Students Turn Trash into Gas for Hydrogen-Powered Car

This entry was from Glasgow's University of Strathclyde.

hide captionCompetitors at the first-ever International Chem-E-Car Challenge in Glasgow had to use a chemical reaction to get a miniature car carrying a small bottle of water to travel 54. 1 feet. This entry was from Glasgow's University of Strathclyde.

Courtesy American Institute of Chemical Engineers

A smelly trash dumpster may not seem like the most promising place to find parts for an experimental, hydrogen-powered car. But that's exactly where some imaginative engineering students from Oklahoma recently found a bit of refuse that helped them win a big international prize.

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JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

From the Tour de France to the `Tour de Trash,' a smelly trash Dumpster may not seem like the most promising place to find parts for an experimental hydrogen-powered car, but that's exactly where some imaginative engineering students from Oklahoma recently found a bit of refuse that helped them win a big international prize. NPR's David Malakoff has more.

DAVID MALAKOFF reporting:

The Hydrogen Hurricane won't be rolling into your driveway anytime soon. For one thing, it's only about a foot long.

Ms. CHRISTINA BISHOP (Student, University of Tulsa): Looks kind of like a child made it. It's exactly like a toy car.

MALAKOFF: Christina Bishop is an engineering student at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. She's part of a student team that spent months building and tweaking the Hurricane. It runs on electricity generated by tiny hydrogen fuel cells. It runs so well, in fact, that the Hurricane qualified to compete this week in the first-ever International Chem-E-Car Challenge held in Glasgow, Scotland. Just 12 teams from seven nations were invited. The challenge: to use a chemical reaction to get the cars to carry a small bottle of water a very specific distance; in this case, 16.5 meters, or about 54 feet. The idea is to get students interested in innovative ways to power real cars.

The night before the contest started, however, Christina Bishop says team Hurricane got a depressing surprise when the car arrived at their hotel.

Ms. BISHOP: We all opened up the box and found out that a few things were broken and a few things hadn't been packed at all.

MALAKOFF: The biggest problem was a broken foam panel that insulated a key piece of electronics. Now it was late at night; no stores were open. They didn't even have a toolbox. That's when team member Taylor Coleman got the idea to go Dumpster diving behind the hotel.

Mr. TAYLOR COLEMAN (Student, University of Tulsa): I thought, `There has to be some kind of insulating material in a trash Dumpster, be it linoleum tile or demoore(ph) Styrofoam.'

MALAKOFF: Actually it turned out to be an old food container.

Mr. COLEMAN: And the best way I could figure out to do it was to actually jump and grab this pizza box that I saw. It was crazy and it was disgusting, but it was what we had to do at the time to get the car running.

MALAKOFF: The team worked late into the night making repairs, and Coleman says the Hurricane was ready to roll when the contest began at 8:00 the next morning.

Mr. COLEMAN: It looks a little hodgepodged together, but we're engineers; we do the best with what we have to work with.

MALAKOFF: Their best was good enough. After a disappointing first run, the Hurricane won the title with a nearly perfect second try. School officials say the Hurricane will now be retired, but students are already building an entry for the next chemical car championship in 2009. David Malakoff, NPR News.

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