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HESS Industries Ltd. at the Braintree Business Development Center in Mansfield - Photo Bob Perkoski
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Engineering students start work on new generation of Buckeye Bullet

A team of Ohio State University engineering students has begun work on a new generation of electric car designed to push land speeds to at least 400 mph.

The team recently began aerodynamic simulations for the Buckeye Bullet 3, the successor to previous Buckeye Bullets that set electric vehicle land speed records. The team expects to complete the design process by the end of this summer, spend next academic year building and testing the vehicle and finally running it full-out at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats in fall of 2012.

The latest Buckeye Bullet represents a complete makeover from the Buckeye Bullet 2.5 -- which last year set an international electric vehicle record at 307 mph, says Carey Bork, a graduate student in mechanical engineering and the project's chief engineer.

"The Buckeye Bullet 2.5 that we actually set the record with last year was really a test vehicle," Bork says. "The intent has always been to build a brand new land speed record car from the gorund up. And really the difference between them is that the Buckeye Bullet 1 used nickel-metal hydride batteries, and the BB2.5 -- and also the new one that we're going to be building -- will use lithium ion."

Giorgio Rizzoni, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of OSU's Center for Automotive Research, says another big difference is that the Buckeye Bullet 3 will run with the assistance of "really high performance, high tech electric motors that are being custom designed and fabricated by Venturi (North America, a project partner). And in addition to that it's a brand new chassis."

The challenges of increasing speeds from the 300 mph to 400 mph range are too numerous to list, Bork says. But one challenge is that testing using wind tunnels or trial runs on Ohio tracks fall short.

"We never get to run these cars full speed until we get them out to the salt flats," Bork says. Additionally, when testing in wind tunnels "you have to have what's called a rolling road in which the surface that the vehicle is sitting on is rolling. That has a very important effect on aerodynamics. But there's no rolling road wind tunnel that can reach those speeds."

That's why the team is using the Ohio Supercomputer Center to run computational fluid dynamics to design and optimize the car, he says.

While the goal of the project is to set new land speed records for an electric car (while giving engineering students the kind of experience they would get nowhere else) it's possible that the Buckeye Bullet 3 -- if all goes as planned -- could break all land speed records for a wheel-driven vehicle.

"We don't want to go out there and guarantee that," Bork says. "It's a huge jump to go from 300 mph to challenging the all-out wheel-driven record. But, basically, that's not far away, and that's something we're keeping our eyes on."

Sources: Carey Bork and Giorgio Rizzoni, Ohio State University
Author: Gene Monteith
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