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‘SLED’ Is Good, Clean Fun
March 1, 2008

Thanks to donations from Madison-based foundations and industry, a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) mechanical engineers will have the chance to develop an earth-friendly snowmobile that may facilitate scientific research in Antarctica and Greenland.

Christened the Silent BuckEV, the electric sled will compete in the 2008 Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE) Zero-Emissions Electric Snowmobile Event, to be held on the Michigan Technological University campus in March.

UW-Madison team faculty adviser Glenn Bower, a faculty associate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, says the team appreciates the support from donors. Recently, the Brittingham Foundation donated $13,000 and Polaris Industries supplied a snowmobile chassis, valued at $4,000. In May, the Evjue Foundation, the charitable arm of Madison newspaper The Capital Times, donated $13,000.

The zero-emissions event is different because the snowmobiles are completely electric. SAE partnered with the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the event on behalf of a request by VECO Polar Resources, NSF support contractor in Greenland.

The goal for zero-emissions teams is to help scientific research in Greenland and Antarctica. Air and snow samples can be contaminated by gas-powered vehicles used to get scientists to the coring spots. “Dog sleds are their only other option at this point,” Mr. Bower says.

In the past, NSF has sponsored zero-emissions teams to travel to Summit Station, Greenland, says Mr. Bower.

The zero-emissions competitions began in 2004, but so far the entries haven’t been electrically safe or reliable overall, according to Mr. Bower. UW-Madison has worked on hybrid vehicles since 1993 through U.S. Department of Energy student challenges; as a result, says Mr. Bower, the students are familiar with the high-voltage motors and batteries used in the snowmobile events.

“We’re just applying knowledge we already have to a snowmobile chassis, and then we make it very reliable,” Mr. Bower says.

The competition has several categories, including weight, acceleration and sound tests. Additional categories include a distance race, maneuverability course, technical paper and cost analysis. Also, industry experts drive and evaluate the snowmobiles.

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