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
"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.