Friday, December 14, 2007

EVAmerica 2007 Newsletter Available

Just a quick note to let you know that EVAmerica has put out its 2007 e-newsletter and it's chockfull of customer conversions you might want to cast your eyes over, including a gorgeous 108-volt MR2 conversion, and a 1984 Corvette that seems to be powered by Optima Yellow-tops. !!! When we bought that for the auxiliary battery, I wondered whether it might be suitable for an EV conversion: it requires no watering, which is awfully nice. (I know, I know, an EV requires almost no maintenance besides monthly battery-watering, so I shouldn't complain. I'm just very, very lazy.) Also interesting -- a 1981 Honda EV into which the owner has installed a 5 kw Honda generator, making it a homemade hybrid and extending its range to 88 miles!

Bob Batson has included some nice pix of unusual conversions from old issues of the newsletter, plus links to some customer web pages and conversion shops. Drop him a line at if you'd like to request a copy. Be sure to tell him that I sent you, I want him to feel bad that he didn't include any pictures of the e-van!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Conversion Workshop Initiative in Canada

Ron Rancourt and his cohorts at the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa have been bitten by the EV Conversion Workshop bug, and they've put up a terrific website where you can track their progress in sponsoring what they're calling a "Gas to Electric Vehicle Conversion Course."

(You will see that both the Bucks County Renewables EV video and the 15-minute C2EC2T video from San Diego 2005 are featured on the website. I've tried to assist Ron by sharing all that we learned from sponsoring last summer's workshop, and he's also in touch with Abran Quevedo and Mike Parker out on the West Coast.)

The website will be used for developing course content, announcing progress and development, and promoting the class. One exciting aspect is that EVCO plans to make the course material freely available under a Creative Commons license, to encourage course adoption in other cities.

Readers who might be interested in sponsoring an EV Conversion Workshop in their communities will find it especially useful that EVCO has posted samples of their funding application documents online. If you are unfamiliar with grant-writing, browsing these files will give you a sense of what to expect, and anyone considering applying for financial support for a Conversion Workshop will benefit from a peek at the thorough and succinct formulations of these documents.

Best wishes to Ron and his companions in this effort!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Change is in the Air

So, it's been very chilly here on the East Coast, and since we never got around to putting any heat whatsoever in the e-Van, driving it has become decidedly unpleasant. Definitely a priority upgrade! I'm dreaming about the Chevy Volt, the first production EV since the EV-1. Don't know if we can hold out two years to get a second vehicle, but if we can, it'll look something like this:

There's a nice overview of the Volt here. If you want to read up on its progress towards regularly there's no better spot than this dedicated site.

Matt sent me an interesting video interview with Bob Lutz, General Motor's chief of global product development a while back. It was filmed just before the Chevrolet Tahoe Two-Mode Hybrid won the Green Car of the Year award at the L.A. auto show in November. In it Lutz complains about Toyota's reputation as a green auto manufacturer, admits that if he didn't work for GM he'd have loved to drive a Honda Insight, and frankly says that GM wants to be seen as "the absolute undisputed leader in advanced environmental and fuel-saving technology." Asked what will help them improve their green reputation in the eyes of consumers, he says "If we could put the Volt into production tomorrow and start selling 60 to 70,000 of them a year that would definitely do it."

Well, duh. Here's looking forward to GM truly committing itself to producing enough Volts to meet demand!

In my next entry: back to discussing conversions! Really!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thanks, Update, and a Radio Show to Listen To

First things first: it's time for me to thank everyone who emailed or posted encouraging remarks during the long dormancy period of this blog and/or after my woeful post about losing faith in the E-Vanagon. I really appreciated your responses! It is most invigorating to know that there's an audience out there and I vow to be more regular in my blog updates from now on.

I got permission from Kim to share his particularly consoling words: "I know how you feel, I have had plenty of projects fall short of that wonderful mental picture that I went in with. Then I remind myself 'oh yeah this is an experiment' ... it is not what my mind saw but it will do."

So ... oh yeah! This is an experiment!

For those of you wanting to know what's actually going on with the E-van, the answer is it gets driven occasionally on short hops ... Matt took it down to Frenchtown and back two days in a row, where it was parked anonymously all day while he took the bus into NYC (gotta get a chrome EV badge from Third Planet Energy so everyone who walks by can know the van's electric!) but he charged it up in between trips. So we have really not been testing its range thoroughly. We need to make a test run of the commute we want it to make (to the dojo and back), but I need to drive back-up and we haven't managed to arrange a night for that yet.

