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      Clean Snowmobile Challenge tests new fuel

      The first competition of the 15th annual SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge had students racing sleds on a 100-mile endurance run from the Keweenaw Research Center test track to Copper Harbor to find out who built the toughest, cleanest snowmobile.

      The week-long event gives students from universities around the country the task of modifying an existing Yamaha, Ski-Doo, Polaris, or Arctic Cat sled to run on 16 percent isobutanol fuel.

      â??Itâ??s comparable to having ethanol in your gas, like E85 from a gas station, but itâ??s more potent so you use less of it mixed with gas,â?? said Michigan Tech student, Cody Fackender. â??Itâ??s more viable to use to make engines run cleaner.â??

      Isobutanol is a biomass fuel that comes from woody plants and is more efficient than ethanol. It does, however, tend to be pricier, but some students have faith the fuel type will be a good replacement in the future.

      â??Itâ??s kind of expensive to produce, but it reduces emissions by quite a bit,â?? Fackender said. â??Hopefully, someday, the market will take out ethanol, and isobutanol will take over.â??

      Other students arenâ??t so sure.

      â??I donâ??t think isobutanol is the fuel of the future, and most people that buy snowmobiles want something with good gas mileage, yes, but theyâ??re looking for power,â?? said University of Minnesota- Duluth student, Joe Lofgren. â??They donâ??t want to buy a 45 horsepower snowmobile.â??

      But the event isnâ??t just a competition; itâ??s serious research.

      According to event directors, in 2007, a team from Idaho introduced a new type of fuel-injection that is now a standard feature on Ski-Doos. Thatâ??s why the event is able to get so many industry sponsors.

      â??Itâ??s a great opportunity for engineers to gain real hands-on experience with real problems,â?? said Doug Yossida, representative of MacLean-Fogg Component Solutions, which sponsors the event. â??This is what our company is about. We like to support all things innovative as well as furthering education.â??

      Throughout the week, studentsâ?? sleds will be tested for noise, emissions, handling, and acceleration to find out the big winner at the end of the week.

      â??Weâ??re hoping to have a good shot at it this year, but at the same time, weâ??ve also been helping out a lot of the other teams to do well in the competition,â?? Fackender said. â??We donâ??t want to see anybody fail.â??

      â??Itâ??d be nice to get within the top five,â?? ofgren added. â??As long as the sled holds together, doesnâ??t melt the engine down, I think weâ??ll do pretty good.â??

      Wednesday, the teams will have their snowmobiles displayed in the Copper Country Mall at 6 p.m. for the community to see.

      For a full schedule of the Clean Snowmobile Challenge events, check out the website here .