UAF fuel cell car finishes fourth in Ecomarathon

Mike Dunham
The Vixen (30), Prototype, running on FAME, competing for team Nanook from University Alaska Fairbanks on the track at Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2013 on Saturday, April 6, in downtown Houston.
Todd Wawrychuk
Students from University Alaska Fairbanks prepare their car for the race at Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2013 on Friday, April 5, 2013 in downtown Houston.
Darren Decker

A hydrogen-powered vehicle created by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks engineering team finished in fourth place at the Shell Eco-marathon Americas in Houston, Texas, last weekend.

Technically, it came in fourth in a field of four. But team leader Michael Golub noted that was the best finish in any category for the Nanooks, who have competed for the last three years.

The car, and others, were transported from Fairbanks to Houston in pieces packed in the team's luggage and assembled after arriving.

The three-wheeled hydrogen vehicle was originally an electric trike the team used last year, converted to fuel cell in less than 24 hours by graduate student Isaac Thompson. It was driven on the track by team manager Pascale Clerc, a sophomore studying electrical engineering.

The team had to construct the vehicle and pass a technical inspection before they could actually run it. They got through the inspection at the last allowable moment, 2 p.m. on Sunday, and ran it to the starting line, where an official told them they were too late.

Golub said that one team member, Shane Poindexter, then went to several other officials until he prevailed upon them to let the car make its run.

The Nanook entry recorded 56 kilometers per kilowatt-hour. That means it could go 34.8 miles on one kwh. The fully electric Nissan Leaf does about 3 miles on the same amount of energy.

The first place entry in the category, from University of Colorado Denver, topped 87 km/kwh.

Other categories used other fuel sources. The UAF team was 15th among 32 teams that competed in the battery electric division. Their entry reached 123.2 km/kwh, far behind the first place team from Mater Dei High School in Evansville, Ind., whose entry hit an astonishing 965.8 km/kwh.

The Nanooks had wanted to compete in the diesel category as well, Golub said, but encountered vibration issues and ran out of time to successfully retrofit two recumbent tricycles for that competition.

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.