Iowa City Press-Citizen: West High Project Lead the Way Class Creates Model Cars

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Students Connect Hydrogen Fuel Cells, Model Cars

by Rob Daniel

Wadood Daoud sat at the table in the West High engineering classroom Wednesday, working on wiring an engine that eventually will connect to a hydrogen fuel cell for a model car.

"We want to get the Innovation Award," the West High freshman said of his group, referring to the award given to the most creative solution in a project. "We don't want (our car) to stop in the middle, so we want to have a backup."

Daoud is part of the engineering classes at West High that spent last week working on alternative energy cars. Part of the Project Lead the Way curriculum, the project had 63 students building cars that ran on solar power, hydrogen fuel cells or both, teacher Dominic Audia said.

Audia said the idea was to focus on "cutting edge technology."

"They're trying to power a car with 100 percent green energy," he said. "They're learning about the chemistry and science of the fuel cells. Now they're trying to make it better."

On Wednesday, the class, divided into teams of two to four students each, spent the class time figuring out how to get the most power out of the alternative fueling. Many of the students used both the solar power and hydrogen fuel, planning to keep one or the other as a backup.

They included sophomore Austin Brenner, 15, and junior Nick Grimsman, 17. They spent much of the class time on the loading dock outside of the classroom, aiming a solar panel at the sun to charge the hydrogen fuel cells. Brenner said both were needed to really get the job done.

"You have to have the fuel cells to back it up," he said.

While Daoud worked on wiring the engine, other members of his team worked on figuring out how to keep the car's weight down while having the hydrogen fuel cell, which adds more size and weight to the vehicle.

Senior Gabriel Hanson said one way could be to adjust the angle of the body so the weight is distributed more evenly.

"It'll be more compact," he said.

Audia said the key to the project was making the vehicle as light as possible while also wiring the engine to the fuel cells to get the most current for more power. He said he was confident the students would figure it out.

"I never see a project that's the same," he said. "They surprise me with their ingenuity."