Trashed Cart Transformed Into Treasured Solar Vehicle

Trashed Cart Transformed Into Treasured Solar Vehicle
Mechanical engineering professor Charles Ritz drives the refurbished utility cart at the Lyle Center.
Engineering students present the solar cart to professor Charles Ritz, left, Lyle Center director Kyle Brown and College of Environmental Design dean Karen Hanna.

It was about to be thrown out, but instead of dumping it into a recycle bin, three engineering students transformed a broken, rusted cart into a running solar cart.

With a solar panel roof, new batteries and a fresh coat of green and gold paint, the vehicle has found new life as a solar assisted utility cart. It can fit four grown men, zip around campus and get top speeds of 11 mph using the energy from the sun.

In November 2007, mechanical engineering professor Charles Ritz suggested refurbishing the cart, which was rusted and inoperable, as a senior project. Engineering technology majors Mauricio Hernandez, Walter Ortiz and Brian Clausen decided to accomplish three goals (in addition to getting it to run): add solar panels, improve safety and reduce charge time.

With a $1,000 gift from the Lyle Center, several months of work and numerous donations, they accomplished all three.

On June 10, the team gave the cart to the Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies in hopes that future students will improve on the cart.

“The Center is always looking for ways to reduce reliance on non-renewable energy sources,” Clausen said. “This cart is pretty much self-reliant.”

On sunny days, the cart uses solar energy as a major source of power; 15 minutes in the sun provides about 15 minutes of drive time.

Ritz, the group's adviser, said: “I think they did terrific work. We had a group of students going the extra mile, getting donations, completing what we originally set out to do.”

Compared with conventional electric carts, the solar cart needs less plug-in electric charge time to get 30 minutes of use — only 2 hours 45 minutes compared with 3½ hours.

To improve safety, the team added seatbelts and mirrors and put in hydraulic front and rear brakes, decreasing the stopping distance by 67 percent, from 24 feet to 8 feet. They also made sure the bars that support the solar panels could double as a roll cage in case the cart tumbled over.

“I was speechless in terms of the transformation,” said Kyle Brown, director of the Lyle Center. “It will be great to see how future students build upon this work ad continue to improve the cart.”

Future upgrades might include newer, more efficient solar panels, two additional batteries and a more powerful motor.

For this project, the team received about $6,000 in donated materials and services. Sponsors include:

  • Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies: cart chassis and solar panel   
  • Taylor Dunn: brake components, tested components and discount on parts   
  • Energy Efficiency Solar: six deep cycle batteries and solar charge controller   
  • HiRel Connectors, Inc.: miscellaneous materials and parts   
  • CES Electric: battery cables   
  • West Coast Painting: powder coat job