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N.C. State students engineer electrical car to inspire, win

Posted November 2, 2009

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— North Carolina State University students hope that retrofitting a gasoline-powered car with an electrical engine sets a new standard for vehicles in the Triangle – and wins some prize money.

They are competing in the national Eco Car Challenge to convert a General Motors vehicle into an electric, hybrid or fuel cell vehicle without sacrificing its quality.

N.C. State students take on Eco Car Challenge N.C. State students take on Eco Car Challenge

Last year, the team of about 30 N.C. State students designed an all-electric drive train.

"What we're moving towards is electrification of the automobile, where we'll just have electric motors providing power to the wheels," said Terry Gilbert, the team's faculty adviser.

Then, in October, GM donated a Saturn Vue to the students. They will replace the existing motor with an extended-range electric system.

"When you're driving around the city, you'll never hear your engine turn on," said graduate student Abram Harder, who leads the team. "It'll have a lot of power. Our electric motor's really powerful."

Students hope to get the Vue licensed to drive on local roads – and they foresee a fun time doing just that.

"Probably, you'll have a hard time not squealing the tires," Harder said.

The converted Vue will have to be drivable by next March, when the national competition is held in Arizona. The winning team gets bragging rights and up to $80,000 in prize money.

Such incentive from corporations could inspire a new crop of engineers, educators said.

"The General Motors of the world are wanting to create the next generation of engineers," said Gilbert. "It's going to be a moving billboard and a platform, I think, for education."

27 Comments

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  • hollylama Nov 2, 3:17 p.m.

    Keiott you beat me to it. I was wondering why they're working on something we already have the technology for.

  • 6079 SMITH W Nov 2, 2:26 p.m.

    At times in our history, there have been many "ridiculous ideas" that "they" said would never work: Steam power; the internal-combustion engine; airplanes; AC motors [these were considered to be nothing more than perpetual-motion machines, and now there are several in every home] fuel cells; [used to generate electricity in our space program over 40 YEARS ago] storage batteries for electricity [that Ben Franklin was a real radical looneytoon] solid-state electronics [tubes can't be replaced by a bunch of electronic "thingys"] television; radio; nuclear power [it's all theory, it's never gonna work] etc,etc,etc. A closed mindset never did accomplish anything. We won't ever find out if we don't try.

  • shellrocks2000 Nov 2, 12:42 p.m.

    good luck guys and gals!

  • 6079 SMITH W Nov 2, 12:29 p.m.

    Solar power can't solve our energy needs by putting solar panels on every rooftop, because it is not very dense.....However, it CAN be concentrated for a steam turbine/generator system that most ALL power plants use now. Even a fission reactor is only used to generate steam to drive a turbine/generator. Check out the solar furnace in France, with an operating temperature of up to 6000F! As far as storage problems with solar, this system is IDEAL for the production of hydrogen, as the stored gas can be used anytime. There is no reason we can't do this now, if we can ship crude oil to Texas or New Jersey to be refined/redistributed nationwide through pipelines and trucks, we can make hydrogen in the Southwestern U.S. where there is more constant solar flux and distribute it nationwide as well. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

  • chargernut69 Nov 2, 12:04 p.m.

    How about a car that uses Mr. Fusion ... as in Back to the Future ?

  • keiott Nov 2, 12:03 p.m.

    If you haven't seen the movie "who killed the electric car" You NEED to watch it. The car companies, oil companies and government do not want this technology. They even sqwashed the batteries that would drive the electric car for extended distances. They have the technology to build a good reliable electric car already. Most people just don't know it.

  • dcatz Nov 2, 12:02 p.m.

    We do have a relatively clean source of power that doesn't rely on fossil fuels, that doesn't release pollution into the air and generates massive amounts of power. Nuclear power. The problem is, people are scared of what they don't understand. In the entire history of nuclear power, there has only been one catastrophic accident (Chernobyl) and that was due to incompetence, cost-cutting and a poor reactor design.

    Using thorium, most of the issues with earlier uranium-based nuclear power plants are eliminated or reduced. The amount of waste generated is exponentially less, the half-life of the waste is less, the amount of energy you get per unit of fuel is greater. The problem is, the government and environmentalist luddites have continued to interfere in it's development.

  • dcatz Nov 2, 11:57 a.m.

    The problem with solar power is that it is not very dense. It requires a lot of land to generate a little power. In order for solar power to be realistic, you'd have to start putting solar panels on every building. Most people can't afford to have their entire house's electrical system redone for solar power. In addition, at night time and during cloudy weather, you'd need an alternate source of power.

    Wind power also has these problems. It's not dense and highly dependent on the weather. And the environmentalists complain about what they do to birds or how they are ugly (NIMBYers, e.g Ted Kennedy). Hydroelectric power is dense and generates a lot of power but only works when you have a powerful water source nearby (and the environmentalists will complain about some rare species of salmon it hurts).

  • 6079 SMITH W Nov 2, 11:19 a.m.

    dcatz: Good points on diesel,hydrogen,and poor energy-to-electricity ratios. The problems we have with power generation in this country are more political than technology-based. It will be hard to change the system we have now because it actually will have to BE changed, and we all know what happens when profits are threatened by a change in power generation and energy sources. Look at all the resistance to even a discussion of "green energy" that we are hearing from the "GRAND OIL PARTY"....of course they don't want things to change, there won't be any excuses for an increase in the cost of solar power for heating our homes, charging our cars, or generating the large amounts of electricity that will be needed to produce hydrogen. That star that is less than 100 million miles away will solve many of our energy needs, and it has yet to send us a bill. It is a real shame that a political party of naysayers is really the only thing that stands in our way. The sun AIN'T socialist!

  • NCTravellinman Nov 2, 10:51 a.m.

    dcatz, your efficiency percentage roundoffs lean against electric vehicles. Continuous burning processes in power plants generate less initial pollutants simply b/c continuous burning is far more conrollable. Plus for stationary equipment, more, better, and on a large scale, cheaper pollution control occurs.

    One question re: hydrogen: on a mass transportation scale, what happens when all the light hydrogen molecules leak; and hydrogen leaks out of everything. Once the H2 leaks, the molecule flies into the stratosphere. On a small or lab scale this isn't a problem. But what happens when on a massive scale the H2 depletes until we have inadequate water?

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