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Fuel Cell Car Performance Design Project in a Freshman Introduction to Engineering Course

Steve R. Duke, Auburn University, 230 Ross Hall, Auburn University, AL 36849-5127 and Virginia A. Davis, Department of Chemical Engineering, Auburn University, 230 Ross Hall, Auburn, AL 36849-5127.

A fuel cell car performance design competition project was developed and used as semester-long project (50% of course effort and grade) as part of the Auburn University freshman course Introduction to Engineering (ENGR 1110). The objectives of the project and competition were (1) to provide students with the opportunity to participate in a engineering team-oriented hands-on design and construction of a small chemical powered model car, and (2) to design and construct a car that is powered with a chemical energy source that will achieve specified performance criteria. Students worked with a commercially available fuel cell car kit to build the car to kit specification for the first half of the semester, and then to redesign and rebuild the car to make it faster for the second half of the semester. Design constraints were that the sole power source on the car was the kit fuel cell and costs could be no more than $80 beyond the cost of the commercial kit. Other design constraints were consistent with the AIChE Chem E Car Competition rules. Several lectures and lab sessions were developed to help student progress and learning for the project. Laboratory sessions followed lecture sessions that guided the teams in team building activities, decision making, negotiations, creativity, time management, resource management, budgets, technical communications, engineering design review, and product testing. Fuel cell car performance and product quality assessments required evaluation of chemical, electrical, mechanical, and physical principles and calculation or measurement of energy, force, gas volume, moles, mass, electrolysis reactions, and efficiency. Public events associated with the competition included timing trials and end of semester Race Day. Race Day competitions included a speed race on a 12 meter track (hallway) and a judged poster competition. Prizes for each competition were much sought after bonus points. Students were primarily freshmen or new university transfers. About 70% of the students were chemical or pre-chemical engineering majors, and the remainder was other engineering majors or undeclared science majors. The project was used with a class sizes of approximately 100 (Fall 2005) and 20 (Spring 2006). Formal and informal assessment revealed that fuel cell car project was successful for student learning and for student interest. Assessment and best practices will be discussed.