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High school robotics and computer science students are building hydrogen fuel cell racing cars for a future competition

RAMONA MCCALLISTER - From left to right: Senior Hank Heiges and Senior Kelci Hale do some work on the remote control before their test run on Tuesday.

On a Tuesday morning, a group of students gathers around a miniature hydrogen fuel cell racing car in the Crook County High School gymnasium.

These students are learning in a nontraditional classroom, and on Tuesday, they were taking the car out for a trial run. Jason Mumm, CCHS robotics and computer science instructor, initiated the first class this semester, where students are building the hydrogen fuel cell racing car.

This spring, students will compete in this season's Horizon Grand Prix Hydrogen Fuel Cell Racing Series sponsored by Toyota. It is an endurance race where the students must maximize the energy output of their car using hydrogen fuel. The competitors are only allowed 12 hydrogen sticks and 58 watt-hours of energy. The team that drives the most laps in the allotted time and energy is the winner.

The fuel cell project is the result of a grant and a partnership with Dave Bora, Toyota's senior manager of advanced technology. He approved CCHS as one of the only three schools outside of California. Toyota of Bend and Rob Durffee also played a big part in helping CCHS join the project.

"Michelle Jonas, the principal at Crook County High School, was responsible for starting the partnership with Rob Durffee from Toyota," Mumm said. "Toyota is an active part of the project. Jason Wilkerson from Kendall Toyota of Bend has helped our students out by coming to the high school and mentoring the students on the project."

In the first few weeks of the semester, the students worked to familiarize themselves with the technology of the hydrogen-powered RC car.

"They built the car using YouTube videos because it came with no instructions," Mumm said. "They looked up how things were supposed to work and how to assemble it. From there, day by day they added the electronics, motor and hydrogen fuel cell to get the car to where it is at now."

Aaron Robinson, a junior in Mumm's class, said math skills will come in handy when the team is testing the car's efficiency. He added that the students have also learned a lot of practical skills.

"It really helps you prepare for the future if you are into this, like engineering and technology, because it's really just hands-on learning what it would be like in real life," he said.

Robinson said the group learned about division of labor, breaking up into teams.

"A lot of teamwork," he said, "because we were able to divide it up between us. We were working on getting the wires ready, they were working on the frame, and then we had to work together and make sure it all fit."

Kelci Hale, a senior in Mumm's class, likes the fact that the hydrogen-powered car uses clean energy.

"For example, right now cars are running on traditional fuel and basically putting out fumes and everything into the environment, whereas a car powered on hydrogen would only be putting out water — just water would be dripping out of the tail pipe instead of fumes," she said.

Hale added that she believes hydrogen is easier to come by because there are so many sources to get it, such as the deionized water the group uses for its hydrogen fuel car.

Toyota has already been selling its Mirai, which is powered by hydrogen.

Hale said the students have learned a lot of skills while building the car.

"For example, we had to learn how to solder wires so we could rewire things like the battery and the hydrogen cell."

She added that following instructions was important throughout the process.

"The students are learning real-life skills such as problem solving and engineering designs," Mumm said.

They also fix electronics, parts and pieces, he added. And they're learning academics, including physics and chemistry.

"They are learning about energy watt-hours and converting to minutes and seconds," Mumm said. "They will calculate and figure out the total amount of energy that we can get out of one car and two hydrogen sticks. They have learned about how to fill the hydrogen sticks by separating deionized water and breaking down the hydrogen and oxygen. They will use these skills during the competition when the car breaks down and when the energy runs low to maximize the number of laps that they can complete."

Joey Stenbeck, a junior, took the class more for the calculations and math skills.

"We are putting it together right now, but later on, we are going to have to optimize how we use the battery," he said. "It's like a balance between speed and distance. If you go too fast, you take too much battery, but if you go too slow, you won't be able to get around in time."

He will be helping with the calculations as the class reaches this part of the process. He is hoping to do something physics-related in the CIM field after he graduates. CIM is an acronym for computer-integrated manufacturing, and refers to the use of computer-controlled machineries and automation systems in manufacturing products.

Side bar

A link to information on Toyota's full sized and road operational hydrogen powered car.

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