Welcome to the St. Mark's EV Club wiki about electric and alternative fuel vehicles!


The purpose of this wiki is to share our experiences using and competing with electric cars and biofuel transportation, racing, student engineering and related topics. I invite others who have EVs, especialy other TdS and 21stCAC teams, to create a wiki page here.

Click here to see pictures of the St. Mark's EV Club's Tour de Sol adventures in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005.

Demonstration of two approaches to carbon-free transportation:

  1. Ford Ranger solar-electric truck conversion, with wind turbine

  2. Volkswagen Jetta TDI running on our own biodiesel fuel

Solar and Wind power - It's Free!

Here is "Woodstock", our electric Ford Ranger. Woodstock achieves a peak efficiency comparable to 92mpg, and has a range of 50-90 miles. The energy is stored in 24 lead-acid batteries. Its 30kWh battery pack can be recharged entirely from renewable sources. It can generate about 700W from its Evergreen Solar panels and Air-X wind turbine when parked; only the 350W solar panels are active while rolling.As described below, we draw our 100% renewable "green" electricity from any convenient outlet when we recharge from the grid!

Tour de Sol Renewability Proposal for 2005 – Woodstock #56

[Abstract: Green certificates have been purchased to offset all the “brown” electricity used by #56 since its conversion to EV, plus its projected need for several months. Benefits are twofold: this vehicle’s greenhouse gas emissions have been offset, and most important, the public will learn about an important consumer action they can adopt immediately.]

Woodstock is a bright yellow Ford Ranger pickup truck, powered by a 144VDC lead-acid battery pack. Although the vehicle is equipped with solar panels, the majority of the electric energy in its battery pack must be replaced by overnight recharging from the grid. Our hope this year is to enhance its performance as a green vehicle by using Sun Power Electric’s ReGen product (see accompanying ReGen product description sheet) to offset the greenhouse gas that would have otherwise been released to provide the energy to recharge the vehicle’s batteries from the grid. An important part of the Tour is the daily Energy Festivals, in which the public views the vehicles and learns about the promise and availability of the vehicles’ alternative energy sources.
We keep an accurate log of our vehicle’s performance. During the academic year from Sept 8th, 2002 to Feb 1, 2003, it was driven in its present configuration a total of 903.6 miles. Its electricity consumption over this time was 489.167kWh, measured with a standard General Electric AC kWh meter on the supply side of the battery chargers.
The vehicle’s energy consumption per mile is then 0.541 kWh per mile. [(489.167kWh/903.6mi) = 0.541 kWh/mi.]. In use as a daily driver, our MPGe has been 61.0 MPGe. Our mileage in competition is somewhat better than this, partly because we drive more conservatively in competition and partly due to use of an electric windshield defroster in very cold weather during this September-February period.
Since it was driven about 3175 miles between February 2003 and its conversion in back in February 2002, we estimate the total energy used in its lifetime as an EV is 1718.6 kWh. [(3147.7miles) X (0.54135kWh/mile) = 1718.6 kWh.]
We have just purchased 4000kWh of ReGen (a tradeable renewable certificate product of Sun Power Electric, listed on green-e.org) to cover the vehicle’s entire past and foreseeable future energy use. I estimate that this amount of energy will take us 7388.9 miles, or up to odometer reading 043357.2 miles. Since the Tour usually covers only 250 to 300 miles, and our odometer reads 039285.5 today, we are confident that we have ample “green” electricity to complete the Tour and meet our daily driving needs for quite some time afterward.
With our off-site energy source, there is no conversion efficiency to compute. The energy captured by the on-board panels will be documented by our e-meter. We will explain to the public how we obtain the remainder of our electricity from the national grid, and how the “green” renewable energy we purchased will offset the production of an equal amount of “brown” electricity by conventional utilities. Here is an entertaining analogy: buying green electricity is like depositing dollar bills in your bank account – you don’t necessarily get the same bills back, but they’re still green!
The ReGen product is electricity generated from renewable sources. At this date, 99% of the ReGen energy offered for sale is produced by a gas turbine generator, fueled by landfill methane gas. Landfill methane is produced as biomass substances such as lawn clippings and foodstuffs in household garbage decompose. (One may wryly observe that such garbage is sadly an endlessly renewable resource!) In some landfills, such biomass methane is merely vented into the atmosphere, where it is a powerful contributor to the greenhouse effect. In other landfills it is deliberately burned to convert it to carbon dioxide, which can then be recaptured by green plants during photosynthesis. But by using the energy of combustion of the biomass methane to generate electricity, ReGen produces electricity without contributing to the carbon dioxide overburden, as would occur if the same amount of electricity had been supplied by burning fossil fuel.
Our renewable fraction (RF) is 100% renewable energy. We will now address one possible source for concern. The ReGen energy source releases a trace amount of NOx, so we have calculated the actual amount associated with our vehicle. Information supplied by Sun Power Electric states that the net emissions from ReGen sources, monitored over a three year period, average 0.8 lbs NOx/MWh, or 0.0008 lbsNOx/kWh. Emissions of SO2 and CO2 are reported as zero. The average annual benefit is reported to be a total (SO2 + NOx + CO2) reduction of 1495.9 lbs /MWh compared to the NE grid mix. From this ratio we conclude that ReGen releases only 0.0053% of the greenhouse gas produced by NE grid electricity. When Woodstock finally consumes its entire 4000kWh block, it will have produced 3.2lbs or 1452.8 g of NOx while driving a projected 7388.9 miles. This amounts to less than 0.20 g GHG/mile. It should be noted that a similarly efficient (60mpg) gasoline-fueled car produces >150g GHG/mile – almost a thousand times as much!
Today, a small but significant 1% portion of the ReGen product comes from the installation of grid-tied solar panels. A growing number of these panels are being installed on the flat roofs of participating warehouse retailers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. As future demand for renewable electricity outstrips the supply of landfill gas, solar electricity or wind power will be available to meet the demand. (In the spirit of full disclosure, it is meaningful to our team that Sun Power Electric uses panels produced by EvergreenSolar, one of Woodstock’s sponsors.)
Perhaps the most important feature of our choice to use this method of supplying renewable electricity to power Woodstock #56 is an educational one. People need to know that this is practical green energy option that is within their grasp TODAY, not in the shining future. While shelling out to purchase a green vehicle may not be in the immediate future for many visitors to the Tour, purchasing green energy certificates is something every consumer of electricity should consider doing as soon as possible. It is simple to do. It requires no special expertise in installing or maintaining one’s own grid-tied system. It is not terribly expensive, since no great capital investment in equipment needs to be made. It can be done as easily by apartment renters as by homeowners, and has no architectural or community zoning board impact. (Find a certified green electricity supplier for your home at __www.green-e.org__)
Purchasing green electricity is environmentally and energetically practical – as Woodstock’s team will demonstrate!

