This spring, students from the College of Engineering collaborated with the Facilities Management Division (FMD) to introduce innovative sustainability measures on UGA’s Athens campus.
Electrical engineering majors Terrence Bee and Elaina Davis and mechanical engineering major Josiah McDonald designed a mobile charging station as part of their capstone project. The station was developed in partnership with the FMD Grounds Department and Office of Sustainability to offer a charging solution for electric equipment used in landscape maintenance. Landscape Manager Dennis Peterson and Director of Sustainability Kevin Kirsche worked directly with the students on the project over several months.
“Working with the Grounds and Sustainability departments was a fantastic experience,” said McDonald. “Mr. Peterson and Mr. Kirsche were extremely helpful, and they played a big part in how successful our project was.”
The setup included three solar panels mounted to a metal frame secured over the bed of FMD’s new, all-electric low-speed maintenance vehicles. The panels generate 120 volts of electricity, equivalent to the power produced by a standard wall outlet.
The mobile charging station allows the Grounds crew to charge their equipment on the go, which means they carry fewer extra batteries and make fewer trips to replace dead batteries with charged ones. This saves the university both time and money.
The students built a prototype and presented their project at the Classic Center in April. For McDonald, seeing the culmination of the team’s time and energy was one of the most rewarding parts.
“The most memorable part of the project for me was the first time I saw the solar panel frame attached to the club car,” he said. “Before then, everything had felt mostly theoretical, and that was the moment I was able to feel the tangibility of our project.”
The partnership is part of the FMD’s move toward sustainability across campus. Last August, FMD established a central “Green Zone” to promote sustainable maintenance practices. The zone covers central campus, bordered by Baldwin and Cedar Streets to the north and south and South Lumpkin and East Campus Road on either side.
Electric equipment is used almost exclusively in this area for all landscaping operations, including mowing, leaf blowing, edging and trimming. Gas-powered equipment is used sparingly and as a last resort, such as during severe weather or heavy leaf seasons.
“The FMD Grounds Department is committed to sustainable landscape management practices that promote a healthy campus environment for students, faculty, staff, and visitors,” said Brett Ganas, Director of Grounds and Fleet Management. “The use of all electric landscape maintenance equipment by the central campus maintenance crew demonstrates that commitment.”
The prototype’s success in the Green Zone will serve as a model for future on-site battery charging needs as the electric maintenance equipment program grows.
“This was a great partnership with Experiential Learning and applied engineering to support the Grounds crew and our sustainability initiatives. We are extremely proud of our students,” said Jeff Benjamin, Associate Vice President for FMD.
This partnership comes on the heels of several other sustainability initiatives. In April, FMD purchased two fully electric Kia Niros—the first all-electric cars in the university’s fleet—to accelerate efforts to reduce carbon emissions. The electric vehicles replaced two conventional gas-powered cars. They are used as departmental pool vehicles to conduct business on campus and within the community.
FMD also introduced autonomous electric mowers at the UGA Club Sports Complex last fall as part of a collaboration with the College of Environment + Design and other academic units.
“We are here to support student learning,” Benjamin said. “We value innovative and sustainable solutions developed in collaboration with faculty, students, staff and external partners.”
by Hayley Clement