After participating for four years in the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) partnership for the next generation vehicle (PGNV), the University of Idaho has been invited for an additional year to continue research, development, and testing of technologies that will improve efficiency and reduce emissions of sport utility vehicles. The project, a partnership of government, industry, and education, is a competition among 15 leading universities to design, develop, and demonstrate how this popular type of vehicle can achieve better fuel economy and lower emissions while maintaining the performance, safety, and convenience features of the production vehicle.
Last year, the UI team converted a new Ford Explorer to a hybrid vehicle utilizing both electricity and hydraulics to recycle energy. The electric system featured a 42-volt system using alternators, ultra-capacitors, and an electric motor to capture excess energy and reapply it on the rear axle during acceleration. The ultra-capacitors along with a unique power management system increased efficiency over a conventional battery-based system. Likewise, the hydraulic system used pumps, motors and accumulator tanks to do the same on the front axle. Hydraulics offered high efficiency, high power density, and a long cycle life. This dual hybrid configuration provided a unique test platform where the efficiency of electrics could be readily compared to that of hydraulics. The design and implementation of both systems was the result of graduate work funded by the UTC grant.
Testing during Spring 2003 and at the June 2003 competition will measure system performance, efficiency, and emissions as compared to a stock vehicle. Model results predict that the vehicle will achieve a 30 percent improvement in fuel economy and tailpipe emissions will be lowered to the ultra-low emission vehicle standard.
For next year, the emphasis will be to incorporate additional technologies such as catalytic ignition, aquanol fuel, exhaust after-treatments and fuel cells while continuing refinement of hybrid hydraulics, ultra-capacitors, and smart communications. Additional efficiency gains are possible with more precise system control, varying water content in the fuel, and minimizing engine-driven accessory loads. Experimentation in our engine test bay can help optimize exhaust after-treatment strategies for reducing tailpipe emissions. Although hybrid vehicles are the most efficient and cost effective alternative for improving efficiency in the near term, the feasibility of employing fuel cells for special applications will continue to improve.
By researching and demonstrating fuel cells on a small scale now, the expertise at the University of Idaho will mature along with the technology. Fuel cell research will also complement our work with small-scale, flexible electrical power generation.
Also, for next year, outreach will continue to expand both in terms of student recruitment and public awareness. Recruiting for the team will expand to K-12 students for generating design ideas and technical professionals willing to act as additional advisors. Last year, the team successfully enlisted a high school student as part of a design team and a student-employee from Schweitzer Engineering Laboratory as a team leader. The "students teaching other students" philosophy will continue as representatives from business, education, arts, and engineering are brought together to solve a common problem.
Public awareness benefits from a diverse group that recognizes more opportunities for community involvement as proven by last year’s average of one outreach event per month.