Using just a little water and sunlight is how students power engineering projects in a fab lab.  At Onalaska High School, the hydrogen powered vehicle built by two sophomores is just one of the projects in teacher Ben Heiser’s principles of engineering class. Students use the new fab lab, and learn different engineering disciplines from electrical to structural to mechanical.

According to Heiser, students learn about hooking up circuits, and designing structures to bear loads, as well as the basics of motors and gears. There are many hands on projects where students develop their own solutions.

“It gives these kids an opportunity to interact and explore,” Heiser said. “It lets them explore a number of career paths and see what they like and don’t like.”

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The hydrogen car was built by Elliot de Boer and Dugen Pippinger. They used one of the schools kits from VEX Robotics.  The kits cost $3,500 and are shared among student groups. This allows students to design vehicles with different wheels, gears and other elements.

The shoebox size vehicle is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.  Distilled water is broken down through electrolysis with a solar panel, and then converted back into water while the energy powers the motor. The byproduct is water, so the system has no emissions.

“It was fun being able to create electricity using only the sun and distilled water,” Dugen said. “The process creates a battery with the hydrogen.”

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