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Introducing: Buckeye Kilowatt

Engineering students at The Ohio State University spent years pushing land speed boundaries as part of electric vehicle (EV) teams like Buckeye Current and Venturi Buckeye Bullet.

Now, they are looking to the water for some inspiration. 

Introducing: Buckeye Kilowatt, the new EV boat racing team out of the Center for Automotive Research (CAR). The program involves a unique combination of NASA technology, Ohio State research, and enthusiastic volunteers from the boating community.

The two organizers behind Buckeye Kilowatt are as interesting as they are completely different from one another. Kevin Klosterman is the education director at the Ohio Bankers League, who also happens to be serious about water sports. These days, when he isn’t barefoot skiing or racing boats on the Scioto River in his spare time, he’s making trips down to visit Ohio State Research Scientist C.G. Cantemir at CAR. 

Together, they saw a tremendous opportunity to not only break a world record and develop new technology, but also have fun doing what they love.

Their unique skill sets are now working in conjunction. Cantemir knows the technology behind powering EVs, after years spent crafting electric power concepts for NASA and private contractors. He even built the world’s first all-electric semi truck. The same technology has adapted well to powering electric racing boats.

Now, they just need to get the program up and running. The Columbus Dispatch helped by first introducing the program to the public earlier this month.

“We’re looking for students to be involved in this program actively,” Cantemir said. “So far, we have kept a low profile.”

Klosterman put the overall goals of Buckeye Kilowatt into perspective: The world EV boat speed record is “only” 98 mph.

“It’s low-hanging fruit,” he said. “With our technology, we can double that. You just need someone willing to risk it and drive that fast.”

The team initially plans to try for 100mph, he said, but the state-of-the-art electric motor Cantemir developed for NASA is way more capable. In fact, it can reach such speeds that moving on the water becomes very challenging to the pilot – and potentially lethal.

Klosterman ultimately called in a friend, Chris Fairchild, who happens to be a Formula 1 boat racer, to pilot the record-breaking run.

When it comes to the technology involved, Cantemir said electric motors offer more than traditional gasoline-powered engines. They are stronger, smaller and lighter. While pondering how to adapt the EV motor design to watercraft, he realized an outboard version could be easily switched from boat to boat. 

Cantemir also stressed an important point: the motor technology was originally developed for NASA, and therefore remains in the ownership of that agency. Fortunately, he said, NASA allowed the Buckeye Kilowatt program to use the motor to attempt to set the world record. 

"This is a quite rare situation," he said. 

While record-breaking is formidable goal, Klosterman said, he envisions a larger concept for Buckeye Kilowatt.

“Clean technology and The Ohio State University,” he said. “This is the testing ground for it.”

Klosterman wants to bring together like-minded, thrill-seeking individuals to meet up on the Scioto River each year to race electric boats. He sees a camping and festival vibe like the RiverFest, with 50 to 80 collegiate racing and engineering teams across the nation meeting in Columbus to compete against one another for the title - something Ohio State won't give up easily.

“Our intentions are to seize the record and to hold it,” he said, adding that the first racing event could happen as early as autumn.

Next year, Klosterman said, the goal is to bring in Ohio State engineering students to help out, with approximately 30 students working to improve efficiency and design. Others will assist with event management and volunteering.

Cantemir said a project of this kind presents many engineering challenges. Operating a power source vertically, as well as the size, weight and the placement of the batteries, the type of power control and the final integration into a floating platform must all be carefully worked out if Buckeye Kilowatt will successfully nab the world record.

Time trials will take place at the Scioto River on the Griggs Reservoir and the American Power Boat Association will set up the course and document race times. 

If any ECE students would like to be involved in the project, contact Cantemir at 614-688-4286 or cantemir.1@osu.edu.