University of Kansas EcoHawks Sustainable Vehicle and K-12 Competition

Submitted by KU EcoHawks

2010-08-26 10:01:06

EcoHawks working on the Beetle

Small scale parallel hybrid

Solar charging system

The KU EcoHawks is a student group at the University of Kansas (KU), facing the challenges of a sustainable approach to automobiles and energy infrastructure. EcoHawks accomplish this by approaching the situation from five vectors for success: education, energy, environment, economics and ethics. Each of these concepts individually addresses specific aspects of sustainability, shaped by the confluence of the ideals of people, planet, and prosperity.

In the first year (2008-2009), students were able to recycle a 1974 VW Super Beetle that had been sitting on a car lot for over two years, turning it into a series hybrid vehicle powered by lead-acid batteries and a diesel generator that runs on 100% biodiesel created from the used cooking oil on campus. Eliminating the energy it takes to build a vehicle from scratch prevented the release of somewhere between three and 12 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. In addition, since the fuel is green and environmentally friendly, they were able to effect change locally in the carbon landscape.

In the second year (2009-2010), students were able to get the Super Beetle road-ready, additionally making it a plug-in series hybrid electric vehicle. The batteries on-board can be recharged using the generator, or the charge controller can be plugged into any typical wall socket that you would find in a house. In addition, students built a solar energy filling station at their facility on campus consisting of six 180W panels that allows them to recharge the Beetle battery pack in half a day. They have been able to drive the Beetle up to 40 mph around campus while increasing the fuel economy of the vehicle to 80 miles per gallon equivalent. Moreover, students have been able to explore advanced technologies on the small scale adding to the future capabilities of the project. Teams of EcoHawks built 1/8th scale Remote Control (RC) small-scale vehicles as part of their vision of a sustainable automotive future. In just one year, students were able to merge theoretical and practical knowledge about NiMH/LiCoO2/LiFePO4 batteries, brushed/brushless electric motors, hydrogen fuel cells, metal hydride storage tanks, space frame chassis, biofuels and more!

This year, over 25 students have signed up to be a part of the project. The students submitted and received an EPA P3 grant to demonstrate a small-scale smart electrical grid consisting of solar and wind technologies along with advanced batteries to begin optimizing the interconnection of the vehicle with the energy infrastructure. The students will travel to Washington, D.C. in order to demonstrate the system in hopes of winning a larger award to turn their EcoHawk facility on West Campus into a full-scale smart grid technology center while also converting the Super Beetle into, effectively, a mobile power plant. On the large scale, students are working with KU Libraries to convert a used truck into an electric delivery vehicle for their use on campus.

To facilitate the development of sustainable automotive engineering on the K-12 level, the EcoHawks actively participate in the KU School of Engineering Exposition. In the first year, they earned first place for their display and competition involving a gravity-powered vehicle. This upcoming year, the students are adding a second competition involving a battery-powered car, while maintaining their drive in the gravity-powered vehicle challenge. This will provide differing levels of difficulty for the students involved while also pointing towards the future of automobiles when electric vehicles (EV) are more prevalent. Moreover, EcoHawks will be building their own vehicles to compete with the K-12 students and documenting these cars on web pages that will be added to their website. Detailed information on these competitions is available at and interested parties are encouraged to contact the EcoHawks to learn more.

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