Engineering students design engine that runs on corncobs, paper towels

Kali Lingen

Kali Lingen

A group of SDSU senior mechanical engineering students won the overall design competition at this year’s Engineering Expo by creating an engine for a pickup truck that runs on organic biomass materials.

“The truck runs on corn stocks, corn cobs, paper towels and compressed wood grain such as wood pellets,” said Nate DeBoer, a member of the group.

The project developed a gasification system converting vehicles powered by gasoline to organic biomass material.

Chris Green, another group member said the group is hoping to be able to run the pickup truck on any type of biomass, such as grass clippings.

Other members are Travis Albano, Andrew Hoy and Dustin Renville.

The Engineering Expo was held April 24 where the project was run and shown for the first time. The pickup truck was shown along with a smaller scale model that was developed as a prototype before the pickup truck was converted. The group’s adviser, Mike Twedt, said the smaller scale model of the project will be used in future mechanical engineering labs.

“The project will hopefully lead to continuing senior design projects and will hopefully lead to additional funded research,” Twedt said.

Green said the project is good for opening up the awareness of what is going on in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and how renewable resources can be used. Twedt said the project has begun the plans of eventually converting more vehicles to be powered by organic materials. In the future, Twedt said there are plans of creating a retrofit kit which could be used in any vehicle within certain engine sizes. Twedt said they are in the process of developing a prototype for the retrofit kit.

“The project has the potential to be beneficial to SDSU,” said Green.

Eventually, the group hopes to make a system that is directly in the pickup truck and convert other vehicles as well. Twedt said a prototype needs to be created before the project can be run in different sized vehicles. Twedt hopes additional senior design projects stem from this year’s gasification system to power vehicles organically.

DeBoer said the project will hopefully lead to a continuation of senior design projects. There will be more research through graduate programs, said DeBoer. He said Green is going on to continue with graduate school at SDSU.

“Chris will probably be working more on developing the project,” said DeBoer.

DeBoer does not think the project will immediately impact SDSU, but he said that there probably will be further experimentation and further development of the project. The project could eventually spur grants for research in the future, DeBoer said.

“The project is useful for both students and faculty involved because it’s a good display for the use of renewable resources,” said Twedt.