WASHINGTON - Students from Virginia Tech University emerged as overall winners of “EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge” using an extended-range electric vehicle they designed and built. The plug-in hybrid car runs on E85 ethanol when it’s not running on electricity.

Throughout the three-year competition, the Virginia Tech team hit incremental goals that helped the vehicle achieve fuel efficiency of 81.9 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent, or 70 percent over the stock vehicle.

Virginia Tech's vehicle out-performed its competitors earlier this month when it was put through a series of safety and technical tests at General Motors' Proving Ground in Milford, Mich. 

Awards were presented in Washington, D.C., after a two-week finale that had teams at GM's Milford Proving Grounds and then the U.S. Department of Energy’s headquarters in the nation’s capital.

In all, the team of Virginia Tech College of Engineering graduate and undergraduate students won 14 first place awards at the EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge: Best Vehicle Testing Complete Presentation, Shortest Braking Distance, Lowest Fuel Consumption, Best Dynamic Consumer Acceptability, National Instruments Most Innovative Use of Graphical System Design Award, Best Progress Reports and Fastest Autocross ‘Fun Run’ Time. The team tied for Best AVL Drive Quality, and won second place or runner up for Battery Worksmanship Award, Lowest Petroleum Energy Use, and Lowest Tailpipe Emissions.

Among individual awards, Rachel Dobroth, a graduated senior from Massanutten, Va., who double-majored in communication and interdisciplinary studies, won for Best Outreach Presenter, and Kat Pecinovsky, a graduated senior in mechanical engineering from Woodbridge, Va., won the Women in Engineering Rookie of the Year Award. During an autocross event, team member and College of Engineering graduate student Patrick Walsh posted the event’s best time, beating drivers from General Motors, a major co-sponsor of the event.

The team already previously stood out in the three-phase competition, winning second nationally during Phase Two in 2010. A total of 16 collegiate teams from across the United States and Canada participated in the competition, with 14 teams making it to the final day of competition in Washington, D.C. Serving as faculty adviser to the Virginia Tech team is Doug Nelson, a professor of mechanical engineering.

“This year’s 2011 Year Three team had a lot of component issues to solve from the 2010 Year Two vehicle, despite the fact that we placed second overall in 2010 in Yuma, Ariz.,” said Nelson. “The team did a great job of getting things done in time to be able to do testing -- and in particular, refinement of our vehicle for efficiency, drivability, and reliability. This refinement made for a high scoring vehicle in most every category.  The students also did well in all of the presentation events. Having plenty of data to present to the judges helps a lot.”

"Designing an extended-range electric vehicle using E85 was challenging, but clearly worth it in the end," said Patrick Walsh, co-team leader for Virginia Tech.  "The entire team has put so much time and effort into designing and refining our vehicle, and we've gained valuable knowledge and hands-on experience that will prepare us for our engineering careers." 

"The ingenuity and dedication shown by the students of Virginia Tech in building this next-generation vehicle will help them launch careers as leaders in the clean energy field," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. "With the experience and skills these innovative students have gained through the EcoCAR competition, they will help reduce our nation's reliance on oil imports and keep U.S. industries competitive in the global marketplace."

"Congratulations to Virginia Tech! During the past three years, they have faced many challenges and consistently found smart and creative ways to address them," added Mary Barra, senior vice president of global product development for General Motors. "The automotive industry is demanding these types of engineers, especially when advanced propulsion technologies are evolving so quickly. It's exciting to know that these students will come to the table with fresh ideas that will help us move toward a cleaner, more fuel efficient future."

Taking second place, also with an extended range electric vehicle using E85, was a team from Ohio State University. The University of Waterloo captured third place with a hydrogen fuel cell plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

EcoCAR is a three-year competition that gives engineering students the chance to design and build advanced vehicles that demonstrate leading-edge automotive technologies. General Motors provides production vehicles, vehicle components, seed money, technical mentoring and operational support.

The U.S. Department of Energy, including its research and development facility Argonne National Laboratory, provides competition management, team evaluation, technical and logistical support. EcoCAR aims to inspire and support the next generation of scientists and engineers to unite around the common goal of sustainable mobility.