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Ohio State Solar Car Tops 2,000 MPG

The Ohio State University’s Solar Car team has risen again, building a vehicle with a fuel efficiency equivalent to more than 2,000 miles per gallon.

Ten College of Engineering students decided to resurrect the team, which had been inactive since 2000, and built a three-wheeled vehicle with a 90 percent efficient electric regenerative motor mounted to the lone rear wheel.

“The motor gets its power from two modified Toyota Prius battery packs, which store up to 60 volts each, and also from almost 60 square feet of solar panels, which are 21 percent efficient and generate about 3 watts per 6-by-6 inch panel,” says team leader Jordan Blimbaum, a mechanical engineering senior. “The entire electrical system is controlled by a custom micro-controller built by undergraduate electrical engineering students.”

The students made the maiden voyage with their vehicle, dubbed the RSFirefly2, in Fontana, Calif., last month at the Shell Eco-marathon, a four-day event challenging schools across the country to design, build and test fuel-efficient vehicles. While the Ohio State vehicle did not qualify for the competition categories because of its size, the team pushed its handmade project to the limit, driving the car 30 miles, exceeding speeds of 40 mph and testing it on sharp corners, incline ramps and speed bumps.

“What the students accomplished is amazing,” said team adviser Stephen Bechtel, professor of mechanical engineering. “To start from nothing and create a solar car that successfully competed against well-established teams from other universities is a strong testament to the intelligence, ability and tenacity of these students. They have represented our college and university in the best possible light.”

The students on the team are team leader Jordan Blimbaum (senior, mechanical engineering), mechanical team leader Michael Sharpe (senior, mechanical engineering), electrical team leader Steven Schneider (junior, electrical engineering), Bill Isaacs (junior, electrical engineering), Aaron Chick (senior, mechanical engineering), Andy Thompson (senior, welding engineering), business team leader Benjamin Karbowski (freshman, business), Francisco Escobar-Alfaro (senior, electrical engineering), Josh Jones (freshman, mechanical engineering), Mark Weden (freshman, mechanical engineering).

The energy consumption of the solar vehicle is converted from watt-hours per mile to miles per gallon at the Eco-marathon to compare it with other vehicles. The one-seat RSFirefly2 weighs between 600 and 700 pounds and is about 5 meters long, 1.8 meters tall and 2 meters wide.

“Our car uses no gasoline,” Blimbaum said, “but we calculated using very rough approximations that our car uses about 15 watt-hours per mile, which is equivalent to about 2,200 miles per gallon.”

The team already is working on its vehicle in preparation for competitions next year. The mechanical team plans to design and build a more lightweight and aerodynamic design for the outside of the vehicle, while the electrical team will continue to develop the vehicle’s electrical system to make the next solar car more efficient. The team’s current vehicle will serve as a testing model in order to research and further improve upon its efficiency.

Visit the Solar Car team online.

Jordan Blimbaum
Benjamin Karbowski