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Youthful Penticton inventor heading for science fair nationals

Charley Smith, 15, of Penticton won Best in Show at the regional science fair held in Summerland for his innovative project involving alternate vehicle fuels.
April 13, 2015 - 3:10 PM

PENTICTON - After a successful weekend at the regional science fair a youthful Penticton inventor is aiming for the nationals in New Brunswick.

Charley Smith entered his project, which involves alternative energy sources for vehicles, in the Regional Science Fair in Summerland, placing Best in Show and winning gold.

Next up is a trip to New Brunswick to take part in the Canadian Nationals on May 10. While not exactly unbroken ground — he won bronze at last year’s nationals in Windsor, Ontario — Charley hopes to build on this weekend’s success.

On first glance, Charley Smith’s car evokes an image of the DeLorean time machine featured in the "Back to the Future" movies. But unlike the movies, Smith’s creation has nothing to do with going backward in time. His is all about what lies in the future for alternative automotive energy sources.

The 15-year-old grade nine Penticton High School student has been constructing wood-fired vehicles for three years now.

“This year I added the hydrogen fuel cell and I’ve just recently installed it in a Chrysler Neon. I was able to go up to the Penticton Speedway, put it on the track and do laps. I’ve driven a mile on wood and water,” Smith says. His first test of the vehicle took place on Easter Sunday, April 6.

He’s built 15 wood gasifier prototypes over the past three years, starting with simple versions made out of pop cans before moving on to utilizing one in an internal combustion engine.

The present prototype starts on gasoline. He then lights a gasifier which creates smoke. Five minutes later he can draw the smoke from the gasifier and use it to run the vehicle. Once running on wood smoke, he engages a hydrogen fuel cell to power the Neon.

Smith says a lack of power and torque using wood fuel alone requires the additional power of the battery. During the mile driven around the Penticton Speedway track he averaged 38 kilometres per hour.

An interest in finding an inexpensive and easily available fuel source is what drives Smith to create.

“Water you can get anywhere, and wood. You can use anything, even cow poo,” he says.

What began as a school science project has evolved into a labour of love.

“It started off as a science fair project, but I’ve been doing it for fun, too, trying to get it going. I’ve spent a lot of time getting it running on wood. This car has worked best on wood, so far,” he says.

Smith plans a career in engineering.

“Building is what I find fun,” he says.

“He’s been working with wires and strings since he was one,” Charley’s mother Bunny says. “We used to take him to garage sales to find the things he needed for his projects. It’s his mind. He’s careful and cautious, curious, and knows what’s going on,” she says.

Most of what Smith has achieved so far has been the result of trial and error. He does a tremendous amount of research on line and has received some help from the people at the Penticton Speedway, who allow him to use the track. He is well known to a number of  industrial suppliers in the city, many of whom offer him discounts.

Goals for his present project include having the car start within five minutes, starting completely on wood gas and water, “or to use minimal gas or diesel fuel,” he says.

Smith also has his sights set on the World Science Fair next year.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad at sarstad@infonews.ca or call 250-488-3065. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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