Thursday, December 13, 2012

[194] MTSU students tackle alternative fuels go-kart challenge

For release:  Dec. 7, 2012

News and Media Relations contact: Randy Weiler, 615-898-5616 or
MTSU Alternative Fuels class contact: Dr. Cliff Ricketts, 615-308-7605 (cell) or 

Five teams using different energy sources in research project

MURFREESBORO — Take 22 multi-talented MTSU students with a zest for engineering or environmental science and technology, tackling challenges and a penchant for speed, noise, getting their hands dirty and experiencing the highs and lows of a research project.

Factor in five different alternative fuels for five teams. Allow each team a $400 budget, with the funds provided by a Tractor Supply Company grant.

Tell them to make a go-kart run on the alternative fuel the team has chosen.

Then inform them it counts as one-fourth of their grade, and there’s the challenge of a competition from 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, at a campus site to be determined.

What you have is longtime MTSU professor and alternative fuels expert Dr. Cliff Ricketts sending them on a fall semester-long quest for success and maybe even outdo the other guy or gal.

The students are utilizing hydrogen, ethanol, propane, solar electric and hydrogen peroxide as the alternative fuels making their go-karts go.

“It’ll be a blast to drive and it’s either all or nothing,” said Richard Hanson, a junior from Murfreesboro, talking about his team’s light blue go-kart being powered by hydrogen. Hanson, a New Hampshire native, military veteran and nontraditional student, knows motors and carburetors.

“Some (students) are more mechanically inclined and depends on what the task is,” said Chris Coddington, a senior agribusiness student scheduled to graduate in fall 2013. His four-member team is using ethanol for an MTSU blue-colored go-kart.

“We’ve had our ups and downs,” Coddington added. “No matter how prepared you are you’re always missing parts or pieces to finish the project.”

Ricketts gives this type of education a number of labels: hands-on, learning by doing, experiential learning and, for the academia minded, inquiry-based learning.

“EXL is what we’re doing here,” he said of experiential learning. “This course is the epitome of EXL.”

Inside the shop area called the Vocational Agriculture Center on Lightning Way, Ricketts’ brown eyes sparkle as he glances in the direction of the propane-fueled go-kart.

“I’m glad they did that, because I’ve never had a propane vehicle before (in research as an alternative fuel),” he said of the team led by Jared Berke, a senior agribusiness major and engineering technology minor from Fayetteville, Tenn.

Berke, a nontraditional student, recently had to replace a wheel bearing on his team’s go-kart. He calls the total experience “fun and enjoyable.”

“To have something we do rather than read it in a book,” he said. “A little hands-on experience goes a lot further than reading something about it.”

“College students today have good head knowledge,” said Ricketts, who admits that this is only the second time he has taught an alternative fuels class. “They don’t have manual dexterity skills to do stuff.”

Ricketts said cognitive (book smart), effective (personality smart) and psychomotor learning (manual dexterity) are types of knowledge students can exhibit.

“Manual dexterity is the ability to build something and working with your hands,” he said. “Hands-on is the experience that’ll give them confidence for jobs.”

Brennen Kirby, a junior who is not a class member, donated an old golf cart that had been stored in a barn. The solar electric team has turned it into a go-kart.

Senior Catherine McKee of Huntsville, Ala., one of two young women in the class, said all four team members have shared responsibilities.

“We took apart everything on the golf cart,” McKee said. “We have new batteries to connect to the motor and the solar panels will charge the batteries.”

The team added new tires on the go-kart and placed the batteries in a series (side-by-side), allowing the three 12-volt deep-cycle batteries to run the 36-volt go-kart, said Aras Alexander, a junior environmental science technology major from Houston, Texas.

The team must determine how and where to install three solar panels to the vehicle before the Dec. 13 competition.

So far, all five teams’ go-karts have started and been driven around campus. The teams will continue to tweak their vehicles as they anticipate race day.


Photo captions

Chris Morefield.jpg

MTSU senior and December degree candidate Chris Morefield of Franklin, Tenn., works on the steering mechanism for his team’s go-kart. (Photos by MTSU News and Media Relations)

Jared Berke.jpg

Jared Berke, an MTSU senior from Fayetteville, Tenn., replaces the wheel bearings on his team’s go-kart. (Photo by MTSU News and Media Relations)

Ryan Skelley.jpg

Taking his team’s propane-powered go-kart for a spin on Lightning Way is MTSU senior Ryan Skelley of Murfreesboro. (Photo by MTSU News and Media Relations)

Solar paint job.jpg

Jordan Warren, left, Aras Alexander, Sean Burk and Catherine McKee paint their solar electric alternative fuel golf cart. All are environmental science and technology majors and all are seniors except Burk, who is a junior. (Photo by MTSU News and Media Relations)

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