Purdue students create wood-based vehicle to aid African nations

May 6, 2010

Mechanical engineering students Erik Cowans and Mackenzie McNamara sit in the uncovered cab of a new multipurpose vehicle designed and built by Purdue students, as John Lumkes, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering, stands by the bed. The vehicle is made primarily from wood, and the students will travel to Africa this month to help officials there set up a manufacturing facility for the trucks, which could help to transport everything from produce to people.  (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University students have designed and built a multipurpose vehicle made primarily from wood and will travel to Africa this month to help officials there set up a manufacturing facility for the trucks, which could help to transport everything from produce to people.

The Basic Utility Vehicle, or BUV, is produced from raw materials readily and affordably available in Africa and is designed specifically to meet the needs of villagers. The students will travel to Cameroon, Africa, on Monday (May 10) to aid in setting up a manufacturing facility in a northern village near a forest.

The BUV's body and much of the frame are built of pine, but the design can easily be adapted to African hardwoods like mahogany or eucalyptus. It could be used for many purposes - such as hauling crops, water, building materials, students or the infirm - in areas where no other transportation exists, said Kyle Bazur, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering from Fort Wayne, Ind.

The students won an innovation award for the vehicle during an April competition sponsored by the Indianapolis-based Institute for Affordable Transportation, which is promoting the use of BUVs to help people in poor regions of the world.

The three-wheel BUV is about the size of a 1980s Toyota pickup and incorporates some parts, such as the rear axle, from pickup trucks. Powered by a 10-horsepower diesel engine easily available in Africa, the BUV has a top speed of about 20 mph and achieves about 40 miles per gallon.

The all-terrain vehicle, outfitted with knobby tractor tires, can travel on small roads or cross-country and can carry at least eight passengers and up to 1,200 pounds.

The students worked with the nonprofit African Centre for Renewable Energy & Sustainable Technology, or ACREST, to set design and manufacturing parameters.

"The long-term goal is to help the organization in Cameroon build these multipurpose vehicles in Africa with local resources and materials and sell them to surrounding villages," Bazur said.

The students built the vehicle for about $2,000.

Villagers currently are unable to transport much of their farm produce to markets before it spoils, a problem that could be alleviated by the inexpensive vehicles. The vehicle has a bed that operates like a miniature dump truck, making it easy to unload cargo. Benches on the sides of the cargo bed can be used to carry people, and the sidewalls can be removed, creating a flatbed arrangement for hauling longer items.

The team completed the project in one semester during a senior design course.

"The students create their own designs and build everything from scratch," said John Nolfi, a continuing lecturer who taught the class. "It's part of a comprehensive engineering education and excellent preparation for jobs in industry."

Writer:  Emil Venere, 765-494-4709, venere@purdue.edu

Sources:  Kyle Bazur, 260-227-1051, Kyle.bazur@gmail.com
                   John Nolfi, 765-496-7869, 765-409-3263 (cell), nolfijg@purdue.edu


Note to Journalists: Video b-roll and sound bites are available for download and use at ftp://news69.uns.purdue.edu/Public/WoodTruck/. For more information, contact Jim Schenke, Purdue News Service, at 765-494-6262, jschenke@purdue.edu