Chelsea Asplund/The AS Review
Machines hum and florescent lights buzz around a turquoise and sea green bus. Sitting inside a spacious concrete room, the bus appears as if it was plucked out of time. With its exposed engine and faded markings, it patiently waits as if it knows it’s about to face a huge change.
Western senior Adrian Eissinger adjusts his protective eye wear just before he peers into the engine. He is not a professional engineer with years of experience under his belt. He is a vehicle engineering technology major and part of the Hybrid Bus Project Team.
The team was created in 2008 and was given the project after Western received a $730,500 grant from the Federal Transit Administration. Over the next three years, the team will be designing and building a prototype for a lightweight hybrid bus.
Eissinger is the power train lead of the team, a paid position that focuses on working on the designing, sourcing and engineering aspects of the project.
He said the hybrid bus project is different from other projects due to the future effect it will have on the community. The vehicle they are working on will potentially be built on a mass scale after its design is completed, Eissinger said. One unique aspect of the project requires the team to find parts for not just one bus, but for thousands.
“So instead of sourcing one engine from a junk yard for just one model, we actually have to make connections to where we can supply 200 to 3,000 a year. So that adds a whole other dynamic,” Eissinger said. “We’re actually trying to build a vehicle like a company would build a vehicle for production. It’s real.”
Prior to joining the bus team, he was heavily involved in the X PRIZE team that competed to build a 100-mpg car in the national Progressive Automotive X PRIZE Competition in Detroit, Mich. last year.
Eissinger said his ultimate goal upon graduating this quarter is to move to California and work for Tesla Motors, where several of his former X PRIZE teammates are working.
Eissinger, who was born and raised in Bellingham, said he always knew what he wanted to do and feels lucky for the opportunities Western has given him.
“I’ve always liked cars and I’ve always been hands-on. I’ve been lucky enough to know what I’ve wanted to do for a long time and am even luckier I’ve had such great opportunities,” he said.
The project is underway at the Technology Development Center, a Port of Bellingham-owned facility located off F Street and Roeder Avenue that has offered office spaces, shared classrooms and conferences areas for Western and Bellingham Technical College since its opening in 2009.
“We jokingly call it the ‘magic school bus project,’” said Dodd Snodgrass, the economic development specialist at the Port of Bellingham.
Snodgrass said the project is a direct reflection of the port’s goal to get Western on the Bellingham waterfront.
“The dynamic of our facility is that it presents new opportunities to show what educational talent students have,” he said.
Along with Eissinger, the rest of the team is made up of various students, many of whom are from Western’s engineering department and are led by assistant professor of engineering technology Steven Fleishman.
The design targets for the hybrid bus include a low-floor, 24-foot long para-transit vehicle that can hold 15 people. The bus must have a cruising range of 300 miles and a top speed of 70 mph. It also needs to travel 20 miles per gallon while using alternative fuel. In addition, the interior needs to be able to be reconfigured to suit operators’ needs.
Fleishman said students need to take all of these details into consideration throughout the entire process. He added that this extracurricular project is a great opportunity for students that they otherwise may not get at such a young age.
“The whole nature of the vehicle design program is a significant number of projects we try to use as a supplement to the classroom activities,” he said. “The hybrid bus is one of those vehicle projects.”
Fleishman has been involved in the project since its preliminary stages in 2007 and has 20 years of experience in the automotive industry. He said that now with the grant money, all of the ideas and concepts can come to life.
“It’s really going to open the door for what the transportation industry could go towards,” he said.
In addition to design, Fleishman said the team is testing thermoplastic composites, a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to carbon fibers.
Beyond that, they are designing more comfortable seats and a contour design. They are also investigating some interesting new features, such as centering the driver’s seat in the front of the bus rather than placing it on the left side. In addition, they are considering the potential of modern components such as Wi-Fi connections, computer and phone charging stations and monitors in the backs of the seats.
Anyone who is interested in the Hybrid Bus Project or wishes to get involved can attend the open team meetings every Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in Ross Engineering Technology Building 155.