Penn Electric Racing: The Quest for Fossil-Fuel-Free Performance

In the quest for lowered energy usage in automobiles, every effort helps. Hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius may now be mainstream, but what about a vehicle that would eliminate the need for petroleum-based fuels altogether?

Penn Electric Racing (formerly known as Solar Racing) is a student-run team with the mission of designing, building, and racing alternative-energy vehicles. Not satisfied with modifying an existing gas-powered car, the group (pictured left) has spent over four years creating a high-performance electric race car from the pavement up. Team members are responsible for all aspects of vehicle design and construction, as well as management, fundraising, and public relations. The team is also involved in educational outreach to the local community to promote electric vehicles.  The group is advised by Robert Jeffcoat, adjunct professor in the department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics.

The team's current vehicle, known as "Renegade," (pictured below, right) is something of a celebrity on campus, with appearances in the past year at New Student Orientation and Alumni Day. Renegade's public appearances are an effective means to draw attention to both the team and the need for greener vehicles as a whole. This semester the team size grew from seven members to a team with over 40 active members. Membership includes students from every major within Penn Engineering, as well as students from Wharton and the College.

Until 2006, the team's focus was on solar cars, with a long and successful tradition of participation in national meets and competitions.  At that time, they decided to take a different direction and build a battery-electric vehicle, a more promising and practical replacement for gas-powered cars. "There are still misconceptions that electric cars are underpowered and do not have sufficient range to meet daily driving needs," notes William Price, BSE/MSE '12, Penn Electric Racing's team captain. "We aim to help break these stereotypes by constructing a powerful electric drag racer, which will compete in events sponsored by the National Electric Drag Racing Association."

Electric vehicles produce absolutely no local emissions, and when powered by a clean energy source such as solar, wind, geothermal, or nuclear power, enable an essentially carbon-free system. Hybrids are helpful in reducing emissions, but electric cars have the potential to eliminate them altogether.

Recent challenges in the construction of Renegade included a complete redesign and fabrication of a new suspension system. All major electrical and mechanical systems on Renegade are complete, and the team's newest sponsor, Cytec Industries, Ltd., donated the carbon fiber to use in the construction of the body. The team is approximately halfway through the new body that will encase Renegade, (pictured left) and during the semester they have been fabricating the large body pieces by machining a mold out of foam, putting on a coat of epoxy filler to get a smooth surface, and then laying up the carbon fiber composite.

"We are very close to finishing our current project, and have a new and exciting follow-on concept that is currently in the research and design phase," reports Price. "We are hoping to finish Renegade this semester and begin fabrication of our next car during the spring. Keep a lookout next semester for our launch event, which will happen during eWeek in February."

Interested? Learn more!

Penn Electric Racing Website
Cytec Website
Alumni Day video of Renegade
National Electric Drag Racing Association

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