So no documentation of the van's range post-motor refurbishment yet. I was sufficiently recovered from my dual-breakdown trauma to try to take it out the other night, but Matt had it parked on the hill with the e-brake on so tight that I couldn't release it! Fortunately we had a back-up electric car that I could take to pick up my daughter!

As I posted last time, it is now confirmed that I don't have an Energy Harvest grant to fund the 2008 workshop, but all is not lost -- I have other ideas! First up will be applying for a state environmental education grant (deadline December 15) if that will be appropriate. I'm also going to start casting my net out for folks who might be interested in providing a vehicle and the funds to cover the conversion kit. Workshop fees could probably pay for the teacher's salary and the minimal overhead if I can find a donor -- so if you've got a yen to drive away a vehicle converted by the 2008 Electric Vehicle Conversion Workshop, let me know!

I leave you with a link to a radio show on which John Dietter, a teacher on the small Maine island of North Haven, and several of his former students discuss the electric Vanagon they created out of a 1984 Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro. The Vanagon, which competed several times in the Tour de Sol, is now powered exclusively by a dedicated solar array. A truly zero-emissions EV!

On the show, Kim Petty, my encouraging blog reader (who also lives on an island in Maine, and is poised to convert a Vanagon himself) calls in to talk about his Small Internal Combustion Engine Elimination Project. He points out that a small-scale and affordable introduction to electric vehicle technology can be the "slow wean" of gradually replacing smaller ICEs in one's life. In pursuit of this goal Kim has acquired an electric tractor, and converted a small boat to electric. His most recent toy is an electric log-splitter. A former Porsche mechanic and self-avowed motorhead, Kim admits, "There's something about the thrill of a large, powerful engine that you just don't give up easily." Nevertheless, he says, "there's lots of stuff that can be done with electric motors." He too plans to charge his EVanagon with photovoltaics.

The link below will take you to the hour-long show.

More soon. Thanks for following along, and for cheering me up when I'm down!

Great News - Gas is $3 a Gallon!

For a long time our unofficial company slogan has been, "We at Bucks County Renewables are in favor of high gas prices." Of course it's no fun to have to pony up more cash at the pump, but apparently only pain in the pocketbook will drive consumer attention to the need to find alternatives to our current oil-guzzling transportation model.

We're also cognizant that gasoline prices are actually low in this country. The Energy Information Administration (home of official energy statistics from the US goverment) gives these averages as of 11/12/2007:

Belgium $7.88
France $7.40
Germany $7.97
Italy $7.46
Netherlands $8.39

U.S. $3.33

Of course there are countries where the prices are lower -- sometimes substantially so. China and some Eastern European countries continue to subsidize the cost of gasoline, keeping consumer price below what we pay in the US; and in oil-producing countries like Iraq and Venezuela, a fill-up can cost just pennies a gallon!

More food for thought on the issue:

According to the National Defense Council Foundation, the economic penalties of America's oil dependence total $297.2 to $304.9 billion annually. If reflected at the gasoline pump, these “hidden costs” would raise the price of a gallon of gasoline to over $5.28. A fill-up would be over $105.

A 1998 report by the International Center for Technology Assessment examining the hidden costs of gasoline offered a high estimate of over $14 a gallon

A more recent (2006) report by the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security put the true cost of Persian Gulf-derived oil at just under $10 a gallon -- at those rates, the "real" cost of filling up a family sedan would be $217.20, and filling up a large SUV, $325.80!

These abstract considerations aside, $3/gallon gas got me thinking about next summer's EV conversion workshop, and preliminary preparations are getting underway for that program. We may be expanding the focus to incorporate other alternative fuels -- stay tuned!

Phooey -- I was just going to write that I was still waiting to hear about the PA DEP Energy Harvest Grant I applied for to cover the costs of this workshop, and then I thought I'd better hit their website and check (again) to see if they'd announced the winners yet. Apparently they did so on November 13, and Bucks County Renewables did not receive one of the 28 grants awarded (nor so much as a "sorry, you didn't make the cut" email, which is a little disappointing -- you would think the state would notify all the program applicants and not just the winners).

Um, so that means figuring out a different way to pay for the project. Too bad they aren't adding on a tax to our cheap gasoline here in the U.S. in order to fund research and education programs like ours, eh?

