116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Ryan Sartin, a junior at Prairie High School, is collaborating with a team of students to build the school’s first lithium electric car.
Sartin, 16, is one of about 20 students on the electric car team, developed in 1997 to encourage teamwork, engineering, manufacturing skills and competitive sportsmanship.
The team researches, designs, raises funds for and builds electric cars that comply with strict specifications to ensure safety and stability during competitions. When done, the team’s first lithium electric car will have more power than others, which means it can go farther and faster without adding extra weight, Sartin said.
This is important in competitions when the goal is to drive the cars on a road course or track for an hour to see how many laps the car can complete on one set of batteries.
Lithium batteries are used in many consumer products including electronics, toys, wireless headphones, handheld power tools, small and large appliances and electric vehicles.
Designing and starting to build the lithium electric car took the most “brainstorming and time,” Sartin said. Each student has skills and assets to bring to the team, he said. Students include welders, electricians and designers.
“We have to trust each other a lot since we get to build these cars and then go out and race them,” Sartin said.
Driving the cars takes practice. It’s a test of endurance, not speed, Sartin said. “You have to make sure you don’t kill your batteries too fast,” he said.
The competition cars go an average of 25 mph. Sartin said Prairie’s lithium electric car could go an average of 45 mph.
“It’s really an adrenaline rush,” Sartin said. “You feel the wind and see everything going past you. It’s something you can’t just go out and do every day.”
There are only two electric car events in Iowa each year, so the team often travels out of state to Nebraska, Michigan and Wisconsin to compete. One weekend of travel can cost the team more than $1,500.
The team also can spend up to $3,400 when building a car from scratch, but it typically reuses as many components as possible and can spend as little as $1,500 per car. The cars cannot be more than 3 years old to race, Sartin said.
There is, however, an improved difference between a car with all new parts and one that has been recycled for many years, team adviser Beth Smith said.
Each car uses two batteries at a time and about six batteries per car per event. And have to be replaced about every two years — an expensive part of the program.
The College Community School District provides a classroom, lab and advisers for the electric car program but no money to build the cars or travel to events. All the money used to run the program is raised by students.
This year, the team raised $8,000, but with the growing number of students on the electric car team — doubling from 10 to 20 this year — it’s not enough, Smith said.
Over last weekend, the Prairie electric car team held the Prairie Classic for donors to the program, family and community members. The students raced and afterward people were able to take a closer look at the student-created cars and drive them.
Smith, who worked in her family’s automotive business for 12 years before becoming a paraeducator, said “we feel so blessed” local companies and residents donate to the team. “We want to provide them a good show,” she said.
The students work on the cars for up to six hours a week on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. It can take up to two years to build a car, Smith said. To drive and race the electric cars, students must have a driver’s license, she said.
“I don’t know everything there is to know about cars, so I’m thankful to have some smart kids this year,” Smith said.
Comments: (319) 398-8411; firstname.lastname@example.org