Next Generation of Engineers Embraces Vehicle Electrification
University students are pushing the EV envelope by setting records for acceleration and longest range.
Students from ETH Zurich and Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts have built a battery-powered electric vehicle (EV) that has broken the Guinness World Record for acceleration for EVs.
The battery-powered EV accelerates from zero to 100 KM/hr in less than one second. Image used courtesy of ETH Zurich
The electric racing car, which the students named mythen, accelerates from zero to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 0.956 seconds over a distance of just 12.3 meters (40.3 feet). The time beats the previous world record of 1.461 seconds, set in September 2022 by a team from the University of Stuttgart.
Video used courtesy of ETH Zurich
Meanwhile, students at the Technical University of Munich have leveraged their success at the 2022 Shell Eco-Marathon efficiency competition to create a battery-powered vehicle that has traveled 2,573km (1,599 miles) on a single charge, breaking the existing world record of 1,608.54 km.
Student competitions have become major training grounds for students whose goals include working for racing teams or car companies around the world. In 1980, Formula SAE (also called Formula Student in some parts of the world) was created by SAE International as a way to provide competition between Universities, building prototype racing cars within a very strict series of rules. Although internal combustion engine (ICE) driven vehicles were the mainstay of the competition, in 2010, Formula Student Electric was initiated, requiring the powertrain to be fully electric using battery storage. As a result, some of the fastest and most sophisticated Formula SAE vehicles are now EVs.
The Shell Eco-Marathon is a competition sponsored by Shell to build vehicles with the highest efficiency possible. A variety of classes are part of the competition, including vehicles that are battery-powered.
By pushing the envelope of EVs in performance and range engineering, students can enhance their visibility and value to car companies that need to turn the corner on electrification. At the moment, there aren’t enough automotive engineers with real-world EV experience, and new hires who have worked on electric Formula SAE or Shell Eco-Marathon cars can bring practical experience and expertise to the table.
EV Speed Challenges
The ETH Zurich students involved in the development of the mythen were faced with the challenge of optimizing all of the vehicle’s components, from the printed circuit boards (PCBs) to the chassis and the battery, to meet a single performance goal. Using lightweight carbon and an aluminum honeycomb allowed the race car to weigh just 140 kilos (309 pounds). The students developed four-wheel hub motors that produce a total of 240 kilowatts, or around 326 horsepower. That doesn’t seem like much until the power-to-weight ratio of around 2,300 horsepower per ton is considered.
The record-setting EV. Image used courtesy of ETH Zurich
One problem the mythen team faced was the light weight of the vehicle, which didn’t produce enough load on the tires to prevent them from spinning when getting underway. The solution was to create a vacuum system that sucks the vehicle to the ground, allowing it to launch without wheelspin. The vacuum system is said to double the resulting contact force.
Achieving Long Range
Achieving maximum efficiency for an EV is another type of engineering challenge, one that has been met by students from the TUfast Eco Team. The vehicle weighs just 170 kilograms (375 pounds), thanks to a carbon fiber monocoque, while its ultra-low drag coefficient of 0.159 provides little wind resistance. A permanent-magnet synchronous motor (PMSM) with an output of 400 watts provided the drive, while the 15.5 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery provided the energy to propel the vehicle.
Students engineer the world’s longest-range electric car. Image used courtesy of the Technical University of Munich
Achieving the 2573-kilometer record took place inside an empty hanger at the Munich airport—avoiding adverse weather conditions—and the car took six days to complete the distance. The energy consumed was a remarkable 0.6 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per 100 kilometers (or around 103 miles per kWh). An extremely efficient production EV might achieve 4.6 miles per kWh in ordinary driving.
The Electrification Revolution
While neither of these student-built vehicles is practical for daily commuting, meeting the challenges that their creation has required will result in better engineers with unique EV experience. As these engineers move into the automotive industry, they will become the technology leaders who will guide the electrification revolution.