More soon! Thanks for following along, everyone.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

EV Gloom

All right. This was meant to be a joyful post: over the weekend, Bill (with the kind help of his brother-in-law Steve Hood, of Elgin, Illinois) installed the repaired motor AND a rebuilt transmission into the e-van.

The new transmission (in the fabricated box it arrived in) goes into Bill's car Thursday night, after a lovely dinner with Bill & Margaret at the Porterhouse Brew Pub in Lahaska.

A peek inside the box.

By 10 a.m. on Saturday, Steve and Bill have the motor and the old transaxle off the van.

The new transmission, we anticipated, would reduce operating noise, and the rebuilt motor, of course, would actually spin (unlike the old one). And they both worked fine when I came to pick up the van on Sunday. It drives much more quietly now! Yay! BUT ... there were some hitches.

Bill emailed me that he had taken the van out for an 18.6 mile test drive and then the "fuel" gauge indicated that it needed to be charged. (This is about 25% under the range that we're hoping for.) He charged it up overnight and when we picked it up the gauge read full. I was going to drive the vehicle home and Matt had plans to head off elsewhere with the girls, but fortunately he was still behind me when I noticed that the gauge had dropped a bar after only a mile. We conferred by phone and he decided to keep following me -- a good thing, because in a couple of miles the gauge dropped another bar.

It was clear we weren't going to make it home, so we changed course and headed over to our friends at Peace Valley Lavender Farm and Bucks County Aikido to check things out. Although the van drove nicely initially (keeping up with traffic on the 611 bypass) its performance deteriorated as I drove; the voltmeter showed 80 volts in the pack and dropping as I accelerated, and by the time we crossed over Ferry Rd at 313 and hit a long hill the van was creeping along at just a couple of miles an hour. We stopped and let it rest for a bit, then Matt nursed it the rest of the way to the lavender farm, which is nestled along the shores of Lake Galena -- a picturesque place for a breakdown, anyway.

Peace Valley Lavender Farm.
The view from the farm.

At the farm Matt checked out the charger and concluded that it had been accidentally set to the wrong setting, so the batteries had not been charged up. The gauge likely reset itself to "full" at some point during the process -- it does that, he's observed, if you throw the circuit breaker off and on again.

We set the van up to charge over night at the farm (with a big thank you to farm & dojo proprietors George and Patti Lyons, who have been incredibly supportive of our EV experiments -- this is far from the first overnight charge they've generously provided us!). Then we headed home. I was pretty glum. I'm prepared to face the known disadvantages of driving an EV -- the dignified acceleration, the limited range -- but the idea that the gauge I rely on to let me know how much charge is in the batteries can't be depended on is very discouraging.

Monday evening we returned to the farm. The plan was that I would drop off Matt to train in aikido and he would come home in the van, but that was not to happen. When he checked the van to see how the charging had progressed, it appeared that it didn't finish the process: the gauge still read just under half a charge. The voltmeter, though, showed that the voltage in the pack was good, so apparently some juice had gotten in. The question was how much range did the van have?

We didn't want to risk Matt breaking down on the way home later, in the dark, so he skipped aikido and drove home immediately, with me tailing him. The e-van performed well and kept up to speed nicely, so evidently the batteries did receive a charge -- but once again, the gauge wasn't reporting this crucial information! It was hard to have confidence that it was going to make it. My heart was in my throat the whole time.

We charged it overnight again and Matt will take it out for a test spin in the middle of the day today. Seems to me that the poor range and peculiar charging patterns are the same behavior we were witnessing back in the early part of September, before the motor died. Perhaps there is a bad battery in the pack, or there's something wrong with our charger.

More trouble-shooting will need to happen before we can say for sure, and in the meantime, I'm feeling baffled and frustrated. It's kind of dispiriting (and not especially environmentally friendly or convenient) to own an EV that inspires so little confidence that it has to be followed by an escort car at all times!

So today, I am finding the notion of the plug-in hybrid a lot more attractive than I used to. I used to think it was kind of silly to use batteries to push around a big old heavy internal combustion engine, but now I'm not so sure. (And let's not forget those little luxuries that are associated with the ICE, like heat, defrost, even air conditioning for those that use it ...)

