What happens when a college lecturer has a eureka moment?

2nd July 2010 at 01:00
A guilt-ridden commute inspired a project to build Scotland's first electric sports car

When Haroon Junaidi joined Adam Smith College in Kirkcaldy last December, he was asked to explore unique ways in which to promote the college's expertise and courses in supporting training within Scotland's renewables sector.

He quickly came up with the idea of working with the students to build Scotland's first electric sports car. For a lecturer in computer-aided design (CAD) with a PhD in renewable energy, this would seem a fitting project. But it was not entirely an educational drive which led Dr Junaidi into the project. Rather, it was guilt.

"Driving over every day from Edinburgh, where I live, got me thinking. I drive a gas-guzzler and as someone committed to renewable energy - my PhD was on solar energy for Scotland - I developed a healthy guilt complex. It was a kind of eureka moment. I was thinking, if only I had an electric car which could cover the journey on the one charge. That led me to the idea that we could build our own electric car in college to demonstrate the effectiveness of this mode of transport," he says.

But why a sports car?

"There are electric vans being produced in Scotland, but no cars. I thought a sports car would appeal to young people, students and the young commercial market alike."

Dr Junaidi and his 11-strong team of students are now busy converting a Toyota MR2 with a lithium battery pack to be on the road by September. The target date has nothing to do with Dr Junaidi's personal desire to commute to college in an environmentally-friendly fashion. He will, however, be driving the car - from John O'Groats to Land's End in the autumn.

The idea is to tour the car to demonstrate its efficiency, while stopping off at schools, colleges and universities, to give talks on electric cars and on renewables in general.

"On the journey, we also aim to do a proper study of the best way to drive an electric car to maximise energy savings. We will be able to attain the same speed as the equivalent petrol engine would allow, but it will be much more reliable in terms of breakdowns, because there is less that can go wrong with an electric car," he says.

The car will manage 80 miles per charge, exceeding the maximum 60-mile range of most other moderately-priced electric cars on the market. "The car industry is rapidly moving towards electric vehicles, but most of those in the UK are imported and many people do not realise that they can convert their existing car from fuel to electricity for as little as pound;1,000. Our 840-mile journey across many terrains will show just what these cars can achieve," says Dr Junaidi.

Car conversion, he argues, is going to catch on, not only for environmental reasons but for economic ones too: a petrol car costs on average 10p per mile to run while an electric vehicle costs only 2p per mile.

As a result of the project, the college also plans to launch a course to train mechanics in electric car conversion as part of its commitment to renewable energy and to reduce its carbon emissions.

"Adam Smith is the first UK college to have a carbon management plan to reduce its emissions," says Jennifer Thompson-Young, department manager of engineering and renewable energy at the college.

"We are in the forefront of renewables and want to develop apprenticeship training over the next 25 years, involving local employers and students, a full portfolio of renewable pathway courses in engineering and building services, leading to a five-year masters degree."

The college's new pound;17.5 million Centre for Engineering, Construction, Renewables and Science will open at its Stenton Campus, Glenrothes, in August. Plans are afoot to construct a wind turbine, which will power some of the new labs as well as the new car. "We want our students to see where and how the electricity will be used, and to see the cost savings involved," she says.

After its British tour, the car will be put to use by college staff. But for the record, not Dr Junaidi's commute. "This project is unique and what we hope to prove is that electric cars are not some fancy mode of transport for the future, but that they are the real deal," he says.



Kirsty Burns, VRQ Vehicle Maintenance and Repair student

"So far we've taken out the petrol engine and all the `plumbing' from the Toyota and we are now beginning the process of attaching the electric motor to the gear box.

"I got involved because the future of cars lies either with electricity or fuel cells, the use of hydrogen as fuel. I'm a strong believer in renewables - so much so that I'm coming into college in my own time over the summer to help with the conversion.

"It's great to be involved in something new and to be part of a team which is setting out to convince people to consider converting their cars, and it would be a worthwhile job to secure for the future.

"You can pretty much convert any car. Electric cars run more cheaply and no road tax is needed. Your garage bills would be less, because they don't need as much servicing as a petrol engine and there's less that can go wrong with them.

"This is a project with real possibilities for me."

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