An improved chemical car design from the UTC chemical engineering student team secured a ninth-place finish and the award for “Best Inherent Design for Safety” at the national American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) competition.

UTC students place in national chemical car competition

“This year, we started with a completely new car. We placed third in a regional competition at Clemson University last spring, which qualified us for nationals. Since then, we’ve greatly improved on the car by perfecting the stopping mechanism. We changed some electrical aspects, and improved some safety features,” Brooke Washburn, UTC student and team treasurer, said.

The competition required the team build a shoebox-sized car that can travel a defined distance, fueled by a chemical reaction. This reaction is also required to stop at that distance, making the car closest to the finish line the winner.

“We power the car using a hydrogen fuel cell. We produce the hydrogen-off car on what we call the ‘gas master’ using recycled aluminum can tabs. We drop the can tabs down in the chamber and pour in a mixture of water and sodium hydroxide. This produces the hydrogen gas which is then purified and dried before it fills the tank on the car,” Washburn explained.

The team also took home the award for  “Best Inherent Design for Safety” for successfully minimizing the risk of injury or accident in the car. The award is sponsored by The Safety and Chemical Engineering Education (SAChE) program.

“The team was very happy to find that we had won the safety award. Our professors always highlight the importance of safety in engineering design,” Washburn said.

For Washburn, who joined the team last year, the experience has been invaluable.

“Being involved in this project has been extremely rewarding. Obviously, it looks great on a resume, but more than that, it gives me insight to what I might experience in the professional world. In our classes, we discuss these principles, such as budget constraints and the team design process, but the project has allowed us to successfully use those principles to actually produce something,” she said.

In addition to Washburn, team members also included Ben Kegley, Sumner Welte, Jonathon Cain, Matt Pruit, and Jordan Hughes.

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