Science and Technology

Putting the "super" in mileage

by Jan Gillis ('07)

J.T. Danko ('10) checks the wheel on the supermileage vehicle he helped build in the JMU Alternative Fuels Lab.

Responding to the threat of global oil depletion, JMU students work to create a supermileage vehicle
By Harry Atwood ('87)

J.T. Danko ('10), an integrated science and technology major with concentrations in environment and biotechnology, helped construct a 60-pound supermileage vehicle in the JMU Alternative Fuels Lab. The vehicle is the product of Danko, Danny Yeh and David Roy's senior thesis, and proof of the time, study and effort put forth by this senior trio.

[On the day I visit the lab] the supermileage vehicle is still very much a work in progress. The black chassis (cannibalized from a similar vehicle) is held about two inches off the ground by three sleek bicycle tires. Thin copper wires arc and taper like fish bones outlining what will be the framework for the body made of a type of shrink-wrap for boats. Strips of wood with putty and goopy looking glue trim out the framework and provide the mounts for the copper wires.

I comment on its slapdash appearance, and Danko smiles, taking delight in the team's resourcefulness. A modest budget of $500 required the team to be creative. "We've been using whatever we can get our hands on for materials since we are basically out of money," Danko explains. Some materials were donated by friends and teachers; the clear plastic needed for the windshield was found in a friend's basement, and some of the scrap metal was dug out of the dumpster behind the lab.

Looking over the nuts and bolts of this cool vehicle it might be easy to forget the amount of academic work that went into making it all possible. That is, unless you attended Danko, Yeh and Roy's presentation at the Integrated Science and Technology Senior Symposium in April. On the day of this annual symposium, all ISAT classes are cancelled and students, parents, professors, visiting academics and employers gather to hear the presentations given by these aspiring young engineers and technicians.

Key to Danko, Yeh and Roy's thesis, as made evident in the abstract, was the team's goal to put its project in the context of current concerns over climate change and global oil depletion. Danko's introduction highlighted the need for alternatives to traditional automobile transportation in a world that may be facing an "oil life" of about 25 to 35 years. The supermileage vehicle and experiments with fuel-injection systems is the team's contribution to a global concern about finding ways of extending the time remaining before oil depletion. "Our goal was to achieve a fuel economy between 700 and 1,000 miles per gallon," says Danko. "We were actually testing the car up until 10 p.m. the night before the presentation to get some fuel efficiency values. We did circles around Purcell Park and some JMU parking lots, and we were thinking about running it up and down the halls for a flat surface. Luckily it didn't come to that."

Danko entered the JMU team's vehicle in the 2010 Society of Automotive Engineer's Supermileage competition in July in Ann Arbor, Mich. It was one of dozens of vehicles from universities all over the country. With sponsorships from the likes of Shell and Mobile, some schools boasted budgets in the $8,000 to $14,000 range. The JMU vehicle was constructed from a $500 budget, and Danko takes particular pride in this reality. Besides that, only one vehicle in Ann Arbor sported a purple reclined seat emblazoned with the image of the Duke Dog.

Condensed from Fall 2010 Madison.

Published: Sunday, August 1, 2010

Last Updated: Wednesday, January 16, 2019

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