Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Over the Top Porsche 356 Speedster Redux

We're getting a little carried away here. The addition of Matthew Hauber to the team has given us some mechanical expertise we've just never really had before. And that has given us some opportunities - not on anything particularly magical, but on very ordinary physical things.

They count.

As we became accustomed to Speedster Part Duh, I have to tell you I've grown very fond of these Speedsters. It goes quite beyond the electric car thing, although obviously enmeshed with it. But we did a lot better job on Part Duh and it is just in all ways a more elegant car.

But my first love is the Corvette Tri-coat red Speedster with the Coker whitewalls. It just really feels good to drive.

Reminds me of Obama's campaign speech. "My friends and neighbors, we are privileged to live in the greatest country in the history of the world. With your help, we together CAN change it!"

The original Speedster looks a little.....well....home made. We had a garrish assemblage of TWO strings of 90AH Thundersky cells with cells actually piled on top of cells in the back. Of course, the original Speedster only had TWO useful gears, third and fourth. First and second were just useless. We learned on Duh to change to the 3.44 R&P and suddenly all four gears made sense and looked like someone had done them on purpose.

The wiring kind of goes every which direction. We never did document that TOO well so we're not particularly certain what any one specific wire DOES and some of them no longer do anything.

So we started talking about what we would do to spruce it up. Unfortunately, the heart of the car is the transmission, everything pretty much bolts onto that. And that was the most obvious improvement.

To change it, we have to remove ALL the batteries, the motor, and a lot of the wiring. So we might as well redo the thing. We have a couple of the NEW Netgain motors. They have larger terminals, stouter brushes, and an improved internal fan design. So what sense does it make to remove the motor and put the old one back on with a better one laying on the floor next to the car?

And as long as we're doing that, we DID kind of design a new motor adapter that is lighter and much less bulky than the Canadian EV unit we had used on the first round. Cape Precision Machine now makes them for us, so it's a phone call and a little under $800.

The original Speedster featured a Kelley 1400 amp controller. Kelley showed great promise two years ago with some innovative designs at a very low price. They never quite lived up to their specs, and it is very unlikely we ever saw 1400 amps - in fact, about 550 battery amps was the highest I had seen.

In the meantime, several people have had bad experiences with them - largely by blowing the input caps with clumsy maintenance procedures. But they've developed a bit of a bad reputation fairly or unfairly, and have gradually just faded from the scene. You rarely hear anyone propose a Kelly any more. They're just not a player in this market any longer.

Ours WOULD occasionally and rather mysteriously "kick out" - simply go limp. You can turn the ignition off and back on on this car to reset it and you can do this rolling down the road - so it wasn't a big deal. And it didn't happen often. But it was annoying.

EVnetics is sponsoring our contest and indeed we had already ordered and received two of their Soliton1 controllers for our Escalade project (STILL waiting on Jim Husted). This controller purports to do 340volts and 1000 amps. That's a LOT of power. But the case design is fabulous, it's water cooled, and appears to be a mate for the Netgain Warp 9. What if we tried one of those?

The Curtis 1238 is hard limited to 130 volts and we have been careful to stay more on the 120v side of all of that. But the Soliton1 doesn't have this restriction. We can have as high a voltage as we can string cells. Of course, the Netgain is still a commutator motor with brushes and they arc on higher voltages. The "book" on this motor has always been keep it at 170v or below. With the new brush design, the BRUSH vendor claims it can do 192v with NO arcing. George Hamstra doesn't really want to sign up to that, because he hasn't tested it. But the brush vendor undoubtedly has reason to believe. In any event, I wouldn't exceed 200v with this motor.

I confess I like the CALB cells. It's a close call. The Thundersky Yttrium cells probably DO have a longer life. ANd they are slightly less expensive. But I've always marvelled at the flat discharge curve of the CALB's and have been further impressed at how closely matched the cells are that we receive. I actually had designs on the fairly rare 200 AH cells Thundersky was selling for awhile in EXACTLY the same form factor as their 160AH cells and the CALB 180AH cells. I actually bought 40 of them. That was the James Morrison fiasco and the cells are currently locked in a storage unit in Issaquah Washington while the lawyers wrangle over all that. If it's finally settled, I'll probably get to pay for them AGAIN to actually get them.

So we decided to use CALB 180's for the Speedster.

I've actually designed two aluminum "belly pans" to fit underneath the seats between existing cross members and bolt to them. One pan is about 12.5 inches wide and the other a little over 9 inches. They will run the width of the car. This will allow about 11 cells to lay flat underneath the car in a very advantageous position - very low center of gravity and very central polar moment.

The cost is clearance. We have about an inch and a half recess between the crossmembers. The cells are just under 3 inches thick. And we do have to have some material in the game (0.80 aluminum). But it shouldn't be too bad really.

In Part Duh, we managed 16 CALB 180 cells in the very front of the car, down very low, in a box built by Special Editions. It was a bit of a squeeze as they gimped me a 1/4 inch on the box size. BUt we got them shoehorned in there.

And so I tasked young Hauber and the Brain with devising a similar box for the original Speedster.

They did well. We actually wound up with an aluminum box hanging from the frame that holds the front bumper to the car - very sturdy - with three layers of 0.63 diamond plate interleaved on the bottom. But amazingly, by cutting out a bit more fiberglass and expanding our concept a bit, they manage EIGHTEEN cells instead of sixteen.

THIS week, (after the video was shot) we took on the rear battery boxes. 10 cells on each side of the motor. Again the Hauber/Noto team scored - 11 cells on the small side. We haven't even done the other side yet.

All this starts to come together with 18 in the front, 22 in the back, and 11 underneath for a 51 cell 171v pack of over 30kWh. The original Speedster has actually driven 110 miles on a single charge with essentially 36 x 180. This implies a theoretical max of 155 miles.

Note that's NOT safe range - that's running them OUT. And of course, we have additional weight to consider from the cells themselves. Then too, with additional power available, it would be unlike me not to use some of it occasionally.

But no doubt we wind up with a SAFE range of well OVER 100 miles and potentially 120.

As to acceleration, that remains to be seen. The car will be over 200 lbs heavier. And we've never used a Soliton1 before. IF it can actually do 1000 amps from these 180AH cells, at 171 volts, and let's say that sags to 150, that's a 150 kW power level - not quite TRIPLE what we have in Part Duh and right at 201 horsepower if that number makes more sense to you.

I think we dyno'd 73 HP in this car with the Kelly. And I found the acceleration more than adequate then.

And so I'm really in this for the range and the exercise at squeezing batteries into this car - how far can it be pushed. But I think with the SOliton1 and a 170v pack instead of 120v, we are potentially looking at a beastie in the performance area as well.

Stay with us.

Jack Rickard

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It Just Keeps Getting Worse...

The BMS/Charger thing has actually got me in a rage these days. The stupidity and greed are palpable in the air. But it is not innocent stupidity and greed. It is probably the most damaging thing being done today in EV land.

The U.S. Congress and Senate, two of the exemplar houses of stupidity and greed, have enthusiastically passed the most idiotic thing to come out of our legislative body in - well, DAYS. In an absolutely mindless pander to the BLIND if you can imagine, they have legislated that all electric vehicles have to have a NOISE maker so they are as loud and annoying as the other cars on the road. This, so blind pedestrians don't get clobbered by an EV.

How many incidents of this have occurred? Of what magnitude is this growing threat to life and limb. NONE CITED. But if only ONE blind child is saved.... you know the story.

