Project EV: An Adventure in STEM Innovation
Edwin Fernandes posted on October 21, 2014 |
Student team hacks an electric vehicle from household parts

Edwin Fernandes, Technology Education/Electronics Teacher, Tiverton High School, Tiverton, RI

My students and I have been following the development of the electric car with great concern and frustration. We felt the car companies were “holding back” – either not making them affordable or simply not allowing the performances to be what was possible. So my students and I decided to build a working prototype of an electric vehicle from off- the- shelf parts that could be recycled. We named the adventure “Project EV” and the prototype itself would be called “Endurance”. We began January, 2013.


Because we had no budget (as you would expect for a small high school), we knew we had to be frugal and inventive. Our (internet) research quickly led us to select a customizable PVC pipe chassis design from a nice fellow in Florida. We decided to use bike wheels and a neat DC brushless motor that was originally designed for E-bikes. A local school supporter gave us $ 595.00 for the electronics and a plumber donated much of the PVC pipe. Initially, a few people doubted us, insisting we were just building a “go-cart”. ”It’s an Electric Vehicle”, I proclaimed….people shook their heads and walked away.


Two seniors, Zach and Ryan, worked together for 4 months. I chose 2 “skinny” kids to drive – Hannah and Alec. Team EV learned to measure, cut and glue PVC pipe. Soon, Endurance was assembled, painted, and wheels and steering were added. They also learned about automotive front ends from Endurance's king pin and tie-rod adjustments. Terminology, such as caster, camber and toe-in rolled off their tongues.

We reviewed miles per gallon equivalent math, distance on a charge, and battery charging rates. We then installed the DC motor and fabricated a wiring harness to connect the controls, regenerative braking, the three sealed lead-acid, 12-volt, 18 ah batteries (wired in series), and charge port (which made Endurance a Plug-In Electric Vehicle or PIEV). They added a multimeter, which acted as a “digital gas gauge” and even wired a switch for reverse!

By late April, Endurance (painted red) was ready for its maiden voyage. Surprised and a bit reluctant, my Principal agreed to let us test Endurance on the schools' running track. So, that very Sunday, my engineers and drivers, with Endurances' fully charged batteries, made history. They drove Endurance flat out at her top speed of 18 mph for 24 miles before the batteries ran down, even though we calculated it would only run for 18 miles! Endurance performed magnificently, and achieved 1148 MPGe, exceeding our expectations !!

It was a wonderful day for the “little guy” and the long-ignored potential of our Tech Ed department. We proved an old teacher with bad eyesight and a bunch of kids could make an electric vehicle with parts that were never meant to work together. Soon, 2 local newspapers ran our story and then 2 local TV channels. The kids were on cloud 9 and the naysayers quit laughing. Even our School Committee asked us to bring Endurance to their next meeting for a presentation, which had a standing-room-only audience!


As I said to a local reporter….”Said Victor Hugo…..There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come”…..Project EV was a great idea…and it's time”.

The 2014 school year brought many challenges for Project EV. But, as luck would have it, a local Mercedes dealer graciously offered full funding - $ 1584.00! Work began on “Apotheosis” in October, 2013.

Using our experience from Endurance, we decided to build a new chassis to accommodate several key changes: reduced overall weight, better batteries (LifePo4), a solar cell and eliminating one rear wheel. The chassis, extended 18”, needed extra reinforcement. But our reduced battery weight and special lightweight aluminum rims made up the difference. Even with our special, hand-built solar cell (mounted on Apotheosis' roof), our new EV weighed in at exactly the same as before. We also used special step-up DC-DC transformers to boost solar cell output. Apotheosis (painted blue) looked magnificent and was finally ready for Performance Testing June 8, 2014.


Testing day provided us with bright sun and no wind. Using an iPhone and a special app to measure speed and distance, Apotheosis performed superbly, traveling just over 50 miles and achieving 1552 MPGe ! A local reporter asked me “Why do you do this – why do you build electric vehicles?” My answer was simply this as I quoted John F. Kennedy: “We do this and many other things - not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.

Recommended For You