Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

April 14, 2008

Electric powered

Bill Grimes

MATTOON — Anyone who drives knows gas prices are on the rise with no peak in sight. While the effects on the wallet cause a financial burden, environmental and oil sustainability loom as future problems.

Lake Land College faculty and students are working on a project that may be a fossil fuel-free light at the end of the tunnel. That light is actually coming from the headlights of a completely electric 1972 Volkswagen Super Beetle or bug. The bug sits proudly at the Lake Land VoTec building on the Mattoon campus.

While everyone has different interests in what they want out of a vehicle, the idea for this electrically run vehicle, which will be recharged by a Lake Land wind turbine, has almost become a reality.

The beginning of this story began when Mid America Motor Works in Effingham donated a rusted out, barely drivable 1972 VW Super Beetle. The Lake Land team, however, didn’t see a junk vehicle; instead, it saw a future dream car and set about making that occur. In the last year, the student/faculty team removed and restored the chassis by replacing rusted out parts.

After the rear mounted motor was filled with batteries and the front “trunk” of the car received the same, along with disc brakes on the front wheels to accommodate the extra weight, this stick shift beauty purrs without making noise.

With the work accomplished by everyone from Lake Land President Scott Lensnik to faculty members to automotive students, the car drives like a top.

“This project is an awareness thing,” said Tim VanDyke, technology director at Lake Land. “When my teenage son comes up to me and asks what is going on with gas prices, it must be an issue when teenagers care about it.”

The car’s switchover from gas power to electric, led by automotive instructors Kevin Miller and Brian Madlem, has been a work in progress.

“It has been a learning process for the students installing this 96-volt DC drive system,” said Kevin Miller. “We have been careful; that amount of electricity can be dangerous.”

Although the car is drivable, more testing and body work need to be done before it gets a finished stamp.

The car will be powered by a wind turbine, which links it to another Lake Land project.

Lake Land received a $30,000 grant for a two-year study on wind patterns and to create wind-powered electricity via wind turbines.

VanDyke said he would go out on a limb to say the college would have wind turbines that would charge not only the car but the whole college during the winter and parts of summer, all within the next year.

“Renewable energy is this generation’s problem. Gas and diesel aren’t going to be around forever,” said VanDyke. “John Deere isn’t the only thing green on campus anymore.”

We are talking about offering a course that would teach people to build these electric vehicles,” said VanDyke. “We are trying to do everything we can to help, and I think we have come a long way in a short amount of time.”

Tony Huffman can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 135 or tony.huffman@effinghamdailynews.com.