Meanwhile, David Andreas, Dmitri, Rich Rudmann, and the entire BMS crowd continue to burn cars to the ground with reckless and mindless abandon - all for such a pathetic little bit of profit I can't imagine any of them being able to buy pizza with it. It is madness.

The latest from Norway, a converted Nissan burnt up while charging on a large ferry, severely damaging the ship. Apparently a SECOND one burned in a parking lot. Video here:


In both cases, the cars burned while charging. Again, on the ship, it was in the wee hours of the morning (end of charge) while everyone was asleep.

Here's a link to a very nice brochure from the company that made the car. http://media2.ev-tv.me/Qashqai_Electric.pdf

It looks like a very nice and very professional conversion and they tout safety as their very highest priority. Of course they use a BMS - for safety.

The article vaguely alludes to a "short" and an "unauthorized plug". Of course. Since 3/4 of our knowledgeable community can't get this right, what do you expect the media reaction to be.

I'll tell you what it is to be. As more electric cars get on the road, and as more of these needless fires get to star in thir own news video, if they'll pass legislation to require noise on electric cars to save nobody who's ever been injured or threatened with one, imagine the field day they'll have making electric car conversions ILLEGAL. Only professionals should be playing with these incendiary devices and high voltages. It's in the interest of public safety.

It is absolutely inevitable. The honeymoon occurred in obscurity. And of course, as Pogo noted 3/4 of a century ago, "We have met the enemy.... and he is US. "

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Starting All Over Again

It's December in Missouri. We endure short, dark, cold days now with ghostly winds and a heavy dampness. It is notably wretched. The problem with global warming is that it means different things to different people. Climate change is mostly frightening to those who have a good climate to start with - ergo the concern in California. Less so in Missouri frankly.

The new facility at 601 Morgan Oak St. has two massive heaters. I would imagine we will enjoy them thoroughly up to the first utility bill arrival of the new year. In the meantime, the house garage is too bitter to do much in and this has hastened our move down the street - where it's pleasantly warm.

Of course, anything we need is down the street at the original garage.

This week, we do a bit on Positive Temperature Coefficient heaters. You would think you could buy a heater kit from a company that calls itself Canadian EV and do pretty well with it. They are, after all, in Canada. Doesn't it get quite cold there?

NOT. The little system we put in Speedster Duh seemed like a true blue ribbon Champion when we installed it in July. In December, it's pathetic. So we built our own replacing the ONE heater element in the "Canadian" version with three. Better. Not great. But better.

The Mini Cooper Clubman, conversely, is working quite beyond my expectations particularly in the realm of environmentals. We had replaced our convoluted but very effective cooling system with a combined loop containing our 4kw glycol heating system AND using that to cool the Rinehart Motion Systems controller and motor. This is an absurd concept - attempting to control the temperature of two different things by cooling one, and heating another, with the same loop.

Surprisingly, it is working quite well - at least in December. We DO get some heat from the drive train, though nothing impressive. And the controller and motor DO seem to be maintained at an operational level of cooling - at least no shut downs. My only explanation is that the two components live in two different temperature climates. In the car, we find 65C to be quite warm. In the controller and motor, they find 55-60C quite cool. And the difference is the temp drop across the heat exchanger. That this would work surprises me.

Call me still skeptical until July. But meanwhile, reasonably comfortable in December. It takes a bit longer to heat up this larger loop than we enjoyed previously. But once warm, we can often turn off the 4kw entirely and the motor and controller seem able to maintain the temperature reached with the heater for some time.

Having Speedster Duh back is great, and in any event, Speedster driving in December is a bit of an extreme exercise. You have to really love a Speedster to want to do that in this climate.

So we've taken it as a good time to revisit the original Speedster. We were surprised to learn how much more power we had on the dynomometer with the original Speedster than Duh. But it was really impossible to compare apples to oranges largely because we had gone to a different transmission on Speedster Duh.

The original Speedster used a traditional 3.88 ring and pinion in the VW transaxle. WIth the Netgain motor, first gear was absurd, reaching the RPM limit of the motor at about 10 mph. Second gear was somewhat better, but really unnecessary. And third gear, while higher, seemed to put no strain on the motor taking off from a dead stop.

So in practice, we drove in third gear in town and fourth gear on the highway. A two speed.

This actually works pretty well, particularly since we have no regenerative braking from the motor. The car rolls very freely and I can coast for long distances using no motor at all. PLUS I needn't use the clutch to shift between them. Simply quit applying power and move the gear selector. The synchros are more than able to deal with the mass of the electric motor. A very tiny "pause" between the gears.

But it seems very amateurish to have a four speed transmission with two useless gears. It is a Speedster, and shifting is part of the game.

So we pulled all the cells and boxes out, tore out a lot of our now known to be useless monitoring wiring, and have swapped out the transmission on a 3.44 R&P like Speedster Duh, which makes effective use of all four. We'll take this opportunity for a general makeover.

The aging Kelly Controller is going to be replaced by a brand new Soliton1 1000 amp model. We've been wanting to try this anyway, as we are going to use two of them in the Escalade. The Kelly was advertised at 1400 amps, and we rarely saw more than 540 battery amps out of it. We had little in the way of cooling or heat sink on the Kelly and if it got hot, it simply shut down. We could almost always recycle it by turning the ignition off and back on, even while rolling down the highway, and it would then go merrily on. This happened but rarely. So we didn't mind it terribly. But the Soliton will do much higher voltages (up to 340volts) and we have some ideas about additional batteries.

If we could get our voltage up to 144 volts, I think the Soliton will turn the Netgain into a screamer.

Since we have to remove the motor to change the transmission, we might as well try the NEW Netgain model. It is supposed to have better brushes, better cooling air flow from an improved internal fan design, larger terminals, stronger brush springs, some RPM monitoring options, etc.

We were stung by battery box sizing using the bulky Canadian EV adapter. We actually combined TWO different adapters for the Speedster Duh. We liked the Canadian taper lock coupler design and the EV Source adapter plate design which took up much less room, weighs less, and looks better. We had Cape Precision Machine basically combine the features of both into a third and new adapter design for VW transaxles and it worked out very well, allowing us larger rear battery boxes in the Speedster Duh. We need those in the original Speedster.

We actually fitted 16 180AH cells in the front compartment of Speedster Duh using an aluminum box Special Editions engineered for us. But they missed the measurement slightly and it was a problem. The cells also are perilously near the hood latch. So we are going to devise an EXTERNAL aluminum box, cut the fiberglass floor out of this compartment entirely, and lower and level the floor thereby. This should allow our 16 larger cells quite comfortably and we'll use Eric Kriss's layout therein.

We're also going to attempt 11 additional 180 AH cells by use of a 3 inch thick tray that will mount between the cross members directly under the seat. This will comprise about 138 lbs of cells, plus maybe 30 lbs of aluminum tray VERY low in the car and directly under the seats. This should dramatically lower the center of gravity and reduce the polar moment of the car at the same time.

And then we are going to attempt ten cells in each of two boxes - one on each side of the motor. This BARELY worked with Speedster Duh and the AC-50 motor is actually slightly smaller, with much better terminal arrangement than the Netgain. I don't know how this is going to go at this point frankly. We may have to lose two cells there.

So we should wind up with 47 cells total for 157 volts or 45 cells for 150. The larger number would give us 28260 watt hours for a theoretical very max range of 125 miles. With the additional weight, and with a more powerful drive train, we may not quite achieve that. But we should in any event wind up with a TRUE 100 mile vehicle in all driving regimes and with adequate margin to maintain our cell cycle life handsomely.

