Solar power propels students to the finish line

Each day, they slowly rumble down College sidewalks – maintenance vehicles burning fossil fuels. Many College students never give these trucks and vans a second thought.

But Jim Quigg, senior engineering management major, saw these maintenance vehicles as a point of departure for his senior engineering project. The future, according to Quigg and many other like-minded engineers, is in alternative energy sources.

Quigg, and his team of College seniors, including Sean Anderson, mechanical engineering major, Ryan Van Antwerp, computer engineering major, Russell Jones, mechanical engineering major, Brad Shensky, electrical engineering major, and Chris Durando, mechanical engineering major, are exploring the possibilities of solar power.

To fulfill their senior project requirement, the team has chosen to carry out a longstanding College engineering tradition of competing in Solar Splash, the annual international World Championship of Solar/Electric boating, held in Fayetteville, Ark., in May.

According to Jones, the team’s boat is in no way a consumer-ready product, but rather a showcase of technology. The team was quick to cite Environmental Protection Agency estimates that annually, watercrafts powered by two-stroke engines spill 15 times more fuel and oil into waterways than the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.

“Right now, it’s not practical for consumer use, what we’re designing,” Shensky said. “But it’s the whole idea of using the technology, putting it together and making it work.”

The team’s 18-foot boat is kept tucked away deep in the back of Armstrong Hall. Solar panels will power the boat through the endurance phase of the competition – propelling it at a steady 15 mph for more than two hours. Batteries will generate a massive amount of electricity for the sprint competition, pushing the boat upward of 40 mph.

In preparation for the competition, the team continues to log countless hours in the workshop, honing the fine-tuned design of their boat, and at the drawing board, meticulously calculating dimensions and specifications.

“It’s such a concurrent system that everyone has to kind of work together,” Quigg, the team’s project manager and steering system specialist, said.

He added that each team member is responsible for a specific design element. Without proper communication and collaboration, the elements will not interface.

“Everything is optimized to work together,” he said

Jones has worked to develop the boat’s drivetrain for the sprint competition, Anderson develops the hull design and Van Antwerp crunches the test data, refining the boat’s operating system. Shensky has developed the electrical and solar system design, and Durando the endurance drivetrain.

“The current we’re dealing with could really kill you pretty easily,” Shensky said.

Three car batteries rapidly discharge to power the boat during the sprint competition, unleashing a potentially lethal amount of voltage.

Currently, each member of the team logs numerous hours every week, working on various elements of the project, which takes place over two semesters and is evaluated by the engineering department when completed. Though these requirements certainly create stress, the team said the most difficult element of the project has been raising the estimated $30,385 required to complete it.

“Nobody will just give you money,” Jones said.

Though they’ve been able to raise some funds, the team has come to rely on donations of parts and materials, which have proven equally beneficial.

Quigg said he is confident the team’s hard work and green mission will eventually prove successful.

“It’s just another use for solar that most people wouldn’t even recognize,” he said.

For more information about the Solar Boat project, visit tcnj.edu/~solrboat.

Joseph Hannan can be reached at hannan2@tcnj.edu.