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Mississippi State University Team Wins Challenge X 2007 Competition

The winner. Photo: David Freers

Students from Mississippi State University took top honors at the third annual Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility engineering competition, primarily sponsored by GM and the US Department of Energy (DOE).

The Mississippi State team designed a through-the-road parallel hybrid electric with a 1.9-liter GM direct injection turbodiesel engine fueled by B20 biodiesel, a 330V NiMH battery pack from Johnson Controls, and a 45 kW Ballard Integrated Power Transaxle. The vehicle achieved a 48% increase in fuel economy over the production 2005 Chevrolet Equinox that served as the basis for all the entries.

The second place vehicle, engineered by students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is also a through-the-road parallel biodiesel electric hybrid design with a 1.9-liter GM diesel turbocharged engine that runs on B20, 228V NiMH battery pack from Johnson Controls, and a 45 kW Ballard transaxle.

Virginia Tech was awarded third place overall with a split parallel hybrid architecture that runs on E85 ethanol with a 2.3-liter turbo spark ignition engine, a 336V Cobasys NiMH pack, a 52 kW Ballard AC Induction Transaxle and an 8 kW MES AC Induction Belt-Alternator/Starter.

GM has already hired 40 students from the first two years of the competition, and intends to extend several offers at the conclusion of this year’s program, according to Larry Burns, vice president of GM Research and Development and Strategic Planning. Other Challenge X sponsors, including Caterpillar, National Instruments, Freescale Semiconductor, Johnson Controls and MotoTron, also have hired students out of the program.

Challenge X is a unique engineering competition that provides 17 university teams from across North America the opportunity to follow the GM Global Vehicle Development process and develop advanced propulsion technology solutions to increase energy efficiency and reduce environmental impact. The teams are using a variety of alternative fuels including biodiesel (B20), ethanol (E85), reformulated gasoline and hydrogen.

Additional highlights of the Challenge X 2007 vehicles include:

  • Twelve teams are using biodiesel fuel (B20).

  • The University of Waterloo has a dedicated hydrogen fuel cell for its primary propulsion source, and uses compressed hydrogen.

  • Three teams—Pennsylvania State University, Texas Tech University and the University of Tulsa—are using hydrogen as a supplementary or secondary propulsion source. Penn State is injecting hydrogen into their vehicle’s diesel engine as an emissions abatement strategy. The Texas Tech and Tulsa teams are using hydrogen to power auxiliary systems for their vehicles.

  • The University of California Davis is the only team to use plug-in hybrid technology for the energy source within their Challenge X vehicle. Their vehicle has an all-electric range on battery power.

  • The University of Michigan Challenge X team developed a hydraulic hybrid. Their vehicle also uses the electrical energy to propel the vehicle on electric-only power.

  • Two teams, Ohio State University and Virginia Tech, are using belt alternator/starter technology for an electric performance assist in their vehicles.

  • West Virginia University and the University of Akron are using ultracapacitors to source high levels of power for short periods of time and still recapture energy from braking.

The first year of the program, which began in 2004, focused on vehicle simulation and modeling and subsystem development and testing. In years two and three, students have been integrating their advanced powertrains and subsystems into the Chevrolet Equinox. In the fourth year, students will focus on customer acceptability and over-the-road reliability and durability of their advanced propulsion systems with real-world evaluation outside of the laboratory and proving ground environment.

The 17 teams participating in Challenge X include Michigan Technological University; Mississippi State University, The Ohio State University; Pennsylvania State University; Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, San Diego State University, Texas Tech University; University of Akron; University of California, Davis; University of Michigan; University of Tennessee; University of Texas at Austin, University of Tulsa, University of Waterloo, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Virginia Tech; and West Virginia University.

DOE and GM are the headline sponsors for Challenge X. Other sponsors include Natural Resources Canada; The MathWorks; National Instruments; Freescale Semiconductor; AVL Powertrain Engineering, Inc.; US Environmental Protection Agency; US Department of Transportation; National Science Foundation; BP; Sensors, Inc.; Cobasys; Chevron; Johnson Controls-SAFT Advanced Power Solutions; Ballard Power Systems, Inc.; Michelin North America; Renewable Fuels Association; Caterpillar, Inc.; Vector CANtech, Inc.; Intrepid Control Systems, Inc.; Hydrogenics Corporation; MotoTron Corporation; UGS; XM Radio and OnStar.




What I would have given to be in one of these programmes when I was a student.

Top programme with excellent training in real world applications for students who wouldn't normally get as close to consumer level products.



They should have chosen the U.C. Davis team. Their approach makes the best sense. I wish that all of the teams had been restricted to 100% biofuels only. I
think that one of the main goals should be eliminating
dependence on foreign petrofuels.


"..through-the-road parallel hybrid electric.."

I like this design. You could turn other AWD crossovers into hybrids this way.


Can someone please briefly explain "through-the-road parallel hybird electric"? I tried looking it up on the Challenge X web site but was unable to drill down to specifics. Thanks in advance for your help.

Richard In Fla

I too don't understand 'through-the-road parallel hybrid'. Shouldn't it be 'In-the-car-parallel-hybrid'?
What is GM doing sponsoring this event, which they obviously aren't going to use any of the findings? Why are they begging the government for battery research funding and then wasting money on this stuff? Seams to me they should be spending their money more wisely. It also seams they aren't as bad off as they want us to think.

