Penn Electric Racing powers up all-electric race car

Penn Electric Car

Top: President Gutmann cruises in Renegade with members of Penn Electric Racing. Bottom: The Penn Electric Racing team.

Photo Credit: Penn Engineering

A group of about 40 graduate and undergraduate students from the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Science and Wharton is preparing to show the world what they have been working on for the last five years: an all-electric race car.

The carbon-fiber-clad Renegade is a product of Penn Electric Racing, a student-run, interdisciplinary club of engineers and designers who aim to push the envelope of what electric vehicles can do.

“We want to help the general public and the University community understand EV [electric vehicle] technology, and the benefits both environmentally and economically of driving EVs,” says team captain and Penn Engineering student William Price.

Penn Electric Racing grew out of the University’s solar racing group, founded in 1989. Their solar-powered cars competed in long-distance races, and while the cars could travel thousands of miles without burning fossil fuels, they were not suited for everyday driving. Solar power is not very efficient and the sun-powered cars lacked room for passengers or cargo.

In 2006, the club expanded its focus to include other electric power sources and began working on designs that were more practical. Its current goal is to use its most recent designs to change the public perception of electric vehicles.

Environmentally friendly cars such as the hybrid Toyota Prius or the all-electric Nissan Leaf are often viewed as sacrificing power for sustainability. But Penn’s Renegade has been specially designed to handle electric car drag races, high-performance competitions that test cars’ acceleration and handling at top speeds.

The Penn Electric Racing club plans to unveil its Renegade in mid-April, and hopes to compete in a National Association of Electric Drag Racers competition by the end of the month.

Beyond putting an electric vehicle on a racetrack, club members hope to put the electric cars in peoples’ garages; next steps include developing designs they hope will eventually lead to the creation of street-legal cars.

Price says the Penn Electric Club is about the big picture of clean electricity, not just the vehicles that run on it.

“If you’re charging them now, you’re probably getting about half of that energy from a coal-fired power station,” he says. “We need to get these vehicles out there so, in the future, we can go towards a totally clean system.”


Originally published on March 3, 2011