A Message from Assistant Professor Chris Depcik
Welcome to half of the virtual home for the KU EcoHawks. This website is intended to give you a summarized glimpse into our efforts regarding a sustainable approach to automobiles and the energy infrastructure. This is all part of the students’ efforts to apply engineering techniques in order to solve real-world problems by approaching the situation from five vectors of 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. It is through this multi-leveled application that the students will develop the means to face the challenges of a sustainable approach to automobiles and the energy infrastructure.
In our first year (2008-2009), we were able to recycle a 1974 VW Super Beetle that had been sitting on a car lot for over two years and turn 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. By eliminating the energy it takes to build a vehicle from scratch, we prevented the release of somewhere between three and 12 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. In addition, since the fuel being used is green and environmentally friendly we are able to affect change locally in the carbon landscape.
In the second year (2009-2010), we were able to get the Super Beetle road-ready while adding the right components to make it a plug-in series hybrid electric vehicle. The batteries on-board can be refilled using the 100% biodiesel generator (5 kW) , or we can plug it into any typical wall socket (120VAC, 20 A) that you would find in your house. In addition, students built a solar energy filling station at our facility on campus consisting of six 180W panels that allows us to recharge the Beetle battery pack in approximately half a sunny day (solar irradiance ~ 3.90 kWh/m2/day, panel efficiency ~ 16% results in 5.04 kWh per day available on a sunny day).
Moreover, students were 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) vehicles as 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! The ability to learn and adapt on the small scale is personified by a parallel hybrid design that utilizes a small internal combustion engine running on the students’ own biodiesel blend and a brushless electric motor allowing for a doubling of torque. The flexibility of the small scale allowed students to design and implement two versions of the powertrain in just one year. In addition, students built their own solar panel to learn how it functions, while providing green energy to fill the battery packs of all of the RC cars. Finally, this provides the perfect medium for engineering students to interact with K-16 students of varying levels.
This use of the small scale allowed the students to submit and receive an EPA P3 grant at developing smart electrical grid capabilities in the third year (2010-2011). The goal is to use the RC car scale to learn the theoretical concepts behind smart grids, while providing a test platform to experiment and develop the control algorithms. The students traveled to Washington, D.C. to demonstrate the system and received an Honorable Mention in the competition. On the large scale, the students began recycling an impounded GMC Jimmy into a modern Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV); i.e. the JimmE-V. Students researched BEV components and installed a three-phase AC motor to be run off of LiFePO4 batteries. Moreover, students have remained cognizant of driver comfort by including heating and cooling of the cabin. They are working with KU Libraries in order to build a vehicle to their specifications useful for their daily deliveries throughout campus. It is our hope to continue to make the campus greener and more sustainable by helping foster BEV fleet usage.
The fourth year saw this program explode into a large number of interrelated projects. The JimmE-V efforts continued while teams of students built parallel hybrid go-karts as a step forward to fabrication of our own vehicle from scratch. Solar thermal and solar parabolic heating systems were created in order to learn about the technologies while providing heat to the EcoHawks barn. Interdisciplinary efforts involved implementing a solar photovoltaic system to power algal biofuel research. One team took on the adventurous route of building a prototype shrouded wind turbine system that powered a compressed air energy storage system intended to charge vehicle batteries. All of these projects relate to a sustainable focus on energy infrastructure and transportation. The more that we can learn (and do) reducing our dependency on foreign oil will not only help this generation but future generations.
The fifth year is now underway. Please contact me below if you, your school or anyone you know is interested in working with the EcoHawks in a volunteer role or in conjunction with our K-12 efforts. KU students in all disciplines are welcome to volunteer. Stay tuned and check out our Facebook page as great things are happening here at KU!
EcoHawks Email: kuecohawks at ku dot edu
Dr. Chris Depcik
University of Kansas
Mechanical Engineering Department
3144C Learned Hall, 1530 W. 15th St
Lawrence, KS 66045-7609
Email: depcik at ku dot edu
Ph: (785) 864-4151
p.s. We know the website is not fancy; however, as engineering students we are concentrating on the substance within these pages and continually updating it with new material as quickly as possible rather than making it flashy. Keeping it basic allows all EcoHawks to contribute easily.