Magazine article Techniques

A Drive for Fuel Efficiency: Through Hybrid Car Programs, Career and Technical Education Is Designing and Building a More Efficient Future

Magazine article Techniques

A Drive for Fuel Efficiency: Through Hybrid Car Programs, Career and Technical Education Is Designing and Building a More Efficient Future

Article excerpt

"America is addicted to oil," said President Bush in his last State of the Union Address, adding that "the best way to break this addiction is through technology.

He announced his Advanced Energy Initiative, which calls for investing more in reliable alternative energy sources that include solar and wind power. The president also intends to increase funding for better batteries for powering hybrid and electric cars, and for additional research into alternative fuels for automobiles.

Career and technical education is already ahead of the curve, since automotive technology, electrical technology and electronics students across the nation have been actively engaged in learning about hybrid, electric and even solar-powered cars.

Central Shenandoah Valley Governor's School in Fishersville, Virginia, began its electric vehicle program with assistance from Virginia Power, which in 1993 offered to help establish programs at five of the state's high schools. The school has raced its vehicle in the EV Challenge, which has a motto of "Smart Kids, Clean Cars, Green World."

Students in the Environmental Technologies Club at Central High School in Phoenix, Arizona, have built a solar-hydrogen vehicle and are now working on a vehicle they plan to enter into the American Hydrogen Association's Alternative Fuel Go-Cart Race. Last year's winner of the Tour de Sol race was a hybrid car built by students in West Philadelphia High School's Academy for Automotive and Mechanical Engineering. The car was one of the stars of the recent Philadelphia Auto Show. Racing the vehicles they build is often the ultimate goal of the students, who, along the way to the racetrack, improve their personal, academic and technical skills.

One School's Race to Succeed

In 2004, a hybrid car built by electronics students from Eau Claire North High School in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, took first place in the 12th Annual High Mileage Vehicle Challenge, which was held at the University of Wisconsin-Stout (UW-Stout). The competition challenges middle school and high school teams to design fuel-efficient cars, which then must demonstrate their efficiency during several three-mile runs.

The Eau Claire car was a 240-pound, aluminum, gas-electric hybrid that averaged 1,610 miles per gallon of gas. On its best run of the day, it got 1,814 miles per gallon, since it only used four milliliters of gas. The vehicle looked like a go-cart and ran on three bicycle tires.

This year, the students modified the hybrid car, changing the motor to an E-tek motor and getting rid of the bicycle parts. With a frame built of aluminum tubing and a body covered in shrink wrap, this year's version is shorter and weighs less than last year's. In addition to the hybrid car, the Eau Claire students also built an electric car, which was made from aluminum conduit with a body constructed of fiberglass.

This year at the UW-Stout competition, the Eau Claire students improved on their gas mileage with a high of 5,576.47 miles per gallon. Their average was 3,443.847 mpg.

This was the fifth year the students from Eau Claire North High School had participated in the UW-Stout competition, but they also participated at a new competition this year--the First Annual Wisconsin Electrathon, which was held at Fox Valley Technical College.

The day before the race at Fox Valley, the students experienced problems with their hybrid car, so they only ran the electric car in the race the following day. The students were faced with an additional challenge when the electric car suffered a broken fuse after the first practice lap. The determined students went into troubleshooting mode and worked on the problem until it was solved, but by that time, it was already five minutes into the first race.

The students report proudly that, even with the problem, they managed to finish fourth in the race. On the second day of the competition, and without having to deal with a broken fuse, they improved to third. …

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