High MPGs offer supercharged learning

24th annual SuperMileage Challenge gives kids chance to shine in the “green” arena

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

On May 14 and 15, ultralight gas-powered vehicles took to the 6-mile course at Brainerd International Speedway for the 24th year of the Minnesota Technical Educators Association SuperMileage Challenge. Teams made up of middle school and high school students had constructed the vehicles around Briggs and Stratton small engines, and achieved results in the hundreds of miles per gallon of fuel.

In the largest turnout ever, 105 vehicles passed the technical inspection and competed. Most vehicles made multiple runs, and the teams fielded vehicles for mileage runs 1,007 times. Of those, 697 runs were completed—one every 53 seconds of the 15 hours of competition. But it’s not a race in the strict definition of the term—the vehicles maintain their speed within a specific window and compete to see which one can achieve the highest gas efficiency.

Four liquid fuel vehicle categories include one specifically for E85. The other vehicles utilize E10 fuel. For the first time this year, teams fielded electric vehicles. Alden Conger, a long time participant in SMC, won the E85 category with 535.65 mpg. However, when you realize that only 15 percent of their fuel was gasoline, and you want to measure how far a gallon of gasoline will take you when you are using more than six times as much ethanol fuel, this vehicle traveled at an astonishing fuel efficiency rate of 3,571 miles for every gallon of gasoline required.

Here are this year’s results

1st        Willmar                                                 644.30 mpg
2nd      Chisago Lakes                                     594.91
3rd       Eden Prairie                                         397.80
4th       Stillwater                                              349.92

1st        Minnetonka                                          579.51
2nd      Water Town Mayer                            512.99
3rd       Chisago Lakes                                     437.75
4th       Alden Conger                                      422.21

1st        Alden Conger                                      535.65
2nd      Chisago Lakes                                     365.16
3rd      Stewartville                                          178.47                              
4th      Fergus Falls                                         156.26

1st        Alden Conger                                      489.84
2nd      Minnetonka                                          320.
3rd      Pequot Lakes                                       128.42
4th      St. Michael/Albertville                   101.48

1st        Eden Prairie                                         32.91 watt/hours
2nd      Grand Rapids                                       37.27  
3rd       Grand Rapids                                       38.08
4th       only three vehicles had 6 or more runs

Minnesota Corn Growers Association, longtime sponsors of the event, fielded volunteers and staff to help make the day a success. It was the culmination of many months of preparation and work by the student teams and their advisers.

“SuperMileage is such a great event and learning experience for everyone involved. It’s fun to see the cars these teams design and build each year and to watch them work together as a team to accomplish their goals,” said Jenna Kromann, outreach and communications specialist for Minnesota Corn Growers Association. She attended the event along with MCGA regional representatives Tim Dolan and Dottie Smith-Jacobs. “You can tell a lot of time and effort was put into each car and it’s very enjoyable to witness what these students have been working towards all year.”

Smith-Jacobs noticed that family and community are a central feature of the SuperMileage Challenge and that the pride of the students, their families and their teachers in the accomplishment of these young people makes it an intense and memorable experience, and incredibly valuable to everyone involved.

“Tim and I took a lot of students and teachers around in the MCGA ethanol-powered golf carts,” said Smith-Jacobs. “One teacher went around with us videotaping the students–they were so proud of their students. All the teachers really care about their students and what they were doing. There were a lot of grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters of the kids racing the cars. You could see the competing students smiling when they saw their parents and their grandparents.”

Kromann spent a day helping spread the word about the value of ethanol. In addition to offering informational brochures, Kromann played Plinko with many of the spectators, giving them a chance to have fun while learning from the quiz-show format questions about farming and ethanol.

Smith-Jacobs spoke at length with the teams running E85 vehicles and was impressed at the depth of their knowledge about this cleaner-burning, farm-based biofuel.

“The ethanol class–the students learn about the fuel, and see firsthand how the vehicles run on it,” said Smith-Jacobs. “The kids know a lot more about it, about how clean and cool it runs, and it’s neat to see kids being more environmentally aware and using our resources to the best that they can be used—the SuperMileage Challenge teaches all these kids about how we impact the environment. Whether they are running electric, ethanol, biodiesel or even regular gas vehicles, all these students are trying to be “greener.” With ethanol in there—even the regular gas has ten percent ethanol just like most of the gas in Minnesota—and they can see for themselves that it’s a good, high quality, high performance fuel.”


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