We're planning some other upgrades with a Speedhut gage upgrade with a true GPS MPH Speedometer and a tachometer and fuel gage. We'll add components for the EVWorks ZEVAII fuel gage driver and the daughter mode we worked out on Speedster Duh. We'll probably keep the EVision display because Brain did such a marvelous job of incorporating that in the VDO combi gage case we had originally. And of course we'll add our little Roving Networks box to drive our EVu software on the laptop.

We'll do a 3 element PTC heater under the dash as well just as we did in Duh.

The result should be longer range, higher power, even than Duh. Blue Sky is the Soliton works out better than we hope and we actually have a tire burner on the dyno. We'll have four smooth gears to deploy it.

And we continue to improve it.

The St. Louis Auto Show is scheduled for January 27-30 at the Convention Center in St. Louis. One of the things they have planned is an ECOCITY with alternative fuel vehicles. They have invited Gateway EV to provide some electric cars for attendees to test drive and ride in on an indoor track through ECOCITY. I'm not sure what ECOCITY is frankly. But we're hoping to take two Speedsters, the Mini, and the Spyder to this event and get a feel for people's reaction to them. I have to constantly remind myself that but a handful of people, including all our viewers, have ever actually ridden in one of these vehicles and felt what I feel every day. After over a year of weekly videos, it's hard to imagine this is a secret, but in a very odd way, it is.

I have developed a deep and abiding affection for this pleasure car. I say that because I don't actually consider it an automobile. The Mini Cooper is an automobile. It has air conditioning, heat, bluetooth, Sirius Satellite Radio, heated seats, power windows, garage door openers. The Speedster is a minimalist toy car. But it is great fun, and an iconic design.

There IS no other car, I am convinced, that is more of a head turner than the Speedster, unless it were the Spyder. I truly believe I could line people up standing on the HOODS of Tesla Roadsters to get a closer look at this car. What is even more surprising, is that kids and young adults here in Cape Girardeau just LOVE the look of the car. And they have no point of reference. They don't know that it's from the fifties and they don't know even that it is a Porsche. But they still like it. The basic shape is just an iconic design from the house of Karmann. It will ALWAYS be a head turner. Year in and year out, generation after generation, regardless to the fashion dictates of the automotive industry. It is timeless. It has no year. It has no brand. It is a shape.

The Special Editions Inc and Vintage Speedsters have been VERY careful to reproduce these vehicles with utter fidelity to the original Speedster. It is the heart of their business and the better they can simulate the original, the happier their customer base is.

I'm not sure that applies in this case. We don't make the original sound. We don't drive like the original Speedster. We may be a new thing. And maybe we should let go of the old a little bit.

Where is all this going? We have broken into violent agreement with Special Editions repeatedly. They want to do the car. We want them to do it. But they have concerns about being on the hook for the battery pack. And in fact, their workers are a little bit afraid of TOUCHING the battery pack. There's quite a learning curve on the electronic components, and particularly when we depart from off the shelf solutions such as the Canadian EV heater kit, and start having to fabricate our own. Instrumentation remains an issue. We haven't got it all worked out yet frankly.

I said we would never produce the Speedster. And we won't actually. The idea of Brain and I manufacturing cars is somewhat absurd. We're media guys.

But we have changed the nature of the conversation with Special Editions. There IS a constant level of inquiry from people who want to just BUY a built Speedster. And we need a reply. At this point, I'm wondering WHAT it would look like if we built a few, say 12 a year. After visiting Bremen, I liked the look and feel of the father/son shop there, and the obvious pride they took in hand making cars.

Young Hauber has come to do an Escalade project. But he's worked out well and seems happy here and he has a dream of building electric cars.

Special Editions meanwhile is striving for more control of THEIR process. They've had new molds made and are moving the body buildup and paint to the U.S. And in the Spring, they plan on introducing a new car - the Roadster.

A Roadster is actually a more deluxe Speedster. It has a taller windshield, more luxurious seats, a better top, and best of all, rollup windows. It's a little heavier, and a little more expensive.

So we've been talking about what an electric Roadster would look like.

The first thing we need to improve on the Speedster is a lighter vehicle. When I ran the concept of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) past Carey Hines, he was lukewarm to the idea. But he warmed up to it a bit. It would save about 300 lbs over the traditional fiberglass, but would add some $15,000 or perhaps $20,000 to the car.

We then talked about other weight savings and he did allow that some Arkweld/Wilmot aluminum brake components were available that would save 127 lbs, but were likewise expensive at $2500.

He started getting with the program and noted that really the frame COULD be done with aluminum, and would save another 400 lbs if we did so. More, it could be made to accommodate the IRS axle.

The Speedster uses the older and more traditional swing axle transmission with torsion bar for suspension. This is basically what the original Speedster WAS. But Volkswagen introduced a new independent rear suspension (IRS) system in about 1967 that really was an improvement in handling.

And the picture that emerges in my mind, and very nearly nowhere else, is of a 150 mile range Roadster that handles better than the Speedster, is 500 lbs LIGHTER than the Speedster, has more comfortable seats, roll up windows, more headroom with the top up, and of course, using the HPEVS drive train still accelerates better because of the lighter weight. We are also expecting some Curtis controller improvements in the next year, hopefully to BOTH a 650 amp and a 144 volt ceiling. Indeed, if we could put down a 90kw, 1500 pound, carbon fiber aluminum Roadster, it would be a thing beyond.

Of course, it would cost $80,000 freakin dollars. For a "pleasure car". A wine country fair weather convertible. And so we could be in the car building business, without having to build very damn many at that price I would bet....

And so this is the stuff of dreams.... but as drive components and batteries improve, so does the dreaming....

Jack Rickard

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Green Envy and Carbon Footprint


This from viewer and Speedster Electric builder Eric Kriss:

Brain and I are practicing our diction and enunciations so we can sound just like our superheroes, GREEN ENVY and CARBON FOOTPRINT.

Jack Rickard

A Personal Correspondence - Now Shared

Dear Mr. Jack,
First I want to tell you that I am a big fan and I watched all your episodes and I really enjoy what you are doing.
I live in Serbia, I just graduated from college and the thesis topic was electric vehicles.
Thus began my interest in electric cars and especially for the conversion.
I have a small workshop with all necessary tools, and I have the knowledge to do it.
I want to start to do the conversion of my personal car and if I manage to finish it on time I have the opportunity to promote it at the Car Show Belgrade for free and also in the local media.
The main problem is that I just graduated from college and have no money to buy all the parts but I need to slowly collect piece by piece. I'm afraid that I will not be able to finish by the beginning of the fair which was in March 2011. If I succeed, I believe that in this way, word spread my name and that I could start working my dream job, car conversions. Market in Serbia for something like this of course is there and i want to be the first to do it here and propagate it
If you have any suggestions or if you somehow may help me please contact me.
I hope our cooperation.

ing.el. Nebojsa Matovic

Mr. Matovic:

I was very much involved in the very early days of the development of the Internet. Whatever you believe it derived from, I happen to know it all happened because of a small band of people who had a dream, and worked to implement it with very little financial resource and NO large organizations to help. Had they not acted, we would not be able to correspond this moment by electronic mail.

It is my belief that individuals such as yourself, daunted by obstacles such as money, time, space, and access to components, will convert cars to electric drive and THAT is how we will change the nature of energy use on our planet across the globe. It will ONLY happen if enough individuals such as yourself persevere in the face of these challenges. General Motors, Nissan and Toyota not only can't do it it alone, they cannot do it at all. With all the money, resources, and engineering talent available to them, they simply cannot. They can only FOLLOW YOU.

