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Chem E Car Competition: Incorporating Safety With The Help Of Industry Partners.

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

ChE: Safety, Sustainability, and Global Opportunities

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.354.1 - 12.354.8



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Paper Authors


Sundararajan Madihally Oklahoma State University

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He is an Assistant Professor in the School of Chemical Engineering at Oklahoma State University. He received his BE in ChE from Bangalore University and his PhD from Wayne State University in Chemical Engineering. He held
a research fellow position at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School/Shriners Hospital for Children. His research interests include tissue regeneration and the development of therapies for traumatic conditions.

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Randy Lewis Brigham Young University

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Randy S. Lewis is Professor of Chemical Engineering at Brigham Young University and an Adjunct Professor of Chemical Engineering at Oklahoma State University. He received his BS and PhD degrees in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, respectively. His research interests include biomaterials development and the utilization of renewable resources for the production of chemicals.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Chem-E-Car Competition: Incorporating Safety with the help of Industry


ABSTRACT The Chem-E-Car competition has been utilized for the last five years as part of multiple courses in the chemical engineering curriculum at Oklahoma State University. Typically, a number of teams comprised of two to three juniors were formed in the Fall semester for the competition to be held in the subsequent Spring semester. Three to four sophomores were included to enhance cross-class participation and to provide application-oriented examples. A folder containing compartments for log sheets, pictures/sketch, reaction/safety, analysis, and calibration was given to each team. During the Fall and Spring semesters, the teams had to complete certain tasks and place them in the folder. Initial tasks included identifying the chemical reaction(s) used in powering the car, providing the accompanying material safety data sheets, and sketching the car with associated pictures of the prototype. At the end of the Fall semester, reports were shipped to ChevronPhillips (the sponsoring organization) for review and feedback from Dr. Dave Register. Feedback from ChevronPhillips was given to the students in the Spring semester. The first task for the students was to respond to the concerns raised in the report. On the day of the competition, the students presented a poster to the ChevronPhillips judges, and the competition was conducted according to the national guidelines. The outcome of these interactions from the perspective of the students, as well as from Dr. Dave Register is discussed. Also, lessons learned from the viewpoint of instructors are included.

INTRODUCTION. The Chem-E-Car competition is a powerful tool to enhance technical writing skills, provide engineering analysis opportunities [1], and apply team management skills. Since its beginning in 1999, the Chem-E-Car Competition has evolved as the major attraction at the regional, national, and international American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) student conferences [2]. The basic principle of the competition is that each team has to design a car that will carry up to 500 mL of water and travel a specified distance (up to 100 feet). Teams are notified of the water weight and travel distance one hour prior to the competition. A chemical reaction must be used to propel the car, and no mechanical mechanisms may be used to stop the car. The components of the car must fit within a shoebox that is 40 cm ×30cm×18 cm. Detailed rules are posted on the AIChE website [3].

While the creation of these cars is fun, the competition is often entertaining and is a valuable recruiting and retention tool [4, 5]. However, the contest clearly reveals issues of process safety, reliability, economics, reproducibility, teamwork and environmental care that face chemical engineers in industry everyday. Interestingly, thorough safety analysis via thermodynamics and/or reaction engineering is often overlooked. For example, estimation of the gas pressure via reaction kinetics and thermodynamics for the acetic acid/baking soda reaction, a popular reaction used to propel a car, is rarely calculated. Further, many pressure vessels have been constructed not knowing the strength of materials and lack of incorporating pressure relief valves which has resulted in unwarranted accidents. In 2006, national AIChE made a significant effort to address the safety and environmental aspects of the Chem-E-Car competition through


Madihally, S., & Lewis, R. (2007, June), Chem E Car Competition: Incorporating Safety With The Help Of Industry Partners. Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2803

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