Former GVC Winners Bring Hybrid to Life
The Merrimack High School Biodiesel Crew, which tied for second place in last year’s Global Venture Challenge (GVC), has yet again claimed the spotlight. This time its latest project, a three-wheeled hybrid car called the BugE garnered quite a bit of attention at a recent MIT event. The tiny one-person car, modified from a kit the team purchased from Oregon-based Blue Sky Design, has a cockpit rather than a standard front seat and runs on four, 12-volt, deep-cycle batteries. Among the vehicle’s other features are motorcycle-style parts, one set of handlebars, a 5-foot-pound motor running the back wheel, and a keyed ignition.
"I’ve driven it 30 miles per hour," said Merrimack High senior James Miller and star of the crew’s YouTube test-drive video. "Supposedly it goes 55 miles per hour, but we haven’t really tried because we don’t want to go that fast in the parking lot." Merrimack junior Nicholas Deraney, who recently received his driver’s license, added, "It’s really different. It’s a lot scarier, actually, because you’re alone in the car, and it’s a lot smaller and lower to the ground. Even though you’re not really going that fast, it feels like you’re going a lot faster than you are, but it was a lot of fun to drive once you got used to it."
According to crew coordinator and high school science teacher Tray Sleeper, about a dozen students and a few faculty members have been working since last November to build the BugE. “We put it together over the school year, and then we put a gasoline generator on the back of it,” he said. “We tested it, and it went 48 miles on about eight-tenths of a gallon of gas, but that’s also with a battery charge.
"We exhibited it at MIT for a program we’ve been a part of for about three years called the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams," said Sleeper, who added that the reactions were very positive. He said he hopes to get the hybrid car, which weighs about 500 to 600 pounds with the driver inside, licensed with the state as either a motorcycle or an experimental vehicle.
If it hadn’t been for the team’s GVC award in 2008, the new vehicle might never have been built. The project cost the team $10,000, $8,000 of which came from the prize money it won for the BioBuddi-250, a mini biodiesel processor that earned it a second-place spot in the competition. Merrimack was the only high school team to compete against about two dozen colleges and universities in 2008.
Not only did the BioBuddi-250 wow the GVC judges, but it also impressed the management of Wisconsin-based Turner Industries, Inc., who read about Merrimack’s success at the challenge. "We ended up selling the rights to our mini processor to Turner Industries," said Sleeper. "They have currently come out with a prototype, and they hope to market it in the fall."
The deal calls for the team to earn 10 percent of the sales revenues for each of the first 200 processors sold, Sleeper said, followed by 5 percent per unit after that. Given that the units could sell for between $300 and $500 apiece, the team may soon be well on its way to funding its next project. And what might that project be? Sleeper said he’s so encouraged by the team members’ dedication that they may build a hybrid vehicle