Continuing eLimo project hoping for progress

Photo+by+Danny+Alfonzo%2F+daniel.alfonzo%40mu.edu

Photo by Danny Alfonzo/ daniel.alfonzo@mu.edu

The College of Engineering and the Department of Public Safety are working on fixing problems with the ongoing program to create an electric-powered LIMO to be used in place of the current gas-powered vehicles.

The project has been developing for seven years, taken up by each successive class in the College of Engineering senior design class.

George Corliss, professor emeritus in the College of Engineering, said nearly 50 students are in the class, contributing to the project.

According to the project’s website, the final goal is to have a fully-electric Ford E-350 van, which is the standard van used for the gas-powered LIMO. The second goal of the project is to demonstrate the viability of electric vehicles and promote interest in such technologies.

“This (project) was intended as a demonstration,” Corliss said. “The first of something can be built with enthusiasm, volunteers and much donated equipment; the second instance needs to be purchased.”

Corliss added he and the team are aware there are already commercial electric vehicles available, but the university does not want to take any risks with them.

“Marquette is a careful steward of your tuition dollars,” Corliss said. “The university prefers to be conservative, using standard, easily serviced vehicles rather than aggressive choices that could prove difficult and expensive to maintain.”

Lt. Dan Kolosovsky, the manager for Student Safety Programs, said in an email that although he thinks eLIMOs are a great concept, it might be a while before it becomes a viable option.

“While the concept of an electrical vehicle is great,” Kolosovsky said, “there is yet much work that needs to be done before the eLIMO, let alone a fleet of them, can be fully functional and practical to utilize for LIMO transports.”

Kolosovsky added that other factors like the length of the charge for an electrical LIMO, would not allow them to be driven for a normal 10-hour shift.

One of the reasons the project started is because the current LIMOs are not fuel efficient. According to the website, it may cost as much as $1,000 per night to operate the LIMOs.

The transformation process from gas to electric involves removing unnecessary components like the engine, transmission and fuel tanks and replacing them with electric components.

Corliss said the program is making progress.

“Our eLIMO saw intermittent service in the LIMO fleet during the 2011-2012 academic year,” Corliss said. “The 2012-2013 senior design teams made major upgrades, allowing me to drive the eLIMO to Madison for an alternative fuel vehicle show.”

Corliss added that by the end of the 2012-13 academic year, the van stopped working and the goal of this year’s class is to get it running again.

Mike Whittow, university sustainability officer, said the eLIMO program sets a good example for students.

“We thought it was a great example of our students researching ways to use technology to help the University be more sustainable with the use of mass transit on campus,” Whittow said in an email.

Corliss said the eLIMO project received support from several groups across the state, including Marquette Student Government, Rockwell Automation and the World Wildlife Fund.

Corliss added the estimated fair market value for the goods and services in the current project is at $100,000, not including the thousands of hours of work by students.