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KU ‘Ecohawks’ successfully create hybrid car

Friday, May 15, 2009

A class of mechanical engineering seniors at the University of Kansas has succeeded in converting an inoperable 1974 Volkswagen Super Beetle into a hybrid that tests at 52 miles per gallon and runs on a biodiesel generator and electric batteries.

The students, who all are graduating this month from KU, solved some final problems and got the vehicle running properly as a successful hybrid. The Ecohawks burst into their professor’s office at Learned Hall and proclaimed their success, even coming with video proof.

“I thought it was pretty awesome,” said Charles Sprouse III, one of the Ecohawks. “Nobody knew a lot about how to do any of this to start with, so we had to learn a lot before we even started touching the car. So when we solved the obstacles and got it running, it was just so cool.”

The Ecohawks project is part of a classed called Design Project Option E. The class project is the creation of Chris Depcik, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, who previously worked with Detroit’s auto industry at the University of Michigan.

“My role was to send the students in the right direction,” said Depcik. “These students are the ones who solved all the engineering problems and made this project move. They have all worked extremely hard and have kept up with other classes, as well, which makes this success all the more impressive.”

Sprouse, who will enter graduate school at KU in the fall, said the project was invaluable.

“When you’re in school, you get taught by the professor,” he said. “In the real world, you’re going to have to learn a lot on your own. So to me, this was just a huge success. I learned an unbelievable amount from it.”

The Super Beetle was donated by Dave Bach, owner of Das Autohaus repair shop in Lawrence, who also provided a workspace for the team during the fall semester. The project also has major backing from the KU Transportation Research Institute, and the Department of Aerospace Engineering provided workspace during the spring semester.

“Chris Depcik is precisely the type of professor every parent should want to equip their son or daughter for success,” said Bob Honea, director of the Transportation Research Institute. “The auto industry is crying for new bright engineers equipped with the knowledge necessary to design and build the cars of the future. By creating this new and innovative design class, Chris has created excitement and energy in his students that I am sure will assure their future.”

The biodeisel used to power the vehicle comes from KU’s Feedstock to Tailpipe Program.

The vehicle is expected to get about 50 miles per gallon as a hybrid using lead-acid batteries and a biodiesel generator. Improved resources, such as using lithium-ion batteries, will decrease the vehicle’s weight and increase its efficiency. The School of Engineering hopes that with each year, the seniors at KU will improve upon the design and the equipment to reach their goal of a vehicle that gets 500 miles per gallon.

For more information about the EcoHawks, visit the group’s Web site, www.ecohawks.org.


The vehicle will be available to view and/or operate. Contact Ian Cahir at (785) 864-2936 to arrange a time.

Vehicle specifications

1974 Volkswagen Super Beetle

Weight: 3,640 pounds

Power plant: 9-inch NetGain electric motor

Power generator: 5KW biodiesel generator

Electrical power: 10 12-volt Discovery batteries

Top speed: 45 mph

Fuel efficiency: 52 mpg (city)

Total range without recharge: 25 miles

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