Electric on-campus cars aim to reduce WSU carbon footprint

March 22, 2012 

— They look different than your average car.

And the compact Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) that Washington State University recently purchased will yield a different result, too – more energy efficiency and less environmental impact.

Three vehicles were purchased for testing at WSU in order to pursue clean technology. They support Gov. Chris Gregoire’s mandate (RCW 43.41.130) that state entities reduce their carbon footprints by reducing fuel consumption and emissions, said Dennis Rovetto, director for plant services and waste management, which oversees the motor pool at WSU.

The six-passenger GEMs cost $23,000 and the four-passenger car cost a little more than $19,000, which Rovetto said was a good deal.

Facilities Operations is using the cars around campus. A six-passenger car will be on long-term rental to the Alive! student orientation program for campus tours.

The other six-passenger GEM is available in the motor pool rental fleet, so any department with authority to rent fleet cars can use it, said Rovetto. However, these vehicles are strictly limited to on campus use.

The cars are all electric and simple to operate, he said. They have an electric motor and drive system and can plug into any 110 outlet with the provided extension cord.

They have all the elements the state Department of Motor Vehicles requires, including seatbelts, blinkers and headlights. And they can easily do 25 mph, which is the fastest one would drive on campus, he said.

The GEMs use gel batteries, which operate well in cold temperatures. They retain their charge well and last five to six years, said Rovetto.

"If the batteries are 100 percent drained, it will take about eight hours to get a 100 percent charge back; if the batteries are 10 percent drained, less than an hour to charge up,” he said.

The cars benefit WSU because they have little impact on the environment and require no fuel or oil changes and little maintenance.

"If you can run a car that has absolutely no emissions and no real waste, how can you lose?” said Rovetto.

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