CSULB’s Chem-E Car Team Takes First Place in the AIChE Regional Competition

On its first run, the Tank refused to operate. But on its second run, after some tinkering and troubleshooting, California State University Long Beach’s entry in the Chem-E Car competition sped off, stopping within 2.24 meters of its 17.2-meter goal and landing CSULB a first-place win.

“We knew we were close,” said team co-captain Anthony Reyes, adding that the team erupted in shrieks of enthusiasm when it was announced they beat out competitors at the AIChE Western Regional Conference at the University of Southern California earlier this month.

Leading up to the competition, teams were instructed to design their vehicles to travel a distance of 15-30 meters with a load of up to 500 ml of liquid. On the day of the competition, they received the specific distance of 17.2 meters and load of 163 ml and were given two hours to prepare.

CSULB’s the Tank is powered with an aluminum air battery made with steel mesh, aluminum foil, activated carbon, and potassium hydroxide. The car stops with an iodine clock reaction, a solution that turns from clear to opaque, preventing an LED light from reaching a phototransistor and cutting the signal to the car’s motor at a predetermined time.

Rather than using a traditional chassis, the CSULB team opted to 3D print all the vehicle’s components. The products used in the chemical reactions—ascorbic acid, potassium iodide, hydrogen peroxide, and starch—are all commercially available and safe to handle.

Reyes attributes the team’s troubleshooting for the first-place win. They had only 45 minutes to figure out why the vehicle didn’t operate on the first run, and went through their processes methodically.

“It was definitely a good feeling,” said Reyes. “We got it to run and got close to the mark.”

Evelyn Muro, who participated in the Chem-E Car competition last year, was co-captain of the team. “Our team tackled every issue we faced and managed to solve it without ever giving up. It was amazing to see that our hard work and dedication really paid off,” she said.

The team, dubbed Think Tank, was advised by Assistant Professor Ted Yu, who has expertise in electrochemistry and batteries, and Chemical Engineering Advisory Board member Mack Knobbe, oilfields chemical operations director with SIGNa Chemistry. ChE lecturer Michael Hom assisted with logistics.

“This is a great achievement,” said Yu. “It’s not just this year’s team, but the teams for the last 10 years left a lasting legacy for every following year.”

The team members, all chemical engineering majors, are:

  • Diana Portillo
  • David Luong
  • Julio Zuniga
  • Sean Blydt-Hansen
  • Brenda De La Torre
  • Calvin Ho
  • Siwanet Ratanasiripornchai
  • Randolph De Leon

Before the team heads to Orlando in November to compete at the international level, Reyes said they’ll have to do “some tweaking and troubleshooting” on the Tank. In the meantime, they’ll be celebrating their win with lunch at Pizzamania.

“This is strong encouragement for the whole department,” said Roger Lo, chair of the Chemical Engineering Department.