This is NOT the conventional wisdom. But having been through it before with the Internet, it IS reality. I already know it. Whatever the TV says, and whatever the large companies say, I already KNOW who built the Internet in the early days. And this is how I know who will lead us into a future of energy independence and efficiency to improve the standard of living in ALL countries.

This means YOU. It is not up to your government. It is not up to car makers. Only you can make this change.

I cannot tell you where to find money. All humans world wide seek money. I can't really tell you how to build YOUR car. It will be different from my car.

What I can tell you is that it took 95 years to reach the first 500 million cars in 1995. We will double that by 2015 - twenty years. And we will be at 1.5 billion cars by 2025 - another ten years. We produce oil. But we are producing all we can now. We can't make it any faster than we do. And this inevitably leads to a world wide economic DISASTER of unprecedented proportions. No jobs. No food. No nothing. For decades.

All that can change. If we convert automobiles from gasoline to electricity. We can make electricity in infinite amounts and in many different ways.

And to make that change, the ONLY way we will make that change, is if a grassroots movement of individual MEN go to their garages, convert a car, and show it to their neighbors who still use gasoline. There is NO second way. It won't happen by accident. And it won't happen by government. And it won't happen by large corporation. It won't because it cannot. NOTHING DOES.

I cannot make this easy for you. In fact, the challenges in your way are so huge, that you can only do it if you get angry. If you see this looming disaster as clearly as I see it, and realize that it is not possible for governmental leaders to do this, and it is not possible for corporate leaders to do this, it will make you very angry. If you are angry enough, you will do something about it. You may not be able to change the world. But you can change one car. And if enough get angry, and enough change one car, like rain drops and floods, it will grow to a tidal wave. And you can indeed change the world. In fact it is the ONLY way the world changes. Adult men have to just go to their garage and CHANGE it. With no ones permission. And no "group" to support them. They have to do it themselves.

If they do it, it will lead to a technological revolution employing MILLIONS of people worldwide, prosperity, much less noise and smell, and plenty of everything for all. If they do not get angry and do NOT go do it, we will mire down in a worldwide economic depression.

So I can only encourage you, and applaud your efforts. I cannot provide the money, the components, or the design.

But you have most sincere wishes that you succeed. Because the world very much needs you to succeed.

Warmest Regards;

Jack Rickard

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

2009 Mini Cooper Clubman Electric and the Rinehart Motion Systems Controller

This week, we kind of sort of wrapped up the Mini Cooper Clubman and are now driving it. Which is quite fortunate in that it was 9 degrees Fahrenheit here this morning - a bit brisk. Cape Girardeau Missouri is blessed with four full 3 month long seasons and the spring and fall are truly a delight. Summer and winter less so. In July it's 100 degrees F and often 80% humidity and we fat boys suffer terribly in the heat.

But the other end of all that is December. The days are so short it is dark by 4:30PM and it can get quite cold. Not Minnesota cold, but cold nonetheless.

We do love the little sports cars. And in the spring and the fall they are deadly weapons of romantic mayhem. But in July, and again in December/January, they are pretty much useless.

We found the Canadian EV heater assembly almost useless. It seemed like a good idea in July when we installed it and Randy Holmes of Canadian EV assured us that this single element heater would somehow be adequate because it was a "special voltage". We never did get together on what that meant or how it could be adequate, but he IS in Canada after all.

Anyway, in December, it was a joke. The show this week was delayed until Monday, largely because I wound up with a 3 hour show. So we cut the heater section and a thing on the Roving Networks instrumentation and got it down to 2. I'll try to include those sections this next week - or sometime.

In any event, and with any level of heat, the Speedster is a seasonal toy car. Bottom line, top line, whatever line, that's the gig. It's great in Spring and Fall, but air conditioning OR heating a small convertible like this is a losing battle however heroically approached.

The ultimate summer and winter car is of course the Cadillac Escalade EXT. And we do have plans to convert it, but his majesty Mr. Jim Husted has taken our project of twin eleven inch Netgains and made it a career move. We'll get them someday. And I'm not going to disable the car until we do. We already have the transmission. But with new battery announcements just around the corner, and this thing requiring a massive 67kWh pack, we'll do that with nextgen batteries.

That leaves the Mini Cooper. We have made some encouraging progress. I guess it's always easier the second time around. We did revise our adapter to include the magnetic pulse pickup from the original engine, and now have a fully functional tachometer, and this has awakened our DME and more importantly, our power steering. Unfortunately, when the RPM falls below 600, after just five or six seconds the power steering kicks out. The ONLY place I need this electric power assist is in parking - typically when creeping along at about 40 rpm. So I have to put in the clutch and REV the motor to get the steering to kick in. ANd I have to do that every few seconds. But it does work.

And it IS nice to have the tach work. Far from a marginal dial in the corner of the car, this tachometer is quite large and centered on the steering wheel. I found it very annoying that it lay there dead.

I actually had some success getting working with the TIMS600 controller by stealing the encoder signal input to the controller. In trying to get it to "work better" I tried several different circuits, and finally loaded it to the point the controller lost encoder input and blew up an IGBT trying to run the motor with errant information.

We had no idea how to fix it, no support whatsoever from either the manufacturer or Metric Mind, where we bought it. Victor has never actually even run one of these controllers or motors for that matter. And the company is in Switzerland and has no interest in supporting it. I found we could order one from a European EV supplier and have it shipped to the states - 12 weeks later.

So we had seen Rinehart Motion Systems PM100DX become available on David Kois web site in a package with a Ford Siemens motor. This is a 100kW controller with a 300v and 600v versions available. And they are in Wilsonville Oregon - they speak English, and in theory might support their product.

They were not too keen on the project initially. We use an MES-DEA 200-250 motor. While not unheard of, it is expensive, and problematical. RMS support for motors is achieved rather by hand - they have to manually tune the parameters to the controller - somewhat by guess - and check the results on a dyno. So we had to ship them our motor. They had to MAKE an adapter for it to put it on the dyno. And while it does give them known support for another motor, how many 200-250's are out there? Actually a few, but not many.

In any event, incredibly they had us a controller and returned our motor in a WEEK. Not bad. Actually, it was phenomenal in this business. I dont' think we've ever gotten ANYTHING in a week.

In tearing down the system, we found some pretty serious damage to the off end mount, the clutch, and incredibly the shaft coupler. The coupler was actually TWISTED and discolored. This had been machined from a solid 4 inch round billet of 4045 hardened steel.

While we were fixing all that, Matthew Hauber thought little of our mid mount "belly band" and devised a much sturdier one of steel.

We built the car back up and installed the RMS 100kw unit.

I will NOT say the installation went smoothly or that this is a device for the novice. Just downloading and installing and configuring the sofware on a Windoze notebook was a bit of a challenge. The variables and indeed the thinking behind the Rinehart is a bit different from what we've done before. And it required some changes to the control wiring.

For example, we had to add a separate precharge relay. The Rinehart uses this relay to precharge the input capacitors through our 500 ohm 25 watt precharge resistor. Then, IT switches the contactor on. We had previously just run the contactor from switched 12v.

While a little more complicated, this is certainly a good system and I would rate it as vastly improved over what we were doing.

Kind of oddly, the unit wants a GROUND as a brake signal for when you put on the foot brake. On all cars I'm aware of, the brake switch puts out 12v. In our case, both the throttle voltage and the brake signal derive from the DME anyway, not from the actual brake switch. But it is of course a +12v signal when you apply the brakes.

