Fall 2007 Issue


SubZero Alternative-Energy-Powered
Vehicles and Amateur Radio

SubZero IV, a hydrogen-cell-powered car, is the fourth in a series of experimental cars built by students of UNDs SEA. A requirement of membership in SEA is that one must possess a Techinician class license to drive the car. Here is the story.

By Tim Langemo, KCWSZ, and Brandon Burnette, KCYXE
University of North Dakota Society for Energy Alternatives

Rising gas prices have been in the headlines for the past several years, and better gas mileage seems to be on almost everyones mind. What can be done to reduce our dependence on foreign oil? While many theories on this subject exist, we have come across one in particular with which we agreehydrogen.

The Society for Energy Alternatives (SEA) is a student organization at the University of North Dakota that includes students from every college on campus. Founded in 1996, our group has sought to utilize various alternative fuel sources, such as solar power and now hydrogen, in transportation applications. After building three solar cars (SubZero, SubZero 2, and SubZero 3) between 1996 and 2001, SEA began looking for a new, more viable fuel source for use in a transportation setting.

The sun does not always shine thanks to the rotation of the Earth, making solar-powered vehicles impractical. Clouds and rain can also affect the performance of solar cells. Add in the infant-like fragility, and it becomes fairly clear that a different direction is needed. Compressed hydrogen gas offers a solution to this problem. Hydrogen is very clean and contains a higher density of energy than gasoline or even ethanol at a given volume. When properly stored, it is no more dangerous than the gasoline or diesel fuel that powers almost every vehicle on the road today.

Our group settled on the use of a hydrogen proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell for our fourth alternatively fueled vehicle, SubZero IV H2. The car, designed between 2002 and 2004 and built during the 2005 academic year, was the first fuel-cell powered vehicle to be built from the ground up by university students in the United States.

Powered by a 10-kilowatt Hydrogenics fuel cell, the drive train includes a bank of ultracapacitors and a 7-hp DC brushless motor. The single-wheel drive manages to propel SubZero IV H2 to a blistering top speed of 45 mph. The ultracapacitors provide an electrical buffer for the fuel cell when the electric motor is engaged, as well as a source of emergency power so that the car may be pulled safely off the road should it become necessary to shut down the fuel cell while operating the car.

During July 2005, the team participated in the North American Solar Challenge. The race covered 2,500 miles of public highways between Austin, Texas and Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Seventeen solar-powered vehicles participated in two classes, along with one hydrogen fuel-cell car operating in a demonstration class. While our car did not finish the competition in first place overall, we managed to win our class in our first attempt with the fuel-cell car. Some will point out that we also finished last in our class. Overall, the vehicle placed 14th, beating four solar cars over the 2,500-mile competition.

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