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Submitted by Nina M. Riccio on April 5, 2012

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for one million electric vehicles (EVs) to be on U.S. roads by 2015. Whether or not that challenge is met, the direction is clear: hybrid and all-electric vehicles are becoming more ubiquitous, and market demand is only going to go up.

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Dr. Shah Etemad charges a Chevy Volt, while Michael Scala (left), and Tyrone Mellon look on.

Meeting the requirements of those EVs is the reason Lex Products, a company which provides portable power distribution systems to the military as well as to entertainment and other industries, has entered the new market of charging infrastructure for EVs. “It diversifies our market, and it just makes sense to deliver the power that these cars will need,” explained Lex President Michael Scala, MBA’08, speaking at a March 20 seminar hosted by Dr. Shahrokh Etemad, associate professor and chair of the Mechanical Engineering department. Hybrid and all-electric vehicles are still more expensive than traditional gas-fueled autos, “so the economics just aren’t that compelling right now. But in five to seven years the cost of batteries will come down and we’ll expect to see a lot more of these cars on the road,” noted Scala.

Presenting with Scala was Lex’s lead electrical engineer, Tyrone Mellon, MSECE’12, who gave the students and members of industry in the audience an overview of the pros and cons of hybrid vs. all electric engines. He also addressed consumer “range anxiety,” that is, a concern with how many miles the car can travel on a single charge, with a chart on the typical range of various models and discussion on options for fully recharging the battery. “A charging unit that can plug into a 120v wall outlet is provided with the vehicles and a 240V charging unit for your garage costs about $1000 at Lowe’s,” he said, a cost that is likely to come down as demand increases.

“The multi-disciplinary presentation on product development, engineering challenges, and emission reduction impact brought together industry professionals from several fields and provided students an opportunity for discussion and networking,” noted Dr. Etemad.

Neil Rodrigues ’12, president of the Engineering Student Society (ESS) and one of the event organizers, said he “learned a lot about the pros and cons of the different types of electric vehicles through the comparisons shown. The technological developments in the field of electric vehicles created a sense of excitement.”

Christian Ford ’12, president of ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) student chapter, was equally satisfied with both the content of the presentation and the turnout of 60 or so. “I was really pleased to see a variety of people in the audience, from freshmen to CEOs, professors, and entrepreneurs from all over the New England area.” Ford also helped to organize the event.

“We were delighted to bring several technical organizations together to discuss and share ideas as well as to expose our students to these groups of people and facilitate a means of networking for them. We had the support of several technical, entrepreneurial, environmental and student associations to create a good publicity with excellent turnout,” noted Dr. Etemad.

Sponsors of the event included the ASME student chapter of Fairfield University, Engineering Student Society (ESS) of Fairfield University, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), the Inventors Association of CT (IACT) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).


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