Students within the Automotive Technology Program at Ivy Tech Community College in Lafayette, Ind., are busy converting an extreme utility vehicle to run on alternative fuels.

In his current compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) classes, Ivy Tech automotive instructor Reed Cooper has partnered with Purdue University’s Herrick Laboratories in running gaseous fuels to different pieces of diesel-powered equipment.

This semester his students, with the help of Purdue’s Herrick Lab, have modified the three-cylinder Yanmar diesel engine of a John Deere Gator 4×4 to run on hydrogen gas and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), or propane, in addition to diesel. Cooper’s students injected hydrogen and LPG into the engine and compared emissions output, fuel consumption and horsepower torque curves. The results so far have been promising, showing an increase in fuel economy and a decrease in most emissions without a reduction in power output.

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Ivy Tech – Lafayette automotive students listen to directions from instructor Reed Cooper as he discusses the conversion of a John Deere Gator 4×4 to run on alternative fuels. Credit: Ivy Tech – Lafayette

Last December, Cooper and researchers from Purdue supervised a group of Ivy Tech students as they modified two Wisconsin diesel-powered generators to run on hydrogen gas and No. 2 petrol-diesel. Students performed all the work, including monitoring and recording emissions and engine fuel consumption.

Cooper, who retired in 2002 from Caterpillar Inc. of Lafayette after 31 years, has been an integral part of the alternative fuels program. Since joining Ivy Tech, Cooper has continued his professional development in alternative fuels at National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium training sessions, thanks to the college’s membership as an NAFTC National Training Center. Cooper also has spent several summers working at facilities that produce CNG engines and operate LPG-powered vehicles.

“Having students progress through the various alternative fuels classes and then allowing them to work with these fuels in real-life applications has been a great success,” said Cooper. “This experience has helped our students see the importance of using gaseous fuels as dual-fuel, bi-fuel or stand-alone application to improve emissions and reduce foreign oil dependence.”

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Ivy Tech – Lafayette automotive instructor Reed Cooper works with students on converting a John Deere Gator 4×4 to run on alternative fuels. Credit: Ivy Tech – Lafayette

Eric Erskin, Automotive Technology Program chair at Ivy Tech, noted that the American automotive industry is going through a significant period of transformation.

“It is now more important than ever for students interested in automotive technology to prepare themselves not just for today’s automotive industry, but for that of tomorrow,” Erskin said. “As American consumers become more informed and aware of the social, economic and environmental impacts of fuel-efficient forms of transportation, and American automakers continue research and development of alternative fuel technology, the demand for electric, hybrid electric and alternative fuel vehicles is likely to increase dramatically. The effects of this increasing market can already be seen at every level of the industry, from factories and showrooms to service shops and technical schools.”

Erskin added that since 2007, the Automotive Technology Program at Ivy Tech’s Lafayette campus has been offering courses in alternative fuels and is currently the only campus in the Ivy Tech system that offers such classes.

“Ivy Tech – Lafayette is the only college in Indiana and one of only a few schools in the Midwest that offers an associate’s degree in alternative fuels,” Erskin continued, pointing out that students are exposed to a unique and challenging curriculum including courses in alternative and renewable energies, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), CNG, hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles and alternative fuel installation.

“These courses prepare students with everything they need to know to become Automotive Service Excellence F1 certified as a CNG technician, including the history and development of various alternative fuels, proper safety procedures, how to work with an array of different engine systems and how to perform in-service diagnosis and repairs, among other skills,” Erskin explained.

At Ivy Tech’s Lafayette campus, students have access to professional facilities and the latest alternative fuel equipment, including a CNG filling station that was installed in 2010. Presently, Ivy Tech has three CNG vehicles: two Honda Civic GXs, which are dedicated CNG, and one Chevrolet V6 pick-up truck that has been converted by students to run on CNG, regular unleaded gasoline and E85. Ivy Tech Students performed the pick-up conversion while adhering to Department of Transportation specifications, National Fire Protection Association standards and guidelines published by the NAFTC in the most recent version of the Light-Duty Natural Gas Vehicles textbook.

After completing an associate of applied science with an alternative fuel technician concentration, students can pursue careers working as fuel technicians for, among others, automotive, industrial and material handling companies.

For more information about Ivy Tech Community College – Lafayette’s Automotive Technology program, visit or contact Erskin at

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