CLICK Dahl describes how researchers are using renewable energy
at Summit Station, Greenland: solartoday.org.
electric snowmobiles evolve
To my knowledge, the first electric snow-
mobile was developed by Snow-Lectric for
use in Yellowstone National Park as a demon-
stration project. The machine used a brushed
DC motor with lead-acid batteries for energy
storage. Straight-line performance was decent,
with adequate speed and excellent towing capa-
bilities. However, the mass and limited storage
capacity of the lead-acid batteries led to very
limited range and ponderous handling.
By incorporating lithium-ion (L-ion)
batteries, the McGill team set a higher standard for CSC’s student engineering teams.
L-ion technology offers nearly four times the
energy-storage density of lead acid. Although
very costly, L-ion batteries proved capable of
high power output and an acceptable range,
Left, Packaging all of the electronics and energy
storage into the relatively small space available on
a snowmobile is a neat trick. CSC rules place high
priority on handling high voltage safely. The University of Wisconsin at Madison team developed
a very safe package, above.
all within a very limited chassis space. Brushless, three-phase AC induction motors have
largely replaced the simple and inexpensive
DC motors, due to better power-to-weight
ratios and the ability to run higher battery
voltages. Higher voltages mean lower current
requirements, permitting smaller conductors
and saving more weight. Electric machines
are no longer slow and ponderous. In 2009,
the electric machine built by the University of
Wisconsin – Madison team was capable of 75
mph (121 kph). It took third place overall in
the acceleration event and won the best overall handling event — against a field of high-performance gasoline-powered machines.
Each year, the top finishers in the ZE category are invited to send their remarkable machines
and a team member to Summit Station. The students get to experience one of the most remote
and unique environments on the planet, while
training a group of world-class scientists in the
proper operation and maintenance of their
snowmobiles. The machines stay on, supporting
scientific research through the busy summer season, then return home in time for the students to
re-work them with new ideas and technology for
the next year’s CSC.
The snowmobile industry has taken note
of these young engineers’ efforts. Polaris and
Ski-Doo are both sponsors and send representatives to help with the CSC event. Technologies first seen at CSC have found their way into
production machines, and several former students now work for snowmobile manufacturers.
The industry itself has made major changes to
improve fuel efficiency, reduce emissions and
quiet sound levels, while retaining excellent
The NSF and CH2M Hill Polar Services
support the efforts of these young engineers.
Their efforts have not only helped to improve
the public perception of snowmobiles by making them cleaner, quieter and more efficient, but
have really shown how advanced technology can
be applied across a broader spectrum, helping to
find solutions to many of the complex problems
confronting us as a species. ST