• MIT President Susan Hockfield and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz check out under the hood of the new 2011 Ford Transit electric vehicle. The motor is electrically powered and contains a liquid cooled 28 kWh lithium-ion battery pack with internal sensors and controller.

    Photo: Ruth T. Davis

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Using wheels to reduce a carbon footprint

Facilities' new electric vehicle is powered by a battery and generates no emissions.


The newest vehicle in the Department of Facilities' fleet has a surprise under the hood; instead of spark plugs and oil, there’s a lithium-ion battery pack. In this 2011 Ford Transit Connect, the motor is electrically powered and has zero emissions.

“We have several Ford Transits in our fleet already,” says John DiFava, director of Facilities Operations and Security. “We’ve been pleased with the model, so we decided to try an all-electric vehicle.” The car’s shell is created by Ford, the batteries are made by Johnson Controls, and the power train is designed and installed by Azure Dynamics; the latter two companies were founded by MIT alums.

Another surprise is under the “gas” cap of the Ford Transit. There you’ll find a Level 2 Charge Port. The vehicle is connected to the electrical grid through this port and is capable of 120V or 240V AC charging. The vehicle will be stored at the Mail Services’ office in Building WW15 where it will be charged overnight and then should be able to run all day on that charge.

Facilities chose to invest in an all electric-powered vehicle rather than a traditional gas-powered or hybrid in part to test an electric model to see if it was suitable for the type of work that Facilities does. “In reality, it’s a perfect vehicle for Mail Services because they do dozens of quick trips in a day” says Joe D’Entremont, Grounds Services supervisor in charge of maintaining the Facilities' fleet.

The Transit will be used between eight and 10 hours a day and will travel 15 to 20 miles, which is less than the 60 to 80 miles it can travel on a single charge. “This car will deliver to residence halls, it will serve as a courier vehicle to pick up requests, and after 5 p.m. will be used to collect mail from collection boxes on campus,” says Mike Fahie, assistant manager of Mail Services. Although the car can reach a speed of 75 mph, it will travel around campus under 30 mph and at those speeds the motor is so quiet that the car may not be heard easily by pedestrians. So, the Mail Services drivers will use extra caution while using the electric vehicle.

Mail Services has used a Ford Escape Hybrid for deliveries since purchasing it new in 2009. This vehicle has a gasoline engine and operates on both battery power as well as gas. Facilities also has five Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) vehicles that are completely electric, with zero emissions, and when fully charged can last through a full eight-hour shift. They are low-speed vehicles reaching 25 mph and can be used on public roads with a low-speed license plate.

Adding to the goal of reducing MIT’s carbon footprint is the use of biodiesel in all of Facilities' diesel powered equipment and trucks. According to D’Entremont, “This biodiesel blend is made right in our shop using B100 from the student group Biodiesel@MIT.” D’Entremont adds “This coming spring we are going to try and make a B10 blend and see how our equipment responds. If it goes well we will use it in more diesel vehicles throughout the summer.”

According to Larry Brutti, manager of Parking and Transportation, Grounds isn’t the only area in Facilities using biodiesel fuel. “We have 12 MIT shuttle buses using B5 biodiesel fuel. We began using biodiesel in April 2010 and used 32,000 gallons of fuel in FY2011,” Brutti says. Future plans are to utilize fuel produced by Biodiesel@MIT to increase the blend up to B20 (20 percent biodiesel).

Other future plans include trying out a new technology with an MIT alumnus, Tod Hynes, who has a startup company called XL Hybrids. “The idea is to retrofit a small hybrid/electric engine into current vehicles in Facilities’ fleet," D’Entremont says.


Topics: Automobiles, Biofuels, Campus services, Energy, Environment, Facilities, Students, Electric vehicles

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