Made On Earth — Solar Dune Buggy

Craft & Design

dune buggy

Brothers Michael and Kenny Ham have a goal: to create cheap electric vehicles that get people interested in renewable energy. In 2009, they built Three-Wheeled Electric Alternative by KinAestheticWind (TWEAK), a solar-powered three-wheeler. “We wanted a vehicle that could recharge itself,” says Kenny.

For help with their project, they offered an extended learning course at the University of New Mexico’s Los Alamos campus. “Our students (eight men and two women) turned out to be the perfect blend of age and experience,” says Michael, 30, a Ph.D. physicist in computer vision research at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. “They were solving problems in ways we’d never dreamed.”

The group took a heap of parts — including an old classroom seat, the steering and suspension components from a VW Beetle, a sealed lead-acid battery, a solar battery charger, and three motorcycle tires — and turned them into a dune buggy-like ride, all for about $1,000. Two cordless drills supplied power to the rear wheel through a series of old bicycle parts and a motorcycle chain.

“One mistake we made was buying a 12V solar panel to charge a 36V battery pack,” explains Kenny, 24, a mechanical engineering technology student at Kansas State University. “We fixed it by creating a circuit that allowed the pack to run at 36V and switch to 12V for recharging.”

Though heavy and slow (it had a combined horsepower of 2), it ran. “We always called TWEAK ‘Prototype Zero’ because we knew it was going to be more of a learning experience than anything else,” Michael admits.

Next up: ApocalypsEV-1, a compact, street-legal electric ATV.

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