Kansas Students Run Retro VW Beetle on Batteries and Biodiesel

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A group of University of Kansas students have rigged up a 1974 Volkswagen Super Beetle to run on a mix of biodiesel and battery power.

The team, calling themselves the Ecohawks, claim the quirky hybrid is capable of getting 50 MPG from a series of 10 lead-acid batteries and a biodiesel generator.

Performance-wise, although quite cool looking in a retro kind of way, the car isn’t exactly what you’d call a speedster, topping out as it does at a leisurely 30 mph.

That doesn’t seem to bother team-leader Prof. Chris Depcik though, who told reporters, “We have driven it around and reached approximately 30 mph, but this was more of a proof-of-concept drive without pushing the boundaries. We are currently getting the vehicle into road-ready shape to be driven safely in order to determine these values.” (More pics after the jump).

Depcik says that given the mass availability of Beetle parts, (VW built 21.5 million of them before ceasing production in 2003), the choice of car was a no-brainer and estimates that it will be ready to pass a Kansas state inspection “with flying colors” by May 2010.

Although the project cost around $25,000, making it unprofitable for larger scale commercialization, the team hope that it will boost the image of vehicle recycling and conversion as an alternative to purpose-built electric cars. According to the team, the conversion process prevented the release of somewhere between 3 and 12 tons of carbon dioxide.

Commenting on the broader potential of this type of recycling-based upgrade Depcik said, “If the vehicles were in good shape requiring no body or vehicle work, and a ‘kit’ involving a battery pack, battery charger, generator and electric motor could be created, it may be possible. I would love to see it happen. The main items are determining how to put all of the components in the vehicle while also figuring out how and where to connect the electric motor.”

You can read up on the team’s technical report here (Pdf).

Image Credits – University of Kansas EcoHawks

Andrew Williams

is a writer and freelance journalist specialising in sustainability and green issues. He lives in Cardiff, Wales.