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Datu: The making of a winner
by Haidee C. Pineda

Team UP and Datu at the International Green Car
Competition 2013 in South Korea.

(July 9)—Can a vehicle like Datu eventually replace the smoke-belching buses and jeepneys in Metro Manila?

UP College of Engineering (CoE) professor Gerald Jo Denoga says, “Yes it can.”

Denoga said indeed it is possible, “Since we now have a track record for locally-designed and -built fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles that can be mass-produced at lower costs.”

Datu is a four-wheel hybrid race car awarded the Most Creative Technology for Hybrid Vehicles and bested 50 participants from different countries at the International Green Car Competition 2013 (IGCC 2013).  The competition was held from May 24 to 25 at Songsan-myeon Hwaseong Gyeonggi-Do, South Korea.

Datu also placed its creators Team UP in fourth spot at IGCC 2013.

Team UP: Team UP is a group of Mechanical Engineering students from UPD under Denoga’s guidance. 

The team members are: Yam Alcaraz, Samiel Arrojado, Mariel Bagus, Dewitt Dalisay, Gaddy Dominquez, Hannah Ducusin, Kreena Constantino, Jam Encanto, Job Encarnacion, Jennifer Fabular, Ralph Jose, Junji Lidasan, Jyj Macaspac (the team leader and driver), Nadia Manalo, Gab Mercado, Marian Mesina, Jerico Montino, Arvin Ng, Dani Racelis, Kevin Roxas, Aly Tungol and Janno Umali.

Team UP with (Standing—2nd row, 3rd from the left)
Mr. Kim, the team’s liaison to IGCC2013.

Working in the Machine Design Laboratory, the team was able to design, build and test the vehicle in under four months.  In such a short time, the students worked like professional racing car teams all the way to the Korean finish line.

Denoga believes there are three strong components why Datu did well in the race and won the coveted award: the chassis design, the powertrain design and the supercapacitor system.

Chassis design: Datu, whose name is derived from the title of tribal chieftains and monarchs of pre-Hispanic Philippines, was designed from the ground-up to be a high-performance sprint car.  Given the drag race and maneuverability component of the competition, the emphasis was on designing a vehicle that could turn and accelerate quickly and be strong and rigid to withstand the high twisting body torques. 

“Iyung steering at tension systems ni Datu, dinesign talaga namin iyon for very tight turns kasi kailangang makaikot siya ng 80 km per hour pero dapat makaikot siya sa kasing laki ng conference table.  So, it has a very tight turn radius,” Denoga said.

Datu’s chassis in purple.

Team UP was also confronted with the performance issue and weight of the hybrid vehicle as they anticipated a high speed race and the potential danger of vehicle collision. 

A creative solution to this problem was to develop a multi-plane chassis.  While most chassis in such competitions were simple single layer frames of metal, Team UP used 3-dimensional networks of trusses for Datu.

 “While people say that it was not what made our hybrid car win, the chassis was one very unique part of the car which made it lighter and stronger,” said Denoga, head of the Vehicle Development Program of the Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME).

Denoga said the segments of Datu’s chassis intersect in multiple planes, similar to the Bird’s Nest concept of the Beijing National Stadium.  This reduced the individual stresses on each member and allowed for thinner, smaller pipes which gave Datu a lighter frame. This made Datu a lighter, faster car while ensuring the driver’s safety.  Datu’s chassis weighed only 25 kilos.

Single-seater Datu was also proven to be strong. In a casual drive toward the track in Korea, one tire detached while the car was running at a speed of 60 KPH.

(From right) Team UP’s adviser Prof. Gerald Jo
Denoga helps team leader Jyj Macaspac prepare Datu
for the race.

“There were three of us riding the car. We forgot to tighten the bolts earlier and natanggal iyung gulong habang may dalawang nakaangkas at tumatakbo ang sasakyan ng 60 km per hour.  Nothing happened to the car.  It was really a good design.  So, we told ourselves after the competition halos wala kaming naisip na puwedeng baguhin.  Halos kumpletong-kumpleto na,” Denoga said.

Unique powertrain.  Datu’s powertrain is very unique compared to all its competitors.  A powertrain is a system of mechanical parts in a vehicle that first produces energy, then converts it in order to propel it.

Team UP opted to use a 19HP DC motor connected to the wheels simultaneously with a 110cc Yamaha scooter engine with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).   This configuration allowed the Team to easily integrate the engine with the electric motor to give Datua seamless transition of both engine and motor speed to wheel speed.

The CVT arrangement also dramatically improved Datu’s driveability.  Compared to the 3-speed gear box typical in the competition, Datu’s driver was able to focus on driving along the curved track without worrying about gear shifting. 

Supercapacitor:  Datu’s supercapacitor is one of its important components.  A supercapacitor is an energy storage device that can rapidly absorb and release high amounts of electricity.

Datu used a 19HP DC motor from Agni.  Compared to the 6HP scooter engine, the motor allows almost four times more vehicle power.  However, the power is achievable only at 36 volts at a very high current of 400 amperes.

Datu in the making.

