Students Race Electric Drag Racer

  BYU engineering students are the first to race an electric drag racer equipped with ultra capacitors and a two-chain transmission instead of batteries.

A capacitor is an electric circuit that stores energy temporarily, similar to a battery. Engineers use ultra capacitors for various machines, but this is the first time that the team has used them in a racecar.

"We are continuing to learn how they work and get the best efficiency out of them," said Dr. Perry Carter, associate professor in the School of Technology.

Throughout the learning process, the team discovered advantages and disadvantages to using ultra capacitors.

"One advantage of the ultra capacitor is that they charge really fast and they discharge really fast," said Luke Graham from Portland, OR majoring in mechanical engineering.

Ultra capacitors hold less energy than the batteries used in the vehicles so the team tows "EV1" to the starting line before the start of each drag race. The large capacitors hold enough energy for the car to run for 20 seconds, which is just enough for the EV1 to coast across the finish line.

"We compete against other cars that are battery powered that can be charged in the morning and go for the afternoon, so we get a few laughs when we tow our car to the line," Graham said.

The EV1 project began with a proposal to General Motors, discussing their plans for the electric vehicle and General Motors donated the car.

"We significantly modified the car," said Thomas Erekson, director of the School of Technology. "It didn't run and it didn't have a lot of parts. It was given to us as a research project and the students converted it into a racecar."

Once the car was obtained, the team recruited students from various engineering majors to take part in the project. Two professors and approximately 20 students spend their Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings developing and improving the electric drag racer.

"This project is one of the best kept secrets at BYU because there is so much application. It just takes a lot of dedication," said Jeff Baxter, team captain and a mechanical engineering major.

According to Baxter, the team tries to test the car as often as they can. EV1 races in the parking lot located west of the LaVell Edwards Stadium. The elapsed time record is currently 15.7 seconds for a quarter mile.

"With the improvements we have made, we're hoping for 14 seconds," Carter said.

In order to make the car more competitive for drag races, members of the team removed various parts to lighten the car so now it weighs approximately 1300 pounds, making it possible to push with only two fingers Baxter said.

The EV1 team plans to race at the Rocky Mountain Raceway in Salt Lake City July 14th and will be participating in races sponsored by The National Electric Drag Racing Association throughout the fall semester.

For information on joining the team contact Dr. Perry Carter in the School of Technology.


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