UMaine takes 10th in national Chem-E-Car event

Posted Nov. 20, 2008, at 9:59 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 5:54 a.m.

ORONO, Maine — A group of eight University of Maine students took 10th place out of 29 teams at last weekend’s national Chem-E-Car competition in Philadelphia.

The competition pits university teams against each other as they test self-designed and constructed, chemically powered vehicles, which must be built within certain size constraints and must be able to carry a specified cargo. The winner was determined by a combined score that includes points for traveling the correct distance and for creativity.

In this year’s event, students’ models had to transport 250 milliliters of water 60 feet. Each team was given two chances to run their cars with the final score being their best attempt at meeting the established distance. UM’s vehicle was about 24 inches long, 12 inches wide and 10 inches tall.

The UM model ran on a proton exchange membrane hydrogen fuel cell, which consists of 15 membranes separated by graphite plates. The hydrogen gas reacts with oxygen from the air to power the motor. The team’s best finish was 39.5 inches from the finish line.

“We feel that UMaine had a good showing,” UM junior and team leader Thomas Schwartz said in a release. “We experienced a few setbacks at the competition and feel that we overcame them to the best of our ability.”

Cornell University won the competition, finishing zero inches from the line with a car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. First prize was $2,000. Louisiana State University was second (10.5 inches from the line) with a citric acid and sodium carbonate-powered car and Texas A&M, which used a method in which chemicals make hydrogen gas, was third (11.5 inches).

The UMaine team qualified for the competition when it took first place last April in the Northeast Regional Competition at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The team was originally made up of 14 members who started the project last spring. Six students graduated, and the remaining team continued the work in September.

The team members are sophomores Mathew Pagurko and Jeffrey Galle; juniors Mike Subila II, Ian Hamilton, Schwartz and Gregory Worster; and seniors Jessica Englehart and Sarah Hodgins.

UMaine was the only team from New England.

The Chem-E-Car competition is sponsored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

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