Natasha Burgert, 16, with the three-wheeled bike she modified to be solar-powered. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Solar bike an exercise in potential

South Surrey teen takes power of renewable energy on the road

South Surrey student Natasha Burgert is a big believer in potential.

Next month, she’ll learn if others share her enthusiasm – specifically, for the potential of solar power in the area of transportation.

Burgert, 16, will be entering a three-wheeled, solar-powered bike that she built into the South Fraser Regional Science Fair, set for April 20 and 21 at the Surrey campus of Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

“I wanted to raise awareness and show people the power and the potential that renewable energy has,” Burgert said Monday, after demonstrating her creation in the parking lot of Semiahmoo Secondary.

“People kind of often tend to dismiss renewables when it comes to vehicles and transportation. I wanted to show that something like a bike can be 100 per cent driven by solar panels, and it doesn’t have to be any worse than fossil fuels. Why couldn’t we apply this technology to boats or planes?

“Just the impact that it can have, I think is just amazing.”

Burgert, in Grade 11 at Semi, got the idea for the bike last year, after her dad bought a small electric bike.

“I was fascinated by it,” she said. “I thought, what if I put solar panels on an electric bike? – it could go indefinitely.”

And so Burgert set out to do exactly that. She bought an adult tricycle, then ordered an electric motor, control unit and solar panels. The panels – three 100-watt and three 50-watt – are supported by an aluminum frame, and, in peak sunny conditions, generate up to 450 watts that power the bike’s 500-watt motor, she said.

The result? A vehicle that, in addition to catching a few eyes due to design, can reach speeds of up to 30 km/h.

As backup for the days that aren’t so sunny, Burgert added three, 12-volt lead-acid batteries at the back of the trike that, if needed, can power it for about 90 minutes.

The teen is optimistic she’s found the right combination of renewable energy – one month into testing and the bike has yet to run out of power.

A trip to White Rock’s waterfront March 10 from her west White Rock home near 144 Street and North Bluff Road was the first test involving what Burgert described as “severe altitude.”

“It went very well,” she said of the bike’s performance.

Tweaks Burgert has made along the way include the addition of a linear actuator, which enables her to tilt the solar panels to maximize their capacity. She’s also switched out the trike’s seat, creating a recliner with the shell of a child car-seat.

As for her own potential, Burgert said she doesn’t yet know where it will take her, but she doesn’t see any limitations.

It should be no surprise she’s considering a career in the sciences – she’s been exploring the various fields since Grade 4, through projects that looked at everything from evolution to arsenic in drinking water and more.

Currently, genetic research is high on her list.

“There’s so much to do in the world, so I’m unaware as to where exactly I should go,” Burgert said.

“Things that I do see potential in, I want to go after.”

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Natasha Burgert, 16, on her solar-powered, electric trike. (Tracy Holmes photo)

The trike’s backup batteries. (Tracy Holmes photo)

The control panel shows, among other things, the level of battery power. (Tracy Holmes photo)

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