A World In Motion: Students engineer model fuel cell cars for SAE challenge
Students in Mr. Klein’s 7th grade and high school Introduction to Engineering class recently tested the model fuel cell cars they built in conjunction with SAE International’s “A World In Motion” challenge. SAE International is an aerospace company and professional association for engineering professionals that also provides educational opportunities for K-12 students.
The challenge consisted of designing, building, and testing a model car using a fuel cell as the primary power source. It required students to explore physical science concepts such as force, friction and energy transformations as well as environmental concepts such as green design. It also incorporated mathematics concepts as student teams collected, analyzed and displayed data.
“Fuel cells,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy, “work like batteries, but they do not run down or need recharging. They produce electricity and heat as long as fuel is supplied. Fuel cells can provide heat and electricity for buildings and electrical power for vehicles and electronic devices.”
Though there are multiple types of fuel cells, students tested polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells for this project. Mr. Klein explained that when you put electricity into a PEM fuel cell, it generates oxygen and hydrogen gasses, which are then collected and reintroduced into the cell, generating electricity. That electricity then drives an electric motor, which students were able to build using what they learned about gears in class.
Mr. Klein said students tested their cars’ efficiency by feeding different amounts of hydrogen and oxygen into the fuel cells in order to make their vehicles run straight along a 10-meter track.
James Neishabouri, 10th, said “The goal is to try and get the fuel cell car to go as far as possible. We’re trying to aim for distance and we’re trying to optimize and find the perfect levels of oxygen and hydrogen through their respective syringe sizes.”
Jack Freund, 9th, enjoyed the project and said, “My favorite part about this has probably been learning about the electrolysis behind it [the fuel cell car] and how the atoms are bonding and generating energy. It’s very cool seeing them actually generate electricity and run the car.”
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