Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Competition Isn’t Over Yet: Why Validation Matters

With the on-track stages behind us and the results of those on-track stages prominently available on the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE website, one might think the winners of this $10M competition are a foregone conclusion. Well, here are a few reasons why you should think again.

The winners must pass the Validation Stage, during which they must achieve an efficiency result on the dynamometer high enough to ensure that, when averaged 50/50 with the on-track results, it equals 100 MPGe or better. A dynamometer, or "dyno" for short, is a device that allows engineers to test a vehicle by simulating the loads associated with driving without actually moving (basically, a treadmill for cars - think of the recent Lexus super car commercial that revs its engine until it shatters a wine glass).

Though two teams advancing to Validation are alone in their respective classes, Edison2 (Mainstream Class) and X-Tracer (Alternative Tandem Class), they each must still meet some very difficult requirements on the chassis dynamometer. If you recall, competition officials ruled that Edison2 was not at fault for the incidents at Coast Down that damaged the engines of both of their Mainstream Class entries. Consequently, officials granted Edison2 a waiver from Validation testing at Argonne National Lab as the cost and timetable for repair and calibration of the engines was not feasible. However, because Roush had conducted dynamometer testing on the Edison2 vehicles that were fielded at Knockout and Finals, officials have agreed to review these third party results to determine whether they can be accepted in lieu of testing at Argonne. Tune in to the Award Ceremony on September 16 to learn how the officials ultimately ruled.

That leaves the Alternative Class. To verify the on-track results from Michigan International Speedway, vehicles must repeat efficiency, range, and emissions testing – not an easy feat on the dyno where vehicles can’t benefit from air cooling at speed. In addition, they must survive an entirely new test for gradeability, also known as a simulated hill climb. To do so, they must maintain a minimum 55 mph speed on a simulated 4 percent grade (incline) continuously for 15 minutes. They must also surmount fuel economy, range, and greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions tests.

All vehicles must meet strict EPA emissions standards and achieve an on-road life cycle greenhouse gas emissions level of 200 equivalent grams of CO2 per mile or less. This is also known as a wells-to-wheels (WTW) calculation that accounts for the upstream pollution associated with extraction, transportation, storage, and distribution of the energy that drives the wheels. Vehicles that don’t achieve these requirements during Validation Testing will not be eligible for the Grand Prize.

For the five teams in the Alternative Side-by-Side Class, placement was determined by the Combined Performance & Efficiency Test, the last event conducted at the Finals Stage. Given that Team Li-ion achieved 171.4 MPGe in on-track testing, they do not appear to be in danger of falling short of the fuel economy mark. However, should they fail any component of testing on the dyno, including the simulated hill climb, they would fail to pass the Validation Stage. In that event, eligibility for the prize would fall to the next team in the placement order, in this case RaceAbout.

Validation Stage testing is no slam dunk. Teams must not only pass these very strenuous challenges, they must achieve 100 MPGe or better when averaged 50/50 with on-track results to claim the prize.

The bottom line: No one will know for sure until the winners are revealed at the final Award Ceremony on September 16th. So stay tuned!

By: Eric Cahill, Senior Director, Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE

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