College Students Charged up Over Electric Vehicle

College Students Charged up Over Electric Vehicle

Kent State class converts pickup truck to electric power.

At Kent State University near Cleveland, students are charged up about their research on battery-powered vehicles.

They're so charged up, in fact, that the class has installed a battery-powered system in a used Ford Ranger pickup, and they're planning to take it on the road. The idea for the project began in spring 2008 when students in associate professor Don Coates' class on electric power conducted a study of electric vehicles. After studying the concept, they decided to purchase an electric-car conversion kit and began working on the vehicle in summer 2009. The student team installed deep-cycle gel batteries, similar to those used in golf carts, in the bed of the truck. "These batteries are relatively affordable, costing about $2,400," Coates said. "Over time, we could look at alternative batteries."

Kent State University associate professor Don Coates (left) and some of his students prepare to take an electrified Ford Ranger for a test drive.
The retrofitted Ford Ranger can travel up to 100 miles on one charge and can achieve a speed of 70 miles per hour. "It has serious acceleration as well," Coates said. Graduate student Jain Jacob assisted with calculating horsepower, range, torque and acceleration. Students from Coates' "Energy/Power" class and senior-project class participated. No university funds were used for the endeavor, Coates pointed out. "We received donations from Classic Motors of Streetsboro, Harris Battery, the TRIZ Conference, A.R.E. Manufacturing and American Electric Power, as well as faculty and students," Coates said. "The companies we contacted were very eager to help." Next up: Testing Phase Students finished retrofitting the Ford Ranger late last year. Coates and a few of the more than 30 students who worked on the project gathered on a snowy day in late December to take some photos and drive the vehicle in an area parking lot. "The launch went very well," Coates said. Once the truck is certified by Kent State's Campus Environment and Operations office as an official university vehicle, the testing phase of the project will begin. Faculty members and students will measure performance data and begin developing reports, articles and future projects. "We're also going to study the feasibility of adding solar cells and wind turbines to the truck," Coates said. "We may look at adding a small generator as well for occasional trips over 100 miles." With electric vehicles such as the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf in the news in recent months, Coates believes the timing for completion of the project is serendipitous. "I believe electric vehicles will eventually become pervasive in our society," Coates said. "These new technologies could have a significant impact on our economy." Coates, who also teaches classes on inventive problem solving and the management of technology innovation, and several other Kent State educators recently helped establish a technology minor in innovation at the university. A Rich Heritage Coates noted that Ohio still is one of the biggest suppliers of parts for the auto industry, and he is passionate about reclaiming the state's manufacturing heritage. "I want our students to have the tools necessary to be innovative and energy-efficient," Coates said. "We have to be ready to educate our students in this technology. Technological innovation is what will bring jobs back to Northeast Ohio." Coates, who started at Kent State's College of Technology in 2004, has decades of experience in the major appliance industry, working for companies such as Hoover, Frigidaire and Whirlpool. "I wanted to establish some activity in the area of alternative energy, because then you have a basis to go after grant money for other projects," Coates said. "This work represents a basis for education and future research."
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