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Wednesday, March 14,2012

OU engineering students create, race electric cars for final exam

By Stephanie Stark
Photo Credits: Photo by Dustin Franz.
Photo Caption: One car makes it off the starting line while Team 2 prepares its vehicle. Team 1’s car went past the required distance by 20 inches while Team 2’s did not make it past the starting line. Engineering students had to design a car that would run on a battery that they built and use a chemical reaction to stop the car after traveling 50 feet.

Senior and graduate engineering students in Ohio University associate professor Gerardine Botte's class have been designing and building electrochemical vehicles for the past five weeks, and on Tuesday the two teams put their creations to a 50-foot test.

The students are a part of Botte's Analysis of Electrochemical Systems class, an elective for mechanical or chemical engineering students in which the final calls for creating an electrochemical vehicle – a battery-powered car – and its battery, and then prepare it to run 50 feet until it stops itself.

"They cannot go and buy a battery from the store; they have to design their own battery, said Botte, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. "When I mean 'design their own battery,' it might not be at all releasing a commercial battery. They have to think about all the types of reactions, because what is commercially built is very different than what we can build in the lab. So we come up with new reactions that people perhaps have not tested yet."

The first group, composed of students Cei Lu, Jermain Onye and Ali Estejab, designed a battery using copper and zinc as electrodes and hydrochloric acid and magnesium wire as a stopping mechanism. The second group, including Arthur Gildea, Aria Kahyarian, Brian Bell, Yue Ding and Andrew Brodbeck, bought a toy car and used copper and aluminum as electrodes and bleach as an electrolyte.

The first group won the race, with their car coming the closest to the finish line at 50 feet, 20 inches. The second group changed the design of their car multiple times in order to incorporate the use of recycled aluminum cans, which were heavier than the alternative.

"They had to fix it in the last couple of weeks," Botte said of the losing group. "They had to redesign. They saw, 'Oh my gosh, if you use a heavy battery, you cannot carry, you cannot use it.' So you can see what a chemical equation looks like but when you build it, if it's too heavy, you won't be able to utilize the power."

During the race, the second group's car made it about 25 feet before stopping.

Botte, who is known for inventing "Pee Power," a way to create hydrogen fuel from urine, said students find new ways to create energy every year. "The amazing thing is that even though we've done it seven times, students come up with new ideas on how to design batteries," Botte said.

Students are responsible for building the battery for the car, the car itself and a stopping mechanism. The rules state that whichever car is closest to 50 feet is the winner and the car must stop on its own at the finish line.

"So, it's not only 'make a battery,' or 'make an electrochemical device that produces electricity,'" Botte said. "It's also 'How are you going to power the car?' so you come up with system integration."

Focusing on battery-powered cars also has a real-world application.

"You know gas prices are increasing, so the final cars will be the electrochemical cars. In the future this will be the medium. This is just a prototype for the battery-powered car," Cei said.


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