Eva Håkansson appears to have been born with the need to go fast. Very fast. Faster than anyone else.
By day, Håkansson is a graduate student in mechanical engineering at the University of Denver (DU), working with Dr. Maciej Kumosa, studying ways to prevent or minimize galvanic corrosion on high-temperature, low-sag conductors for transmission lines. By night and on weekends, though, she transforms into the Queen of Speed: builder and racer of the fastest electric vehicles on land.
Håkansson's first trip to the racetrack was in a baby carrier. Her father, Sven, was a motorcycle builder and motorcycle racing champion in Sweden, and Eva grew up in the town of Nynashamn, about 40 miles south of Stockholm. Håkansson recalls a childhood filled with four primary interests: speed, ecology, science and competition.
“Being born as a tree hugger and speed junkie, the only way to satisfy those two needs was to do some eco-friendly racing,” Håkansson notes. “My dad was an old-fashioned motorcycle designer, and he cared a lot about the environment. And I grew up with two older brothers, six and eight years older than me, so I was always very competitive. Even if you are Mom's favorite, you still have to try hard to beat your brothers!”
Håkansson not only tried hard but succeeded at several levels. As a child, she won a national youth science prize in Sweden for a biological wastewater treatment project proposing low-impact techniques to reduce pollution. A few years later, she participated in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Detroit, and was one of just two participants — from among a pool of 1,200 students from 40 countries — to receive the prestigious Schlumberger SEED International Prize. At Sweden's Mälardalen University, she surprised her father and brothers by taking up business rather than engineering, but ended up graduating with a business administration degree with an emphasis on ecological economics as well as a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering.
During college, Håkansson also worked with her father to build her first electric motorcycle, the ElectroCat, a bike that would make an appearance at her wedding and be the first electric motorcycle in history to finish the legendary Pike's Peak International Hill Climb race. To get there, though, Håkansson first had to meet her future husband, Bill Dube, a legend in his own right in the electric-vehicle racing world as the builder and world-record-setting driver of the KillaCycle. In 2007, Håkansson was writing a book about electric motorcycles and electric-vehicle racing, and called Dube to ask his permission to reprint a photograph of the KillaCycle for her book. They kept in contact and met in person at the Electric Vehicle Symposium in Anaheim, California, that December, whereupon Dube granted Håkansson permission not only for the photo but also to come along to the race track. Both parties were smitten faster than the KillaCycle goes from zero to 60 mph (under one second, for those keeping score at home).
Eighteen months later, Håkansson rode the ElectroCat down the aisle — literally — and exchanged nonconductive wedding rings made from zirconium dioxide, an advanced ceramic used to boost the power of motorcycle batteries, with Dube. She also quite literally rode a motorcycle into her graduate school interview at DU. “I figured it would make a good sales pitch to drive my motorcycle into the conference room where the faculty was meeting,” Håkansson recalls. “They said, okay, fine, we will enroll you as a graduate student.”
Tinkering and mechanical ability was her calling card, Håkansson claims. “One of the reasons DU enrolled me and gave me a scholarship is I can build almost anything,” Håkansson states. “I bring a lot of that into my research. If something needs to be built, we can throw it together. But you learn a lot at engineering school, too. When you start in engineering, you really find out how little you know.”
Håkansson is not quite sure yet what her academic or occupational future holds. She graduates this spring but says she is “open to any offers” for work. The University of Denver, she says, wants her to go for her Ph.D., but she laments having already spent “nine years of my life in college.”
One thing that stands out as a future goal, though, is setting the world speed record in the KillaJoule — an electric-vehicle sidecar motorcycle that Håkansson has built, raced and perfected over the past two years. In September 2012, Håkansson pushed the KillaJoule to a record-setting 216 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. That wasn't quite enough, though, as she has set her sights on beating the fastest internal combustion sidecar motorcycle speed of 224 mph.
“The last time in history a battery-powered vehicle was the fastest in its class was 1899,” Håkansson points out. “I want to be the fastest in the world for electric power, internal combustion or any kind of drive train. I just did 216, so I'm not far off. I want to take back the record for electrics and show the world that electric power is anything but slow or boring.”
Only a fool would bet against her getting there — fast.