Research Highlights / Full Story

If the day is right, you may find RIT's President Bill Destler riding his electric bike to work. Leading the way to a greener RIT, Dr. Destler challenged the RIT community to design and build a green vehicle that consumed less energy than his electric bike. The challenge was part of the university's Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival.

To encourage creativity, the rules were simple—design a vehicle that will carry at least one person on the 3-mile route around campus while consuming less total energy per 150 lb. person than Destler's electric bike. Any form of energy could be used except human power.

The team whose vehicle used the least amount of energy would receive either $1,000 cash or one of Destler's prized antique banjos.

The challenge drew 10 teams, all of which used renewable energy sources—wind or solar—to charge their energy storage systems. Vehicle designs included mountain and recumbent bikes, an ice-racing sailboat, and a custom wind turbine. Four of the designs finished the race using less energy than Destler's electric bike.

A team from the department of Facilities Management shared the top prize with their solar-powered mountain bike, driven by staff member Scott Smith. The vehicle used 27.7-watt hours to complete the course as compared to 59.8-watt hours for Destler's electric bike—representing more than a 50% increase in energy efficiency. The solar-powered bike could store a maximum of 180 watts, which would allow the bike to travel up to 6 miles without any human power.

The co-winners, a group from the Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies, designed their vehicle with a recumbent bike, and also charged their battery with solar energy in order to power the electric motor. The vehicle was driven by Abbey Donner, an industrial engineering student, used a total of 35.6-watt hours and had a maximum total power of 600 watts.

All of the vehicles demonstrated the feasibility of using totally renewable energy sources for short distance transportation needs. The challenge will be held again next year as part of the 2010 Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival on Saturday, May 1, 2010.