Usually, a typical battery like lithium ion can only achieve 100 amperes at peak discharge.  On the other hand, bigger batteries allow bigger currents but are heavier.  Moreover, the team could only afford cheaper lead-acid batteries that were heavier and less powerful.

The team’s creative solution to the electrical supply problem was to borrow and add a Maxwell 165-Farad supercapacitor in parallel to Datu’s batteries.

Denoga said, “The supercapacitor is capable of up to 1600 amperes continuously.  We used only 400 amperes but this allows us to maximize the torque of the motor for quicker acceleration.  In comparison, we would need six times more battery weight to achieve the same current.  Once the supercapacitor is depleted, the battery is capable of delivering the added energy to complete the race.  As the supercapacitor is depleted, more current is drawn from the battery.  For safety, we monitor and limit the current draw from the battery to only 70 amperes.”

The parallel battery-supercapacitor system allows for high charging currents on the vehicle’s power. Coupled with regenerative braking, it allows the vehicle to accelerate much quicker and brake much harder.

We believe na kami lang ang nakagamit ng ganoon sa competition,“ Denoga said.

Being hybrid:  Denoga clarified that Datu is a hybrid car that has it all:  a conventional engine and an electric drive.

An engine is a machine that converts energy into mechanical force or motion through the use of fuel.  A hybrid car, on the other hand, utilizes two types of technologies for energy. It is powered by a gas engine but also keeps a charge in a bank of batteries. An electric car is quite simply an automobile that is powered by electricity.

Team UP’s Jyj Macaspac and Datu just before the race.

The competition required their hybrid vehicle to run independently with all kinds of energy sources.  With their unique powertrain, Datu can shift on the fly from conventional engine power to pure electric vehicle and to hybrid mode with a flick of a switch.

Denoga said their car can also use its engine to charge its own batteries so there is no need to plug it to an electrical outlet. But if needed, it can also be charged using an electrical outlet.

In addition to the standard mechanical brakes, Datu’s motor system allows for regenerative braking.   The recovered energy from Datu’s braking power is absorbed by the battery and supercapacitor, providing substantial fuel savings.

Hurdles: Bringing Datu to Korea for the competition was not an easy task for Team UP.

First, it took Team UP only four months to design, build and test Datu.  Second was the issue of funding. 

Denoga’s group spent P200,000 for the car fabrication and P320,000 for the team members’ airfare and hotel bookings.

Aside from the travel expenses, the Team had to spend over P300,000 for shipping Datu to Korea and back.

Mayroon din kaming nakuhang seed money from the organizers. Medyo sumama nga ang loob namin kasi iyung shipping, anlaki ng tax, nasa P200,000,  na kung puwede sanang tumulong man lang ang National Government na i-waive iyon, kaso wala,” Denoga said.

Datu’s first test run in Korea.(Photo credit: Bino Santos)

Denoga revealed they tried to ask support from UP several times but nothing materialized.  He said they were also not allowed to do a test drive on campus.

Gusto sana namin sa CS Oval pero ... matagal na kaming pinagbabawalan.” Denoga said.  The group tested Datu at Camp Atienza in Marikina.

Fortunately, the team was able to source P350,000 worth  of donations from the Mechanical Engineering Department’s industry partners, Magic Aire Industries, Inc., one of the leading distributors of refrigeration and cooling parts and equipment in the Philippines; and MESCO Inc., a 53-year-old Philippine-based company  that had been supplying the manufacturing and industrial companies with machine tools, engineering products and technology available in the market.

The win:  All of Team UP’s hard work paid off when they won 4th place and one special award at the IGC 2013.  For their win, they took home 1,000,000 KRW or approximately P38,000.

The IGCC 2013 was hosted by the Korea Automobile Testing and Research Institute and Korea Auto-Vehicle Safety Association and supported by the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs of Korea. The competition encourages students from different universities to utilize emerging technologies and develop high performance hybrid vehicles.

Their win was an added publicity for the department, especially with the country’s growing interest in hybrid vehicles.

Prof. Denoga, on behalf of Team UP, receives the
1,000,000 KRW prize from the competition.

Datu and the future:  Given its capabilities, Denoga said Datu can definitely be mass produced, and in fact “There are people already looking into it.”

Aside from being environment-friendly, Datu is relatively cheaper compared to commercial vehicles.

“If you will include all the vehicle parts, the estimated cost will be up to P400,000. But, that’s because it’s a prototype. But based on the economy of scale, perhaps it will be cheaper by up to P200,000 or 300,000.  Or most likely, it’s P200,000 only,” Denoga said.

When asked of Team UP’s future plans for another hybrid car like Datu and prospects of joining international competitions, Denoga said, “Napag-iisipan lang pero ayaw na namin ulit mag-international kasi mahal.  Maganda naman ang track record namin.  We’ve always been winning but, the fact that we have less and less [support], hindi na namin susubukang mag-international [competition].”

Wonder car Datu will be on display for the public to see at the National Science and Technology Week 2013 at the SMX Convention Center from July 23 to 27.

*Photos courtesy of Team UP of the Mechanical Engineering Department.