Northeast Students Build an Electric Car - In Different Decades

by jamesc  6/6/2014 2:52:12 PM --  NORFOLK – Students at Northeast Community College have completed a project together. While that may sound like a common everyday occurrence on campus, this project was different in that it was completed by students – seven years apart.


In 2007, students in the College’s electrical construction and control program began constructing a small electric car that would qualify as an entry into Nebraska Public Power District’s (NPPD) and Omaha Public Power District’s (OPPD) Power Drive program. The program gives high school students hands-on experience in building safe, energy-efficient electric vehicles. After building their vehicles, student drivers test their creations against other teams in several categories. The vehicles are tested for braking ability, endurance, maneuverability and overall design/construction. The event, which has been held annually since 1998, attracted 40 teams from Nebraska and Iowa at its 2014 competition in May.

Travis Wheeler, of Wood Lake, was one of the students who noticed the frame of the vehicle sitting on top of a shelf in a lab’s storage area and asked Instructor R. J. Bichlmeier what it was. “It apparently was to be entered into the Power Drive competition years ago. And Mr. Bichlmeier told us if we could get it running, we would each receive an ‘A’ for the class. So my partner (Alek Flesner, of Pierce) and I jumped at the opportunity.” Wheeler said all they had to start with was the vehicle’s frame, a box of parts and a notebook, and they spent the semester putting it together.

Bichlmeier, ERC/Commercial Wiring instructor at Northeast, said they bought the materials for the vehicle seven-years ago after several students said they were interested in building a small electric car that would meet the qualifications of the Power Drive program. But the students simply ran out of time. “We only got so far and then they graduated. The next year’s class wasn’t interested in the project, so it sat on the shelf the past several years until these two students got involved this past semester.”

Bichlmeier said it was good learning experience for his students. “They had to figure out where the other group was headed. The notebook did have some information, so they could figure out where to start and then they just persevered from there,” he said. “They would run into road block after road block, but they found ways to move forward.” 

Electromechanical Technology students Alex Hausmann, of Randolph, and Monty Steele, of O’Neill, had a part in the vehicle too. Instructor Gene Reed said, “We helped out with the machining aspect and acquired some of the components as far as the drive chain and things like that. We started out looking at some gearing ratios and realized it wasn’t the best aspect, so we changed it. Some of the students also helped with machining which allowed them to get the drive gear attached to a hub so it could be attached to the motor and rear wheels.”

Wheeler said he’s pleased the vehicle operates. “It was getting to the point where I didn’t know if it was going to run at all. Those road blocks seem to fight us until the very end, but our goal was to get in to run, and it does.”

Bichlmeier said this isn’t the end of the road for the vehicle now that the students have graduated. “Hopefully next year we’ll find a couple more students who want to take it to the next level. Once we feel we would have a competitive vehicle, we’ll take it to one of these Power Drive programs and enter it into one of its exhibition events.”

Both Bichlmeier and Reed said the students put in a lot of time and effort into the project. “The next group has it easy,” Reed said. One thing the open frame vehicle needs will be a skin, which will be part of the work completed by students in other programs, such as sheet metal by the heating, venting and air conditioning (HVAC) program or fiberglass by the auto body program, during the next academic year.

Although the Power Drive program is open to Nebraska high schools students, it does allow college students to take part in an exhibition class. Bichlmeier said the Northeast vehicle will be an opportunity for the College to promote its programs to the students entered in the competition.

                                                                PHOTO CUTLINE

Northeast Community College student Travis Wheeler, of Wood Lake, looks over an electric car that he and other students worked on this past semester. The project actually began in 2007 when  electrical construction and control students built the frame for the vehicle.




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