Saturday, January 20, 2007

Conversion Pictures and Update 1/20

I'm jumping out of order chronologically, but rather than describe how I and the car got to where they are today in detail, I'll just describe where things stand right now. The car that is being converted, a 2002 Saturn SL is in the process of being converted by a professional electric car converter, Dave Cloud. I'm not sure what makes one precisely a professional, versus a hobbyist, but I think converting 20+ cars safely puts you the professional ranks (as well as having people paying you to convert a car). Dave has not only converted that many cars, he's also built numerous electric race cars, electric hydroplanes, and even electric racing reclining chairs. In fact he built the worlds fastest electric hydroplane (reaching over 70 mph) that is currently in the Guinness Book of World Records.
I stopped by today to check on the progress of the car and he provided many insights in to the intricacies of building an electric car correctly. Here is a shot of the rear of the car, not much to notice other than there is no longer an tail pipe, that was removed a long with the gas tank.

Here is a shot of what is under the hood now. I've added some close-ups below so you can see the various components in detail. A couple of interesting components, the 8 inch electric motor is on he left coupled in to the transmission. On the left hand side you can see the smaller motor driving a pulley that pumps the power-steering hydraulics.
Below is a shot of the main contactor, this is where the ignition switch hooks in to the main battery pack. This switch has to be heavy duty since you've got the full 144 volts and 500+ amps running through this switch when the car starts moving. You can see the throttle cable above the contactor which is hooked in to a potentiometer. As the peddle is depressed the throttle cable is pulled and the pot-box resistance changes and the current flowing through the wire (going out the left hand side to the controller) changes.

Below is a close-up of the safety kill switch. This switch is like a fire extinguisher, you hope you never have to use it, but are glad you have it when you do. The controller in this car will be "experimental" since it is being built by a guy that Dave knows who has rebuilt many controllers before, but never built his own full-fledged EV controller before. You want the safety kill switch to be easily accessible since when a controller fails (i.e. blows up) it could short out fully open. This would be a bad thing if there was no way to cut the current manually. The kill switch allows you to do this easily and quickly.

Below is a close-up of the power-steering setup. Dave has rigged a small motor (it takes about 13 amps) to the pulley that powers the power steering pump. He is going to hook this up to a switch on the dash so I can turn it on when I'm travelling at slow speeds and need the extra assistance, but then turn it off when I'm running at faster speeds and don't need assistance turning, but would rather be conserving energy.

Below is a picture of the front battery box that Dave built. This may well be the highest tech part of the car since the sides of the box are made from fiberglass paneling that is surplus from Boeing plane construction. The paneling is super light and strong, with an reinforced inner support structure. The orange panel on the bottom is made from Kevlar, also courtesy of Boeing.

Below is a close-up of the Manzanita Micro battery charger (the big green box) and the vacuum pump for the brakes (blue pump with gauge on top). The battery charger can work off of either 220 or 110 voltage, I just have to dial in the amperage I want to draw. Directly in front of the pump is the Curtis Controller which is not the final one that the vehicle will use, but a temporary one till the experimental controller is finished.

Here is another under hood shot, this one with the charger, pump, and controller all placed in the vehicle, though not actually fastened down. Dave just wanted to show me what everything would look like when the vehicle was actually put together.

Below is a picture of Dave, and further below is a picture of the ripped apart console and the red emergency disconnect button, and then there is a picture of where the back seat used to be that Dave will be cutting out for a battery box. I'm really excited about the big red button, I've always wanted a big red button on my dash. I think it comes from seeing cars with ejection seats in the Bond movies, or maybe just to many Sci-Fi movies with Red Buttons to go in to warp speed, or sound the emergency sirens. Anyways, now I will have one. We are still trying to figure out where to put the gauges, there isn't enough room in the dash to put them in without covering up the tachometer, which we hope to still use when Dave puts a rev-limiter in to keep the motor from spinning itself to death.

Well, that is all for now. Dave is hoping that if all goes to plan it should be finished off in about three weeks time. I'd love it if it was, I can't believe it was over seven months ago already that this endeavor began! I'll fill in the gaps on how I got to this stage in a later post. But it was so exciting to see the car where it is today that I had to post the pictures and the progress.

Monday, January 1, 2007

How do I get an electric car?

This post is largely a braindump of all of the research I've been doing over the last several months (actually almost 6 months) trying to figure out for myself how I could get an electric car built. There are really 3 different ways to get in to an electric car:
1. Build your own electric car (either from the ground up or converting a gasoline powered car to electricity)
2. Buy an electric car already manufactured/converted
3. Pay someone else to convert a car to electric for you

The route that most people go, building their own electric car, really only works if you have all of the conditions below:

1. Plenty of free time on your hands
2. Good electrical skills, or the desire to learn the skills you don't have
3. Good mechanical skills, or the desire to learn the skills you don't have
4. Someone to teach you all of the tricks of doing a car conversion, or the ability to follow pretty extensive directions from one of several books on the subject, or websites for hours on end.
5. A suitable location and tools for the conversion (sidewalk in front of your condo won't work)

If you do meet all of these conditions then by all means go ahead and do your own conversion. There are many great resources for doing conversions including: Convert It by Michael Brown and Build Your Own Electric Car by Bob Brandt. Both are must have books if you are doing your own conversion, are just interested in how conversions are done, or have bought an already converted car or are having someone else convert a car for you. Build Your Own Electric Car was my favorite, having a lot of great electromotive theory and great graphs showing the relationships between battery capacity and temperature and type of battery. There are some good sites on do-it yourself conversions as well. Some simple Google searches should be all you need to find them.

Option #2: Buy an electric car is probably the fastest way to get your hands on a car. However, it is probably also the most expensive. All of the hype about the Tesla Car is warranted, it is a pretty amazing car, however, it is also a pretty pricey car at $100k. Other places to look for cars is on Ebay. They occasionally will auction off S10's or Ford Ranger OEM trucks that were built by subcontractors of Ford and GM back in the late 90's or early 2000. These vehicles run in the $15-$25k range and are based on NiMh or Lead Acid. They are AC systems so some more advanced electronics knowledge is needed to maintain and work on them, but they are more efficient and generally more reliable than do-it-yourself conversions.

On the subject of do-it-yourself conversions the best place to buy one of those is on the EV Tradin' Post where new cars are usually added every several days or so. The selection is limited, but you might just get lucky and find what you are looking for.

Option #3 Is the route I'm going for my electric car. I did a lot of research online, talked with some people in the local Electric Car Users Group here in Seattle (SEVA) and got some recommendations on who to talk to locally that might be interested in converting a car for me. This route is usually cheaper than buying a commercial conversion, but also more expensive than buying a conversion that someone else has already done.

My next post will be on how I went about selecting someone to do my conversion and the process of selecting the vehicle to convert, as well as an update on the progress of my conversion.