Internal combustion mind

Published 10:22 am Thursday, May 29, 2008

The next innovative car engine design could come from Freeborn County — or at least a local student.

Alden-Conger High School senior Jon Soli designed and built an experiment to test the effects of water electrolysis on an internal combustion engine, which won awards at two international science fairs.

“It was exciting,” Soli said. “It kind of made me nervous.”

Email newsletter signup

From May 1 through May 5 Soli was in Houston competing with more than 800 science-interested students from 51 countries at the International Sustainable World (Energy, Engine and Environment) Project fair.

In Houston, Soli took the gold medal in the Senior Energy Division, which got him $1,500 in prize money. Other students who placed in his division were from Texas, Minnesota, South Korea, Florida and Tajikistan.

“I’ve been very proud, of course,” Soli’s father, Peter, said. “I think he’s found his niche. He knows this stuff inside out.”

Then from May 11 through May 17, Soli competed in Atlanta at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. In that competition, he placed third in the Energy and Transportation division and won $1,000.

In Atlanta, he competed against more than 1,500 students from 40 countries. Other students placing in his category were from Denmark, Florida, New York, North Carolina, California, Australia, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Virginia.

The Intel ISEF is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition.

“He did quite well,” said science teacher Dave Bosma.

This was the fourth year Alden-Conger sent students to international science fairs but the first year to have a student win.

This week, Soli presented his project to his fellow students at Alden-Conger High School. This year was the second stage of the project. The first stage, which he completed in the 2007-08 school year, won regional and state competitions as well.

Soli designed and built a water electrolysis apparatus and monitoring equipment, then connected it to a lawn mower engine and tested the affects.

What he found through his extensive testing, was that water electrolysis increased fuel efficiency 22.7 percent and increased power efficiency 28.8 percent. The engine put out 6.3 percent more energy. Overall, the engine speed increased and the fuel consumption decreased.

In his cost analysis, Soli said water electrolysis saved 3.2 cents hourly making a 9.8 percent price decrease. The total cost of his project — which includes the water electrolysis apparatus, three circuit boards and a butane lab setup — was over $600, but Soli got most of the components donated.

Water electrolysis, he found, also reduced harmful emissions. Carbon dioxide was reduced 28.6 percent, and carbon monoxide was reduced 86.4 percent. Nitrogen oxide was reduced, too, and Soli found the engine burned fuel more efficiently.

Bosma said overall Soli’s project improved the efficiency of fuel. With the increasing pressure to eliminate gas engines, he said, a transition will be needed to add on to engines, like the project Soli completed.

In order to make it to the international science fairs, Soli won at regional and state competitions twice. Last year, he was able to observe at the ISEF, so he said he knew what was coming, to some extent.

Soli said he wants to go into electronics or physics and next year will further his education at Hamline University studying physics.

Riverland Community College and Alden-Conger High School aided Soli with his project. Many companies donated parts, but Soli built and designed the project himself.