I had to build a little box with a MOSFET and three resistors in it. Basically, the drain of the MOSFET is tied to +12v through a current limiting resistor. The junction of the resistor /MOSFET is provided as the output and with the MOSFET off this will be +12v.

The source of the MOSFET is tied to ground. The 12v brake signal is applied to the gate whenever the pedal is applied and causes the MOSFET to go into conduction. MOSFETS have very low forward resistance, and indeed this was an 80 amp MOSFET I had laying around that is also quite fast. Gross overkill, but it should last. When the MOSFET conducts, the output drops to ground. And the RMS appears to be sastisfied with this arrangement.

The RMS has a software startup sequence we found a little peculiar. It has the usual FORWARD and REVERSE 12v inputs. But it REQUIRES both to be at ground during startup. It THEN requires a BRAKE signal and the appropriate FORWARD or REVERSE to appear simultaneously to complete its startup sequence.

i normally just wire FORWARD to 12v, leave REVERSE disconnected, and use the transmission to backup. The advantage being that I can cycle the controller while rolling down the road - occasionally a nice function if it trips out for some reason but can be reset to operation. I've done this with the Curtis 1238 and a Kelly controller quite successfully. It also worked with the TIMS600, but the DME has some requirements to do a cycle as well.

In any event, we wired a single pole double throw toggle switch (surprisingly rare to find). But if you switch into forward or reverse in the wrong order, or without the brake applied, it not only doesn't respond But it seems you have to reset it and go through the sequence again. This is NOT natural or OK frankly. If you don't actually "know" to do all this, you'll never get the car going and I rate it a human factors faux pas.

It probably does have some salutory safety merits, but not many.

We did notice that they had some unused digital inputs. And we requested that they do some software changes to let us use this with a switched ground input to disable all regenerative braking. We don't actually have this feature on the Curtis 1238, but did have on the TIMS600. And I liked it. In inclement weather, I'm a little uneasy with regen. It is only applied to the front wheels, and you have less control of your braking, and are actually braking when you take your foot off the accelerator. On ice, this doesn't sound like a good idea. I haven't actually tried it yet, but it would seem even a little braking action on the front wheels on glare ice, performed by the not very active action of REMOVING your foot from the accelerator, is a disaster in the making.

They revised their software to include this feature. If you apply a ground to digital input 4 it will disable regen entirely. In the video, I noted that it only disabled accelerator regen, but I've already gotten a firmware update fixing it.

Along the way, we've had four or five phone calls, a dozen e-mails, and three firmware updates. Chris Brune is very calm, very professional, not at all in the "you guys are a bunch of idiots" camp I run into so often. Very helpful and very professional.

Is this controller ready for prime time? The fit and finish mechanically is just GORGEOUS. We're driving the car and it makes not only good power, but it feels more "appropriate" to the Mini Cooper than what we had, which was probably overkill. We're running 340 volts now at up to 300 amps and generally under 100kw, which is what this is rated for.

My take is that it is kind of in a prototype stage. This is four or five guys, struggling for life in a kind of hostile world, with a limited market. They build few. And so the pricing is very high, and very mercurial. The unit lists for an astronomical $9500. They sold us ours for $6500. And they allude to a deal with Remy that could get them into "production' more in the $4500 mark. So I can't make it out. I don't know what it is or what it might be so it's kind of hard to talk about value. I paid it gladly.

The configuration software is plain but quite well done. It will take a little getting used to and you do have to RTFM. But once accustomed to it, I like it. I found some of the variables a little bizarre and a little immature. We have GREAT configuration options on the accelerator, and almost NONE on the braking regen for example. But it is all software and as I said, we had three firmware upgrades in a month for this project. It will certainly get there.

On a broader front, I find the 650v AC solutions simply impractical for an EV. None of the peripheral items, DC-DC converters, water heaters, air conditioner compressors, etc can work at those voltages. While Rinehart has a 600v version of this controller, we found the 300v (up to 360v) perfect for this application.

So while it felt a little like we were on the beta team, and while I would admonish that "some assembly is required" and a complete novice probably does NOT want to use this controller. But that said, I'm kind of picturing a package with a Remy or other motor, with the whole gig somewhere this side of $10K, as being quite viable. The 100kw is PLENTY of power for a 3500-4000 lb vehicle if you have no NEDRA aspirations. Obviously in a sports car it WOULD be competitive. A Speedster with this in it would just be over the edge.

I think if these guys has a few installations of this controller and an appropriate motor out there to waive the flag publicly and work out a few of the software issues, it has a GREAT future.

A very interesting aside, and part of the reason I'm so impressed with this device, goes to our heat redux. We had a TREMENDOUS amount of heat from the TIMS600 and MES-DEA motor. It was incredible. We actually used the MINI radiator to cool it and found we had to turn on the radiator FAN to adequately cool it.

Same motor with the RMS PM100DX barely gets warm. Now it IS true we went from a 375v 400AMP system to a 340V 300 amp configuration. But the change in heat was dramatic. I'm guess that in addition to being 25% smaller, this controller is also much more efficient.

And that allowed us a very interesting experiment. We SHITCANNED the Mezzier pump and BUNCH of expensive Summit Racing hose work, along with a complicated fill and bleed procedure. We took the pump output of our 4kw heater, which comes from the heater core, and routed that through the controlller first, the motor second (both are liquid cooled) and thence back to the 4kw heater bottle which feeds the heater core.

This little loop is both interesting, and very unlikely to be effective. The heater core of course has a temperature drop, winter or summer, on or off. So it SEEMS adequate to cool the drive train - of course it does in December. We'll SEE next July.

We rewired the pump to run whenever the ignition is on. But kept the heater elements on a manual switch.

So I can drive down the road and get a very modest amount of heat from the motor and controller - more on the highway of course. And if I need more, I can turn on the 4kw heater element.

Now this is a bit counterintuitive. Our heater doesn't work as well as it did. It is actually HEATING the controller and motor, and the loop is bigger with more coolant in it. So it takes longer to get up to temperature. But at 8F, we are still getting a pretty warm car I would say in five or seven minutes. Previously three minutes. It's very nice after 10 minutes.

The heater is hard set at about 65C. Of course, there IS a pretty good temperature drop across the heater core. The Mini heater is quite efficient at extracting heat from this core. So I would guess the temps coming OUT of the heater core are a good 15C below that or 50C. With good flow, the RMS is rated at an inlet temperature up to 80C. The motor frankly doesn't matter at these power levels. So with the heater on, and after running for a few minutes, I think we're going IN to the heater core at 65C, coming out of heater core and into RMS at 50C, and coming out of RMS and MOTOR into heater back at about 60-65C.

This very unlikely system seems to work very well at this point. It remains to be seen if it can "hold water" in the summer.

Of course, in the summer we would never have the heater element on. But with the heater fan off (or diverter to A/C) we are not going to get as much temp drop across the heater core as well. I'm hoping for 10C. With a 40C ambient, (hot day) whether or not 10C cooling will keep the controller under 80C is a big question. I'm guessing at this point that it will. But we'll just have to test it to find out.

If NOT, we'll have to have a summer rig with a little heat exchanger that can be cut into the loop between the pump and the controller input. This is not a hard "get well" in any event - almost trivial.

So the good news is that the Mini Cooper drives well and that it heats/cools within parameters. And actually the heater, which you would not say "will run you out of here" it is comfortable on very cold days.

