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Oct. 31, 2006
Contact: Brandis Griffith, University Relations, (785) 864-8855.

KU research plugged into hybrid buses in Kansas City

LAWRENCE — This week, as the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority begins to test a new plug-in hybrid electric bus, University of Kansas engineers will help monitor how it performs and measure what impact it has on air quality.

The bus works by running on electricity until the battery is nearly depleted. Then it switches to a backup diesel engine and operates like a conventional diesel-electric hybrid. It is later plugged into an electrical outlet to recharge the battery. Using grid power for some of its operation significantly reduces its use of petroleum fuel.

The bus is unlike most hybrids in the United States today because it’s designed to receive most of its operating energy from electricity. Also, a driver can choose to use only the battery system instead of the diesel engine. Most hybrid vehicles only use the electric battery when the car is accelerating or idle, otherwise operating on gas or diesel.

“That will dramatically reduce air pollution emissions, at least from the exhaust from the bus,” said Dennis Lane, distinguished professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering at KU.

Lane and his research team will use an on-board testing system to monitor some mechanical operations and air emissions from the tailpipe while the bus is in motion. Other partners will measure additional operating parameters.

He said this is important because other factors influence the bus’ emissions, such as different drivers, bus speed, the number of people on board or steep inclines.

They will compare emissions from the plug-in hybrid electric bus to emissions from first-generation hybrids and pure gas or diesel buses.

The Transportation Research Institute and other sources at KU are funding $334,000 for the emissions testing and equipment. Kansas’ Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Jerry Moran led efforts in Congress to fund the institute in 2005.

Lane is the principal investigator for the grant.

Karl Birns, adjunct research associate in civil, environmental and architectural engineering at KU, is the Metropolitan Energy Center’s hybrid bus project manager and director of research.

“You get the advantage of clean emissions, less expensive energy that can come from environmentally beneficial sources and more efficiency that comes with an electric vehicle,” said Birns.

Lane said many of the 256 metropolitan areas in the country are either not meeting air pollution emissions standards or barely meeting them.

“Transit diesel is a significant contributor to these emissions,” he said.

Those cities are beginning to consider if replacing their pure diesel or gas buses with hybrid electric buses would significantly reduce emissions, he said.

The On-Grid Hybrid Electric Bus Consortium will unveil the bus at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1, at Union Station in Kansas City. The consortium comprises the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, the Metropolitan Energy Center and the Electric Power Research Institute, a Palo Alto, Calif., science and technical think tank.

Project partners are KU, the Federal Transit Administration and DaimlerChrysler.

The vehicle used as the platform for demonstration of plug-in technology is the Dodge Sprinter van. DaimlerChrysler is building up to 40 plug-in hybrid Sprinters to test the technology. The Electric Power Research Institute contracted the auto group to build the vehicle and provided matching funding for its development.

“I think that’s pretty important to most of the urban areas in the United States. I think they’ll find the research KU is doing of value to them,” said Lane.

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