A friend (and faithful reader) has just reported from the Austin, TX Maker Faire that Mike Harvey of Harvey Coachworks was part of the team helping Cal-Cars perform their Open Source Plug-in Hybrid Conversion Demonstration. Could there be a plug-in Prius workshop in Bucks County Renewables' future? Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, thanks for following along ... even with the whiny posts.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Elastic Definitions of "Tomorrow"

It would be easy to go back to my last post on September 24 and change the sentence "I'll be posting a complete update tomorrow" to something like "I'll be posting a complete update next month" or "before 2008." Blogger technology does allow one to cover one's tracks that way.
But I have been leaving it as written, in the hopes that mounting guilt would finally prod me to post that promised account of the Energy Festival. I should know by know that guilt isn't a goad to action -- it's dead weight that only adds to inertia, or the tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest.

Like the e-van, this blog has been inert for the last month, but this week it's springing back to life upon receipt of the good news that the replacement motor has been delivered! On Thursday I'll bring a new transmission down to Bill and this weekend the two should be reunited and the e-Vanagon back on its feet -- er, wheels.

So it's time to post a few photos and that long-awaited report on the 3rd annual Pennsylvania Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Festival in Kempton, PA. I can't deny that it was a disappointment not to be showcasing the e-Vanagon there. It was a gorgeous weekend, and Philip Jones of MAREA and the EEVC did an amazing job putting together (for the first time at the festival) a Transportation Tent featuring alternative transportation solutions. The tent featured 26 display vehicles and three days' worth of presentations and forums on alternative fuel technology.

Display vehicles included a converted Volkswagen pickup truck and 1986 Ford Escort, as well as a home-brewed plug-in hybrid Chevy S10. Production EV's were also on display; the Boyertown Museum of Historical Vehicles shared a 1919 Detroit Electric Coupe and a mid-century electric scooter, while collector Don Young brought a 1968 Mars EV and a GE Elec-Trak electric tractor from the same era.

Besides pure electrics, numerous examples of hybrid technology were showcased, including a diesel-electric school bus (one of only eight in the country) that serves the Nazareth PA school district. Penn State showed off one of the few surviving GM EV1's, which was converted by their Hybrid Hydrogen Research Program to a fuel cell-electric hybrid, while Toyota also showcased a fuel cell-electric hybrid Highlander. Several Priuses were on display thanks to fervent owners from Massachusetts, including Jesse Rudavsky -- who has driven his first-generation Prius over 322,000 miles on all original batteries, transmission, engine and motor -- and the hypermiling evangelist known as the Hobbit, who showed off his mpg-increasing mods and offered a workshop on optimizing Prius mileage.

Biofuel vehicles were also well-represented at the tent. There were several demonstrations of biodiesel brewing, and Fossil Free Fuel of Pittsburgh offered two one-day workshops during which a farm tractor and a car were converted to run on WVO.

Meanwhile, of course, dozens of other informative workshops and lectures were taking place on topics ranging from renewable energy to sustainable agriculture to green building. The vendor hall was full of displays from green businesses and nonprofits, the farmers' market did a brisk business in eggs, meat, vegetables, wool, and other products from small PA farms, Arm-of-the-Sea Theater brought its touring "Turtle Island Medicine Show" complete with masks and giant puppets, and -- unlike at most festivals -- the food was healthy, largely local/organic, and served up in compostable disposable containers! My whole family loves this festival. The setting (nestled at the foot of Hawk Mountain in Kempton, PA) could not be more beautiful. I recommend it unreservedly -- if you have a 2008 calendar, pencil in the weekend of September 20 & 21 and join us next year!

Now, a few pictures (I did a bad job of documenting anything but the electric cars, I'm afraid -- I don't know what I was thinking, guess I was too busy running around visiting our favorite exhibitors: Bogansky's Milk and Honey Farm, Sheep Shelter Farm along with our friends Grace and Natalie Carabetta, Woodsong Hollow Farm, Clothesline Organics, Hundred-Fold Farm, Joyce Moore Financial Services, The Heat Shed, 3 Sisters Center for the Healing Arts, The Farm at Coventry, Renewable Energy Solutions, and Close the Loop, to name a few!)

The Mars II Electric Car, a production vehicle manufactured in 1967 on a Renault body. Don Young bought this car in 1975 and used it to commute from school at Ursinus College in Collegeville PA to Palm PA -- he says sometimes his friends had to push it up the big hill on Route 29 to get it all the way home! Don has recently restored it to operational condition and it was great to see it rolling ahead of us during the alternative fuel vehicle parade.

Phil made up spec sheets for all the vehicles on display. Here is Don's for the Mars II. Notice that this 40 year old EV has regenerative braking -- did you think that was new technology?

