04 Apr UW students compete to make hydrogen cars, other renewable projects
Madison, Wis. — University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering students have accepted a challenge: the Future Energy Challenge. A team of 30 engineering students and three professors are developing vehicles and engines that operate on clean and renewable energy, taking their inventions to competitions around the country.
“It’s a hands-on project, using the skills you learn in class to do something,” said Curtis Roe, UWFEC’s student team leader.
The group’s long-term project is the Corbin Sparrow Zero Carbon Car, a single-passenger vehicle donated to the university in 2002. Engineering students modified the car to operate fully on renewable sources of energy, adding a wind generator, a hydrogen fuel cell and solar panels linked together by specially designed power electronics.
This development means that the car has absolutely no carbon dioxide emissions – removing the need for an engine or a tailpipe. It operates on a sugar-derived hydrogen fuel developed by Virent Energy Systems. The wind generator and solar panel can be set up when the car is parked, giving it the capability to recharge itself.
The team has had a good track record with Zero Carbon, taking first place and “Best Renewability” last year in the Tour de Sol competition for hydrogen vehicles’ efficiency and performance. The team plans to compete again in May.
“It’s not low emission, it’s no emission,” said Ted Bohn, team mentor for UWFEC and a researcher for the Wisconsin Electric Machines and Power Energy Consortium. “It’s free, ultimately clean energy for transportation.”
The most recent project developed by the UWFEC was creating an inverter system for energy collection, which can take DC energy from wind and solar collectors and send it directly to an AC electric system. Other than building the inverter to handle a 120 VAC output and a production cost of $200, teams are free to develop whatever they can.
Bohn said that the team designed the inverter with a goal of using it in Third World countries. Since these areas have a shortage of reliable power, Bohn says it is important to “make it more realistic” for them to have renewable energy sources.
The team has a good record in FEC competitions, taking third place in 2001 with the development of a 10kW proton exchange membrane fuel cell inverter and again in 2003 with a 10kW solid oxide fuel cell inverter. Despite this record Bohn says the team is not taking anything for granted.
“It’s a very nervous time to see if we’ve made the finals,” Bohn said. The competition’s finals will take place in August at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.
Bohn said he feels students get involved in the team because it offers them four different tiers of experience: oral, written, teamwork and hands-on. While the development in the labs is an important part of the project, teams also need to write reports about the project and prepare oral presentations.
To finish these projects Bohn stresses that the team work together, getting as much real-world practice as possible presenting the information they work on. To this end the team is involved in several types of community outreach programs, scheduled to give presentations at the Midwest Energy Fair and the Engineering Expo.
“You have to work together as a team to build that familiarity,” Bohn said “It’s a big thing – getting engineers who can talk and write.”