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DuPont sponsors Ohio University chemical engineering student team

Chem-E-Car team Video by: Russ College of Engineering

Chemical and biomolecular engineering students at Ohio University's Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology have received a $5,000 sponsorship from DuPont Washington Works.

The award-winning "chemical car" team is preparing to return to the American Institute of Chemical Engineer's (AIChe) 2012 National Chem-E-Car Competition on Oct. 28 in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Teams in the competition design and construct a chemically powered vehicle that must carry a specified cargo a certain distance. The winner is determined by a combined score for traveling the correct distance and creativity.

Dubbed the "Chem-E-Car Team," the students received the sponsorship when Ohio University students serving as interns at DuPont presented the idea to the DuPont Plant Manager, Karl Boelter.

"This type of educational competition provides a practical test of chemical engineering skills," said Boelter. "I was impressed with the enthusiasm, planning and success of the team."

"We wrote him a letter explaining the competition and how DuPont's sponsorship could really help us," said Liz Cohenour, a senior who also served as a DuPont intern during the winter and spring of 2012.

"We were really excited. We thought we were going to have to take precious time away from the car construction to do fundraising."

According to senior Nic Dunfee, the team has used the funds to rebuild their car and pay for testing supplies.

"When we got started, we used an old car and just added our design," he said. "With this sponsorship from DuPont, we've been able to completely rebuild the car."

The Chem-E-Car team claimed a spot in the upcoming national competition after placing third at April's regionals competition. In 2010, OHIO students won the Inherent Safety award at the national level after also placing third at regionals.

The car is powered by a fuel cell that runs off of hydrogen produced from urine, in an electrochemical process developed by Geradine Botte, Russ professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and director of the Center for Electrochemical Engineering Research at Ohio University.
If urea powers the car, what makes it stop?

"The car stops by a so-called 'instantaneous' reaction -- the iodine clock reaction," Dunfee explained. "Two clear liquids mix to form a clear liquid that will at some point and time turn instantly dark purple. When the solution turns purple, a light sensor is tripped, and it stops the car." The time it takes to turn is controlled by ratio of the two original liquids mixed.

According to Botte, designing the car and competing with it is the best opportunity students get to practice real chemical engineering.

"It's a really a unique opportunity for the students to design, build, and optimize the performance of a chemical reactor/process while exercising management, budget, leadership, and team skills," Botte said.

With the competition nearing, the team is collecting as much data as possible by testing chemical ratios needed to allow the car to travel then stop over a prescribed distance.

"We're on track for completing everything we want to before the competition," Cohenour said. "We're working really hard to get our car calibrated as best as possible. We plan on winning!"

To watch the Chem-E-Car in action, click here.