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BMW’s electric conversion powered by Northshore students

  • Written by Shannon Michael

BMWStudents in the Northshore Automotive Technology class at Bothell High check out their work under the hood of the BMW that’s almost done with the conversion from gas to electric. The car will be on display at the Northshore Schools Foundation Luncheon on April 8. (Photo by Shannon Michael)Who knew that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) curriculum is a component of high school auto shop classes today? Bothell High’s Northshore Automotive Technology instructor Patrick McCue and his students know STEM is a major component of what they do in the class.

His students, as part of the class’s curriculum, began converting a BMW from gas to electric in early 2013. The car will be on display at the Northshore Schools Foundation Luncheon on April 8 at the Lynnwood Convention Center to showcase what Northshore students are learning in this hands-on skills class.

Two students, Scott Vandivort and Mark Clausen, both BHS 2013 graduates, took the lead on the car’s conversion last year, and entered it in the Imagine Tomorrow competition held at Washington State University. Now attending Edmonds Community College, Vandivort still assists current students on the conversion after school as time permits.

Vandivort knew before he got involved in the automotive program that he was interested in studying electrical engineering. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that rarely people get to have,” he said. His goal is to become an electric sports car designer.

McCue acknowledges he hasn’t had too many students interested in studying electrical engineering take his class, but with the advances in electric cars, he sees that changing in the near future.

Students are currently converting all lights, both interior and exterior, to LED lights. “By going to LEDs, we’re taking a significant amount of amperage out of the system. All of the lights in the car, including all the interior lights would probably take 20-25 amps to run, but with the switchover to LED, they will be able to cut it down to about 5 amps,” McCue said.

Companies are working with the class project, including Kent-based Diamond Lighting, who is prototype beta testing LED headlights on the car.

To McCue’s knowledge, there are no other schools in the state that are doing this level of automotive project in the classroom. “No one has really done lithium iron phosphate batteries,” he said. The batteries are on par with what Tesla has in their cars, but they use a different kind of lithium battery.

The BMW has 80 of their type of lithium batteries in the car, whereas a Tesla has 7,000 of the special lithium batteries they use. The Tesla has a great battery system and great range and performance, McCue said, while the BMW’s range is currently about 100 miles.

The charging system in the BMW is accessed through where the gas cap used to be. It uses a 220-volt charging system and can be charged at any public charging station in the area.

The goal for the remainder of this school year for McCue and his class is to finish the car, which he anticipates will happen in the next few weeks, then they will start driving it and troubleshooting any issues. Next, students will start collecting data to see how much electricity they put into the car and see how many miles they get out of it.

This is where science and math come into the project. “The kids and I will talk about the science and math behind how much energy we’re putting in, how much the energy costs, and how many miles we’re getting out of it,” McCue said.

The long-term goal of the car is for the students to do science, engineering and math. “We’ve done a lot of engineering in the last two years, and we’re just getting to the science and math behind it, too,” he said.

A secondary goal of the car this year is to participate in drag racing. The school district has given permission for the car to compete at Pacific Raceways in Kent.

“There is an organization for drag racing cars called National Electric Drag Racing Association, and within the group there is a classification for high school built electric cars,” McCue said, adding, “We’ve gone on the website and looked up the records, and we should be able to set a world record with this car.” They came to that conclusion using science and math to calculate what they think the car’s ability will be to beat the current record. No students will race the car.
While a little more than half of McCue’s students have previous experience in working on cars before taking his class, about a third have no experience with the technology.

So, he reduces the complexity of the BMW project down to teaching students how to create an electric bicycle. “An electric bicycle is pretty simple: throttle, battery, and motor,” McCue said. He teaches the same theories with the bicycle project as are used in the BMW project. For example, they test different battery packs to learn the differences in performance.

Having the car at the luncheon in April will help bring attention to the fact that students do receive a STEM education in the auto technology program, McCue believes.

Anyone interested in learning more about the BMW, or interested in donating parts or equipment towards the project or any other electric hybrid type of technology can contact McCue at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

To find out more about the Northshore Schools Foundation luncheon, visit www.northshoreschools foundation.org.

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