Designers of alternative-fuel vehicles are trying to convince consumers that fossil-fuel cars should go the way of the dinosaur. The 2004 Tour de Sol touted cars powered by cooking oil, corn, the sun and the wind as alternatives to paying record prices for gasoline.
More than 30 vehicles were on display at the Tour de Sol, a combination road rally and green car festival that promotes nonpolluting renewable-energy technologies. Vehicles created by high-school students, college students and auto manufacturers competed in tests that evaluated their fuel-efficiency, handling, braking and emissions.
Students at Trenton Central High School won the Tour de Sol award for Best in Technology in the Hybrid and Alternative category by demonstrating that the school cafeteria is a good source of energy for students and cars alike. The students used cooking oil to power the Vegginator, a converted 1985 VW Golf.
The students used a solar-powered blender to mix the cooking oil with lye, methanol and alcohol to create biodiesel, according to sophomore Danny DeLeon. He said the glycerin byproduct filtered from the biodiesel was turned into soap that was used in the student garage.
DeLeon said the team spent less than $1,000 to buy and fix the car and replace the rubber hoses so that it could run on biodiesel. Because the students had just finished a robotics project, they only had three weeks to ready the car, which gets 43 miles per gallon of biodiesel. “It was a lot of hours after school and a lot of trips to Wendy’s to keep us going.”
In years past, attendees primarily came to see the student projects and futuristic vehicles. But Jack Groh, a spokesman for the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, which sponsors the event, said the record-setting gas prices (which reached $2.06 for unleaded on Monday) have more people asking about vehicles that could lower their energy bill. “There’s a new crop of people who are angry and are looking for alternatives today,” said Groh.
Western Washington University students had a financial advantage in creating their Viking 32 race car. The school has spent more than $1 million to develop the car, with most of the money coming from a Federal Highway Administration grant.
Students spent two years using computer modeling to design the body of the custom-made vehicle, which will “do more than 100 mph,” according to WWU student Sherman Krantz. The car includes a 2-foot-thick array of carbon fiber honeycomb instead of a metal bumper. Krantz said simulations indicate that drivers could walk away from a crash at 50 miles per hour into a concrete wall.
University of Tulsa students designed their vehicle to be as lightweight as possible, according to team member John Throneberry. He said they “built the car around the drive train” by framing the chassis from PVC tubing, a plastic commonly used in plumbing, and then molding carbon fiber and fiberglass around the frame.
Throneberry said the “work in progress” car has a parallel hybrid engine, which can optimize fuel-efficiency by running on gasoline, an electric motor or both, depending on the speed. The students replaced the mechanical throttle with a computer-controlled “drive by wire” system, Throneberry said.
Two students created vehicles that harness solar power to assist in propulsion. University of Wisconsin-Madison students won the Hydrogen Vehicle Category by converting a one-seat electric vehicle into a battery-powered car that can accept energy from a hydrogen fuel cell, solar panel or wind turbine. “We need to be able to generate hydrogen from renewable sources so that we can reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and reliance on foreign oil,” said student Dan Freschl.
He said his team designed the collapsible solar panels and wind turbine so that they could be stowed in the trunk. “You can drive to work, set up the wind turbine and solar panel in the parking lot, and charge the car while at the office,” Freschl said.
The University of Maine’s Solar Black Bear derives part of its energy from 600 pounds of solar panels mounted to the roof. The solar panels provide up to 1.1 kilowatts of electricity, which is enough electricity to power the car for 15 miles, according to student Stuart Laswell. Students added a computer to control a hydraulic arm that automatically repositions the solar panels to receive maximum sunlight throughout the day, according to Laswell.
In addition to the student vehicles, attendees at the event could test drive two hybrid vehicles that will be available later this year. Ford’s Escape Hybrid will be the first hybrid SUV, and GM will be selling a limited number of Chevy Silverado hybrids in California, Oregon and Washington. GM assistant communications manager Matthew Kester said the “mild” hybrid truck will provide two additional miles to the gallon and will cost about $2,500 more than GM’s gasoline-only engine.
Groh said the rising price of gas has prompted more serious car buyers to consider alternative-fuel vehicles. “People come (to Tour de Sol) to see if these cars are the real deal. They usually walk away impressed.”
05/26/2004 John Gartner, wired.com