Electric Snowmobiles Could Rev Up Cleaner Snow Travel

EV_sled_UW_11Electric snowmobile prototype by University of Wisconsin, Madison. Photo: Clean Snowmobile Challenge

A typical mid-winter's day in Yellowstone National Park used to belie all notions you may harbor of a peaceful, quiet mountain hideaway. "People would go in and wait for the Old Faithful to blow," says Jay Meldrum,  Clean Snowmobile Challenge co-organizer and director of the Keweenaw Research Center of Michigan Tech in Houghton, Michigan. Then, once the display was over, "you'd have up to 1,000 snowmobiles starting up all at once." This would create its own spectacle—one made, not of sulfur, but of blue smoke, rich in carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrocarbons (HC), spewing from the snowmobile's two-stroke engines.

The CO and HC emissions from snowmobiles on a typical winter day dwarfed those coming from cars in Yellowstone on a typical July day. Eventually, the park prohibited snowmobiles with two-stroke engine and limits on the total number of sleds that could enter the park each day. In response, the Environmental Protection Agency set emissions standards designed to force snowmobile manufacturers to build cleaner-burning engines.

For years, snowmobile manufacturers—Arctic Cats, BRP, Polaris, and Yamaha—have sought out university engineering students to help them advance their products to meet or exceed the increasingly stringent EPA standards while also keeping the snowmobiles fast and fun to drive. They'll do so again next month, when the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) holds the 12th annual Clean Snowmobile Challenge, where teams of engineering and design students from universities around the country will show off their low-emissions and no-emissions prototypes. Here's how the eco-smackdown may cut down future snowmobile emissions.

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