And unlike the Speedster, we have all the other creature comforts. Bluetooth phone, HEATED seat warmers, Sirius Satellite Radio, windshield washers, EFFECTIVE windshield wipers (actually I think we even have headlight washers and wipers) all the comforts of home and a modern automobile.

The Mini Cooper has been a much more complicated project than we bought into and a much more expensive one. We undoubtedly have $75K in this car at this point - but I think we did better than BMW on the expense side.

Rate Rinhart Motion Systems and the PM100DX a comer. And better, with Oregon based support in English, and in our case outstanding support at that. That's a BIG issue as we've learned the hard way on the 2009 Mini Cooper Clubman Electric.

Jack Rickard

Monday, December 6, 2010

What HE Said. What I said.

I ran across a very interesting video courtesy of viewer Brandon Hollinger http://ampREVOLT.com/. Brandon has done a lead acid conversion of a 1970 Saab 96 that looks quite well done for a Pb car. And he's started a LiFePo4 Miata project for someone else.

Jay Whitacre received his Phd in Materials Science in 1999 at University of Michigan Ann Arbor - so he's a lot smarter than I am. He worked for Jet Propulsion Laboratory 2000-2007 mostly on lithium battery projects. Today, he is an assistant professor in Materials Science at Carnegie Mellon university. He's also head of Whitacre Research Group which studies functional materials for electrochemical storage.

The group received a $5 million DOE grant for the development of a Sodium battery using a Sodium Metal Oxide cathode (Na4Nm9O18) with an aqueous electrolyte. These cells are 1.6 volts or thereabouts and a scant 45 Wh per kilogram. But they are totally benign, have a cycle life well over 5000 cycles, and cost about as much as lead acid cells to produce. Because of the low energy density, they are probably not suitable for electric vehicles. But for grid storaage, they are ideal. Inexpensive, rugged, very long lifetimes, environmentally totally benign, easily scalable, and did I mention inexpensive. Like buying lead acid cells that last 20 years and have no lead. The spinoff company is Aquion Energy.

They apparently do not have a web site up but HERE is a bit more about their product development.

In this video, Professor Whitacre addresses a group of EV guys to explain the chemical processes of Thundersky LiFePo4 cells.

The presentation is very interesting and answers a number of temperature questions quite well I thought. Amazingly, at about 1:05 into the presentation he's taking questions regarding Battery Management Systems. And he basically tells this group, who are all totally convinced you have to have a BMS, that essentially NO manufacturer, including Tesla, GM, and Toyota, use a cell level BMS and in fact are moving away from the module management they have now as just too expensive and apparently unnecessary. He stresses EXACTLY what I've been saying, closely matched capacities and string level management.

I found it fascinating. So I thought we'd store the video on our Amazon server and create a blog entry for reference.


Jack Rickard

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cycle Life, Chargers, and Instrumentation

This week we resume after our Thanksgiving break. ;We have a lot of little things going on, and some recurring questions I've finally a minute to form some kind of cogent explanation for that won't sound like total nonsense.

The first had to do with cycle life. Understanding how it is calculated is the key to knowing what it IS and that knowledge in turn indicates what you should DO about it.  We received some information last June from CALB - actually some test data and I converted that to a Microsoft Excel graph to make it a bit more visual.

We also address some issues with charging and chargers surrounding how the charger determines the voltage point and where to switch from a constant current mode to a constant voltage mode.

We give a first look at the Current Ways programmable charger.  

And we have installed and already since filming the video we have gotten WORKING the EVWorks Zeva2 Fuel Gage driver device.  I LOVE this little unit.  Counts AH and drives a fuel gage to give you a more or less ACCURATE indication of your battery SOC based on AH.

It ALSO provides a pulsed output for instantaneous video - which you can use to display current on your existing tachometer.

Finally, it provides an alarm output to drive an LED if you reach a certain point in DOD.  We'll eventually use this for switching in a reistor across our throttle to provide a "limp mode".


jack RIckard

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Turkey Day and Spyder 550 Battery Balance

Well, it's the week of Turkey Day, and as one of the larger and less flight prone Turkeys in the area, a time that always makes me uneasy.

Actually, both my wife and I are excellent cooks, accounting for my unfortunate girth, and Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Family visit and good food, with none of the preparatory stress of Christmas or the insect life of the 4th of July.

So, I've finally gotten around to posting LAST week's video to the blogosphere. Vanity of vanities - someone might care.

Actually, it was a pretty good show. We ran two cars down to pretty much the bottom of the power pile and took some interesting measurements. I alluded to these earlier.

Speedster the original was run to a full stop. In fact, it stopped about six times on the way back to the shed. I would let it sit for about 5 minutes and the cells recovered enough to go another 150 yards or so. Ultimately we pushed it into our new facility at 601 Morgan Oak. All cells were low but the first six cells on the front string were all actually below 0.500 v measured statically 10 minutes later. So they must have been flat zero in operation.

We are going to rebuild this Speedster anyway with a new motor, different controller, and entirely different battery pack, so I was curious. Put a slow charge on the pack and ALL cells came right back up to perfect working levels. I won't say we did these six any good, but the car is driving nicely and they seem to be perfectly happy at the moment.

The Spyder 550 was more interesting in that we did NOT run it entirely out. The 157 km trip used 176.5 AH of the 180 available and we still had cells above 3.00v. So I sent Matt for a couple of sleds of Stag Beer and by the time he got back at 183 AH they were all nicely below 3.00v.

The list of voltages tells the tale. The cells were very nicely balanced. Understand this pack had 5500 km on it and first rolled last June. It had never been top balanced, and never bottom balanced. The cells were simply installed in the car as received from the manufacturer, strapped up, and charged with the BRUSA NLG511 charger.

One thing that jumped out at me was that the first 10 cells were noticeably lower than the rest, but not randomly so. It almost looked like the first 10 were different. A graph of this makes it clearer.

Initially I thought it might have something to do with cooling and air flow since they were all in the front, but there were actually 12 cells in front, not 10.

Then I remembered the Xantrex episode. We had used a TBS Expert Pro on the Mini Cooper and powered it with the first 10 cells. The unit draws less than 60 ma so how much damage can it do to a 100AH pack? Well plenty as it turns out. It's on 24x7 and after a couple of months, they were 10 AH down. Then I recalled that Duane had been following our progress on this and had replicated our mistake. Eventually he also replicated the solution - a voltage divider across the entire pack. We've since moved to DC-DC converters actually. But the cells remained slightly drained from the originals that hadn't had that treatment.

About 15 amps for 5 minutes dressed it all up. Cell 28 was also a spot down so it got 30 seconds.

That was the fix.

We just flat did not do a show during Thanksgiving week. We have a lot going on with the Mini Cooper, but I've also taken THAT battery pack down to parade rest and we are wanting to look at all the cells while we have it down. That will take some effort as they are much harder to get to than our other cars. Thank goodness I let Brain talk me into the $550 rail/drawer system for the box inside or it would really be difficult. Anyway, we're going to measure all of them this week and tighten all the connections while we're there.

The Rinehart controller has been interesting. It has fought us every step of the way, but I think it's going to get there on the 2009 Mini Cooper Clubman. First, they gave us the wrong motor type code by accident and it did NOT run very well. That fixed, we found an even more unnerving issue. When in electronic REVERSE, if you step on the BRAKE it ACCELERATES the car. It's a little counterintuitive to get it to stop too - let off the brake and sieze the hand brake and haul in on it with all your strength. THAT was exciting. But again, it's simply a software problem and Chris Brune has been very communicative. We isolated it to just REVERSE and he was able to forward us new firmware WITHOUT this little feature literally within four or five hours. That's why they call it software.

