Instructor builds all-electric shuttle bus

Posted: Monday, January 17, 2011

FAIRBANKS — The final touches are being put on an all-electric shuttle bus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Instructor Michael Golub has been working with 11 students on the project. He is confident the reworked 1994 Ford E-350 bus will be capable of silently navigating UAF’s streets, powered only with a battery pack and an electric motor.

Golub is about to begin a doctorate program in sustainable energy. The students in his two-week electric conversion class are helping him work on the project during the winter break.

After putting 285,000 miles on the bus, UAF Facilities Services was ready to retire it but UAF transportation officials approached Golub about converting the bus.

With the help of a $15,000 UAF grant, Golub was able to purchase an electric motor, battery pack and other equipment. The shuttle is powered by 45 battery cells of 3.2 amps each, which fuel an 11-inch transWarp D/C motor. The cylinder looks like a small shop vacuum mounted beneath the van.

A regular wall outlet will charge the battery pack in 10 hours, while a 220-volt outlet will do it in about 6 hours, Golub said. That should be enough for 10-20 miles of travel, which he said is a workable range on UAF’s limited road network.

Golub figures the van’s electric single-gear engine will be capable of spinning at 2,000 revolutions per minute, which should get the shuttle bus up to 20 mph. That should be fast enough for it to function on campus as a shuttle, Golub said.

The amount of electricity needed to run the bus will be about half the price of a comparable amount of diesel fuel, he said, although that could vary as oil and electric costs shift.

Golub also said the electric vehicle is a cleaner option. Even when electricity is generated by burning coal, he said an emissions savings is achieved compared to running a shuttle bus on diesel.

“Because of the price of diesel and the price of electricity, it seems like we should be able to break even in a couple of years,” Golub said.

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