Carrier Corporation came to life Saturday, Oct. 29, as engineering teams from nearly half a dozen schools raced through the parking lot in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as part of the annual New York State Electrathon competition.
Cicero-North Syracuse High School co-hosted the event with Carrier Corporation. C-NS has participated in several NY Electrathon races in the past, making a name for itself as a top competitor in hydrogen fuel cell vehicle marathons; the school’s engineering team has had cars in competitions in Houston and California.
“We got involved with the alternative fuels energy program back in about 2008 or 2009,” said Marty Miner, technology teacher at C-NS and advisor for the school’s Performance Engineering Team. “We were approached by Carrier Corporation to design and build a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. We took on the project and started building and competing, and we started participating in the NY Electrathon.”
According to NYElectrathon.com, a site run by Cazenovia High School technology teacher Chris Hurd and his students, the goal of the Electrathon is to provide a learning experience that will build public awareness of the capabilities and potential of efficient electric vehicles. Developed around specific rules designed to keep cost down and competition high, these unique vehicles offer an opportunity and challenge to experiment, learn and compete. Electrathon vehicles are single-person, lightweight, aerodynamic, high- efficiency, electric vehicles powered by gel-cell battery packs weighing under 67 pounds. They have to have brakes, a five-point harness and can be built from scratch or from a kit.
Student engineering teams from across the state built cars that were then transported to Carrier for the race event on Saturday. In addition to C-NS, engineering teams from Baldwinsville, Oneida, Cazenovia and West Genesee participated in the event.
“Every year, NY Electrathon offers an opportunity for high school teachers to pull together their students for a competition,” Miner said. “They do races once in the fall and once in the spring. This year is the first time C-NS is co-hosting one with Carrier.”
The event at Carrier was viewed as practice for the statewide competition at Watkins Glen on April 21.
“The fall event is an invitational,” Miner said. “It’s an opportunity for the teams to get acclimated to the event and to test out their cars. They’ll spend the next few months getting ready for the spring race and having sanctioned marathons.”
In an Electrathon event, the winner is determined by how far the vehicle goes on a given amount of fuel. Specific design rules are set to ensure fair competition. The vehicles designed by the teams are driven by students around a designated race course – in Saturday’s case, a portion of the parking lot at Carrier. Drivers, who must have their licenses, have to wear helmets and gloves, and cars are rigorously tested for safety.
In Electrathon races, the winner is determined based on how many laps the vehicle completed on a given amount of fuel provided to the battery. In Saturday’s competition, the standings were as follows:
Caz Car No. 37 – 74 laps
C-NS – 72 laps
Baldwinsville – 71 laps
Caz Car No. 12 – 64 laps
Oneida – 40 laps
West Genesee – 26 laps
Between races, students continuously go back to the drawing board to work out the kinks on their vehicles.
“Every year, we have been trying to make improvements on our vehicle, trying to make it lighter weight and trying to improve the efficiency of the vehicle,” Miner said of the C-NS vehicle. “This year, we went back to the original motor we’d been using. Last year, the motor was sized too small for the track. We’ve done some more testing on the gear rations to make them more efficient, made some changes to the brakes, and we’ve made some changes to make the driver more comfortable.”
Miner said having a different group of kids each year also impacts the product put out by the team.
“Every year, we have a different mix of kids,” he said. “Our seniors graduate, and we get a fresh set of juniors and sophomores. They take over and give it their all.”
Miner said no matter what the group, the students in his group get a lot out of the experience.
“The kids get excited about the competition, for sure,” he said. ““They feel the pressure of the work put on them to get a car ready. But it’s really exciting. They’re rising to the level of competition just like a sporting event. This is a hands-on problem-solving experience that they can’t get in a classroom. A lot of engineering students at this level haven’t built a thing in their lives. This activity gives them real-word experience.”
Miner also said a lot of credit goes to the faculty advisers who guide the student engineering teams through the process.
“The work that the teachers are doing, mostly on a volunteer basis, to provide the opportunity for the kids, is incredible,” he said. “They’re putting in a lot of extra time and effort to see that these kids get to this point. The kids see that.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.