TU Wins First Place in National Chemical Car Contest

Monday, November 15, 2004

The University of Tulsa has won first place in a national contest, including a $2,000 prize, in which teams from 31 universities competed to see which one of their model cars -- powered only by a chemical reaction -- would come closest to the finish line, 75 feet away, while carrying 400 milliliters of water.

TU’s car, the "Hydrogen Hurricane," came within 14 inches of the finish line -- closer than any other. TU now has the opportunity to compete at the World Congress of Chemical Engineering in Glasgow, Scotland, in July 2005.

The Chem-E-Car contest was held Nov. 7 in Austin, Texas. The exact distance that the cars had to travel was not revealed until one hour before the competition, but teams knew it would be between 50 and 100 feet. Similarly, the precise load that the cars had to carry, between 0 and 500 grams, was announced then. At that time, each team could determine the amount of chemicals to use in its chemical reaction. Each team was allowed two tries.

Remote control, commercial batteries and mechanical or electronic timers could not be used. All components had to fit in a box about 7 inches tall, 12 inches wide and 16 inches long.

TU’s car is powered by energy derived from a hydrogen fuel cell and stored in an ultra-capacitor bank. When it is time to run the car, the capacitors are discharged to a motor through a circuit containing a magnesium strip. The strip is dipped in a hydrochloric acid solution, which eats through the strip. When the strip is cut, the circuit is broken and the car stops. Different concentrations of hydrochloric acid are used the make the car stop at different distances.

Team members, all chemical engineering majors, are freshmen Ismail Fahmi and Dorian Marx, sophomores Taylor Coleman, Michael DeShazer and Stephen Heitzman, and seniors Christina Bishop and Elizabeth Clagg. Laura Ford, TU chemical engineering professor, is their advisor. The contest was part of the annual student conference of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.