It’s electric: UVa students at transportation’s cutting edge


Walk into the decommissioned nuclear reactor room at the University of Virginia and you’ll see students pushing toward a new kind of energy future — one in which cars can be powered by electricity from any energy source, including wind, solar, nuclear, or fossil fuels.

UVa Ride Forward students (L to R): Olivia Jeffers (third-year; McLean, VA), Kyle Smalkowski (third-year; Richmond, VA), Jason Rowe (fourth-year; Waynesboro, VA), and Brian Chaldares (fourth-year; Waynesboro, VA). The 2004 Subaru Legacy is being converted for David Slutzky.
Since its founding in 2008, the RideForward program has given UVa students the opportunity to convert conventional gasoline-powered cars into vehicles that run on electricity alone.

Professor Jim Durand, the program’s founder and faculty adviser, said his inspiration for the group came from the recent recession, which saw record-setting gas prices on top of the severe financial crisis.

“We were shipping nearly $350 billion abroad each year for our fuel and it just seemed like there had to be something we could do [at UVa],” Durand said.

After three years, RideForward now boasts 55 student members and three advising professors. In addition to three current electric vehicle (EV) conversion projects, RideForward has groups focusing on solar race car development, business and policy, and creating an infrastructure of EV charging stations.

“RideForward has really been shaping up over the last couple of years,” said RideForward president Olivia Jeffers, a third-year civil engineering student.

This article originally appeared at Charlottesville Tomorrow.