Archive for Monday, October 25, 2010

KU student group working to modify vehicle to run solely on electric power to deliver campus mail

Members of the KU EcoHawks student group work Monday on a 1997 GMC Jimmy sport utility vehicle that they are converting to an electric vehicle. From left are seniors Nathaniel Mayhew, of Horton, and Josh Petty, of Olathe. When finished the vehicle will be used by KU Libraries to deliver campus mail. .

Members of the KU EcoHawks student group work Monday on a 1997 GMC Jimmy sport utility vehicle that they are converting to an electric vehicle. From left are seniors Nathaniel Mayhew, of Horton, and Josh Petty, of Olathe. When finished the vehicle will be used by KU Libraries to deliver campus mail. .

October 25, 2010


A group of about 30 Kansas University students are at work this semester on what they hope becomes a new trend: an electric vehicle that gets its power from wind and solar sources.

A student group called KU EcoHawks is working to retrofit a 1997 GMC Jimmy sport utility vehicle to run solely on electric power. When complete, the vehicle will be used by KU Libraries to deliver on-campus mail.

“We’re able to apply what we’ve learned in the classroom to our own lives,” said Nathaniel Mayhew, a senior who is working on ways to provide heating and air conditioning to the vehicle. “It’s exciting.”

His issue — how to make air conditioning function without a typical motor that powers the car — is a challenging one. Mayhew said he’s considering a number of different options, including using more electrical power to turn a belt that would power the air conditioning.

More electrical power doesn’t come cheap — the Jimmy is set to have more than 1,000 small-sized rechargeable batteries to power it. When complete, the students are confident that the car will be able to run for 85 miles before needing to be recharged — far more than the estimated travel done by the libraries on a daily basis.

“We’re nerds,” admitted Olathe senior Josh Petty. “This is our passion. This is engineering at its best.”

They’re mechanical engineering nerds, to be exact, in Chris Depcik’s senior capstone class, and the car is a way to get students interested in sustainable building.

The GMC Jimmy is the second vehicle that Depcik’s students have worked on; the first is an electric Volkswagen Beetle that plugged into a building that used solar power to recharge its batteries.

The garage — near KU’s new pharmacy building on its West Campus — is serving as a home base. The students are adding wind turbines to the existing solar power on the building so it can power up the Jimmy in a more renewable way.

The students say they still need to find several thousand more dollars to complete the project; they’re looking for that from a variety of sources, including KU’s Student Senate and other outside sources. Still, the students and their instructor are hopeful that the latest vehicle can be completed by the end of the school year.

It, too, will likely be followed by yet another vehicle involving emerging technologies, Depcik said, but he isn’t quite sure what that might look like yet.

“Our main goal is to look at vehicles and say, ‘If we’re going to do it right in the future, what’s that going to look like,’” said Depcik, who founded the student organization.

That’s why the students are constantly looking to increase their knowledge of sustainable practices in making vehicles — not only in the electric GMC Jimmy but also looking at other, newer technologies in smaller-scale models.

“I think it’s a way of making a decision that will benefit us now and also will benefit us in the future,” Depcik said.


SeaFox 7 years, 7 months ago

How much campus mail does this vehicle carry at a time? Am I the only one who thinks a GMC Jimmy is a much larger, heavier vehicle than is needed for this task? This may be the original vehicle used to carry the mail that they are converting over, but I think they would have a far easier time reaching their mileage goal if they found a cheap, compact non-running used vehicle on the market or had one donated to them to convert instead.

exergy 7 years, 7 months ago

1.The Vehicle currently used by the KU Libraries is a Chevrolet Blazer. Chevrolet Blazer = GMC Jimmy. The purpose is to replace that vehicle with an equivalent one.

  1. The GMC Jimmy was donated.

  2. Engineering isn't always find the path of least resistance.

SeaFox 7 years, 7 months ago

I'm just pointing out the wastefulness of the vehicle choice to begin with. It reminds me of those Pizza Hut commercials where a fleet of Pizza Hut SUV zoomed out for deliveries.

An entire fleet of SUVs... each carrying a driver and maybe three or four pizzas at the most, all stacked in the front seat... all that backseat and rear cargo room weight being driven around for a showing of macho "seriousness" in how they take their business.

