Eco-Racing team adds new alternative energy vehicle for upcoming season

The electric car division of Mizzou Eco-Racing is set to make its debut this upcoming race season with construction beginning soon.

With supplies and designs finalized, the Mizzou Eco-Racing team is set to begin constructing its new Formula Society of Automotive Engineers electric vehicle, a first for the organization.

Originally, the team expected to compete in the Formula SAE competition last year. However, because the supply purchasing process took longer than expected, the electric car’s debut was pushed to the race this upcoming spring.

The two divisions started as separate organizations. The hydrogen car division began competing as a solar car, then a battery electric car and now competes as a hydrogen car. Around the same time, the electric car division started as a fan club for electric cars. Then the division converted a combustion vehicle into all-electric, changing the engine of a truck. Finally, two or three years ago, the divisions joined together to form the Mizzou Eco-Racing team due to the two having similar interests.

The electric car development joins the team’s other hydrogen car division, in creating alternative energy vehicles that race against other universities across the nation.

“We start out with a lot of CADD [computer-aided design and drafting] modeling,” Kolton Speer, hydrogen car technical lead, said. “We have to come up with things that fit the rules, which is the predominant problem. Once we're done modeling with making a model that we think is going to work, then we start building things.”

Currently, the university is renovating the machine shop the team uses to construct their vehicles. As a result, the team is waiting until renovations are complete to begin building and developing the two models. While the hydrogen division can renovate and improve their car from past years, the electric division must build their model from scratch.

“Initially, it was pretty overwhelming,” electrical lead Jason Pae said. “It’s not just like a puzzle. You have to be able to transfer over the information from class into practical knowledge. Even these automotive companies, they’re struggling to get electric cars out, so the fact that we’re doing similar things that they are is pretty rewarding to see.”

The hydrogen car is powered by hydrogen fuel cells, which create a chemical reaction that produces energy to power it. In contrast, the electric car relies on an electric powered motor.

Additionally, the divisions differ in the way they are judged and where they compete. The hydrogen vehicle competes at the Shell Eco-marathon in Sonoma, California. Whereas, the electric vehicle competes at Formula SAE in Lincoln, Nebraska. As far as judging, the hydrogen competitions tend to focus on the efficiency of the car and designing a lightweight car with endurance. The electric vehicle competitions tend to focus more on things like agility and speed.

In both divisions, however, the competition vehicles are approximately a third the size of formula race cars.

“[At competitions] judges will come around and inspect your car for safety,” President Samantha Sample said. “There's several days of inspections to make sure that everything's safe, nothing’s going to blow up. After you pass inspection, you can go to the race part. So they basically will conduct a bunch of different races.”

With the start of the school year, the organization has been recruiting and training new members, specifically freshmen, to assist in developing these vehicles. Beyond improving the designs, the eco-racing team aims to cultivate its members.

“Really what we do with the team is more about developing students,” Speer said. “We're not going to come up with anything that's better than what Tesla is coming up with. We really like to focus on developing people over developing new things for our cars.”

Domestically and internationally, as industries move towards developing alternative energy vehicles, more universities are becoming involved with eco-racing competitions. Competitions tend to have 30 to 40 race spots and an additional 30 to 40 spot waitlist, which usually are filled, Sample said.

Additionally, several eco-racing competitions tend to have different divisions for North American, South American, Asian and European teams, Speer said.

“I think it's pretty evident that the transportation industry is changing,” Sample said. “It's becoming more environmentally friendly and aware of the ill effects of things like engine emissions and other types of pollution that are really harming the environment. I think it's kind of inevitable that that excitement for renewable energy bleeds into the college atmosphere.”

Edited by Laura Evans | levans@themaneater.com

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