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Monday, 11 June 2012 15:46

Kansas City Teenagers Drive Electric Car Across America

A group of teenagers from Kansas City, MO are driving from the Pacific to the Atlantic in an electric-powered modified 1977 Lotus Espirit that they helped design and build. The drive is part of an “Electrifying Education Coast-to-Coast” trip.

The teens are national ambassadors for clean energy and for the industrious potential of the next generation.

“I was concerned we would not be able to go,” said 18-year-old Elias Williams, aware of some of the trials the volunteer organization Minddrive was going through to get the teens and their mentors on the road.

“We’re trying to share not just our story,” he said, “but the story that this can be done, this hands-on education. We can do this. And you can, too.”

The students are part of an independent Saturday morning class that brings together some 20 students at a time from a variety of Kansas City schools, mostly charters.

The students started their journey with a celebration before being dispatching to Southern California and Interstates 8 and 10. They’ll haul the vehicle by trailer to San Diego and then head east, where they will cruise through jack-rabbit scrublands in Arizona, the 360-degree horizon of West Texas, bridging bright coastal bays on the Gulf Coast, the Bayou, all the way to steamy Florida.

Along the 10-day tour, electric car clubs are planning to join them on the road. They'll also be meeting up with students at various high schools to share their experiences in engineering and technology education.

The Minddrive class was started by architect Steve Rees who wanted to teach creative entrepreneurial studies at DeLaSalle Education Center, an alternative school.

The car-building class and clean-energy mission that awaited them wasn’t even what Rees had imagined when he naively embarked on his education endeavor at DeLaSalle.

However, he found his niche recruiting students who wanted the chance to join a program outside of school working with volunteer mentors to learn engineering and technology in a classroom and workshop.

They tried many projects in those first semesters from 2009, but a favorite was when students shaped car bodies about the size of bread loaves out of urethane foam.

Andrew Deckard, 20, was one of those original students. He was right there with others eager to try a life-size auto body they made out of polystyrene. “We all were asking, ‘Can we work on a real car?’?” he said.

Rees is a car enthusiast who works on his own cars, but he needed specialists if they were going to build a road-drivable car. He began to grow his group of mentors, creating dual programming in both technology and media communications.

First they designed bodies to go on old Indy race car chassis. Then they designed and built the electric car to fit the old Lotus sports car.

Soon they wanted to spread their message about education and energy, and they made allies of the Metropolitan Energy Center’s Electrify Heartland Project in Kansas City.

Half of the team of students and mentors will get the car to San Antonio, Texas, and the other half will take it from there, following it in two large vans with a trailer and two 240-volt, 30-amp converters.

The car will usually travel about 60 miles between stops on its publicity tour, and will fully recharge in an hour, Rees said.

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