For the first time ever Western’s automotive engineering team will build a racecar that will run entirely on electric power.
It will be a single-seater, open cockpit formula-style and the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) plans to enter it in a competition this June.
The competition, designed by SAE International, allows students to have the opportunity to design, and construct the small-scale racecar.
Eric Leonhardt, the faculty adviser for the Western Formula team and the head of the Vehicle Research Institute said this year’s competition would be different than years past because of the new requirements.
“This is the first year the Society of Automotive Engineers is holding an electric version of the contest in the United States, its been done in Europe but it hasn’t been done here yet,” Leonhardt said. “We think it’s a good time for Western to be involved in that first competition.”
The Western Formula SAE team, which is part of the Vehicle Research Institute, is housed in the Ross Engineering Technology building and is an academic club. Chris Jones is a Western senior and the team leader of the Formula SAE team this year.
He and his teammates see the competition as an opportunity to gain valuable experience at a young age, which can apply later on in the future.
“The purpose of the event is to educate students about the vehicles,” Leonhardt said. “[It’s] a way to get engineering schools to produce graduates who can be useful to industry, especially the automotive industry and increasingly now the aerospace industry.”
The Formula team is using Microryza, a crowdsourcing website, to get funding for their projects, Jones said. Jones said in the Northwest, electric cars have a big place because of the lower cost to operate them.
“In other regions, they’ll probably come up with different solutions but here in the Northwest I think the electric car is definitely a viable alternative,” Jones said.
Nicholas Conroy is a junior at Western and is studying electrical engineering technology.
He is also in charge of the electric engine systems research and development for the car this year.
Conroy said electric vehicles are the future of transportation.
A lithium-ion battery pack costs about $1,000 per kilowatt -hour and the team needs a four to five-hour kilowatt battery pack for the competition and an extra battery pack for testing, Conroy said.
People can give however much they want but the minimum goal is $8,000. This goal has to be reached otherwise no money will be received, Conroy said.
“My research is about a low-cost electric powertrain,” Conroy said. “So what that means is a way of having a car powered by an electric motor and a set of batteries that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.”
However, it hasn’t been easy to learn how to do everything it takes to make electric vehicles and just about everything Conroy has done with electric cars he’s had to teach himself.
“Electric vehicles and battery technology are not really taught at Western in the electronics course,” Conroy said. “I’m hoping the knowledge I gain through doing this project can be passed forward to new people who come on the team, new people who come to Western and possibly even start up a few new classes too.”
During the actual events, various sponsors of the competition provide awards for achievements such as: best use of E-85 ethanol fuel, innovative use of electronics, ability to be recycled, crash-worthiness, analytical approach to design and overall dynamic performance, Conroy said.
“We’ve won several technical achievements. The first car we entered into a competition, Viking 22, had one really big innovation,” Conroy said. “It had a cable-actuated, four-wheel steering system and as far as I know it’s the only formula car that’s ever used a system like that.”
Not only have they won several achievements but also with their electric vehicle, they could be helping make a more sustainable future in transportation, Leonhardt said.
“I think we’re going to need to have a large portion of our cars be electric,” Leonhardt said. “What’s exciting about it is that it can help us reduce our dependence on imported oil and it’ll help us use that oil for other things and it’ll help us reduce our global warming potential of our transportation system and it makes us less sensitive to geopolitical events.”
In previous years, using combustion engines, Western has had mixed results in the competition.
They got sixth place in California in 2009 and eleventh place in Detroit in 2010.
However, last year they placed 27th in California due to suspension failure during the endurance event, which cost them.
The Formula SAE competition for the teams electric car will be held June 19 through 22 of next year in Lincoln, Neb.