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WWU Students Build Environmentally Friendly Sports Car

28 April 2003

Processed canola oil and battery power make take this car to over 100mph, with a biodiesel and electric hybrid powertrain.

The Viking 23 will be trucked to the East Coast US next month for the annual Tour de Sol, a five-day race from Trenton, N.J. to Washington, D.C. All of the cars are fueled by alternative energies such as solar, electric, fuel cells and biodiesel.

The car is 23rd in a series of experimental cars created by students at Western Washington University's Vehicle Research Institute, headed by Professor Mike Seal.

Several students will take turns driving in the race, which is more about pumping fewer pollutants from the car's exhaust pipe than crossing the finish line first.

By using 100 percent biodiesel in a vehicle, carbon monoxide and other pollutants that can cause smog are reduced and there is no additional carbon dioxide released into the environment, which can add to the effects of global climate change, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Style was also a factor in Viking 23's overall design, with its sleek lines and lightweight materials. ""We're trying to prove we can make really cool cars that are also energy efficient,"" said Bryan Harris, 23, an industrial technology major and Western senior set to graduate in June. The car, with another body and different equipment, was entered last year but suffered a broken axle and didn't finish the race.

Several students designed the existing frame of the car on a computer. The frame was then fashioned from sheets of carbon fiber.

This car gets 50 to 55 miles per gallon with the fuel, made from oil that's processed into fuel at World Energy of Tacoma, which has donated the biodiesel for Viking 23's race.

For city driving, the students said the best option is to use electric power then flip a switch to the biodiesel engine for highways and high speeds. While the car can top the century mark on the speedometer, the students are more likely to race at speeds of 40 to 50 mph to get better gas mileage, Harris said.

The car is also equipped with regenerative braking to keep the batteries juiced. As brakes are pressed, the electric motor is switched to a generator, which replenishes the batteries. The action also stops the car. Harris, Jewell and other students are still working on the fit of seals on the car's doors and hoods.






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