MAKAWAO - Seabury Hall's engineering course is all about going green.
From putting together electric cars to making biofuels, the students are learning concepts that hopefully can help make a difference in the future of the Earth.
Green, environmentally friendly ideas are what "everyone is talking about," said Martin Emde, director of the school's engineering program.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Seabury Hall Engineering Concepts and Design instructor Martin Emde cruises in the 1995 Toyota Corolla his students converted to electric power.
Emde said he and fellow instructor Gilson Killhour want to expose students to the types of environmental issues that people will need to solve in the future.
"Why can't it be them?" Emde asked.
Recently, the seniors-only Engineering Concepts and Design course students unveiled their second fully converted electric vehicle, which is equipped with an electric motor and a nickel metal hydride battery pack.
Although the students have yet to test out the vehicle (they are not allowed to drive it because of insurance reasons), Emde and the students expect the 1995 Toyota Corolla to have a range of up to 60 miles per charge, which is twice that of the school's first electric conversion car. The new car also is expected to have a top speed of 75 mph. Testing will be done in the next few weeks.
The latest electric vehicle has the same "chemistry" as a Toyota Prius (a full hybrid electric midsize car). Students gutted a Corolla, removed the dashboard and insulation and replaced the seats with lighter ones to "squeeze more range out of it," Emde said.
The car runs much better than the school's first electric car, a 1988 Toyota Corolla station wagon, said senior Jason Beatty.
"It's about twice as efficient," he said.
Beatty said that instead of using a direct current system, which powered the first Corolla, the second car runs on alternating current. Although the AC system is much more complicated than the DC system, "it's better," he said.
An AC motor allows for regenerative breaking, Emde explained, saying that when the breaks are pushed, that energy helps to recharge the batteries.
"Our (old) yellow car doesn't have that capability, it has a DC motor," Emde said.
With a 144-volt nickel metal hydride battery pack in the 1995 Corolla, the students can get about 50 percent more mileage out of one charge than with a lead acid battery, which is in the old Corolla, Emde said.
The second car has been in the works for around two years. Each year, a new group of seniors takes over what the previous class has done.
The Engineering Concepts and Design Course has come a long way since a class put together a go-kart-looking, electric-powered car back in 2006.
"Now we have expanded it. We've done that full-size electric car conversion," Emde said.
In 2007, the students unveiled their 1988 Corolla, which was transformed from a gas-powered Maui cruiser to a retrofitted electric car in about seven months. It is still being used for testing and has traveled 3,000 miles.
It was also recently used to obtain drive-cycle data that was provided to the University of Hawaii for analysis and research.
Students said they find Seabury's engineering class rewarding.
"It's a good life experience," said 17-year-old senior Michael Sugimura, who works mostly on the old electric car.
Sugimura said he would like to have an electric car, now that he knows its benefits.
"I think it is more forward thinking," he said.
In addition, students are also working on producing biofuels.
Students have planted Jatropha -which can be made into high-quality biodiesel - on the Seabury campus, although this year's students won't be able to see the plants mature, Emde said.
Instead, the seniors have been working with the school's 9th-grade biology classes in pressing of kukui nuts to gather oils for fuel.
The senior engineering class is also using waste vegetable oil from its cafeteria to produce its own biodiesel.
To test these fuel sources, the class has a modified Mercedes diesel vehicle that can run on 100 percent waste vegetable oil and biodiesel.
In addition, the engineering class is also working on a three-wheel electric vehicle, which will be made from the ground up. It will consist of an all-aluminum chassis, covered with a custom-built fiberglass shell.
Emde said the engineering course is focused on project-based and hands-on learning.
The course gets students out of the classroom and teaches them hands-on skills, as well as helps them learn how to deal with real-world situations, he said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji @mauinews.com.