Winning the heated race against global warming

The UVM Alternative Energy Racing Organization (AERO) will be in New Hampshire on May 5, and it won’t be for the duty-free alcohol. This group of engineering students has been working for the past year to perfect an energy-efficient racecar for entry in the Formula-Hybrid International Competition in Louden, NH, according to www.formula-hybrid.org.”Since Nov. 17th, 2006, our goal has been to build a kick-ass race-car that combines speed and efficiency, and not only excites, but inspires,” said sophomore Brian Leach, Vice-Chairperson and mechanical head of the organization.The idea for AERO originated when UVM professor and primary advisor, Jeff Frolik, began receiving mailings from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) pertaining to the race, which the IEEE sponsors. According to Frolik, enthusiasm for the project quickly spread among the students.”It was pretty much a joint effort,” stated Frolik, of the formation of the club. In conjunction with the rules listed on the race’s Web site, the car must be a gas-electric hybrid. Hybrid cars unite gasoline engines with electric motors, increasing fuel efficiency, according to www.fueleconomy.gov. AERO intends to capitalize on the inherent strengths of hybrid vehicles. Last year, a group went to watch the International Formula-Hybrid race, and noticed that, “none of [the entries] took advantage of what hybrids are good at, which is recovering energy from braking,” said Frolik.With that in mind, their design philosophy centers on regenerative braking, a method of stopping that converts the slowing of the wheels into battery power. From their headquarters in Votey, they are in the process of converting their ideas into reality-a car roughly the size of a golf-cart, Leach said.The end product will cost about $30,000, claimed Frolik. Due to complications with their charter, AERO was unable to obtain many SGA funds last year, Frolik said.”It made the students step up and say, ‘We need to do this,’ to organize and to contact businesses…things they wouldn’t have done if someone had handed them a blank check,” he said. Still, AERO has not reached their fundraising goals. “We’re about $5,000 to $7,000 short of what we need this year,” said Frolik. For next year, however, SGA has agreed to grant AERO $13,000, said Frolik, a huge increase that will ease their burden in 2009. Environmental idealism is the underlying force behind AERO.”It is my hope, and the shared hope of my teammates, that our actions will lead by example and promote a forward way of thinking when it comes to energy consumption,” said Leach. “If I told you that I have spent every day for the last year and three months working toward this cause, would it make you feel that much more okay with driving a small car?” Co-Advisor, Professor Paul Hines, believes that the racing format is an effective one to produce change. “Projects like the International Formula-Hybrid competition harness human competitive energy for innovation,” he said.Despite their lofty ethics, AERO still has one main goal: “We’re there to win,” said Frolik. “There’s lots of work between now and then, but this car will be ready.”