Turbo Biodiesel - Green and Mean Machines!

Our team also has campaigned the biodiesels, "Max" and "Moritz" .
"Max" is a 2005 TDI Jetta Wagon that capably handles all normal family chores; it can pull a 1000lb trailer, cartop our "toys" (bikes, kayaks, etc.) and routinely makes runs to buy lumber for the SM theater. Max' year-long average fuel economy was measured at 46 MPG.

"Moritz" is a 2000 Jetta TDI sedan serving on weekdays as a 45 MPG daily driver and on weekends as a winning autocross and hillclimb racer. "Moritz" recorded 51MPG in Tour de Sol competition (2006) and unofficially demonstrated 105 MPG on a round-trip excursion from Southoborough to Boylston!

The performance of these TDI is quite remarkable! The 1.9L TDI engine (turbocharged, direct injection diesel) is as unobtrusive as any gasoline engine, but can propel the car more than 700 miles on a tankful.

We make our own biodiesel fuel from our school's waste fry oil, by chemically converting the grease to a fatty acid methyl ester. (Here's how we do it.) No engine or fuel system modifications are neccessary to run on this fuel - the "conversion" is as simple as switching to "premium" at the pump!

Below, Charlie prepares to time Moritz' acceleration run at Tour de Sol 2006 in Saratoga Springs. Moritz won "fastest time of the day" at 21st CAC autocross 2008, and has won first-place U4 honors three times at KSSC and NEHA hillclimbing events at Mt. Okemo and Mt. Burke in 2007 and 2008. (www.hillclim.org)
2000 VW TDI on B100
2000 VW TDI on B100

Moritz attacks the 21st CAC autocross course with vegetable power!

What is "biofuel"? Why do some say it is bad?

There is sometimes confusion about the pros and cons of biofuel, and this is understandable! There are many different types of biofuel, just as there are many different types of bread! As certainly as french bread and tortillas are not interchangable, it is important to distinguish between types of biofuel. They are not all the same!

Discussion of biofuel in the US has focussed mainly on bioethanol for gasoline engines, and on two types of biofuel for diesel engines. All three of these fuels are "renewable", that is, they can be replenished indefinitely through sustainable agriculture. Here is a brief overview and comparison of these three types of fuel.


Ethanol is an excellent motor fuel, but returns significantly fewer MPGs than gasoline. It can be produced from any starch by fermentation - at least in theory! Converting cellulosic starch (switchgrass, wood waste, etc) to ethanol for fuel would be terrific, but no commercially feasible method exists today.