Christopher Pine

As I understand it, most AWD systems are essentially part-time 4WD with traction sensors that adjust the output transfers to the four wheels "as-needed" (program-defined). So "Through-the-road parallel" means an alternator/motor is linked to the secondary transfer case (rather than directly in line with the ICE and transmission), so that, as an acceleration or load assist, the motor-drive is engaged, and during braking or deceleration, regeneration may also be performed. Something like that, no?


refers to the coupling of electric and engine drive: one axle is driven by the engine (Diesel or Otto) and the other axle is driven by the electric or hydraulic drive.

So the two forces are joined where rubber meets road, where there is enough friction anyway.

So the mass (inertia) of the car serves as a damper and no need to mechanically couple or decouple the two drive systems.

Just think of a tandem bicycle with two driven wheels, one by each of the two cyclists. Both going full blast or just one, the other one being weaker or idle, or both at half steam(...).

And shafts and clutches and synchronizers that are not needed cost nothing and cannot wear out.


RE: "I wish that all of the teams had been restricted to 100% biofuels only."

I burned B100 im my MBZ 300SD when I lived on Maui. Made little difference on economy.... smelled better. The restriction to only B100 would not matter to the project. My mileage with B100 for the years I spent on Maui were tiny better than the mileage I get here in Texas with ULSD or B20 locally. (same vehicle)



The through-the-road concept is interesting. I see the advantages, both cost and mechanical. However, front wheel drive and rear wheel drive handle very differently. Do these through-the-road hybrids have sophisticated enough steering and stability programs to compensate so as to present the driver with a vehicle that handles consistently?

I wouldn't want a lot of people on the road in a car that might understeer sometimes and oversteer others.


Golly! I wonder if Bob Lutz knows about this.
This old wine in new bottles. Google "DOE FutureTruck"
Greenwashing on the cheap. Every students demonstrate a working high mileage SUV, and every year GM sez it's impossible to build.

Sid Hoffman

DS, each of these vehicles is probably $15-20k more expensive than a non-hybrid, and would never, ever be able to "payback" the hybrid cost in fuel savings. As such, it's not a financially viable car yet. GM is almost totally bankrupt already, they can't afford any more cars that don't make money.

C Harget

GM doesn't have to do everything the students dream up. They could just cherry pick the bang-for-buck improvements.

U.C. Davis places an extra requirement on themselves, which is to pass California's most stringent air quality standards. That's whey they go plug-in Hybrid and don't use Diesel.

B100 works on Maui, but not where it gets below 40 degrees F. It gets too thick to flow.

I've heard hydraulic hybrid drive is dirt cheap, a little noisy, but usually holds less than a minute of power. It's great for trash trucks that start and stop all day long (triples their mileage), but not as useful for on the highway. Still, if it could make city driving approach the efficiency of highway, that would be a big improvement for most people's driving patterns.

However, another thing that is cool about Hydraulic Hybrid is that it can replace the transmission. This can allow a smaller engine to run at a constant RPM, pumping up the hydraulic pressure, using the prressure for cruising, and still have a reserve of pressure/power for hard acceleration. This would be far more efficient than conventional transmissions and current engine sizing. Dirt cheap.

George K

“Greenwashing on the cheap. Every students demonstrate a working high mileage SUV, and every year GM sez it's impossible to build.”

“last November at the Los Angeles Auto Show, we announced our intention to produce a plug-in version of the Saturn VUE Green Line hybrid , which has the potential to achieve double the fuel efficiency of any SUV on the road today.”

Above comments by Rick Wagoner, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of GM. He is talking about a PHEV 10, which will, most likely, beat a Toyota Prius PHEV to market!


Another point or two about through-the-road:

If engine drives front wheels, motor/generator on rear wheels, then regen braking is applied from rear axle. In addition, when battery level is low, generator (rear wheels) is driven indirectly by the engine 'through the road'--engine works harder so as to both propel the car and overcome the additional rolling resistance provided by the generator.

I suppose the beauty of such a system (if beauty is the right word) is that you can add it to an existing FWD car without messing too much with the existing drivetrain. I assume this is why several of the student projects chose this approach.

Bruce McBunrey

How bad do you think the planet will have to get before they bring out all the suppressed fuel reforming technology that ahs been suppressed over the last eighty years? With all the websites out there figure it should be out soon, you would think. Check out
We could have been reforming the gasoline into natural gas and methanol since the 30'S and getting 4 to 5 times the fuel mileage, but every time an inventor tried to bring it out, they were either bought, shot, jailed or sabotaged of the market. The plain fact that many patents have been filed and the bought up by oil companies should convince you. Actually driving a V8 van getting 70 MPG convinced me. Two scientific analyses confirming I was making Natural gas convinced the university professor, but I never have gotten any serious help to get this desperately needed technology to market. how bad will it get before I get some help?
Bruce McBurney


UC Davis was a neat idea, but the goal of the competition was to design a more fuel efficient vehicle and maintain performance. UC Davis was lacking severely in the performance requirements. On the other hand, Mississippi State ran a 15.3 in the quarter mile and averaged 44 mpg!

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