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SCU Wheels Out First Hybrid

Team Killajoule prepares to race SCU's first ever hybrid racecar at the Sixth Annual Formula Hybrid International Competition.
Team Killajoule prepares to race SCU's first ever hybrid racecar at the Sixth Annual Formula Hybrid International Competition.

Santa Clara University’s longtime commitment to sustainability is picking up more speed. 

Meet the University’s very first SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) Formula Hybrid—an open-wheel, single-seat, plug-in hybrid-electric racecar. The project is Santa Clara’s first foray into an annual design and engineering competition to create a high-performance hybrid racecar.
 
Students say it is destined to pave the way for a new generation of student engineers interested in high-performance alternative transportation.
 
“There is no precedent for this project at SCU,” explained Keenan O’Flaherty, senior project leader. “We are laying the groundwork for future Formula Hybrids.” 
 
On its way to inspiring new engineers, the car will make a pit stop at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H.—site of the Sixth Annual Formula Hybrid International Competition from April 30–May 3. Here, the six-member SCU team will line up its machine against entries from 38 other teams, representing six different countries.
 
The event challenges college and university students to design and build fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles, and then compete in performance events testing acceleration, autocross, and endurance.
 
O’Flaherty’s group, named Team Killajoule (a play on the common engineering term, kilojoule), knows the physical competition will be fierce, but more challenging, they say, is the rulebook—about 140 pages of very intricate technical instructions.
 
“The judges and tech officials will do their best to find any fault or problem that might disallow a car from competing,” explained the team’s leader. As a result, the SCU students have spent hours poring over the rules to ensure compliance and give them a chance to participate.
 
“If we have no rules issues, we should be able to compete in the top 10 overall,” said O’Flaherty. But, since this is SCU’s first time on the circuit, he added, “There are likely obstacles we have not foreseen that may make that prediction totally inaccurate.” If all goes smoothly though, the vehicle SCU puts on the course will be “a dependable, simple, and fast car.”
 
How fast? The car isn’t limited by its top speed in the rulebook, according to O’Flaherty, but the track is designed so that the highest speeds are typically no greater than 70 mph at the competition. “Our car,” he noted, “is geared to hit 138 mph if we wanted it to.”
 
SCU’s hybrid project encouraged interdisciplinary teamwork and drew students with backgrounds in electrical, mechanical, and computer engineering. Many of those classmates, however, found themselves exploring new territory when they set to work on the car. “Designing the vehicle was the most challenging task because SCU does not have any undergraduate classes that cover electric vehicle technology,” said Jules Salvador, one team member. “Prior to the project, I had little experience with automotive design, and a lot of the information I had to pick up on the way.”
 
Five faculty advisors, each with a special area of expertise, were drafted to help on the project. Shoba Krishnan, an associate professor of electrical engineering, said the hybrid forced students and faculty to look beyond their normal, narrowly defined fields.
 
“As electrical engineers, for example, we don’t usually think a lot about safety issues,” she explained. “But, this is a high-voltage project, and safety is huge—it took months to figure out what we needed to do to pass inspection by the safety officer who will be judging us.”
 
The experience of building the hybrid, according to Krishnan, “helped students explore the technology that is now current in the industry.” She noted, “They came to understand such things as the pros and cons of different types of batteries; the competition itself is a bridge from academic research leading into an industry perspective.”
 
As for the car itself, O’Flaherty describes it as “a diesel-electric, plug-in hybrid that will run using B100 bio-diesel, having extremely low emissions, being highly sustainable, and still being a reasonably affordable and fast vehicle.”
 
After the competition, the hybrid team will present its project to sponsors, families and the SCU community during the School of Engineering’s 42nd Annual Senior Design Conference on May 10. Then, “the car will be passed on to the next classes for use and educational purposes,” explained O’Flaherty. “There is already a team coming together for the 2013 competition.”
 
O’Flaherty and his group find immense satisfaction in the fact that their groundbreaking work will continue after they graduate. Initially, the hybrid project was viewed with skepticism, he noted, so watching the idea transform into “something that so many people are excited to see completed has been amazing and truly rewarding.” And, with the simple turn of a key, the Formula Hybrid team attained another goal: “We wanted to start a new sustainability legacy at SCU focused on transportation.”

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