Randy Petersen has been spending a lot of time under the hood lately, working on what might be called the “green machine.”
Petersen is on a team of about 30 University of Alberta students who are re-engineering a conventional mid-size 2002 Ford Explorer, to help put vehicles on the road to a cleaner future.
The U of A team is the only Canadian entry among 14 top American universities in this year’s North American Future-Truck competition.
Entrants have to reduce the Ford Explorer’s emissions by at least 50 per cent and cut fuel consumption by a minimum 25 per cent, while maintaining original vehicle performance, utility, safety and affordability.
FutureTruck, sponsored by Ford Motor Co. and the U.S. Department of Energy, is aimed at addressing environmental and energy issues posed by the growing demand for gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles (SUVs).
Ford provides the truck, Natural Resources Canada contributes funding, and Denny Andrews Ford in Edmonton offers technical and in-kind support.
The green machine is a hybrid vehicle. The four-cylinder engine is designed to burn 85 per cent ethanol made from grain and only 15 per cent gasoline. This cleaner-burning engine is coupled with a 60-horsepower electric motor.
The motor captures the electrical energy during braking, stores it in onboard batteries, and uses it to supplement the conventional engine’s power to boost acceleration.
“In the next 10 or 15 years, this is going to be like the stepping stone” to no-emission vehicles, says Petersen, who’s in his third year of mechanical engineering at U of A.
The FutureTruck competition provides an invaluable teamwork learning experience for students, says project faculty advisor Bob Koch, an associate professor of mechanical engineering.
“It’s a very complicated project in a short period of time,” he notes. “The students do the work and it’s an additional load on their already fairly busy schedule.”
Petersen estimates he’s spending at least 40 hours a week with the green machine. “I love playing with cars,” says the 20-year-old.
But the six-month project is a lot of work, too. It’s a big challenge to raise funds, find sponsors and convince companies to donate products, Petersen says.
The team budgeted about $150,000 for the project, but has probably put close to twice that amount into the truck already, including donated products and one-of-a-kind items like the 60-horsepower electric motor that cost $40,000.
Petersen says more cash donations would help make the truck the best it can be before it goes to Ford’s test site in Arizona, and then on to California for emissions and acceleration testing during the June 11-21 competition.
The FutureTruck competition also includes a telematics component. Thanks to donated hardware from Cisco Systems and National Instruments, U of A students can equip the truck with location-pinpointing GPS, onboard Internet and other wireless communication devices.
Students from faculties other than engineering add project and time management, marketing and accounting skills to the project.
U of A’s team members are driving in the right direction, given that Ford plans to introduce the 2003 Ford Escape HEV next year. It will be a small, highly fuel-efficient sport utility, a hybrid with a four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor.