PROVO Brigham Young University's electric-powered dragster silently streaked to a world record over the weekend.
The electric vehicle known simply as EV 1 doesn't make the growling, pulsating noises standard in the drag-racing industry, but it does go fast. It reached 93 mph on Saturday during the "Power of DC" electric vehicle drag racing event at the Mason Dixon Dragway in Hagerstown, Md., and smashed the record for a quarter-mile by 1.8 seconds.
BYU set the old record of 15.9 seconds, or 77 mph, two years ago.
A team of BYU engineering students tinkered with the EV 1 to coax more and more speed out of it on Saturday and lowered the record on each of three runs.
The car zipped over the quarter mile in 14.38 seconds on its first run, then 14.30 on the second and 14.08 on the third. Between each run, students changed motor parameters, tire pressures and shift points.
The team launched a fourth run but the day ended when a drive sprocket sheared. The broken part suspended BYU's attempt to break 100 mph and cover the quarter mile in 13.5 seconds, but the team took it in stride.
"Electric cars have tremendous torque," said Luke Graham, a senior mechanical engineering student. "It seems like we continue to push the envelope and find the weak link in the drive system by breaking parts. This gives us the opportunity to redesign and improve the technology."
"We always tell people that in drag racing, if you're not breaking things, you're not pushing the envelope far enough," said Tom Erekson, a faculty co-adviser on the project.
The team has modified the EV 1 into a two-speed vehicle. The old record was set with the car going all the way down the track in first gear, its only gear. Now the vehicle has a two-speed chain-drive transmission.
It's that transmission, by the way, the adds some noise to the vehicle.
"You just hear the sound of the wind," Erekson said. "Electric vehicles are extremely quiet. You hear the squealing of the tires and some chain and transmission noise, and that's it."
The BYU team practiced last fall at Rocky Mountain Raceway and laid down times of 15.7 and 15.9 seconds while a gas-powered Ford Mustang was running at 15.9 and 16.1 seconds.
"So you can see 14 seconds is really fast," Erekson said.
The record was set in the National Electric Drag Racing Association's modified production/class A category, which is for electric vehicles running on more than 240 volts. So far, BYU is the only team in that category, but the students compete against the record and its goals in what Erekson said was a learning-rich environment.
"It's a nifty little project because it's mentored learning. The students are solving technological problems while they face time and resource restraints."
The EV 1 uses ultracapacitors as its energy source. The ultracapacitors store electricity electrostatically, like static electricity. They store quickly and discharge quickly, which presented an initial problem for the students, who designed the car to run on 400 volts: By the end of a quarter-mile run, the capacitors would be down to 275 volts.
The solution was a double-capacitor pack that allows the vehicle to reach optimum speeds and maintain them throughout the distance. At the end of a run, the EV 1 is towed back to the team's pickup truck, where it is recharged from a pack of batteries. The charging takes 15 to 20 minutes.
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