Student members of the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team of Virginia Tech (HEVT) recently received donated auto parts worth $87,000 from lithium ion battery manufacturer A123 Systems as part of the North America EcoCAR Challenge.

The donated prismatic lithium ion battery modules and control systems will help the team with its competition goal of increasing the fuel efficiency of a GM crossover SUV, said team leader Lynn Gantt, a graduate teaching student from Yorktown, Va. “HEVT is aiming to prove they are automotive eco-engineers who will design and build the environmental vehicles of the future,” he said.

As part of the EcoCAR Challenge, the Virginia Tech College of Engineering student team this fall took delivery of a 2009 General Motors crossover SUV, also donated. The competition tasks students with creating a more energy-efficient “green” automobile, according to event organizers.

As part of the multi-phase project, the students will incorporate a split parallel hybrid powertrain powered by a GM 2.4 L ECOTEC engine, fueled by grid electricity and E85 (85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) fuel. During phase 1, the team created a virtual model of a crossover SUV to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions while retaining the vehicle’s performance and consumer appeal. The second phase, now underway, gives student teams the physical challenge of turning their cutting-edge design into reality. Phase 3 will include road-testing the cars in mid-2010.

“EcoCAR provides the opportunity for hands-on design and engineering experience you can’t get in a classroom,” said Doug Nelson, a professor of mechanical engineering and founding adviser of HEVT.

Virginia Tech is competing with 16 universities: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Georgia Tech, Howard University, Michigan Technological University, Mississippi State University, Missouri University of Science and Technology, North Carolina State University, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Texas Tech University, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, University of Victoria, University of Waterloo, University of Wisconsin-Madison and West Virginia University.

Thirteen of the schools will receive similar donations from A123 Systems, based in Watertown, Mass., with the remaining three schools opting for parts from a different supplier, said Gantt.

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