An ultracapacitor-powered electric vehicle built by Brigham Young University students made history at the National Electric Drag Racing Association at the Las Vegas Speedway last month.
Crossing the quarter-mile mark at 15.907 seconds, the highly modified electric car set a world record for modified production vehicles running more than 241 volts.
The ultracapacitor functions of the vehicle were designed and built by the BYU students after General Motors donated an electrical car named "EV 1" to the university. The car had many parts missing, which provided students with the project of designing and rebuilding components of the car.
"The purpose of the project was to involve students in trying to solve problems. Our goal was to see what the team could do with ultracapacitors," said Tom Erekson, director of BYU's School of Technology.
An ultracapacitor is a device used for storing electrical energy without chemicals, explained Erekson. "It can charge and discharge energy very quickly compared to a battery and can be charged hundreds of thousands of times," he said.
Under the direction of Erekson and Perry W. Carter, a faculty member in the School of Technology, a team of 15 students studying electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing engineering and technology have designed and built the capacitor components for the car.
The fact that EV 1 runs solely on capacitors makes it unique among electric vehicles, which normally run on batteries or a combination of batteries and capacitors. The BYU team chose to forgo battery power by installing 160 ultracapacitors, each delivering 2.5 volts, for a combined peak output of 400 amps and 200 horsepower.
"There are a couple of advantages to powering a car with capacitors. They last indefinitely, whereas batteries run out. And they weigh less than batteries," said Carter. He also noted that capacitors discharge power very quickly, making them helpful in the race.
To construct the car, the team designed and built a controller for the vehicle's electrical functions and installed the capacitors. "It has been an excellent opportunity for student-mentored learning in the college of engineering because we have worked very closely with the undergraduate students," said Carter.
Carter went into the event not expecting to break any records, so EV 1's recent claiming of a world record quarter-mile for its class was a welcome surprise.
Erekson said, "It's exciting to set a new record. I'm especially pleased with the teamwork and dedication of the students; they made this happen."
Equally exciting is the potential for EV 1 to improve its times. After reaching the eighth-mile mark at 69.70 mph, the car had accelerated less than 8 mph by the time it crossed the finish line. The reduction in acceleration may be a result of EV 1's one-speed transmission.
"It's like running the quarter-mile in first gear. The team is convinced that we could go much faster with a two- or three-speed transmission," Erekson said. Designing a transmission will be a summer project for the team.
For more information, contact Perry Carter at (801) 422-2901.
Writer: Liesel Enke