The controller is clearly in the prototype area. The hardware design is very attractive. And I'm getting accustomed to the software to configure it. It's actually not bad. The controller is limited to 300 AMPS at up to 360V whereas the TIMS600 was 400A at up to 400V. So it's a bit tamer in actual operation. But that's not entirely a bad thing. As I've preached numerous times, and to little effect with all the power worshipping gearheads, sometimes more is just more. I confess I liked the responsiveness of the TIMS600. But the Rinehart drives the car very nicely and with nothing to apologize for. We're doing more in 2nd gear that we used to do in 3rd - we have the luxury of 6 gears to choose from and so that's all good. It's running nicely at the moment. We are chasing a little gremlin where the controller cuts out entirely. But I think we have traced it to a cable beneath our own 12v DC-DC converter that had worn a spot through to the case and was intermittently shorting the 12v bus - cutting out the contactor.

Chasing intermittents is always interesting because they are, well, intermittent. So if you do something, and it appears to fix it, that's all good unless it was just occupying the good part of the "intermittent" curve by coincidence. But I really do think we have this one.

So we went on strike this week on video and we'll cover all that next week, after we are a little smarter. The time off has given me time to play with a back burner project that is kinda cool, and a bit frustrating. I'm doing it on a Mac OS X machine in Objective C using Xcode and the Interface Builder. This is it's own little world of madness. Mac guys have always been on the EXTREME end of weird. Mostly, they know NOTHING about computers or software design yet somehow manage to achieve superstardom as DIVAS of software design. Just reading the books on the topic is a horror - page after page after page of trivial piff and tosh about absolutely NOTHING all to carry a bare structure of a little bit of information about the system. The information density is EXTREMELY low.

Objective C holds to the hide. It is inherited from NextStep - the OS Steve Jobs made Apple buy as part of his return from the wilderness. The NeXT computer was actually quite interesting in its day. But Objective C is a very strange language. All Object oriented software traces its roots to SmallTalk and LIsp - two very early experiments in object oriented design. Ultimately, C++ and Java emerged as more mature views of this concept. Objective - C is a more direct decendant of SmallTalk. Everything is an object, and it all works on "messages" between objects. The syntactic form of Object.Property that works so well in C++ is replaced by inverted looking messages such as [Object propertyGetter: this one] that I think is just ridiculous on the face of it. You can stack all of this inside bracket set after bracket set. You wind up with programs that are quite short, but with 200 character lines.

And the back and forth between the IDE and the programmatics is just hopeless.

But oddly, you can come up with a reasonably good result in a fairly short period of time, and I suppose that of course gains with familiarity. A lot of iPhone development is going on this way.

In any event, I've been trying to develop a display program that in fairly modular fashion can access serial data streams, and use them to calculate EV interesting things, and then display them in some rational form. So far, I have a Roving Networks Sensor that has 8 16-bit A/D converters in it and reports all the results over bluetooth wireless. I can use this to measure currents and voltages without the usual isolation issues. Then, I have a cheap $36 Globalsat BU 335 GPS unit plugged into the USB port, converted to a serial port with a driver. And I can capture GPS streams.

This gives me speed and its integral, distance.

So I'm trying to glom all that together into something responsive enough and attractive enough to serve as an instrumentation system. But wiring up hardware for it, writing software for it, and learning an entirely new to me operating system and programming language is a bit of a stretch. If I could do just that, I think it would all be cool. But to build EV's, videorecord THAT, edit THOSE and work on a way to display them globally where anyone could actually download one, kind of limits the time I can spend with such programming projects.

In any event, here are a couple of screen captures to show some progress. I'm actually having a lot of fun with it....


Jack Rickard

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Copy This Linc (Volt).

Interesting week. We had a visit from Wayne Alexander of EV-Blue Conversions in Walton Kansas. We had a great time talking, which he does love to do, and I may have overrun my budget of time for him on the show, but I thought I would include most of it for a couple of reasons.

We're very unlike in our approach to EV's, yet we hit it off rather marvelously. He's been doing them for a very long time (since 1974) and more recently he does a LOT of them (143 in the past four years). So while we agree on little, I thought it important you hear what he has to say.

Wayne does EV for food. He'll convert anything for $12,500. That's a lead acid conversion, and we all know my feelings about lead. But he makes a case. People want to drive electric, and their budget is not unlimited. He's done some LiFePo4, but is clearly more comfortable with lead.

He favors standard components - Netgain motors and Curtis controllers. And he winds up doing 35-40 cars per year.

We actually had a ball talking about all of that. He'll put in anything the customer wants, but those are the designs he considers his bread and butter.

I had a great segment on a 100 mile drive we made in the Speedster AND the Spyder. Ran the Speedster entirely out and the Spyder down to parade rest and had some interesting results from that - two cars with some significant time and miles, living BMS free one day at a time. But I cut that out - we'll push it to next weeks show.

About a year ago I got a call from Jonathan Goodwin. He mostly converts Hummers to biodiesel, but had gotten involved in a project with Neil Young on a 1959 Lincoln Continental they were calling the Linc Volt. Apparently Neil had seen the videos and kind of got enthused, as he is wont to do about a lot of things. I talked with Goodwin and Perrone at length about the immediate questions and implored them to eschew the BMS top balance thing etc. of course.

Neil started corresponding by e-mail and by telephone quite extensively. We talked about them driving through Cape Girardeau on a cross country trip they were planning in the Linc Volt and he was going to do a documentary on it. In fact, we discussed something even more bizarre, going partners with him on his 1938 Meteor - a classic wooden launch that we would power by battery and capstone Turbine.

1938 Meteor

The Linc Volt had a bit of a secret life. They had decided they could use a Wankel engine and a UQM generator to build a hydrolyzer to make hydrogen, then use the hydrogen to run the Wankel in the usual copper foil helmet concept of perpetual motion. We argued over this somewhat heatedly for some time, and Young had an uncanny ability to catch me on the phone when I was deep in the garage among the wiskey barrels.

In any event, the Meteor never got done. But the capstone went into the Link Volt and the Wankel hydrogen thing went away.

The car came out to be absolutely stunning. Ostensibly 50 miles using High Power cells (not my recommendation frankly but less expensive). And with the Capstone Turbine, a 400 mile range running on natural gas, diesel, biodiesel, etc. The turbines are heavy, and they start at about $30,000. But he wants to do this cross country thing.

The guy filming the documentary was a close friend, and he died suddenly last January.

In any event, they wound up keynoting the SEMA show November 2nd and the Linc Volt was a huge hit. She was all dressed up, and everywhere to go. Young gave an impassioned speech about the need for no compromises go green with large cars that people like. On this, he is so all over it. Right now buyers are returning to the Escalade, Yukon and Denali in droves and you can't give a Prius away at all.

On November 9, in the early AM, the Linc Volt burned to the ground, taking a good bit of warehouse with it. It was definitely the car that started the fire. They are alluding to a "problem charging" with human error. The human error was having a BMS on it, and using it to control the charging of the car of course. Took the fire department most of an hour to get it out.

The car was truly beautiful. The message was beautiful. And Young was passionate about it. I'm crushed, and I never got to see the car and indeed Young and I have never met except by e-mail and phone. I can imagine how he feels about it. He CAN'T imagine how I do. Those dirty BMSs. You try rubbing them out and scrubbing them out, still everybody in the country is UNANIMOUS - you HAVE to have a BMS. They burn cars to the ground.

