TTU Chem-E Car team races past competition in New Orleans

They may not be as useful as SUVs or as stylish as Corvettes, but the cars designed by Tennessee Tech University chemical engineering students perform at an award-winning level.

While other students were soaking in sun over Spring Break, a team of chemical engineering students took their Chem-E Car to the Southern Regional AIChE Conference in New Orleans and placed first in a competition that tested students’ abilities to uniquely power a car. The victory came on the heels of a second place finish in the national competition.

“These students are stellar ambassadors of our chemical engineering program, and needless to say we are extremely proud of this milestone for the department that they have brought to us,” said Pedro Arce, chairperson of TTU’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

The Chem-E Car competition required students to design a car powered by a chemical energy source. Before they began, teams were informed about the specific distance their car must travel while holding a specified load of water. Teams were asked to power their car just enough to travel the desired distance, stopping as close as possible to the finish line, which was 63 feet away.

TTU’s car, powered by a zinc-air battery and equipped with a stopping mechanism made from a chemical fuse that used the reaction of hydrochloric acid with aluminum, took first place. It finished within seven feet of the finish line and hauled 310 milliliters of water.

The conference also featured two additional competition categories, the Chem-E Car Poster Competition and the Paper Competition.

TTU’s team earned first place for their poster after being judged on originality and quality. In the poster, students described the nature of the chemical reaction used to power their car. The poster is judged based on accompanying Material Safety Data Sheets for each chemical used, description of the chemical reaction, unique vehicle features, creativity of design, and the car’s environmental and safety features.

"Being on the Chem-E-Car team has been beneficial because the experience has helped me learn how to be effective as a member of a team in real-world situations that could be applied to industry,” said Robyn Rawlings, a senior from Hendersonville.

“Being awarded first place in the Poster and Chem-E-Car Competitions at the Regional AIChE Conference is an honor that will be more memorable in years to come than academic achievements,” she added.

Other team members were Jenny Bollig of Hendersonville, Regan Chandler of Nashville, Ricardo Chang of Chattanooga, Crystal Childers of Grandview, Mike Hicks of Smyrna, Nate Johnson of Dunlap, Richard Lawson of Mt. Carmel, and Jonathan Phillips of Jonesborough. Dr. Venkat Subramanian serves as the AIChE student chapter adviser.

Three TTU seniors individually presented their undergraduate research in the Paper Competition, with Rawlings placing second in her section.

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