Student-led project pushes university toward sustainability with solar-powered golf carts

Taylor Patterson

You may have seen the university’s latest green initiative zipping around crowds of students at the Earth Day festival. Engineering students debuted their zero emission, solar panel golf cart during Earth Month.

Zero Emission Vehicle, ZEV, made its first appearance at the Earth Fest Celebration in Risman Plaza on April 12, and then was featured the following weekend at  the “Who’s Your Mama?” Earth Day Festival on Main Street.

“The ingenuity of humans is able to solve even the most complex problems, and some of these ideas and people are right here at the aeronautics and engineering college,” said Jeff Ingram, the founder of the Earth Day Festival.

Marketing and engineering senior Angela Deibel and a team of about a dozen students have been researching and constructing the project for over a year. The idea sprung from a mid-summer trip to Put-in-Bay. On the small Lake Erie island, folks mainly travel by golf cart. It was here that she had the question:

“What if all of Put-in-Bay golf carts were zero emission?”

Deibel brought this idea to her Fuel Cell lab with professor YanHai Du. In Fall 2016, she began marketing her idea and writing grant proposals. The Kent Environmental Council donated $1,000, and the university covered the remaining costs, donating around $5,000.

The team purchased a used fixer-upper golf cart in Spring 2017, and the first two months were spent restoring it to running condition. Once the College of Engineering donated a solar panel, the team was ready to begin wiring the vehicle.

“A huge part of the project was giving students new experience,” Deibel said. “I had never worked with battery or solar panels or wiring, and this project gave students like me an outlet of creativity.”

The project is currently in phase one, where it uses a rechargeable battery and solar power for energy. Under its current construction, the cart can drive up to an additional 8 miles with solar power on a sunny day.  Phase two will include adding a fuel cell to the vehicle, which would eliminate eliminate the need for the battery to remain plugged into an outlet.

“It has definitely been a wonderful experience for all of us,” said Tejas Dudhade, graduate research assistant to Dr. YanHai Du.

The team hopes to work with FlashFleet, where they would use the golf cart to give visiting families tours of campus.

“It’s not just about giving tours of campus, it’s about showing our research and it’s about education,” Deibel said. “We want people to experience renewable energy up close and personal.”

Taylor Patterson is the business and downtown reporter. Contact her at [email protected].