West Virginia University has taken part in Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTC’s) since 1988, with the exception of EcoCAR 2, which makes for a lot of Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources AVTC alumni! One particular alumnus, Dr. Derek Johnson, contributed to WVU’s team during the AVTC Challenge X series. The Challenge X competition vehicle focused on deploying a state of the art diesel engine with a full after-treatment system in a Chevrolet Equinox that was capable of running biodiesel. The hybridization came with rear wheel hub motors and an energy storage system that used ultra-capacitors as opposed to battery storage. Derek started as a senior on the engine sub-team and later finished Challenge X as a graduate student and engine team lead.
Derek said his most memorable part of Challenge X was not only being able to work on this project with existing friends, but also making new lifelong friendships. His favorite AVTC travel experience was going to General Motors’ Milford Proving Ground in Milford, MI. When asked what his most significant challenges were in the competition, he replied: “The competition I served on was right at the beginning of when the project started to move from solely mechanical and electrical to a highly complex control oriented program…. This challenge introduced me to the control strategies and engine communications protocols, which I have worked with since.”
When Derek entered graduate school at WVU, Dr. Nigel Clark was the faculty adviser of the Challenge X team and one of the founders of the WVU Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions (CAFEE). Derek took a keen interest in this particular field, and he worked under Dr. Clark for both his Master’s and Ph.D. degrees. The work helped Derek become a proficient technical writer and curriculum developer for the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC) in 2012. Afterward, he studied and worked on integrating alternative fuels into drilling rigs at CONSOL Energy’s R&D office in 2013, before returning to WVU to serve as a research assistant professor alongside his former advisors and faculty members, including current Faculty Lead, Dr. Andrew Nix. Derek and Drew have worked on several large DOE programs focused on diesel engine in-use emissions.
Derek believes his experience with the AVTC Challenge X and working alongside Dr. Clark guided him to this professional path. He also credits the AVTC program, experience, his colleagues and advisors for where he is today, an Associate Professor at West Virginia University, where “country roads” have brought him home.