As 4-H members presented an array of animals, games, activities and performances at the Anoka County Fair this year, there was a new addition: a solar electric vehicle (SEV).
The Andover Lamplighters 4-H Club recently completed the SEV as part of a project that took 2 1/2 years. The SEV has taken part in the parade at Andover Fun Fest since 2010.
The project began almost three years ago when 4-Her Liam Verhoef and his father Bill had an idea to buy a pallet of electric scooters and use them to design something. They soon realized the project would require too much time for just the two of them and presented the idea to the Lamplighters 4-H Club.
“The club really embraced it, they loved it,” Anoka County 4-H Treasurer Tom Popsun said.
Popsun, his wife Rikki and their daughters Anna and Megan were one of nine different 4-H families that worked on the vehicle from start to finish.
In October 2009 Lamplighters club members were asked to draw designs on what they would want the vehicle to look like. After research and tweaking the designs, the club came up with a design for a small, off-road vehicle that was still lightweight.
4-Her Trevor Hornsby, who is a member of the Lamplighters 4-H Club, contacted his neighbor Dennis Borgwarth, chief executive officer of Hot Metal Engineering.
Borgwarth became very excited about the project and gave the club complete use of his shop and tools. He trained the 4-Hers on how to use the different machines and provided the metal for the vehicle with metal left-over from his projects.
Members of the Lamplighters Club learned how to bend the metal framework, weld, tack weld and use a cold saw, all under Borgwarth’s direction.
“Even I learned so much on this project and the kids had a blast doing the work,” Popsun said.
Hornsby was one of 26 different 4-Hers that worked on the vehicle.
“The most enjoyable thing for me was seeing my little sister and all her friends just enjoy working on it… they got a kick out of the littlest things,” he said.
Since club members and their families had a variety of different talents and interests, Popsun said 4-Hers could contribute in any way they wanted. Some were only interested in the electrical portion of the SEV, while others wanted to design the seat covers.
“Whatever you thought your interest was, you were able to take a hold of it,” Popsun said.
The club worked an average of four hours a month on the SEV over the past 2 1/2 years. Aside from the solar panels, most of the materials to make the SEV were recycled or donated items. The steering wheel and much of the framework are electric scooter parts.
The Lamplighters 4-H Club received between $5,000 and $8,000 in donated items, time or money for the SEV, according to Popsun.
Along with the metal from Hot Metal Engineering and use of the shop, Lamplighters received a grant from the Minnesota 4-H Foundation and donations from the Medtronic Foundation. Abra Auto Body & Glass in Ham Lake painted the vehicle and allowed the 4-Hers into the shop to watch the process. Brighton Sandblasting empployees sanded the SEV for free and also allowed 4-Hers to watch them work.
The SEV can reach a speed of 17 mph and runs on four batteries, the kind one would find in a scooter or Hoveround, according to Popsun. If the vehicle is running constantly, it can last for around two hours. If the vehicle is stopping and starting periodically it can run indefinitely because of the charge from the solar panels.
The total cost for the solar panels was around $500 online, according to Popsun.
Popsun said the club was fortunate to postpone purchasing them until this year because of the price differences. When Lamplighters started the project the solar panels would have cost around $1,100. With the changes in technology the club was able to purchase stronger and lightweight solar panels for around $500.
While there was not a category at the Anoka County Fair for the Lamplighters 4-H Club to enter the SEV for competition, it will be entering it in the Minnesota State Fair. Popsun said the team jokes and plans about making a trailer for the vehicle with additional solar panels so the vehicle could run entirely without batteries.
“Hey look, we’re no longer just cows and sows. We’ve got technology, we’ve got different opportunities out there,” he said.
Bethany Kemming is at firstname.lastname@example.org