Students Helping Develop Better Alternative-Energy Vehicles

March 9, 2010
By magintern


The eco-friendly car graduate student Sean Coleman designed for a class has won the 2010 Shell Eco-Marathon Americas (SEMA) Urban Concept Car Competition. His design will be built and featured at an annual SEMA event that showcases eco-friendly vehicles built by high school and college students. It took a while for Coleman to settle on his design:

“The design went through about 25 ideations,” says Coleman, using the design vocabulary for rough drafts. “At first it looked like a snake or viper. I liked it but thought it might be a little much for some people, so I modified it.”

There are dozens of NC State students working on alternative-energy vehicles and components (read about the EcoCar here). The News & Observer on Monday featured Kevin Grace, a mechanical engineering student and manager of the motor testing lab run by Advanced Energy, a nonprofit on Centennial Campus. He’s testing the efficiency of electric motors and talked about the changes he has seen:

The rules of physics that determine energy efficiency pose a challenge to car makers: how to design an efficient electric motor that fits in a limited space and doesn’t make the car too heavy or too expensive.

That’s why the Advanced Energy lab started seeing electric motors with exotic designs and materials about two years ago.

“The motors look very different from what we were used to seeing,” Grace said.

They come with external electronic controls or magnets made from rare earth metals with magnetic properties. Grace expects to see more of that in the future.

Testing the new technology has piqued his interest in owning a fully electric car, especially one like the Tesla Roadster. For now, though, the Roadster is out of his price range, he said. The 2005 Pontiac GTO he drives will have to do.


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