This is EEVC member Al Arrison's recently completed EV conversion of a Volkswagen pick-up. I completely failed to get pictures of his gorgeous motor set-up, with all the components laid out on a control board, perhaps because I was paralyzed by envy. Soft-spoken and meticulous, Al commutes daily in his truck and he says it gives him that "EV grin" every time he drives it.

This 1986 Ford Escort, "The Olympian," lives at the Burlington County Institute of Technology and was converted by a team that featured several members of the EEVC. They dispensed with the back seat and turned it into a 144V two-seater which currently operates on an unusual dual-battery system combining LGM lead-acid batteries with lithium-ion batteries. This configuration won honors at the 2006 Tour de Sol.

Oliver Perry, President of the EEVC, shows off his EV grin as he gets behind the wheel of the Olympian.
Ken Wells, Executive Director of the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles, behind the wheel of a 1919 Detroit Electric Coupe. During the school sessions on Friday I told all my student audiences that when my grandmother was in 5th grade, she rode to school every day in a car pretty much exactly like this one. She remembers my great-grandmother positively bombing along the roads of Wake Forest, Illinois in her Detroit Electric at the unheard-of speed of 35 miles per hour!
Philip Jones, the MAREA volunteer who coordinated the entire Transportation Tent display, gives a big EV grin from the passenger seat of the Detroit Electric -- he and Ken are about to lead off the alternative fuel vehicle parade. Phil did an incredible job of pulling together vehicles, presentations and workshops for the Energy Fest. Can you tell how happy he is to have it be actually happening after all the weeks of preparation and stress? (Phil's wife Kim and his kids were also present and helping out during the entire weekend, and deserve a shout-out as well.)

We trailered our 1991 Dodge Colt up to the festival and back; here's Matt getting it set on the dolly for the return trip. I remember figuring out before the e-Vanagon was converted that, theoretically, its 50-mile range ought to be able to get us all the way to Kempton without needing to recharge. Alas, we didn't get to test that theory!
My face-painted daughters grinning at the end of the weekend.

Sorry about the big hiatus, everyone, and I look forward to sharing the news that the eVan's rolling again! Meanwhile thanks are due to Dennis for motivating me to get down to updating this blog, and to all of you for following along.

PS - We had lots of great conversations with people at the Energy Fest, but if you were one of the people interested in hearing about next summer's EV conversion workshop, please email me at to make sure you're on our mailing list. Especially if you're that guy who grew up working on a farm -- I wrote your info down on the wrong clipboard and it went home with one of the biodiesel people!

Monday, September 24, 2007

YEAH! (And Whew!)

Received a succinct and satisfying email from Bob Batson of Electric Vehicles of America today:

Jenny -
ADC has stated that the motor will be covered by warranty. They will repair and return.
Thank you for your patience.
Bob @ EVA

And there was much rejoicing by Bill and Matt -- but most especially by me, since I was the one at the wheel when the motor died. I'm glad my driving wasn't implicated!

We had a wonderful time at the Energy Fest this past weekend, despite not having the e-van to display. I'll be posting a complete update tomorrow so be sure to check in again. It was great to see Lynn and Peter there -- thanks for coming out!

As soon as the e-van is up and running again we'll be available to visit schools, festivals and environmental events, preferably within 25 miles of our home base in Ottsville, PA. Please do contact me at if you would like to have an electric car visit your school or event!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Another Box Story

Well, the flurry of emails referred to in the previous post threatened to turn into a blizzard as we continued to negotiate with Advanced DC Motors over who exactly would pay for our nonspinning EV motor to be returned for diagnostic testing, but the heavy weather abated when Bob Batson of Electric Vehicles of America generously offered to pay for shipping.

Sample exchange:

Bob (of Electric Vehicles of America, our supplier): I have had a number of emails and phone call with Brian Sullivan at Advanced DC Motors. He reviewed the pictures and concluded that the motor will be fine if the brush springs are placed back on the brushes. The armature looks fine. So let's do it. Let's put the 8 springs back where they should be and run on a 12V battery to see how it is.

Bill: That armature has what it looks like mica seeping from between the commutator and above the segments. Plus, the commutator is black. In my humble opinion the motor should be replaced. I will do what you and Advanced suggest, I don't like it but let's see if it will spin with the brushes in place.

Brian (of Advanced DC Motors): As I stated previously, we would pay for the freight to return this motor only if there is a defect found in materials or workmanship. This brush spring fiasco is not a defect that I will accept. If the brushes were returned to their correct position and the motor still will not run, there may very well be a defect within the motor. The only way that I can tell that is to evaluate it and I can't do that if your customer is unwilling to take a chance.

