April 30, 2010
Marquette students get state grant to continue electric vehicle development
MILWAUKEE – An electric van project at Marquette University will receive a $65,000 grant from Wisconsin’s Clean Transportation Program to continue development, making the vehicle drivable.
The Marquette student project was one of 33 Wisconsin public and private grants announced by Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle. Funding for the $15 million in clean transportation grants comes through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The Marquette project involves the conversion of a 15-passenger van previously used by the university’s Department of Public Safety to a fully functioning, electric-powered vehicle. Senior design teams in the College of Engineering have been working on the project for three years, according to Dr. George Corliss, professor of electric and computer engineering and director of the senior design projects. Students expect to use the grant money to buy the batteries and power management equipment necessary to power the vehicle.
“The goal is to have the van on the road, carrying passengers, by the end of 2011,” Corliss said. “We want to drive down Wisconsin Avenue in a roadworthy, licensed vehicle.”
OPUS Dean of Engineering Stan Jaskolski said the senior design projects, required as a capstone experience in all accredited engineering programs nationwide, illustrate the principle of discovery learning. “Students draw upon what they’ve learned in their coursework and in practical applications throughout and apply them to a realistic problem,” he said. “In the process they further develop not only their engineering skills but communication, interpersonal, leadership and often business skills as well.”
In 2007-2008, with the assistance of faculty at the Milwaukee Area Technical College, an eight-member student team removed the vehicle’s unnecessary components, including the gas engine and fuel tanks. They then purchased and installed an electric motor and controller.
The following school year a seven-member team, including two students from the previous year, completed the electric drive train, allowing the electric motor to drive the rear wheels of the vehicle. They also created a scale model of a battery charging station.
The 2009-2010 team has mounted the motor controller with shock-absorbing spacers to minimize stress; the controller can turn on the van’s ignition.
Once the batteries and power management equipment are received and installed, a new senior design team in 2010-2011 will re-do the suspension for proper weight distribution, do additional work on the steering mechanism and brake system, and install heating, air conditioning and radio units.
Corliss said it was unusual to have a multi-year project. “This was an ambitious project,” he said. “It required multiple layers of problem solving, research and trial-and-error, in addition to fund raising, seeking legal counsel and other business-related practices.”
The senior design teams have been multi-disciplinary, involving students from various engineering departments, as well as from Marquette’s College of Business Administration and College of Arts and Sciences. As one participant described his experience, “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. There are people in the real world who don’t have this opportunity in their careers for years – to lead a team, to deal with cutting edge technology, to play engineer.”