Four Tennessee Tech University manufacturing and engineering technology seniors spent the semester designing and building a solar-powered golf cart for President Phil Oldham.
The cart has been in the works for about a year, designed by seniors in professor and department chairman Ahmed Elsawy’s projects class. They created at the request of the president.
“It looks sharp; they did a great job,” Oldham said after his first test drive of the cart. “We might see it in the president’s spot. I might drive this through Centennial plaza.”
The four students spent the semester sandblasting the body of the 1992 cart, building a stronger roof and rewiring the entire car so it could draw enough power to run for hours. Cumberland Auto donated the work for the cart’s paintjob and some of the sandblasting. The team mounted a 60-pound solar panel on the roof and attached it to six batteries, which would give it enough power to keep it running for hours or even days in the right weather.
“We had it up to 13 miles per hour on a flat stretch of road,” said senior Tyler Judd, of Athens. “We never could drain it completely dead. We drove it for two hours, about 21 miles, and we only lost two volts.”
All told, it took the four students about 1,000 hours of work. By converting the cart to charge using free solar power instead of plugging it in, the team estimates the university could save a dollar or two every day. In the course of a year, that would amount to $400 in savings. The cart would pay for itself in three years, the team members said.
In addition to monetary savings, the solar panel would also keep nearly 16 pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere from charging it using a conventional plug-in system.
The work was part of a group of alternative-energy projects in Elsawy’s senior design course. Other students designed solar-paneled water filtration systems, windmills and a moon buggy.
“We wanted this project because it’s drivable,” Judd said. “We’re gearheads. Billy (Hill) and I both have Mustangs that we customize. We were excited to see what we could do.”
In addition to Judd, the group consisted of Billy Hill, of Pelham; Logan Copeland, of Cookeville; and Dale White, of Mountain City. They are all senior manufacturing and engineering technology majors.
Elsawy says he would like to convert all of the university’s electric vehicles – there are about half a dozen of them – to use solar power.