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Ladies and Gentlemen: Start Your Hybrid Engines

"The first thing that people notice," says Doug Fraser, a research engineer at Thayer School of Engineering, "is that it's so quiet."

Fraser has been working with a group of Thayer School students over the past three years to design and build a formula race car with a hybrid engine. Hybrid engines, popular with the environmental crowd for their fuel efficiency, are the new frontier in student competition, he says. And racing enthusiasts always notice that these engines hum in comparison to the roar of their gasoline and diesel counterparts.

Hybrid car
Thayer School students and faculty with the hybrid race car. Standing, from left: Dana Haffner, Jennifer Pollock, Doug Fraser, Courtney Wuistinger, Matt Guernsey, Arne Kepp, Jordan Desroches, Sally Smith, Matt Hodgson, Reed Sibley, and Jacob Goodman. Kneeling, from left: Abigail Davidson, Liz Hunneman, and Will MacPherson. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

The hybrid car project is part of Fraser's effort to establish a Formula Hybrid™ competition among college and university students across the country.

Since 1981, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has sponsored a Formula SAE® competition for students internationally to conceive, design, fabricate, and compete with small formula-style racing cars. A team from the Thayer School has competed every year since 1995 and, according to Fraser, the Dartmouth students regularly place in the top 20, out of a field of about 150 teams primarily representing much larger institutions. This year's competition on May 17 through 20 in Michigan will feature a Thayer team eager to best their eighth place ranking from 2004.

The proposed competition, set to launch in 2007, will focus on developing efficient automotive drive trains for hybrid engines. Fraser has enlisted initial support from the SAE and from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

The Formula Hybrid™ concept, similar to the established Formula SAE® competition, involves students constructing a hybrid electric drive system of their own design, and installing it in a single seat, open wheel vehicle that goes far and fast. Some of the engineering challenges include building high power electronics, such as motors, generators, controllers, and converters; designing and building the car's suspension, brakes, steering mechanism, and chassis; designing computerized control systems; and paying attention to ergonomics and fuel economy.

The Thayer School will host a workshop on May 3 for invited experts from the SAE, the IEEE, and other university formula team advisors. They will discuss a new Formula Hybrid™ competition, consider rules and safety guidelines, and prepare for the 2007 event. On May 4, the group will head to the New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, N.H., for a Formula Hybrid™ vs. traditional Formula SAE® car demonstration.

"I'm excited that we can be the leaders in this effort," says Fraser. "Our students are always enthusiastic about new challenges, and this is one example where I'm hopeful we can involve this whole sector of students and professionals."

By SUSAN KNAPP

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 12/17/08