WINONA, Ohio — Even as a boy, Tom Ewing knew his son, Rob, had a mechanical aptitude.
The Columbiana County dairy farmer recalls a time when Rob was only 10 and his sister’s car needed a new starter.
“I told him ‘why don’t you go do that’ and about an hour later he had done it,” the elder Ewing recalled.
Now, Rob is a mechanical engineering student at Ohio State University in about his fourth year of study. He’s known across the state and even across the nation for one of his projects — helping to build the world’s fastest hydrogen fuel cell-powered car.
Known as Buckeye Bullet 2, the car set a new international speed record in late September at Salt Flats in Utah. It reached an average speed of 302.877 mph, far above its previous record of 132.129 mph, set in 2007.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Rob Ewing said, reacting to the car’s new record. “When it was all said and done, knowing that you have the fastest car in the world for hydrogen powered, that’s pretty neat to know that you had a hand in doing something like that.”
The car is put together by a team of OSU students, from freshman to doctorate students, he said. It measures 36 feet long and all the parts are either made or designed by students.
The car runs off a hydrogen fuel cell, a technology Rob expects will become more prevalent in consumer cars and other consumer products, in the coming years. The big holdup is cost, he said, noting the cost of fuel cells is still not feasible for many applications.
But he’s hopeful as more research is done, students and weathered researchers will be able to make the technology more applicable.
Fuel cells could even have a use on farms, and farm equipment, Tom Ewing predicts. For one thing, there’s fewer parts to maintain and the emissions — heat and water — are generally considered harmless.
“To me, the beauty of that system is the lack of moving parts compared to an internal combustion,” he said.
The car has been featured on the Discovery Channel and is well publicized on the Internet, including YouTube and the bullet’s own Web site, www.buckeyebullet.com.
Although the hydrogen car handles a little different than a tractor, Rob still credits his upbringing to introducing him to repair work and use of tools.
“Any farm kid grows up being pretty mechanically inclined, out of necessity,” he said.
Rob has at least one more year at OSU and another year to help perfect the car even further. After that, he’s hoping his experience will pay off in the form of a related career, possibly for one of the major automobile companies.
(Reporter Chris Kick can be reached at 330-464-4046 or at firstname.lastname@example.org).