The high-performance team of chemical engineering students Dan Bell, Yusuf Mohamad, Pat Ritchie, Ricardo Valdés, Nick Thomas, and Matt Lok – collectively calling themselves the “Squid Squad” – finished in third place among 21 competing teams at the American Institute of Chemical Engineering (AIChE) Chem-E-Car Northeast Regional Competition, held on April 7 and 8 in Rochester, New York. This outstanding finish qualified the UMass Amherst Chem-E-Car Team for the national championships, which will be held in late October of this year in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This is the first time that a UMass chem-e-car team has ever qualified for the national championships.
According to the competition website, “AIChE's annual Chem-E-Car Competition® engages college students in designing and constructing a car powered by a chemical energy source, [which] will safely carry a specified load over a given distance and stop.” See related websites: https://www.aiche.org/conferences/students-northeast-student-regional-conference/2018 and https://www.aiche.org/chem-e-car-competitionr-rules.
The Squid Squad’s car, according to its poster presentation at the competition, “consisted of a sheet of thick plastic on which sits our powering reaction, iodine clock, and Arduino, reinforced with 3D printed ABS plastic and K’nex. Our car uses rear-wheel drive using a gearbox from Tamiya.”
The power source was an acid-metal reaction of lead and sulfuric acid, which could be safely disposed of to follow the Environmental Health and Safety procedures in the contest. Regarding the strict environmental regulations in the competition, the team commented that “The only environmental concern is the slight toxicity of the waste. The solution can be disposed of after mixing with sufficient starch to neutralize the remaining triodide ions without risking damaging pipes with acidic solution or poisoning the environment with elemental iodine.”
The car was stopped by an iodine clock reaction which required two competing reactions. One was the oxidation of iodide to elemental iodine. The second was the reformation of iodide with vitamin C as the limiting reactant. “To adjust the time necessary for the car to travel,” the team members explained before the competition, “we will adjust the amount of vitamin C available keeping all other variables constant for a linear correlation.”
The battery’s cathode was made from two graphite rods coated with lead dioxide connected with copper wire. A lead sheet surrounded the rods acting as the anode. The electrolyte was 3 molar sulfuric acid. When being discharged, the battery yielded hydrogen in the anode that moved to the cathode.
The Squid Squad further adhered to the competition’s stringent safety regulations by featuring no pressure or temperature hazards in its vehicle. All corrosive and toxic chemicals were doubly contained in chemical resistant ABS plastic, and the vehicle also featured a syringe injection of stopping reaction solution at the starting line.
The Chem-E-Car Competition, which involves multiple regional competitions and a final competition at the Annual Student Conference, increases awareness of the chemical engineering discipline among the public, industry leaders, educators, and other students.
According to the competition's official rules, each team of students must design a small-scale automobile that operates by chemical means and must also present a poster describing the process involved. During the competition, each team must drive its car a fixed distance through a common course to demonstrate its capabilities. In addition to driving a specified distance, the chem-e-car must also hold a payload of 0-500 mL of water; though the exact distance and payload are not revealed to the participants until an hour before the competition. (May 2018)