Currently, US grain surpluses (particularly corn) have been funneled into ethanol production, which has been blamed for sharp increases in worldwide food prices. The reasons this happened are complex, but were the unintended consequences of well-intentioned changes in the formulation of unleaded gasoline. When the gasoline additive MtBE (which replaced octane-enhancers like tetraethyl lead) was banned in 2007, ethanol replaced it. ("MtBE contamination widespread in NH", AP Jan 2, 2008) Today ethanol is commonly blended into unleaded gasoline at a rate of 10%; the blend is known as E10. (Healey, J. [://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/environment/2008-03-04-e20-ethanol-fuel_N.htm] "Gasoline could go from 10% ethanol up to 20%" USA Today 2008-5-3) Some "flex fuel" vehicles that can run on blends as high as E85 have been available from US automakers for many years; most were intended for use in fleets. As ethanol demand increases, the price of grains also rise, driving up the costs of basic foods including bread, eggs, dairy and meat. Many people are critical of this way of making bioethanol because it has effectively coupled food and energy prices, with the result that poor people in the world can't afford to eat, so rich people can drive!

To be suitable as fuel, ethanol cannot contain a significant amount of water so it must be distilled (boiled). This process requires almost as much energy as is contained in the ethanol produced! According to NREL figures, production of 1.2 gallons of ethanol consumes the energy of 1.0 gallon of ethanol. (For comparison, 0.86 gallon of unleaded gas requires the energy of another 1.0 gallon to be produced.) Brazil is able to produce ethanol economically by fueling its distillation by burning bagasse, the pressed sugar cane waste.

Biodiesel and vegetable oils

Rudolph Diesel's first prototype diesel engine ran on peanut oil, and in many parts of the world, straight vegetable oil (SVO) is still widely used to power diesel irrigation pumps and generators. Many diesel owners in the US have adapted their diesel vehicles to run on waste vegetable oil (WVO), which they collect from restaurant fryers. Both SVO and WVO require simple DIY modifications to the vehicle, which can be purchased from well-known suppliers like greasecar.com. A minor obstacle to using vegetable oil in existing diesel engines is that its viscosity is so high that it cannot be injected effectively unless the oil is preheated. The specific plant source of the oil is not too important to the diesel engine; suitable oil crops can be grown in almost every climate. (Unfortunately, it is not practical to alter existing gasoline-powered engines to run on any type of diesel fuel.)

Although the term "biodiesel" is sometimes applied casually to all vegetable-derived fuels, it usually refers specifically to fatty-acid methyl esters (FAME). In a simple process chemically similar to making soap, glycerin is removed from vegetable oil to produce FAME. The main benefit is that the viscosity of FAME is much lower than that of vegetable oil, and similar to the viscosity of petroleum diesel fuels. Not only that, it is miscible with petroleum fuel in any ratio. Twenty percent FAME plus 80% USLD is called B20 and is widely available at truckstops and fuel dealers nationwide. (www.biodieselnow.org)
Addition of only 2% to 5% FAME to ULSD diesel has several major benefits. Since FAME is twenty times as slippery as ULSD, engine wear and friction losses are decreased. FAME has a higher cetane rating, which means the fuel burns quicker and more completely than ULSD, increasing power and eliminating smoke. Diesel racers' experiences indicate indicate that higher biofuel blends produce more power, mostly because higher turbo boost pressures are possible. Notably, Audi's TDI R10 at LeMans, and RallyVW's TDI at Pike's Peak both ran B100, as does our club's Mk4 Jetta TDI racecar, "Moritz"!

Inside an engine, the amount of energy released by one gallon of biodiesel is slightly greater than the energy in one gallon of gasoline, yet it poses far less risk to health and risk of fire or explosion than gasoline. The MSDS lists the flammability and handling precautions of biodiesel as similar to salad oil!

Future SM EV Club Projects...!

Stay tuned to find out what the SM EV Club will do next!

Invite our Club to make a presentation to your Organization!

SM EV Club members enjoy opportunities to show the vehicles to the public. Students have presented Woodstock and Moritz in cities and towns including
  • Boston
  • Washington DC
  • Baltimore
  • Philadelphia
  • Trenton
  • New York

The SM EV Club participated in
  • Tour de Sol 2002-2006
  • AltWheels Boston 2003-2007
  • Southborough Heritage Days
  • 21st Century Automotive Challenge
  • Step It Up
  • plus local presentations to schools, Cub Scout Packs, etc .

Thanks for looking! If you'd like us to present to your group, or if you have an interesting idea for a collaborative transportation project, contact us. Address inquiries to kenwells@stmarksschool.org