BYU electric car crosses 200 mph mark

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BYU engineering students created an electric car that crushed its prior land speed record by 49.1 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats this September.

More than 130 BYU students created the successful E1 Streamliner, Electric Blue. Ten years of work paid off when the car achieved a high speed of 204.9 mph. The car set the initial record in its weight class at 155.8 mph in 2011.

Electric Blue was also successful due to the devotion of 51-year-old BYU student and team captain Kelly Hales, from Tucson, Arizona.

“Since I will graduate in April and the car will be retired, I feel very blessed with our outcome,” Hales said. “I actually feel very blessed to be involved with the project as long as I have.  There are so many others who have worked on this team that deserve recognition for this achievement.”

Streamliners, like Electric Blue, are long, slender and have enclosed wheels — all of which reduce air resistance. The car is also fast because it is lightweight, due to a carbon fiber frame. This allows Electric Blue to qualify for the E1 category, which is an electric car under 1,100 pounds.

This dream body did not come easily. Students worked for two years to ensure the custom-built frame was efficient and aerodynamic by testing the body in computer programs that mock wind tunnels.

“I believe the body took two years to develop using what is called computational fluid dynamics or CFD. This is basically a computerized wind tunnel, to analyze the effects of airflow over the body surfaces,” Hales said.

The team then produced a full-size model of the car in high-density foam, which was used as a mold to lay up the carbon fiber body.

With increased aerodynamics and a re-engineered steering system, the car was able to increase in speed over the past four years.

BYU's Electric Vehicle Racing Team led by Professor Perry Carter during their World Record run at the World of Speed on the Bonneville Salt Flats. The streamliner set a world record of 155 mph in the E1 class. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
BYU’s Electric Blue. The streamliner broke its own world record when it reached 204.9 mph this year. Its previous speed was 155 mph. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

Jim Burkdoll, president of the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association, was chosen.

On Electric Blue’s first trip to the Salt Flats, the car began to turn sideways on its record run while traveling 180 mph. The car rolled on its top, but Burkdoll did not receive any major injuries. The car also did not sustain any major damage.

Hales said one of the best parts of the entire process was seeing the change in the driver over the years.

“He (Burkdoll) was a less active member the first summer at the Salt Flats. Later he quit smoking, started back to church and went to the temple with his wife. I don’t know what the motivation was for him … but I hope that his involvement with BYU and the students on the team made some sort of positive impact,” Hales said.

Electric Blue is now retired after 10 years of high speed. The team was going to retire the streamliner last year, when fthen-faculty adviser Perry Carter left for an LDS mission. Instead, the team petitioned for another year so it could set a higher record that would last long after Electric Blue left the scene.

“I only wanted to have an opportunity to see if the work done over the summer of 2013 would bear fruit. I would have been satisfied if the car successfully completed a couple runs faster than the 155 record of 2011. I really hoped to see it go over 200 MPH, so actually seeing that was very gratifying,” Hales said.

Electric Blue will likely hold the record for years to come and may be showcased somewhere on BYU’s campus.

Hales said technology has advanced considerably in 10 years. He thinks it will take improvements in battery technology to enable more efficient storage and charging.

“Electric cars have the potential to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially if they are charged from renewable sources,” Hales said.

View Electric Blue’s 2011 record setting run here.

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