Happily, this discussion has been resolved -- but unhappily, the time-frame required to ship the motor back for diagnostic testing will prohibit us from displaying the van at the Pennsylvania Alternative Energy Festival in Kempton, PA next weekend. Instead, we will bring our other EV, the 1991 Dodge Colt conversion. I will still present on the process of converting the van. I'm sorry we won't be able to show it off, but we are all reminding ourselves that every problem is a learning opportunity!

Interior of motor showing springs on the right touching the sides of the brushes (they are supposed to rest on top of the flat metal things in the middle), and the blackened commutator underneath.

All right, onto the topic at hand: learning how to prepare a large, heavy object for shipping via motor freight.

We had the motor, the pallet, and a choice between bolting the motor onto the pallet and covering it with a box, or wrapping and boxing it and then strapping the box to the pallet. We had a nice leisurely discussion of the pros and cons of each method, during which I demonstrated my superpower of starting out on one side of a debate and then ending up on the other, while Bill demonstrated his superpowers of infinite patience and good humor! In the end we went with bubble wrap, newspaper and fiberglass strapping tape.

Packing a large, heavy, cylindrical object in bubble wrap turns out to be a rather amusing process. Every time we rolled the motor, all the bubbles went pop-pop-pop-pop-pop, making us fear that we were effectively packing the thing in saran wrap, but eventually some kind of critical mass was achieved and we agreed it was well-padded.

In the grand tradition of Jenny getting other people to do work on van-related projects while she takes the picures, I even had my 5-year-old daughter on the job.

Finally we had the thing boxed up ...

and strapped firmly to the pallet. (If I had the technical capability I'd insert some songs from the terrific mix we were listening to here: Bill K's Music to Strap Boxes By).

The motor will be shipped out on Monday. Of course, I'll keep you posted on the van's return to functionality!

In the meantime, a recent comment posted by a reader inquired whether the alignment jig we used to match motor and transaxle would be available for loan or rental. It certainly is! Here's a slightly blurry picture of it -- perhaps we'll develop a side business of renting out such items for EV converters, since for some reason they don't come with the Electric Vehicles of America kit.

I'll be back next week with a report on the Alternative Energy Festival. Thanks for following along, everybody.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Big Trouble

Well, we never got around to diagnosing that battery/charger quirk, because a larger issue intervened: I had the van out on Sunday for a conditioning drive, had some difficulty shifting it from 2nd into 3rd, brought it to a halt in someone's driveway to get it into gear at a standstill, and then found that it would not start again.
Hurray for AAA -- the Vanagon (and EV) owner's friend.

Here's the van being hauled onto the tow truck with Matt in the foreground. I had assumed that the problem was the transmission -- which we have already arranged to replace -- but it seems it is not so simple. Matt did some basic troubleshooting on the spot with the voltmeter, and was able to find that there was power all the way to the motor (that is, the problem didn't lie between the batteries and the controller).

Back went the van to Bill's for more diagnostic testing. Everything indicated that the motor seemed to be the issue. Here he is prepared to disassemble the motor from the transaxle for a final test.

This motor is dead. But why?

Bill took a peek inside. He found that the 6 springs that push down on the brushes may have been installed incorrectly. They are pushing the side instead of directly on the brush.

We checked EVA's manual for our EV and nowhere does it specify that we should check inside the motor before installing it! Of course all motors are tested before they're sold, and this one has about 100 miles on it ... but though quite unusual, it's not unheard of for electric motors to be defective.

Next, we'll have to find a way to get this motor back to the manufacturer for further testing. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Trouble in River(fest) City

Actually RiverFest was great -- the trouble came on the way home. We had a wonderful time all three days of the festival. The weather was splendid. Lots of people came by to check out the Colt and the E-Van, and we were fortunate to have both Bill (above, with his wife Margaret) and Dan (with his wife and their little dog, too) present on Saturday to share their knowledge with our visitors! Thanks, guys.

So the van is now running with a different DC-DC converter and the problem of the draining 12v battery has been resolved. Time to start conditioning up those traction batteries, we thought. So on the way home from RiverFest we took the vehicle on a 27.8 mile run.