I've got some contacts in the battery scene. They provided me some shots from the SH2 battery trade show in Shenzhen China - including some shots of the new Gray cells that I'm now told will be available in February. The company naturally doesn't want to hurt current cell sales by announcing any of this before the switchover is announced. They also were showing a blue 200AH cell and a blue 210 AH cell that was very short but wide. I can't wait to get more information on these new batteries. I think this will be important.

We have the motor and transmission back in the Mini Cooper. The new controller is mounted. And we've made some very interesting changes in the cooling and heating systems in the car - we've combined them into one. It can't possibly work. But I've kind of decided to start from the assumption that the controller and motor CAN heat the car, and the car CAN cool the motor and controller, and work backwards from there, adding components until it either does or doesn't. Should be interesting.

Jack Rickard

Monday, November 8, 2010

Itsy, Bitsy, Spyder 550 and Battery Balance Myths

In this week's episode, we assemble new mounts for the 2009 Mini Cooper Clubman drive train - somewhat colorfully.

We also wrap up our Vantage Green Van Battery Makeover. We have thrown out 775 lbs of AGM lead acid batteries and replaced them with 27 High-Power brand 200AH cells that I never liked well enough to put them in a car. The resulting pack weighs 350 lbs.

Because I had used some of the cells in some experiments in the lab, we were forced to bottom balance the pack, a three day adventure. Young Hauber subsequently drove the Vantage Green Van 103 miles on a single charge. This is a bit of an improvement over the 16 miles I had achieved during one test drive with the AGM's which only had 600 miles on them. Gentlemen. Lead is dead. Long live the LiFePo4. Get over it.

Also featured this week is Duane Ball's most excellent Spyder 550 build. And therein lies a tale.

Duane is about to take delivery of a Beck Porsche 904 from Special Editions Inc.

This is a fantastic new Beck reproduction. Just the roller will cost over $50,000. To raise funds for this project, Duane wanted to sell his beloved Spyder 550. So for a mere one Brazillion dollars, I bought it.

The car is a superb build with essentially duplicate components from Speedster Part Duh, but with a much better Brusa charger in it. Duane did use a PB-6 potentiometer box and a cable assembly to act as a throttle/accelerator, and everyone is pretty much unanimous that this was the one POS error in the car. It just feels awful. We'll be changing that.

In the meantime, the original Speedster is nearly 2 years old and has about 10,000 km on it. Duane's Spyder has 5811 km on it. So young Hauber and myself took advantage of a crisp, cool but beautiful October Sunday afternoon and drove on U.S. 61, a winding blacktop hilly highway to Perryville Missouri and back.

For some reason, this took more energy than it normally does. But to an interesting result. In the Speedster, we actually rolled to a stop just in front of our new shop at 601 Morgan Oak. We had to push the car inside by hand.

We had used a total of 195 AH out of the Speedsters two-year-old 180AH pack. And six cells were well under 0.5v STATIC once we pushed it inside and put a meter on it. This car has had NO BMS of any kind, other than a single CellLog8s misadventure for three days monitoring 8 cells and resulting in, you guessed it, a fire. It has been repeatedly run to full 100% DOD in testing. ANd we still managed 195AH from a 180AH pack (two strings of Thundersky TS-90AH in parallel).

So we've finally destroyed it. Well, at least we haven't done it any good. But as of last night, all cells were taking a charge and climbing in voltage. I'll check later today to see if any also LOSE their charge after the full charge. If they don't, this is incredible.

The Spyder 550 was also interesting. The cells are much easier to access, and we have young Hauber now to do the heavy lifting. It used 176 AH on the trip. It is much lighter (as is Hauber) accounting for the difference.

The Spyder is 1890 lbs with a 44% front and 56% rear weight distribution. As the cells were all still over 3.00v, I sent young Hauber for a couple of sleds of Stag Beer, his favorite housekeeping task here at EVTV. On return, the vehicle was showing 157 km total on the trip, 183.5 AH used, and a static voltage of just 95.65 volts or an average of 2.517 per cell.

After letting the cells rest and recover for a few minutes, I had Hauber take a reading of every cell in the car. Here's what we found....

Of course, the excellent news is that with NO BALANCE DONE EVER, and NO BMS EVER, a car with 5811 kilometers (3611 miles) on it was in excellent shape, excellent "balance" and all on the very vertical face of the discharge curve well below 3.00v and with 183 ah withdrawn from a 180 AH pack.

I have an odd ability at pattern recognition that is only occasionally useful for any thing. But the first 10 cells sort of jumped off the page at me. It raises a question.

The first 12 cells are arrayed across the front of the car, and so they may be getting dramatically more cooling than the cells in the rear of the car. But there are 12 of them. And cell 11 and 12 simply do not match the first 10.

I went to look at the overall pack voltage, and of course Duane had used a Xantrex. I recall the same problem on the Mini Cooper. I had originally used the lower 10 cells to power the Xantrex at the 35 volts it likes. Over time, this depletes the cells actually. The Xantrex doesn't draw much, but it draws enough. Duane had apparently used the first 10 cells, just as I had, and later went to a voltage divider across the entire pack to power the Xantrex, just as I had. It is eerie to see your MISTAKES replicated in somebody elses' build.

We put a charger on the 10 cells at about 30 amps for probably 5 minutes. They all fell right in line. And while we were doing it, with hit Cell 22 with a very brief shot to bring it up as well. I don't have a cogent theory for that one.

Here's what I DO get from all this. The "they gradually go out of balance" theory used to support the increasingly dubious case for the necessity of the BMS is just pure D Grade Bullshit. That is, bullshit that is not even very high grade bullshit. Here we have two cars that have NEVER been balanced in any direction, with a couple of years on one and 3600 miles on the other, where NONE of that has been done, and they both operate so well, that I can take 195 AH out of a 180AH pack apparently without mortal damage.

The BMS adherents, who increasingly start to look also like the BMS designers, who also look a lot like the people selling the BMS's are simply pumping BS for cash. Their products will actually DAMAGE your car, and the purported gain from using them is total nonsense. At this point, since we've made this information public numerous times, I believe that they KNOW or SHOULD HAVE KNOWN it was bullshit, and are actually lying to you for cash. There is no innocent "difference of opinion" going on here.

I have actually set out to cripple a perfectly operational electric car that I have well in excess of $70,000 invested in and have apparently FAILED to KILL IT. As I'm normally very good at these things, we'll see with some folow up tests that almost have to show some DAMAGE at least. But I could not kill the car, and did not drive any cells apparently into reversal.

If you top balance your cells, you CAN. And we have in the past done that empirically and publicly where anyone can duplicate the experiment.

ANd here is the problem with the online millieu, people have extended the right to "have their own opinion" to somehow include the right to have their own facts. It does not.

That said, they remain YOUR cells, do with them as you may.

The Rinehart controller we are installing in the Mini requires a switched ground signal to indicate the brake light is on. I don't quite get this. Brake lights run on 12v and you usually see 12v coming on when you apply the brakes. But it's easy enough to invert. A relay would work quite well, but we put on brakes a lot and so we're going to wear out the mechanical relay. Another way is simply to switch a transistor, which inverts the signal. A MOSFET is a good candidate because of very low forward resistance. We used a 75 Amp 30v MOSFET that is gross overkill to switch milliamps. But this will work quickly and probably won't ever wear out. This is the little diagram to invert our brake signal to a ground instead of 12v when we press the brakes. The 12v brake signal switches on the MOSFET applying ground to the output.

Jack Rickard