It’s Electric

February 11, 2011 By Bryan Roth -- Writer, Office of Communication Services


Brandon Tucker, a locksmith with the Facilities, charges an electric van he drives on campus.


With electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt growing more popular, it’s no surprise that environmentally-friendly vehicles are showing up at Duke. But instead of passenger cars, a collection of electric vans and trucks are making a positive impact on Duke’s carbon footprint.

Over the summer, Duke’s Facilities Management Department introduced 10 new, electric vehicles for use with the plumbing, electric, carpentry and grounds shops. Nine full-size vans and one pick-up truck replaced old gas-powered vehicles in another step toward the university’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2024.

“We were looking at a long-term vehicle replacement plan and how we could manage our fleet of vehicles better, so we saw no reason not to try to ‘green’ our fleet as well,” said Ellie Jimenez, director of administration and special projects for Facilities. “By going to electric vehicles, we’re saving on maintenance, fuel and eliminating about 36,000 pounds of carbon a year that would have come from driving our older, gas-run trucks and vans.”

In addition to fewer carbon emissions, the electric vehicles will cut about $40,000 from gas and maintenance costs from the previous gas-guzzling options, like the 1986 Chevy S-10 compact pickup truck Brandon Tucker drove before getting one of the new electric vans. Tucker, a locksmith, said that he prefers using the electric van because it has more storage space and is as quiet as a golf cart.

“I do a lot of driving back and forth between West Campus and Duke Hospital, so I like the fact that I’m not just burning through fuel,” Tucker said. “I also don’t have to make a lot of trips back to the shop because I’ve got more tool storage and a nice ladder rack on top.”

The van Tucker uses – like the other nine vehicles – plug in to charge stations on the north side of Smith Warehouse to replenish batteries. A “quick charge” option refills a battery to 80 percent in about 30 minutes. Facilities staff can leave vehicles plugged in overnight for a normal, full charge. Each vehicle travels a maximum of 25 miles per hour and gets about 40 miles per charge, depending on temperature, weight of the vehicle, driving style and other variables.

In all, Facilities spent about $20,000 per vehicle, which was less than the cost of a gas-powered option. The electric vehicles are built by Vantage Electric Vehicles, a Corona, Ca.-based company. Jimenez said that as more gas or diesel vehicles are phased out of the Facilities fleet of vans and trucks, it’ll become common practice to replace them with sustainable options.

“We try to put more sustainable practices into place whenever we can, there’s no doubt about that,” said Jimenez, noting that the average age of the non-electric vehicles in Facilities’ fleet is about 14 years. “The entire consensus we’ve heard is the new electric vehicles are working out well.”

Some of those positive reviews came from James Doherty, a HVAC master technician who gave up his 1990 Ford Econoline for an electric van. Doherty said that handling the new van is much easier because its width is about two feet smaller and length four feet shorter than the Econoline.

“I certainly didn’t need to be driving a gas guzzler like that,” Doherty said of the Econoline. “I’m glad that a big benefit of the change is we get to drive something greener.”