Engineering senior project builds solar-electric car


Photo courtesy of Nate England

Julie Gonzales, News Reporter

Texas State has taken many steps to promote a green lifestyle for students by having recycling bins around campus and switching from plastic to paper straws. Inspired by this change, two students put their efforts toward the cause.

Electrical engineer seniors Alex Greer, project manager and Beau Smith, assistant project manager, showcased their senior project May 7 along with their team: a solar-electric car. The project was inspired by a heightened interest in renewable energy. The team received help from engineering students Alfredo Balli, Anthony Le and Chase Bernd.

The solar electric car consisted of chases and a metal frame, with four wheels and breaks, constructed by previous senior projects that could never get the car to run.

“I heard about this project before I got into the senior design class, and I have always been into cars and renewable energy,” Greer said. “I get to do a little bit of what I like on the side which is mechanical things, but then also get to do something where I get to give back to the world one day.”

This group of seniors researched, analyzed and experimented to accomplish their main goal: creating safety measures along with a motor for this solar-electric car to operate.

According to Greer, the real work on their end was to design the electrical safety system for the car to keep the drivers out of dangerous situations, and to warn the driver in such cases.

The safety system added is all composed in good operations bands and batteries to run without failure,” Smith said. “We had to look at each individual component and see where the failure points are and make sure we are monitoring it for safety.”

Each team receives a budget of $500 to last for two semesters, but this team spent a total of $1,000 from the school. Working resourcefully, the group had to make compromises such as using cheaper and inefficient lead-acid batteries instead of lithium batteries, which can cost about $6,000 to $7,000 each.

“It was great and enjoyable; I got to implement what I have learned in class and venture out of it,” Smith said.

Cecil Compeau, professor of practice in the Ingram School of Engineering and capstone project coordinator, said there are several challenges for the senior project. Time restraints and completing heavy amounts of research prove difficult for students, but the faculty are a huge help.

“(The faculty) try to give students a lot of leeway; we allow them to stub their toes but don’t let them fall flat on their faces,” Compeau said.

Another goal of the project is to eventually participate in the American Solar Challenge, a national competition where teams drive their handcrafted solar-powered car 1,500 to 2,000 miles across multiple cities.

While the solar-electric car has been in the works for some time, it still requires improvements if the team wants to compete. The car needs panels, a charger and eventually a new chase.

The team would like to see a complete student-built car, safe and not prone to blowing up. Additionally, more funding and dedicated faculty are in demand, as there are 14 different senior projects happening at one time.

“It was an experience worth having because I know this is what it would be like in the real world,” Greer said.

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