If the purpose of this is to make the campus mail deliveries more eco-friendly, the first step is to lose the overkill delivery vehicle for one that is just as capable at duty-wise without being pound-foolish.

compmd 7 years, 7 months ago

Well Seafox why dont we just make you a professor of engineering!

It is a core philosophy in engineering to take something existing and improve it. By working on the Jimmy, students will be able to make an apples to apples comparison between the original vehicle and their electric vehicle. And how much mechanical work have you done on a small car? its a complete PITA. With this vehicle they will have room to work. This is a prototype after all, it doesnt have to be perfect, it just needs to prove the concept.

Adrienne Sanders 7 years, 7 months ago

The libraries transport books between libraries... big tubs of books. They need a vehicle this size.

huskerpower 7 years, 7 months ago

Think about how many students and faculty are on the KU campus. I'm assuming that is a fairly large mail load.

imastinker 7 years, 7 months ago

I think this is a great idea. Electric vehicles have many benefits for this application.

I think however that they need to lose the heat and AC. The AC will probably suck as much power as the drive motor due to being a constant load. Heat will be even more of a problem. It's easy to make heat when you have a large engine to generate it but if you have to use resistance heat it will draw huge amounts of power that the car won't have. If nothing else a small gas engine to recharge the batteries and run the AC pump and power steering may be a good idea.

exergy 7 years, 7 months ago

no how about we lower tuition so that we can offer students fewer services and fewer programs that will prepare them to deal with problems that the greatest generation left us.

imastinker 7 years, 7 months ago

Which programs are these? Are you referring to student funding of the rec center? Maybe it's student funding of athletics? Let's face it - there's a ton of waste at campuses everywhere!

I actually think this is a worthwhile goal here though.

proengineer 7 years, 7 months ago

I would like to point out that the last vehicle that the EcoHawks TRIED to modify, the VW Beetle, was a monumental failure. It could drive twice around a building and then the batteries were dead. Of course that was after the diesel generator was removed....

I like the fact that they are trying to help the environment. But they need to get a clue as to how to actually make this work and finish up one project before starting another.

exergy 7 years, 7 months ago

apparently you know something about this. why don't you explain more?

imastinker 7 years, 7 months ago

Maybe you should. Is it true? What are you doing differently this time?

huskerpower 7 years, 7 months ago

A quick youtube search for EcoHawks reveals this:

Looks pretty peppy to me...

parrothead8 7 years, 7 months ago

Whoa...some students tried and failed at something? That's troublesome. No educational project should ever be a failure. Then we would never have to do something so stupid as learning from our mistakes.

lawrencelocal 7 years, 7 months ago

I don't understand why people still have the same old misconceptions of electric vehicles. Educate yourselves...

mr_right_wing 7 years, 7 months ago

Mr. Right Wing has the answer for an almost perfect electric car.

This car needs to either plug directly into a solar panel or a wind city power.

I say "almost perfect" because eventually the environmentally unfriendly batteries have to be replaced, and if there is any shortage of sun or wind, you're driving nowhere that day. Plus I'm guessing with one of these two sources we're probably talking about 12 hours of sun or wind is required for a full recharge.

The pro of the vehicle in the article is that it doesn't immediately pollute the local area.... The con is that there's a coal-fired plant somewhere putting filth into the air to power that car. I guess we do need to start somewhere...........

lawrencelocal 7 years, 7 months ago

Most solar and wind units utilize battery storage mediums though. So if your battery storage medium was say five times the capacity used on your daily commute, you wouldn't need sun or wind for five days of driving. This may be a bit extreme, but the concepts still hold true regardless of the scaling.

Kudos to the students for being conscience of the grid and where the energy is coming from as well via the solar and wind power.

My question to the EcoHawks: What technology is being implemented in the new vehicle? Chris says its a vision of future vehicles, but the article never states just what that technology is. Lithium-Ion? Prismatic cells?

I look forward to seeing a follow up article later on down the road. Definitely an interesting project. Beats building the same race car year in year out like that other engineering group the LJWorld always seems to cover.

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