Hybrid Beetles

October 16, 2009

There is an amusing article in the “Autopia” section of the Wired web site about a project by some engineering students at the University of Kansas, who have taken an old Volkswagen “Beetle” and fitted it with a new hybrid engine, using lead-acid batteries and a biodiesel engine that runs on used cooking oil.

Students at the University of Kansas have built what may be the coolest hybrid ever — a 1974 Volkswagen Super Beetle–series hybrid that burns biodiesel and gets about 50 mpg

The car was apparently donated to the engineering group, and they liked the idea of turning it into a hybrid; partly, this was because it is still relatively easy to get parts (VW built 20+ million Beetles), and partly because the cars still have a certain appeal (witness the use of the Beetle in current VW commercials).  I confess to an affection for the car myself; it was the first car I ever drove regularly, and probably the last one in which I was reasonably confident that I could fix anything that broke.

The team, who call themselves the EcoHawks, figure that the conversion cost about $25,000 as a one-off project; this is hardly at the level of feasibility for mass production, but the EcoHawks think it might be possible to produce a conversion kit for considerably less.

The power train uses 10 lead-acid batteries (chosen mainly because they are cheap) to power its electric motors, and a small diesel engine to run the generator that charges the batteries.  The car, at present, is not street legal, but the EcoHawks think they can get it to pass inspection by next year.  Top speed at present is estimated at about 45 mph; upgrading to better batteries would reduce the weight of the car and increase top speed and fuel economy.

Of course, the main purpose of this project was educational, and from that point of view I think it can be counted as a success.  And it’s good to see this kind of creative thinking.


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