At the end of the trip the Curtis fuel indicator showed just above 1/4. However, performance was very poor during the last 2 - 3 miles; the van was losing power, and barely made it up our steep driveway. Under normal circumstances it zooms right up the hill. So it was not acting like a van with 1/4 charge still left on the batteries, but more like one that was nearly drained.

Mysteriously, the next morning we also found that the batteries had taken much longer than the normal 6 hours to recharge. Normally the charger shuts off automatically, but as Matt reported, "I was dribbling in a few amps and getting a fair amount of bubbling in the batteries even at 12 hours. I was worried that I was overcharging them and turned it off at that point."

We scratched our heads and began sending out email inquiries. Bill advised us to check the voltage readout (130 v after charging -- which is good), and Bob Batson of Electric Vehicles of America responded, You may have a bad battery. If the voltmeter is dropping and the fuel gauge is still in the yellow. You can check with an infrared thermal detector. The bad battery will be much higher in temperature when you do a scan.

We've seen the long charging time event happen again -- this time after a 15-mile run I did the day before yesterday -- so we've also written to RUSSCO, the manufacturer of our charger, asking if this might indicate a battery problem and, if so, how we can isolate it further. We can borrow an infrared camera from a friend who's a volunteer firefighter this weekend, so we'll do some diagnostic testing then.

Our goal, recall, is a 50 mile range which will guarantee us a comfortable 30-mile daily round trip without recharging. Right now the 120-volt van's range is just about exactly equivalent to our 98-volt Colt -- just under 30 miles! I had to laugh!

Stay tuned for the troubleshooting report next week ...

Friday, August 31, 2007

RiverFest 2007

Hope to see you there!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Tweaks and Testing: Day 6 and Van Comes Home!

Seat is mounted on the battery box, and there are those darned seatbelts!

Nifty-looking top hold-down latch.

This is the pressure switch from the trunk light of an old BMW which Bill has re-purposed to switch on the battery ventilation fans.

When the flap is down on the fans are off ...

when it opens the fans go on (switch is in right-hand corner of well).

Once we have a permanent on-board charger we will wire the fans directly to the charger so that when it shuts off, the fans do too. No need to run fans all night when it only takes 5-6 hours to fully charge the batteries.

We got the van home with 23 miles showing 1/4 on the fuel gauge. The DC-DC converter is still a problem: the 12v battery is draining completely after every run, so evidently something is not right. Matt has swapped the DC-DC converter from our Colt EV into the van to see if the issue resides in the converter.

When my friend Kathy Kimock and her daughter Claire gave me this bumper sticker, they little knew how predictive it would be ..

now we are a two EV household!

Bill provided an itemized list of his donations to the conversion effort, which were credited to the Susan G Komen 3-Day effort for breast cancer

If you've been enjoying this blog ... please throw a donation to the link above.

And if you want to check the van out in person, please join us at RiverFest 2007 September 1, 2, & 3 in Frenchtown NJ between 12:30 and 5 p.m.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Tweaks and Testing: Day 4 & 5

No pictures from the last couple of days! You'd have think I'd have learned by now to charge new batteries before using them, whether it's 20 6-volt golf cart batteries or 4 double-AA's ...

Bill has finished the fresh-air ventilation system for the traction batteries and installed nifty looking hold-down latches on the box lids. The batteries are freshly watered and the back seat is installed -- with all three seatbelts in place!

He took the van out for another 23 mile cruise on Friday. Everything is looking good except that the DC-DC converter -- which is supposed to power the 12v auxiliary battery using current from the 120v traction battery pack -- keeps cutting out under load. Every time the heater blower is turned on, it shuts off. Then the ignition has to be turned off and the main circuit breaker flipped for about 5 minutes, after which you can flip the breaker and re-start the van. Very puzzling, and not conducive to relaxed driving.

As long as this quirk only manifests itself with the heater we'll be fine for a while -- it is August in Pennsylvania, after all; yesterday it felt more like steamy Borneo -- but when Bill was demonstrating the problem for me we also saw the converter cut out just from the draw of the vacuum pump, which runs whenever the brake is applied. Hmmmm. It'll be a long drive home if we have to pull over to reboot every few minutes!

Of course there is enough power in the 12v battery to maintain some auxiliary functions without the DC-DC converter, but Bill's test drive in the dark definitely showed the headlights slowly dimming over the course of 20+ miles. We need continual flow from 120v to 12v to meet the electrical demands of lights, wipers, and heat.

