The Sun Devil Motorsports club attends the Formula SAE race competition annually in Lincoln, Nebraska to compete in the internal combustion vehicles race, but next year it will be entering the electric formula competition as well.
The club will be building its own electric vehicle from scratch in preparation for the competition.
Electric cars have been increasingly relavent in the eyes of the public, due to new products coming out such as the Tesla Roadster, with a top speed of over 250 mph.
Jeremy Klein, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering and the president of Sun Devil Motorsports, said that there are many benefits to electric vehicles.
“Electric cars (are) honestly the future of automotive technology, so for our competition, it gives us instant torque, which is more fun,” Klein said. “It actually gives us higher horsepower ratings.”
The increasing range of electric vehicles, combined with these torque and horsepower advantages over traditional cars, has aided an overall increase in electric car sales in the U.S.
While electric cars can be significantly faster than some traditional internal combustion vehicles, Rachel Rhoades, a junior double majoring in electrical engineering and computational mathematical sciences and a lead engineer for the electric vehicle being built by the club, also stresses the cutting-edge impact of the project.
“Because internal combustion engines have been around for ages and ages and ages, there is not a whole lot that you can to improve on,” Rhoades said.
Rhoades said that because this is a newer field, there is a greater possibility of coming up with new ideas that are completely different and innovative, even if there is a lack of resources.
The field of electric vehicles has been around since the late 19th century, and recent advancements in battery technology have made them significantly more viable compared to traditional combustion vehicles.
However, increased battery life can be a double-edged sword because working with high voltage batteries can be extremely dangerous and can have significant environmental impacts.
Klein said the environmental impacts of current battery technology and the mass production of electric vehicle batteries can be terrible for the environment.
“(People mine) into the ground, which pulls up very bad stuff and creates issues for the environment,” Klein said. “Eventually, that would have to be figured out, or else we will have the issue of ‘we’re destroying the environment,’ and simultaneously ‘we’re saving the environment,’ so how do you solve that?”
A challenge posed by battery technology is that engineers working on the project will have to undergo special training and learn new skills to be able to build and design the vehicles.
“A lot of people understand internal combustion … but an electric car?” Klein asked. “You know the basics, but you don’t understand how they are put together and actually function.”
The increased knowledge and potential for a fatality due to design flaws or accidents during the building process creates significantly stricter regulations for training engineers.
“Per the formula rules, you have to have an electrical safety adviser … (This) person has to inform you that your designs are safe before you can even think about building it, and then one or more student has to become an electrical safety officer,” Rhoades said.
Even the workshop for building an electric vehicle must adhere to special safety restrictions to avoid problems such as electrostatic discharge and foreign object debris.
Martin Lippincott, a junior studying automotive systems, is also a lead engineer on the group’s project.
“There’s other stuff like clean room training that we’re in talks about because to work with electrical stuff at that capacity (is dangerous),” Lippincott said.
The amount of training and extra education that team members need is difficult to come by because of the cutting edge nature of the project.
While programs and organizations such as AZLoop exist, there are not a lot of student organizations working hands on with electric vehicles, and Sun Devil Motorsports is entering into exciting and uncharted territory.
Sun Devil Motorsports hopes to unveil its electric car at the Formula SAE Electric competition by next year.