The Chem-E car a group of UTC students constructed may only be the size of a shoebox, but its small size didn’t keep the team from placing third overall at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) southern regional competition in Clemson, South Carolina. The team has qualified for a spot in the national competition, to be held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in October.
“We finished ahead of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Vanderbilt University, Tennessee Tech, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech, which is really impressive. We will be the only school from Tennessee at this year’s national competition,” Brooke Washburn, junior chemical engineering major and Chem-E Car team member, said.
AIChE hosts the annual competition. The goal of the contest is to design a Chem-E-Car, a car powered and stopped solely by a chemical reaction. The winner of the competition is based not on the speed or how far the car can go but how well the car is controlled. Minutes before the competition gets underway, the team is given a distance the car must travel and a water weight the vehicle must haul. The car that arrives closest to its assigned distance wins.
This year’s UTC entry, nicknamed Scrappy after the school’s mascot, is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. Hydrogen gas is produced from the car (at the Gas Master) by reacting aluminum can tabs with sodium hydroxide. The car is stopped by an iodine clock color change reaction. By varying chemical concentrations in the iodine clock, the team can control when the car stops.
The UTC team began developing design concepts in summer 2011, and the car was built within the $2,000 budget set by AIChE. The team was sponsored by BASF and Volkswagen, and travel expenses were offset by the UTC Student Government Association (SGA).
“Without the support of our sponsors and SGA, this project could not have been completed, and we would not have been able to compete at regionals,” Eric Snider, senior chemical engineering major, president of the student chapter of AIChE, and Chem-E Car co-captain, said.
The UTC team has six members: Sumner Welte, Brooke Washburn, Eric Snider, Ashley Poe, Ben Kegley and Jonathon Cain. The team is diversified with past members, new members, and all levels of college experience.
Dr. Tricia Thomas, UTC Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, is the team’s faculty advisor.