are found in most snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and motorboats. They are used in many power tools and are far lighter than automobile engines, which use a more complicated four-stroke system.
The advantage is in their simplicity, but they emit heavy pollution and have low fuel economy, mostly because they push a great deal of fuel out of the exhaust pipe when the pistons fire, said Bryan Willson, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Colorado State University.
The CSU engine was developed for the Clean Snowmobile Challenge, and was the top two-stroke engine to finish. It won third place.
"There's absolutely no reason these engines need to be dirty as they are," said Tim Bauer, one of 10 students and three professors who worked on the project.
The entry was a modified Arctic Cat ZRT 600 that cut emissions from the standard two-stroke engine by 99 percent and was about 35 percent more fuel efficient. Willson said the engine had a minor malfunction during the contest and its noise level was 74.5 decibels, a half decibel above the challenge's maximum of 74.
"Everyone assumed that the only way you could make a clean engine was to switch to a four-stroke," Willson said. "In life, power-to-weight is king and it is going to be hard to do that with a four-stroke engine."
At its heart, the CSU engine is a fuel-injection system designed by Australia's Orbital Engine Corp. and similar to those found in some motorboat engines. There is also a catalyst to reduce wasted fuel and dirty emissions, and a modified muffler.
The engine reduces hydrocarbon emissions by 99.7 percent and carbon monoxide emissions by 99.9 percent, Willson said.
It could play an important role in the hotly debated issue of whether to allow snowmobiling in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Pollution has gotten so bad that Yellowstone issued respirators to gate workers who complained about headaches, nausea and dizziness on days when hundreds of snowmobilers lined up at a busy park entrance.
The Environmental Protection Agency recently softened its opposition to snowmobiles in the parks, saying clean air standards could be met with newer machines using stricter pollution controls. But it noted that the technology is not yet available.
Snowmobile maker Bombardier will release a semidirect-injection engine in 2003, the first of its kind, but so far there are no immediate plans among the other big three snowmobile makers to introduce similar engines.
"We knew there would come a time when we needed to address this concern," Steve Cowing, a Bombardier spokesman, said of the pollution issue.
Neither Bombardier's plans nor the CSU engine has impressed environmentalists. Some don't care what kind of engine is in the snowmobile; they simply object to the snowmobile itself.
"What you end up having is not just thousands but literally tens of thousands of machines charging through wildlife corridors where the animals are hard-pressed just to survive the harsh winter," said Jon Catton, spokesman for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
Clean Snowmobile Challenge: