Chattanooga gained fame as a transportation hub during the golden age of railroads. Now, UTC students and faculty members are bringing recognition to the campus for their research in alternative transportation and fuels.
The Center for Energy, Transportation and the Environment (CETE) leads the campus efforts in alternative transportation and fuel research. Center researchers strive develop and deploy technologies that utilize clean and secure energy sources. The center leverages the technical skills and application knowledge at UTC through partnerships such as the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA), the Electric Power Board (EPB), and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).
The development of commercially viable electric, hybrid, or hydrogen vehicles and other applications of alternative fuels have critical importance in environmental, economic, and military policies. Adapting public mass transit systems to alternative fuels would bring about even greater benefits.
“The importation of foreign oil is responsible for a large part of America’s trade imbalance,” said Guerry Professor of Engineering and CETE Director Ron Bailey. “By increasing energy efficiency and accelerating the introduction of fuels derived from renewable resources, we can reduce oil imports and not only see environmental benefits, but also national defense and economic benefits.”
How do you make a bus cleaner and smarter? That’s just the question CETE researchers tackled working with CARTA officials—who operate a shuttle service on campus. The resulting transit plan calls for implementing alternative fueled buses on campus and the installation of an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS).
The ITS features electronic displays at various shuttle stops on campus that display upcoming buses and their arrival times. The system is integrated into the entire CARTA network, and other stops around Chattanooga feature the electronic displays as well. Long term plans call for the construction of an intermodal parking facility that incorporates transit passenger facilities, charging and fueling stations for alternative fueled vehicles, and other transportation management services.
In 2003, President George Bush proposed the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative to develop hydrogen production technologies and commercialize a hydrogen fuel infrastructure. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and its potential as a fuel has been chronicled for decades. During the combustion process, the major waste product is water vapor. There are more than 75 hydrogen fueling stations through North America; most are operated by private organization and universities to collect data on the hydrogen economy.
This past year, UTC students converted a Saturn Vue from a gasoline vehicle to a hydrogen vehicle, and another team produced plans for Chattanooga’s first hydrogen fuel station to be built on campus. Plans also call for the development of a hydrogen bus to be used on the campus.
“These projects are important for our students because they get hands-on experience with cutting edge technologies. They are learning to convert sunlight and water into fuel for transportation and to create advanced batteries for electric cars and buses,” said Bailey.
While some students work on transportation uses for hydrogen, researchers at the SimCenter National Center for Computational Engineering are testing a new fuel cell that could provide energy in residential or commercial settings. SimCenter researchers have been testing a 5-kilowatt fuel cell since January 2006, and with support from the U.S. Department of Energy, plans call for a 100-kilowatt cell to be built that could eventually lead to a mass production of the fuel cells.
In recognition of the UTC’s leadership in the alternative fuel arena, the U.S. Department of Transportation featured Chattanooga on its national tour of hydrogen vehicles. Eight automobile manufacturers, including Volkswagen, participated in a drive and ride tour reaching from Maine to California to promote the use and safety of hydrogen vehicles.
“The work of the Center for Energy, Transportation, and the Environment in the use of hydrogen as a fuel for transportation is promoting our nation’s energy independence while reducing exhaust emissions and bringing greater energy efficiency,” said Bailey. “These objectives are critical goals for our country, and we are very please to have the support of the Federal Transit Administration for our efforts as we recommission the TVA test track, deploy a hydrogen fueled hybrid shuttle bus for our campus, and establish the first hydrogen fueling station in Chattanooga.”