Student project rolls along through winter break

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SAC Motorsport makes quick progress despite electrical issues, winter break and the start of a new semester.

By James Dusek

Dreams are beginning to become reality for SAC Motorsport, a group on this campus building a hydrogen-powered racecar.

If completed on schedule, the car will compete in the Shell Eco-marathon in Detroit in April.

Over the break, the electrical team noticed a problem with the car’s electronics — the motor would suddenly shut off.

“We found that the motor controller is not compatible with our fuel cell,” Irene Salazar, engineering sophomore and electrical lead, said. “The voltage fluctuates, which is not something that the motor controller is used to.”

The power output from the hydrogen fuel cell is not constant like a battery is, Dominic Ochoa, engineering sophomore and project manager, said. It can vary slightly because of factors such as pressure and temperature.

The motor controller, which uses the electricity from the fuel cell to power the car’s motor, was not made to handle the varying output of the hydrogen fuel cell.

After determining the source of the problem, the group purchased a new motor controller that can be programmed to adjust to the fuel cell’s fluctuations.

With the electrical problem solved, the project is moving according to schedule, Ochoa said.

“Our goal was to have the frame finished by the end of this week, and we finished it the end of last week,” he said. “We’re right on schedule.”

They presented the almost-completed steel frame of the car to the project’s advisers Jan. 20, along with a timeline for the remaining milestones for the car’s development.

The next area of focus for the car is the wheels, which they will repurpose from a recumbent bicycle.

Easy Street Recumbents in Austin donated a bike to the project. Local store Ride Away Bicycles donated other parts for the car.

The car’s seat, axles, brakes and other parts will be repurposed bicycle parts, which the team will cut apart, weld and reposition to fit their needs.

“It solved a lot of little problems,” Eben Pfeil, engineering graduate and mechanical lead, said.

The donated parts are keeping costs down, but the project’s funding still has some way to go. The team has about $2,600, and Ochoa estimated the remaining cost of the project to be about $7,500.

The only remaining large purchase for the car itself is the shell — the body of the car that will wrap around the interior frame.

In the Jan. 20 presentation, Pfeil said the shell might cost between $2,000 and $6,000. He presented a digital rendering of their ideal shell — a sleek, shiny red pod, less than a meter tall and just barely longer than the car’s 5-foot-5 driver.

Though the final design of the shell may change from the concept art, Ochoa estimated the shell will be about $3,000.

The majority of the funds required for the project are to send eight students and the car to Detroit, which Ochoa said will cost about $4,500.

The team has begun approaching local businesses for sponsorship. To start, they approached Home Depot and the Cortez family, who own Mi Tierra Café y Panadería and La Margarita Mexican Restaurant & Oyster Bar.

They are raising funds from the public through their crowdfunding campaign at, which has raised more than $6,000 so far.

For their work over the break, eight students received stipends from Re-Energize, a partnership between this college and Texas State University that promotes research projects on renewable energy. The stipends will allow them to cover tuition this semester, Ochoa said.


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