Snowmobile Science

by Michael on Nov. 22nd, 2011

Carl J.E. Eliason of Saynor, Wisconsin Standing Next to His Snowmobile Prototype
Carl J.E. Eliason of Saynor, Wisconsin Standing Next to His Snowmobile PrototypeCourtesy Carl Eliason Family
84 years ago from today, on November 22, 1927, the first U.S. patent for a snowmobile (No. 1,650,334) was awarded to Carl Eliason of Saynor, Wisconsin. Carl was an auto mechanic, blacksmith and general store owner, and he loved the outdoors. However, he struggled with a foot deformity that made it difficult to use skis or snowshoes. So he built a lightweight personal machine that could follow the narrow ski and snowshoe trails made by his friends. His "motor toboggan" had ski-like front runners controlled by a rope, a rear drive track fashioned with bicycle sprockets and chains, wooden cleats, and was powered by a 2.5-horsepower outboard motor.

Today, snowmobiling provides a winter recreational activity enjoyed by many worldwide. For years, snowmobiles had a history of noise pollution, high emissions, and poor fuel economy. However, with the implementation of the U.S. EPA's reduced emissions program phases scheduled for completion in 2012, and rising cost in fuel prices, snowmobile enthusiasts and manufacturers are now seeking ways to make snowmobiles more eco-friendly and fuel efficient. Two-stroke engines used in motorcycles, snowmobiles, chainsaws, and marine outboard motors are not as efficient as their four-stroke counterparts, but they are lighter, less complex, and easier to manufacture. Many groups are manufacturing exhaust trapping systems that dramatically reduce EPA-regulated emissions such as carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and NOx.

Peter Britanyak of the University of Idaho's Department of Mechanical Engineering prototyped the idea of Synchronous Charge Trapping (SCT) on a two-stroke snowmobile engine as part of his thesis for a masters degree. A second generation prototype was created by Team SHORT CIRCUIT of the University of Idaho, and a preliminary patent has been issued.

Other designs have been manufactured through the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Clean Snowmobile Challenge. In 2010, Minnesota-based manufacturer Polaris Industries teamed with University of Wisconsin-Madison to win the 2010 Clean Snowmobile Challenge. Next year, a record number of teams are expected to participate in the SAE 2012 Snowmobile Challenge, scheduled for March 5-10, 2012 at the Keweenaw Research Center of Michigan Technological University.

And research from snowmobiles and off-road vehicles is being applied to space exploration as well. Earlier this year, Quebec-based manufacturer Bombardier Recreational Products Inc. (BRP) announced that they are contributing to Canadian exploration programs of the moon and Mars. BRP will develop the chassis and locomotion systems for a Lunar Exploration Light Rover and a Mars Exploration Science Rover, from contracts awarded by the Canadian Space Agency.

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