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Obama visits Center for Automative Research, talks energy

Steve Muza / For the Lantern

A garage that houses the high-powered Buckeye Bullet, exhaust pipes and grease cleaned up its act one day to play host to the Secret Service and the Commander-in-Chief of the United States.

Prior to his remarks about energy, President Barack Obama visited with OSU students to see their projects at the Center of Automotive Research (CAR) facility Thursday.

CAR is “an interdisciplinary research center in the College of Engineering,” according to its website. Much of CAR’s research focuses on electric engines, alternative fuels, reduction in fuel emissions and vehicle construction.

Obama visited OSU as part of a nation tour to discuss his all-the-above energy strategy. OSU was his final stop after visiting Nevada, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

“Now, this is our last stop on a trip where we’ve been talking about an all-the-above energy strategy for America,” Obama said. “A strategy where we produce more oil, produce more gas, but also produce more American biofuels and more fuel-efficient cars, more solar power, more wind power, more power from the oceans, more clean and renewable energy.

“You know what I’m talking about here, because this school is a national leader in developing new sources of energy and advanced vehicles that use a lot less energy,” Obama said.

Obama visited with students and faculty at CAR to briefly discuss their research and projects, including the ECOCAR and the Buckeye Bullet.

OSU’s ECOCAR was entered in a national collegiate competition sponsored by General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy. The competition requires students to “create a vehicle that is more efficient, uses less petroleum and has fewer emissions while still maintaining consumer acceptability and appeal,” said Sarah Jadwin, a second-year in accounting and outreach coordinator for ECOCAR.

OSU’s ECOCAR was a GM crossover utility vehicle that is a plug-in hybrid vehicle. OSU won second place in the national ECOCAR competition.

Travis Trippel, a fourth-year in mechanical engineering, worked on OSU’s ECOCAR and was one of the students who met Obama last Thursday.

“It was pretty incredible,” Trippel said. “We worked three years on this vehicle, so getting to show him what we had spent all of our free time on to develop ourselves and to try and further understand the vehicle development process that major manufacturers, like GM, follow. Just to have all that time and effort come into fruition and to be able to show it to the president of all people was pretty incredible.”

Andrew Garcia, a first-year master’s student in mechanical engineering, shook hands with Obama and described the president as personable.

“It was kind of surreal at first and a weird thing,” Garcia said. “It was surprising how kind of personable he was. Right when he started talking it was like a one-on-one talking with a normal person. He was just asking very normal questions that were kind of technical too, and it was nice to see he was genuinely interested in what we had to say.”

Obama also saw the Buckeye Bullet, which is a student project to create the fastest electric race car. The Buckeye Bullet holds the record for fastest race car on the planet, reaching a top recorded speed of 307.666 mph.

“I just had a chance to take a tour of the Center of Automotive Research. Now I admit, the best part of it was seeing the Buckeye Bullet, which has gone over 300 miles an hour and is now shooting for 400 miles an hour.

“But for anybody who’s not familiar with this, the Buckeye Bullet is the fastest electric car in the world. The fastest in the world. I don’t know who’s going to need to go that fast. But it is a testament to the ingenuity here at Ohio State and what is essential to American leadership when it comes to energy – our brain power,” Obama said.

Cary Bork, a second-year graduate student in mechanical engineering, was a team member who worked on Buckeye Bullet and met Obama.

“That was pretty incredible,” Bork said. “He seemed genuinely interested in the project and asked a bunch of questions.”

Bork said Obama asked questions like who drives the car, the purpose behind the car and what improvements the team works toward on the next vehicle to make it faster.

Due to security reasons, CAR students had to walk from CAR on Kinnear road to the RPAC and arrived late to Obama’s speech Thursday. However, some students took an interest about Obama’s views on energy.

“I was definitely interested to hear what he had to say about energy, but ultimately I didn’t feel as if he said a whole lot in his speech,” Trippel said. “He said we need to lower gas prices, so obviously I agree with that, and then he was talking about drilling and even if we drill everywhere we can in the United States, we’re not going to have enough oil to support ourselves, so we need to be looking at alternative energy, like we do with ECOCAR.”

During Obama’s speech, Obama said his goal by the middle of the next decade is to raise fuel economy standards to 55 miles per gallon. Right now, the standard is 27.3 miles per gallon, according to consumerreports.org.

“After decades of inaction, we raised fuel economy standards, so that by the middle of the next decade, our cars will average nearly 55 miles per gallon, almost double what we get today,” Obama said. “That means you’ll be able to fill up your car every two weeks instead of every week. That will save the average family about $8,000 at the pump over the life of a car, which is real money.”

Yet CAR students say Obama’s idea is not as easy as it might seem. Bork said it is a conflict between performance of a car versus the cost of the vehicle, and one will have to compromise the other.

“Fifty-five miles per gallon is very difficult to achieve. There’s always a trade-off between the size of the vehicle and its performance, you know how quickly it accelerates and how much power it has and also the fuel consumption,” Bork said. “It’s possible to have a car that has enormous performance, great fuel economy and is large, but it’s probably going to be way too expensive for anyone to buy. In the same realm, you can make something cheap with great fuel economy, but it is probably going to have poor performance and be very light-weight and very small.”

Trippel said he thinks it will happen, but it will be costly.

“It will happen. Obviously it has to with government regulations going that way,” Trippel said. “It’s tough right now, because one of the things that we deal with too, is we can make a car that can get 300 miles per gallon, and that would not be a problem. But you have to make it affordable too, and that is what the real difficult part is too.”

Jadwin agreed and said it is the parts of the car that are expensive.

“The technology is here, it is just a matter of making it affordable and accessible to everyone,” Jadwin said.

Students at CAR said meeting the president was memorable.

“It was an honor,” Jadwin said. “It was a really great honor to meet him and from the competition stand point, it was an honor to represent all the ECOCAR teams.”

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