Joliet Junior College class converts old pickup to electric
By Denise Baran-Unland Correspondent October 26, 2012 4:20PM
As part of converting a gas-powered truck to an electric one, Joliet Junior College automotive students, under their instructor Curt Ward installed a 9-inch electric DC motor. SUBMITTED PHOTOS
Updated: November 29, 2012 6:38AM
About 40 students from Joliet Junior College’s Automotive 212: Automotive Update and Computer Controlled Systems class have converted an old Toyota pickup into an electric vehicle. All it took was a 9-inch electric DC motor and a 144-volt lead acid battery — and $10,000.
“I live 10 minutes from the college,” said Curt Ward, associate professor of automotive technology. “If this was my second car and I used it for my daily commute with a quick stop at the grocery store, well, I’d have just bought my last gallon of gas.”
While the $10,000 price tag may be steep, the truck now runs silently and travels 35 miles before needing a recharge. Any electrical outlet will do. Using an old Toyota truck that was already in the automotive shop’s fleet of vehicles, students removed the gas tank, engine, fuel line and exhaust system and replaced it with the battery.
“I looked at it as a learning experience for the students to apply what we talked about in the classroom to a real hands-on learning experience,” Ward said.
The JJC Foundation helped fund the project with a $5,000 grant, and the automotive program, technical department and automotive club also pitched in. Its first public demonstration came at the GR2012: Celebrating Sustainability Festival on the JJC Main Campus in May.
With assistance from Electric Vehicles of America, Ward created the blueprints, but the students performed the actual conversion. From February until May, students worked two evenings a week and many Saturdays.
The JJC parking lot proved the perfect location for test drives.
“I saw one of those students the other day and he said, ‘I never had so much fun in my life,’” Ward said. “As teachers, we always hope to perk the students’ interest in the classroom.”
The project was a first for Ward, too. As an “alternate fuel vehicle nut,” Ward had gone to a conference on the topic and met another instructor who had performed a similar conversion with his class.
Buoyed by the success of that project, Ward approached his students with the idea of converting one, too. “They were really motivated to work on it with me,” Ward said.
Now, the converted truck remains at JJC for two purposes: as a recruiting tool and a visual aid.
“This spring, when we again talk about new technology, we can go right out to the lab and use a vehicle the students have actually built,” Ward said.
Does Ward consider the electric car the vehicle of the future? Until certain improvements occur, Ward says, he doubts electric cars will replace gas-powered ones any time soon.
“The battery is holding it back,” Ward said. “My parents live in Oklahoma, 12 hours away. Even at 80 miles before recharging, I’d be days getting there.”