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MIT electric car may rival gas models on performance

Nick Barber | July 23, 2009
The school's Electric Vehicle team hopes to build an electric car that can recharge in 11 minutes

He said it's like "a chicken or the egg scenario" and wondered whether a charging infrastructure or the rapid recharge car should be built first. "We feel that right now it's easier to build a car that can do it rather than set up an infrastructure," he said.

Some companies are working on building nationwide charging stations. One such is Coulomb Technologies, which has about 40 ChargePoint networked charging stations across the U.S. The CT1000 ChargePoint can output 1.4 kilowatts, or 120 volts at 12 amps, which wouldn't be enough to rapidly recharge MIT's car. In fact, in order to charge MIT's car in about 10 minutes, the team needs 356 volts at 1,000 amps.

This isn't the first time the team has worked on an electric vehicle, though. In 2006, the year the team started, they modified a 1976 Porsche 914 to run on battery power. The end result was a car that could travel 161 km before it needed an 8-hour recharge on a 220-volt outlet. The battery pack contains 18 lithium iron magnesium-phosphate battery modules arranged in a series for a nominal pack voltage of 230.4 volts and a capacity of 100 amp-hours. The Porsche uses a 3-phase AC induction motor from Azure Dynamics, with a peak power of 74 horsepower and a top speed of about 161 kph at 12,000 rpm. It can go from zero to 60 mph in 20 seconds.

One of the biggest differences between the Porsche and the current project is the ability to completely charge in about 10 minutes. The team is also using the current project to do research on the impact of rapid recharges on the batteries. "Rapid recharging is a little bit harder on the batteries, but these cells have been charged in five minutes, so we're not being too harsh on them," Gogoana said.

Gogoana placed the cost of the project, excluding labor, at around $200,000, but much of the materials were donated and the Electric Vehicle Team isn't paid. The batteries alone hold a price tag of about $80,000, but Gogoana said that as more batteries and cars are produced, cost should be driven down.

While installing the 7,905 battery array is the team's end goal, they plan to test the car with a smaller battery array by mid-August. Once those tests are completed, they hope to finish the car, which includes installing the larger array and finalizing the rapid recharge system.

(Justin Meisinger in Boston contributed to this report.)


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