Spark of Genius
Students turn gas-powered truck into electric ingenuity
JOLIET, Ill. — Seeing students apply the knowledge they learn in the classroom outside the classroom is a satisfying experience for any instructor, and Associate Professor of Automotive Technology Curt Ward knows just how rewarding that can be.
In the spring of 2012, Ward’s students in Automotive 212: Automotive Update and Computer Controlled Systems were so inspired by things they were learning about electric cars that they decided to put their new-found knowledge into practice. They built their own electric vehicle as a project of the Automotive Club, an extracurricular student group that many automotive students join.
Using an old Toyota truck that was already in the automotive shop’s fleet of vehicles, students completely removed the gas tank, engine, fuel line and exhaust system and replaced it with a 9-inch electric motor and 144 volts of batteries that now power the vehicle.
“I planned out the blueprints for the project with the generous help of Electric Vehicles of America, but the students did all the work,” Ward said. “It was an incredible learning experience for them. I think they learned more from that experience than they did in the classroom.”
Working two weeknights and every Saturday throughout the spring, it took students about three-and-a-half months to complete the project. The vehicle, which is now completely silent when running, can travel up to 35 miles before recharging, and it can be plugged into any standard power outlet.
When the students’ first test drives around the school parking lot proved their labor to be successful, they were elated.
“You’ve never seen grins so big,” Ward said. “Seeing the finished product of their hard work got such an incredible response out of them.”
The newly electric vehicle was completed just in time for its first public demonstration on May 19 at the GR2012: Celebrating Sustainability Festival, which was held on the JJC Main Campus.
Funding was provided largely by a $5,000 grant from the JJC Foundation, with additional support provided by the automotive program, the technical department and the Automotive Club itself.
The vehicle, completed successfully thanks to this collaborative funding from different college offices, will be used in future classes as a teaching resource and as an example of what JJC automotive students are capable of accomplishing.
“This project incorporated the more current technology out there,” Ward said. “It’s been a great a recruiting tool.”