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Source: Kenny Ham,
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Photo cutline. Members of K-State's solar boat team pose for a photo after qualifying the boat for Solar Splash 2011. Picture are (left to right): Team adviser Eduard Plett, Eric Swenson, Eric Studebaker, Kenny Ham, Alan Downie and Bonnie Sanchez.
News release prepared by: Natalie Blair, 785-826-2642,

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


SALINA -- It sounds simple: Take a boat and make as many laps around the lake as possible during a two-hour timeframe.

But according to Kenny Ham, Kansas State University Salina's Solar Boat Club president, the race is a little more complicated than that because unlike convention gas powered boats, all the boats at the Solar Splash competition are powered by electricity from a bank of batteries, which are recharged using solar panels.

"The challenge is in trying to decide where to set the throttle," said Ham, senior in engineering technology, Watauga, Texas. "On one hand you are trying to move fast enough that you use all your battery power by the end of the race. On the other hand, the faster you go the more energy is wasted in hydrodynamic drag. Other factors include how much power the solar panels are producing, which changes with cloud cover and wind direction."

The solar boat team recently tested their knowledge and skill competing against 20 other teams from the U.S., Mexico, and Turkey at Solar Splash 2011 at George Wyth State Park in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The team placed sixth overall with sixth place finishes in the solar slalom and solar endurance events and a seventh place finish in the sprint event.

"The focus is really on designing the best electric vehicle," Ham said. "We see what everyone else is doing to get an idea of what works and what doesn't work to make a practical system. Some of the seemingly cool design concepts only went 5 miles per hour in the spring races. In the same event our boat can go 17 miles per hour. One design that originally seemed like it was impractical was actually able to skip along at better than 20 miles per hour."

"Each year we have to change something significant so this year we improved our batteries. We changed out the old automotive starting 'wet cell' batteries that we were using, to sealed AGM -- or absorbed glass mat -- batteries, which have a higher energy density giving us more run time during the endurance race," Ham said.

K-State Salina's team has been making improvements to the same hull for the last 12 years, creating a reliable boat.

"Our boat is so reliable that we don't have to spend much time getting it to work when we get to the competition site. We are almost always the first team to get our boat in the water and pass qualification inspection," Ham said. "We have the reputation for spending the most time fishing at the competition because we have our boat ready to go. This year we won the Promptness Award because we had our boat ready to go so quickly that we were able to spend most of the day fishing and sightseeing, whereas other teams spent most of the day trying to get their boats in working order."

Part of what makes the team so fast is that they have a modular drive system on the boat.

"Switching our boat from sprint to endurance is as simple as loosening four bolts and a chain, then swapping out motor packs," Ham said. "We then attach the battery and we're ready to go. Some teams change out almost every component of their drive system between each event, so we have a big pit area advantage."

The other K-State solar boat team members are Alan Downie, senior in engineering technology; and Bonnie Sanchez, freshman in applied business, both from Salina; and Eric Swenson, junior in engineering technology, Smolan.

The team was also joined by K-State Salina alum and former solar boat club president Eric Studebaker and Eduard Plett, associate professor of engineering technology and the club's adviser.