Brookhaven MSU student helps engineer answer to fuel woes

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Brookhaven native and Mississippi State University sophomoreJulian McMillan could be a part of the answer to America’s gaswoes.

The chemical engineering major is on a team that, for the secondconsecutive year, has earned top honors in General Motors and theU.S. Department of Energy’s Challenge X student engineeringcompetition. Seventeen teams competed in the 2008 Challenge X:Crossover to Sustainability competition to reengineer a ChevroletEquinox that employs advanced powertrain technologies.

The goal of the four-year competition is to produce a vehiclethat has improved fuel economy and lower emissions, whilemaintaining driver comfort and vehicle performance.

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McMillan, a 2007 Brookhaven Academy graduate, said his job onthe team was to work with emissions. He said his team was able tocome up with two specific ways to begin to correct the problem.

“Part of the competition was to lower the emissions on thevehicle,” he said. “We used a diesel engine, and the main problemwas that you see a lot of diesel engines that put out a lot ofsoot. We used a filter to take care of some of the soot.”

In addition, McMillan said, they were able to neutralize some ofthe harmful gases put out by the vehicle. Nitrogen oxide compoundsplay an important role in the atmospheric reactions that createtoxic particles in the air, smog and acid rain.

“We used a urea injection system. There’s a catalyst in the ureathat reacts with the exhaust that turns the NOx into a non-harmfulsubstance,” McMillan explained.

The Mississippi State team designed a hybrid electric vehiclepowered by a direct injection turbo diesel engine fueled bybiodiesel. It achieved a 38 percent increase in fuel economy overthe production vehicle on a modified urban test cycle. McMillansaid much of the testing took place in New Jersey before it wastaken on the road to test fuel efficiency.

“We competed at a racetrack in New Jersey and tested fueleconomy and emissions and the drive quality,” he said. “Then weroadtripped it to New York, then down to Washington DC, and thatmeasured the fuel economy.

Second and third place went to the University of Wisconsin andOhio State University, respectively.

And McMillan’s team’s endeavors did not go unnoticed by thehigher-ups in the nation’s struggle for better fuel economy. U.S.Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman issued a statement throughGeneral Motors congratulating the team and touting their effortsand achievements.

“I want to congratulate this year’s Challenge X champion … fortheir innovative designs and applications of advanced clean vehicletechnologies,” Bodman said. “This competition is a uniquedemonstration of how tremendous technological advancements that areoccurring at universities across North America can help us achievea new energy future — one that is cleaner, more sustainable, moreaffordable, more secure and less reliant on carbon-based fossilfuels.”

GM Environment, Energy, and Safety Policy Vice President BethLowery said the very technologies and alternative fuels thestudents were working on play a key role in GM’s overall strategyto help the country with its fuel woes.

“From colleges across North America, Challenge X students havedeveloped vehicles that are right in line with GM’s strategy andthinking,” said Lowery. “At GM we’re excited about the real-worldtraining and experience Challenge X students have received.”

McMillan said GM had taken notice of his work enough to invitehim to get some hands-on training at its Detroit facility duringthe summer break.

“I did receive an internship offer from GM in Detroit thissummer,” he said. “They’ve picked up several people from theChallenge X competition that are going to work for them.”

While he has enjoyed Challenge X, and was excited to havelearned so much by being on the winning team, he said it’s tooearly to decide on a career.

“I would consider the automotive industry, but I’m still justnot sure what I’m going to do,” he said.