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, however Cazenovia High School took top honors. Having participated in several NY Electrathon races in the past, the Cazenovia Technology Department has been 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 across the country.
“Electrathon is not a race about speed, but rather efficiency. The goal is to see how many laps you can make in exactly one hour. Cars are designed and built by high school students,” Cazenovia technology teacher Chris Hurd said. “Most cars have two car batteries, and average about 35 mph. Cars can reach speeds of up to 65 mph with the right gears.”
According to NYElectrathon.com, a site run by 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. The local company GHD helped fund the two Cazenovia entries this year, sponsoring the students and donating the money needed to buy materials and equipment.
Student engineering teams from across the state built cars that were then transported to Carrier for the race event on Saturday. In addition to Cazenovia, engineering teams from Baldwinsville, Oneida, C-NS 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,” said Marty Miner, event coordinator, technology teacher at C-NS and advisor for the school’s Performance Engineering Team. 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.
Between races, students continuously go back to the drawing board to work out the kinks on their vehicles. 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 … 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 editor of the Eagle Star-Review. She can be reached at 434-8889 ext. 310 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.