Of course even if we don't need heat at the moment, the vehicle will require a defroster of some sort to pass inspection. The Vanagon heater/blower is notoriously inadequate and unreliable and reconditioning it is quite a chore. Bill is still advocating to install this as a defroster:
Yes, it's a 12v hairdryer. I have to order it from Media Camping Center in Hatfield, though, so I can't get one till next week.

Dan's suggestion (and the solution he actually uses in his '87 Westy):

a 12v fan he keeps permanently mounted to his dashboard.

This week's final installment will take the van from Bill's place to our home! In the meantime, though, I have a few odds and ends to share with you. One is an overdue mention of Mike Harvey of Harvey Coachworks -- a Maryland/DC area EV conversion and consultation shop. I had invited Mike to come and speak to the class in the middle of the second week of the workshop, but in the last-minute press to get the van done he was crowded off the schedule. He was very gracious about it and I want to thank him publicly for his flexibility!

I was most sorry to miss the opportunity to hear from Mike about his real-world experiences running an EV-related business. I encourage readers to check out his website by clicking on the banner below.

Don't miss the fascinating Personal EV Transport -- like an all-weather, all-electric motorcycle that operates at a penny per mile -- I understand Mike has them in stock now!

I also want to draw attention to a couple of Volkswagen EV conversion sites that have been alluded to in the comments but deserve more prominent mention. Here is a sweet New Beetle EV with lots of great documentation (this is where that nice chart of battery box considerations came from) and here is another EVanagon -- this one has an AC 3-phase induction motor instead of a DC system.

Finally, here is a link to an August 1 Wall Street Journal video clip that both Lynn and Dan sent me about an unassuming little 1972 Datsun EV that is outperforming conventional muscle cars on the racetrack. Lynn says, "Maybe when we all get our vehicles converted, we can have a track race and car show for ourselves!"

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tweaks and Testing: Day 3 (Plus Budget Report)

Bill reports in his own words on day 3: "The E-van had its first full charge and we drove off for some additional performance testing. 23 miles of up and down hills and a bunch of flat roads, got home with the gauge resting at 1/4. "

"Back on the charger for its #2 recharge and it's time to water the batteries."

Jenny speaking again: here's the charger sitting on top of the battery box. It stores under the driver's seat under that nifty little carpeted flap -- once it is a fully-integrated onboard charger, we may be able to leave it under there all the time, but for now, we might as well pull it out and let air circulate during charging.

Other data from the performance testing: the 12 v battery charge went to 11.55v, which is not good -- Bill was using the lights and wipers, and we want to be able to power those without running down the voltage over the course of 23 miles. He would like to review the DC-to- DC converter installation documentation to make sure it's functioning properly. On the upside, the van had plenty of power even at 1/4 on the fuel gauge; traction battery pack voltage at rest is 115v. It seems to have what it will take to make the 22 mile trip from Warrington to Ottsville on Sunday!

Day 4 to come: focus on battery box venting! Bill would like to install a pin switch so that when the flap on the charging port opens the fan will ground and operate. Also on the agenda are repairing the windshield washers and back up lights (er, now we see that Bill is kindly conducting standard Vanagon maintenance as well as specialized EV work) and installing the 12v electric heater that came with the conversion kit. Bill eBayed an old Vanagon heater core specifically so he could pull it apart and see how it will mesh with the new heater! Now that's forethought -- now he doesn't have to tear apart the existing heater/blower system until he knows what he's going to do with it.

Meanwhile, I finished off the accounting for the conversion and for the workshop. I am happy to report that I came in under budget, with $1,711 remaining to spend on refurbishing the inside of the vehicle (new seat covers, here we come -- and Dan thinks I should install hardwood flooring?!). I have about $8,650 in documented expenses, which includes the kit, the batteries & miscellaneous supplies and tools. However, many supplies were donated. I know for a fact that Bill has not reported all his expenses (including that cable-to-lug crimping tool!), but he's going to because I'm going to make a donation to Habitat for Humanity equal to the investment he made in the conversion as soon as he reports in. Right, Bill?!

Probably the most significant cost unaccounted for in the $8,650 figure was $750 for a charger, since we already owned one. Adding that in, this project costs out to $9400, just a bit under the standard $10,000 figure for converting an EV.

Anyone with an inexhaustible appetite for data can refer to the detailed list of items, prices and suppliers available here. I will update it to reflect the value of donated items as I get information.

Readers interested in sponsoring a similar workshop may also want to know what that process entailed as far as administrative costs and planning. Feel free to email inquiries to and I'll share what I learned from this summer's experience!