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Cornell's 100-mpg car hits the road for a test-drive

It's been a long road for the Cornell 100 MPG+ Team to this point: Many meetings, all-nighters, design reports and machine shop sessions later, their car is now driving (albeit slowly).

But in some ways, this is only the beginning.

At the end of October, the team learned it had made the short list of teams competing in next year's $10 million Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize, an international competition in which cars that get 100 miles to the gallon or more will go head to head in a series of races. Cornell is the only university team represented in the mainstream vehicles class. The next phase of the competition is the technical qualifiers, which begin in spring 2010.

The car is looking like a car now. It's painted red (they couldn't afford the actual, patented Cornell red, settling instead on a close substitute), with a list of sponsors emblazoned on the sides. The guts of the car talk to each other; the electrical drive train spins the wheels, and the braking system is fully functional.

The 100-mpg goal will be met when the car's generator, the backup power for the lithium-iron batteries, is installed. A British company, Evo Electric, has donated a $20,000 generator that's being programmed for the car, replacing a bulkier, less powerful one the team had been using. The new, "pancake-style" generator is only about 6 inches long as opposed to the old 20-inch generator.

The team has been helped along the way by other sponsors, including the lithium-ion battery pack from Chang's Ascending Co., a Taiwanese company, and a $20,000 cash donation from its parent company, Formosa Inc.

The student leaders hope they can get in several test-drives before the snow hits: "Salt brine does not bode well for $5,000 electrical equipment," noted team co-leader David Zlotnick '11.

The team conducted their first drive test behind Rhodes Hall before taking to the streets all the way up at B Lot for more real-world testing conditions.

Until next May, when the cars will be complete and the races begin, the team will need to submit to competition judges several detailed technical reports on the car, including information on the fuel system, the safety of the battery packs and the crash-worthiness of the vehicle.

Media Contact

Blaine Friedlander