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COA's Solar Electric Vehicle

Students build car using Maine-made kit, with help from Seal Cove Automobile Museum
Wednesday, June 1, 2011 - COA campus

Alex Pine in electric carIt kind of looks like a Lego vehicle. Or a car a child might draw. The angles are sharp, the size is small and if you see it scooting around Bar Harbor, you're almost guaranteed to smile. And then applaud. The per-mile cost of this vehicle is less than 2 cents.

College of the Atlantic students built this electric vehicle from a kit sold by SUNN electric vehicle company of Norridgewock, ME and purchased in partnership with the Seal Cove Automobile Museum. The students built the vehicle as part of a class taught by COA's lecturer in physics Anna Demeo. The Seal Cove Automobile Museum was the instigator, says Demeo, contacting the college to see if it would be interested in sharing the cost of the kit. Demeo ended up designing a class around it.

Demeo's class covered a wide range of topics, including the physics of energy, electronics, electrical systems, how a regular car works, even historical and political issues of energy and vehicles. It concluded with a campus drive of the car - which was built during a weekly lab session that was assisted by volunteer Gordon Wissinger, who runs Acadia Cottages of Southwest Harbor.

Interim President Andy Griffiths in electric carThis the latest in a series of courses focused on project-based renewable energy learning. In a class on windpower two years ago, Demeo and students sited a wind turbine at the college's Beech Hill Farm, learning about windpower. This spring, she also taught a class on sustainable energy; she is planning a class on solar energy in the fall.

The students came to the class with a wide range of abilities, says Demeo - from one who had already built cars to a student who had never used a meter. Demeo sees the creation of this vehicle as part of moving COA toward greater sustainability. In the process, the students learned how cars worked, how electric vehicles differ from others, and where they might fit in. They also assembled everything, building the break system, adjusting the throttle, installing the motor, windshield and seat belts.

The college is still considering how best to use the car. Since it has a truck bed, it might be most useful shepherding people and items around campus. Though not swift, it can be driven on roads with speed limits posted of 35 mph. The car has a range of about 30 miles - more on sunny days when the solar panel works. When it runs down, the batteries can be charged from a wall outlet.

In December 2007, COA became the nation's first carbon neutral college. It is still the only college that has reduced its carbon impact to zero, avoiding and reducing what it can on campus, researching new ways of doing things - as with the electric car - and offsetting what it can't avoid.

College of the Atlantic was founded in 1969 on the premise that education should go beyond understanding the world as it is, to enabling students to actively shape its future. Intentionally small, COA is a leader in environmental stewardship and experiential education. It has pioneered a distinctive interdisciplinary approach to learning - human ecology - that develops the kinds of creative thinkers and doers who can lead all sectors of society to promote sustainable ecosystems while meeting compelling and growing human needs.

CAPTIONS: Student Alex Pine drives the car he helped to build.
Interim President Andy Griffiths in COA's new SUNN solar electric car.

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