West Virginia University engineering students are relying on electricity, diesel and soy-derived fuel to earn the”green”thumbs-up from judges looking for the most fuel-efficient sport utility vehicle in North America.

WVU is one of 15 schools from the United States and Canada competing in FutureTruck 2003 June 2-12 at the Ford Proving Grounds in Romeo, Mich., and the automaker’s world headquarters in Dearborn. WVU has finished sixth overall the past two years and shared the winning title with the University of Maryland in 2000.

“We’re running again as a hybrid vehicle, part diesel and part electric,”said Nigel Clark, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor and the team’s faculty adviser.”We are using a Detroit Diesel engine, which will burn a 35 percent soy diesel/65 percent petroleum diesel blend. This year, we are using the electric motor employed in the production of the electric Ford Ranger pickup.”

The use of soy as a fuel for the second year in a row reduces diesel smoke and greenhouse gas emissions, Clark said. The soybean plants utilize carbon dioxide when they grow, so adding soy as a fuel source does not contribute any more of the greenhouse gas to the atmosphere, he added.

FutureTruck is a unique engineering program that brings together industry, government and academia in an effort to address environmental and energy-related issues posed by the growing demand for sport utility vehicles. Ford and the U.S. Department of Energy are the main sponsors, and Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Transportation Research manages the program.

Participants take a Ford Explorer donated by the automaker and re-engineer the insides to improve fuel economy and exhaust emissions without sacrificing performance, safety and affordable price. Ford also donates parts and $5,000 to each school.

Other features of WVU ’s vehicle include a particulate trap to eliminate smoke emissions, urea injection to reduce nitrogen oxides and new control system using National Instruments hardware.

FutureTruck provides hands-on experience for the students, and several WVU graduates have landed jobs at the Big Three automakers as a result of their participation in the program, Clark said.

“At this time in a tight job market, employers are interested in engineers who have practical experience and can hit the ground running,”he said.

Members of WVU ’s team are captain Lawrence”Tony”Feragotti, Jason Cheslock, Michelle Felice, Jason Gill, Andy Hunnell, Russell King, Bill McCartney, Petr Sindler, Brad Taylor, Patrick Thomas and Nick Thompson, all of Morgantown; Matt Barnes of Keedysville, Md.; Andrew Cullipher of Newport News, Va.; Jason Drennen of Summersville; Mark Frosino of Rochester, N.Y.; Casey Himel of Waynesburg, Pa.; Daniel Judy of Uniontown, Pa.; Jill Kowaleski of Bramwell; Kenneth McGowan of Wind Ridge, Pa.; G. Kurt Miller of Wheeling; Paul Parise of Bethel Park, Pa.; Mike Pitzer of Monmouth Junction, N.J.; Jeremi Robinson of Bluefield; and Rich Rothey of Elizabeth, Pa. Axel Radermacher, a graduate research assistant, is a co-adviser.

Other schools participating are California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo; Cornell University; Georgia Institute of Technology; Michigan Technological University; Ohio State University; Pennsylvania State University; Texas Tech University; University of Alberta; University of California-Davis; University of Idaho; University of Maryland; University of Tennessee at Knoxville; University of Wisconsin at Madison; and Virginia Tech.

For more information about FutureTruck 2003, visit the program’s Web site athttp://www.futuretruck.org/.