Two Students Propose Shift to Electricity

By Daniel Ucko

The vroom of the gasoline engines in the BroncoExpress shuttles
may soon turn into a purr if two Cal Poly students get their

Shida Zhang and Matthew Ho, both fourth-year hotel and
restaurant management students, have written a proposal to replace
the gas engines in the shuttle buses, parking service vehicles, and
eventually all 209 campus vehicles with zero emission electric

The two have written a proposal that explains why carbon dioxide
emissions are a critical problem for our ecosystem and how Cal Poly
can start taking action.

“With current concerns about global warming, we must find
alternatives and we must put these to use immediately,” Ho

Zhang said that he talked to President Ortiz briefly at Pizza
with the Presidents on Tuesday night and gave Ortiz his proposal.
They will be meeting privately very soon, according to Zhang.

“I didn’t get enough time to talk to him, but he wanted to make
a point that he wanted to talk individually,” Zhang said. “I gave
him my proposal and he said he wanted to talk to me about it and
wanted me to be more detailed, so we’ll talk in his office.”

Zhang and Ho’s proposal, titled “A Possibility of Change for a
Brighter Future,” includes a cost-benefit analysis of replacing the
shuttles and service vehicles with electric-powered motors.

Currently, the shuttle buses use a $100,000 diesel combustion
engine with 50-100 cents maintenance fees per mile, according to
Zhang’s research, which he said he has been conducting for three

The electric powered shuttle bus Zhang and Ho are recommending
would use a $54,000 DC electric motor with maintenance costs of
only 20-30 cents a mile.

“Electricity is the future. With electric, you won’t harm the
environment at all,” Ho said.

The vehicles used by parking services have gasoline combustion
engines that cost $15,000-$20,000, whereas the electric version
needs a $10,000 AC motor.

While the gasoline-powered vehicles emit carbon dioxide, carbon
monoxide, sulfate dioxide, and nitrogen into the atmosphere, the
electric engines have zero emissions, according to the

“I think that not just the buses but also all of the vehicles
owned by the campus should be either low emission or alternatively
fueled,” said Matthew Mintzias, a second-year hotel and restaurant
management student.

Zhang and Ho said that they only met recently, when they found
themselves discussing environmental issues in the lobby of Kellogg

They shared some ideas and began working together on a business
proposal to start taking an action about the depleted environment,
beginning at Cal Poly.

“The environmental issue is becoming rapidly more of an
important issue for people,” Ho said. “People are trying to find
more effective ways of using sustainable environmental resources.
It’s a problem that they’re going to face eventually. People have
been trying to avoid it, but now it’s more important than

Zhang and Ho also pointed out that their proposal includes plans
for numerous departments on campus to get involved.

The School of Engineering, School of Business, and School of
Environmental Design are the first groups the two fourth-year
students want to engage in their plan.

“Three departments are participating in one program,” Zhang

According to the proposal, the engineers can get hands-on
electric car development and maintenance, while they can prepare
for an increasingly demanding market of the very near future and
work with sustainable resources.

Business majors could begin working on something meaningful and
beneficial for their senior projects soon if the school adopts the
students’ plan.

Zhang and Ho hope the department could work together to create a
detailed business plan that ensures successful operation for the
program and markets the idea to raise finances and sway other
schools in the same direction.

At the same time, the School of Environmental Design could
design the electric charging stations and work with the engineers
to assemble and service the eco-friendly vehicles.

“Our school is a polytechnic school; everything is hands on,”
said Ho. “This creates an excellent opportunity. Out of all the
colleges, this will be the only school supporting a program like
this and it enables [students] to have a direct experience with
actually running an operation. A lot of companies, they look at
[students’] experience as well as their degree.”

The environmentally conscious duo knows what they are dealing
with. There are advantages to having hybrid engines, but Zhang
explained that going straight to zero emissions is smarter than
taking baby steps to reduced emissions.

“The hybrid products are really are a waste of materials,” Zhang
said. “Those kinds of vehicles are combined with two types of motor
vehicle system. One is electric motor system and one is combustion
engine. That means you need to have two motors in the car. So
you’re wasting more material.”

Zhang and Ho are beginning to a develop a more sound,
professional business plan as they hope to get the ball rolling
after they speak with Ortiz.

“We [students] are the future consumers; we are the people who
are making this new technology out there (…) there should be a
way that we can use that technology to influence what we learn and
to influence how we do business,” Ho said.

Daniel Ucko can be reached by e-mail at or
by phone at (909) 869-3747.

Two Students Propose Shift to Electricity

Two Students Propose Shift to Electricity

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