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Clarkson Students Drive Alternative Fueled Vehicle To Top-place Finishes At National Tour De Sol

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The Clarkson University Solar Knights drove their alternative fueled vehicle to top place finishes at the 2003 Tour de Sol: The Great American Green Transportation Festival held during National Transportation Week (May 10-14). The Tour de Sol, which this year featured three festivals in addition to the road-rally competition, took place in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.Joseph Sherwood and Christopher Lighty

The Clarkson team received three awards, including first place in the Electric Vehicle with Advanced Battery Prototype Division category and third place in the Most Efficient Light-Duty Vehicle category. Their vehicle was also one of three cars named in the Most Innovative Vehicles category.

“We had a great race and our car’s standout performance is a direct result of the hard work and total commitment of our 18-member team,” said Mark Whipple, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering and Solar Knights team leader. “This year’s competition was also a lot of fun as it included opportunities to demonstrate our design to school kids and the public.”

Organized by the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, the Tour de Sol is a national electric vehicle race that this year featured a 40-car field competing in six categories: vehicles built by manufacturers, hybrid and alternative fueled vehicles, battery-electric vehicles, solar-electric vehicles, one-person vehicles and one-person demonstration vehicles. Teams earned points for daily reliability, long distance reliability (range), acceleration, handling, and efficiency (fuel economy).

Clarkson competed in the battery-electric vehicles category.  The students took an ordinary car and turned it into a nonpolluting vehicle that featured a rechargeable battery complemented by a solar array. Clarkson’s electric car can travel approximately 55 miles on local roads and up to 70 miles on highways before recharging is necessary. The car was designed to meet the competition requirements that each participating battery-electric vehicle be built to pass state inspection, meet safety standards, include at least one square foot of solar array, and be large enough to accommodate two people and two bags of groceries.

The purpose of the competition is to educate the public and stimulate interest in and manufacturing of “green” cars, buses and bicycles.  With the high economic and environmental costs associated with gasoline, designing and building environment-friendly cars powered by clean sources of energy is a priority for car manufacturers.

“In addition to its mission to bring greater awareness to the importance of alternative energies in transportation, the competition serves an important pedagogical function,” explained Thomas Ortmeyer, professor of electrical and computer engineering and team faculty adviser. “Our team  brought together students across various disciplines to design and build a road worthy vehicle. They had to troubleshoot and overcome problems, manage costs, consider safety and environmental requirements and see the project through the entire process--from the initial design on paper to the final redesign of the car. The participants should be proud of their accomplishments.”

The team hopes to compete again next year and plans are underway to make a few changes to the design. “No design is ever perfect. There is always room for improvement,” added Whipple. “We are already planning to reengineer the battery safety measurements and build a larger solar array.”

The Solar Knights team is part of Clarkson University's SPEED (Students Projects for Engineering Experience and Design) program that promotes multidisciplinary project based learning opportunities for more than 250 undergraduates annually. SPEED projects involve engineering design and analysis, fabrication, and the enhancement of professional competencies such as budget management, effective teamwork and communication skills. SPEED receives its primary financial support from Alcoa, Corning, Eastman Kodak, the General Electric Fund and Procter & Gamble. SPEED was recognized with the 2001 Boeing Outstanding Educator Award and the 2002 Corporate and Foundation Alliance Award for its exceptional contributions to improving undergraduate engineering education.

PHOTO CAPTION: (left to right) Clarkson students Joseph Sherwood and Christopher Lighty watch as a safety inspector examines their battery-powered vehicle prior to the start of the Tour de Sol road race competition held earlier this month in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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