Most commuters in urban areas drive to work a distance of less than 15 miles, one-way. Most of these are single passengers in vehicles designed to carry up to 5 passengers. If a vehicle was available that was sufficiently comfortable but used much less energy and if people would adopt such a vehicle, the environmental impact of commuters could be significantly reduced. A team of engineering students from the University of Tennessee started with a commercially available kit for a three-wheeled electric car, the BugE (http://www.bugev.net/). They modified the frame and components, test drove the vehicle to simulate use as a commuting vehicle for 2 weeks, and conducted an analysis to compare this vehicle to other vehicles in terms of environmental and health impacts as well as operating and capital costs. The full analysis can be found in a copy of the final project report to the EPA, which is posted at http://web.utk.edu/~pdf/h2vbev/report.pdf.
The report includes a proposal for extending the work for an additional two years.
In the original proposed project, the students were going to build a hydrogen fuel cell version of the car to test as well. However, delivery problems for the fuel cell and a very tight project timeline made it impossible to build both cars before the students would need to enter their project in the EPA's P3 competition (http://www.epa.gov/P3/). Because of the similarities between the battery electric system and fuel cell system and the data gathered during road testing, it was simple to design the vehicle and to include the hydrogen fuel cell version of the vehicle in the sustainability analysis. Perhaps a future team will build the fuel cell version to validate the design and performance analysis.
The tested vehicle uses very little energy and could easily be charged from either a home-installed solar panel or by purchasing "green power" from the local utility.