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Electric F-150 to be powered by Monroe's Orchid
Times photo: Anthony Wahl Wisconsin Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch speaks during a press conference at Orchid Monroe Wednesday. The conference was called to highlight Orchids partnership with graduate engineering students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and their joint pursuit of converting a Ford F-150 pick-up truck to a full electric drive vehicle.
MONROE - A full electric driven Ford F150 pickup could be humming through Monroe this fall.

Orchid Monroe, LLC and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have partnered in an electric truck conversion and research project.

The company made its announcement Wednesday at their plant in Monroe.

Three electrical engineering graduate students and four Orchid Monroe employees will replace the internal combustion engine of a Ford F150 and install an Orchid motor for it to become a full electric drive vehicle.

"We're going to pull the engine, put in the electric motor and battery packs, and then give it to the University to find out how to increase efficiency - see what we can do to go faster and charge quicker," said Will Lamb, the research team leader.

Lamb joined the project at its start in September. He has 20 years experience in the automotive industry and has been with Orchid International for nine years.

A Lithium-ion battery system and an integrated controller will be installed with the motor. A fully automated data logging and battery management system - with a touch screen interface - is being designed, built, and installed by UW graduate students.

The data gathered through road-test exercises will be used to increase the motor's efficiency.

The students are members of WEMPEC, Wisconsin Electric Machines and Power Electronics Consortium, a world renown engineering research group of professors students and corporate sponsors begun in 1981 at the UW-Madison. Orchid became a corporate sponsor last year.

Phil Kollmeyer, a graduate student on the team, said the pickup should be operational by May 15.

"After getting all the bugs out and trouble shooting, it should be on the road by Sept. 1; that's a realistic goal," he said.

Design work started about six moths ago, and the financial budget and timeline for the project is on paper, he added.

Kollmeyer, pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, runs errands around Madison in the subject of his master's degree research, a three-wheel Corbin Sparrow electric vehicle. He designed and built three specialized battery test systems for research to improve cycle life and online state-of-charge estimations for electric life batteries.

He's looking to optimize efficiency, performance and cost through improvements in components, such as battery packs and electric motors, and in the control of the system.

"Going from a three-wheeler to an F150 is beyond what we've worked with so far," he said.

Kollmeyer expects the truck's top speed to be about 90 miles per hour, with a traveling range of 50 to 100 miles. Madison Gas and Electric will have 21 stations around Madison for recharging, according to Kollmeyer.

One hour of charging will equal 15 minutes of range.

Marilyn Pfarr, president of Monroe Chamber of Commerce and Industry Board of Directors, said the research project means more jobs.

"Hopefully, it's a big boost to the economy. It's exciting they've been able to put this partnership together," she said.

Richard Thoman, Green County supervisor, said the project will be great for not just the county, but also for the state and entire surrounding region.

"And there's more job security for employees," he added.

Phil Rath, Monroe city administrator, was impressed with the Orchid-UW partnership.

"It's a great example of how public-private partnerships can work," he said.

Keith Cornacchia, Orchid vice-president of sales and marketing, said he is proud of the facility and community involvement for the project, including from Green County Development Corporation, the city and the state Department of Commerce.

"The UW had been an incredible resource for advice and direction," he added.

Orchid Monroe has one of the largest loans ever granted through the city's Revolving Loan Fund.

The company's estimated in 2004 the loan would create 13 new jobs. The company now employees 137.

Michael Boyce, city alderman and a member of the Revolving Loan Committee, said there are great hopes the Orchid parent company would come to Monroe.

"Their interest in coming is because they realize there is greater opportunity to partner with the university. Developing these vehicles is a strong trend," he said.