The University of Bath’s electric car racing team is making its mark around the world, writes Rebecca J Garner
Within the UK, the popularity of electric vehicles has soared over the last five years. As of February 2019, new registrations have risen to 195,000, a more than fifty-fold increase on 2013’s figure of 3,500. Many mainstream car companies now include electric vehicles in their range and the demands of industry are seeing research into electric or hybrid vehicles prioritised in universities.
But it’s not just in our daily lives where electric vehicles are having an impact. On the race circuit, university teams take part in Formula Student competitions worldwide. Each year, students design, build and race a single-seat racing car from scratch, competing across everything from design and business planning to on-track performance measures such as speed, acceleration and fuel efficiency. Over the years, these competitions, which historically have focussed on combustion engines, have expanded to embrace electric and driverless vehicles.
At the University of Bath, after its formation in 2015, Team Bath Racing electric (TBRe) has quickly got up to speed, rapidly improving and already achieving a series of successes. At Formula Student UK last July, TBRe recorded their highest ever ranking. Finishing an impressive 17th out of 129 combustion and electric teams, they also retained their title as the top UK electric team.
Following their success in the UK competition, TBRe then set their sights further afield and took part in Formula Student Electric China (FSEC) in Zhuhai in November. Unlike its UK counterpart, FSEC is solely for electric and autonomous vehicles and saw 65 cars compete in both static and track-based challenges. Thirteen members of TBRe travelled to Zhuhai to compete and, as well as becoming the first UK electric Formula student team to take part in an international competition outside Europe, their achievements included:
- Top overseas team in FSEC
- 21st overall
- 6th overall in static events
- 8th in the design event
- 2nd in the business event
Years of researching and testing all aspects of the car design through student projects have led to the innovative and advanced technology in the TBRe car; the Bath contingent was one of the few teams to design and build its own battery pack from scratch and not only is it unique but, in many respects, it is also technically ahead of many commercially available solutions.
As well as demonstrating their technical prowess, what the students learnt at the event was invaluable. This demanding challenge proved a great opportunity for the thirteen young people who went to Zhuhai to gain experience outside of the UK competition circuit and return to Bath ready to implement the feedback they received from the judges, building on their knowledge and skills ready for the next challenge.
Beyond the fun of the competition, these events also celebrate a shift towards innovation in the key components of electric cars. They respond to wider demand and the responsibility society has towards a green, clean fuelled future. Many TBRe students at the University of Bath will graduate and go on to work in the automotive industry, often in the electric vehicle sector. Others meanwhile, continue at the university, researching the next generation of electric vehicles.
Faculty advisor to TBRe, Professor Peter Wilson said “Modern vehicle powertrains are moving towards hybrid and full electric. Therefore, it is vital that our students leave the University of Bath with the knowledge, experience and skills to develop and advance this technology. Team Bath Racing electric provides an excellent proving ground for this to happen in a practical and challenging way.”
Fellow advisor, Dr Benjamin Metcalfe added, “Team Bath Racing electric represents the pinnacle of undergraduate engineering education. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students to design, build, and race a fully electric car around the world. The skills and technology that they develop has direct and immediate real-world impact, and it is no wonder that graduates from the University of Bath go on to be world leaders and technology disruptors in the field of automotive powertrains.”
Through TBRe, these young engineering, computer science and management students are able to showcase their talents as the forefront of the next generation of car technologies.