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!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tweaks and Testing: Day 2

Bill reports:

All the wires under the van have been tidied up!

Spare-tire holder is back in place. (Bill was worried they might have misplaced the spare during the van's stay at NMTCC, but I had to shamefacedly admit that it probably was lacking to start with. Bill cautions me, "When you buy new tires, you should always buy 5 at a time." I promise to buy one more tire and a jack set for roadside emergencies.)

Good news and very bad news and good news.

The good news was that the missing seat belts for the rear seat were found. The bad news was, they were jammed under the 400-pound rear battery box! Whoops, I guess that installation was a little rushed! The good news is that Bill unbolted the rear battery box and hold-down and retrieved the 2 lost male ends of the rear seat belts. This was a real pain in the neck, he reports -- not to mention a waste of time. But it's all taken care of now.

Bill has trimmed the rear box top to clear the main battery cables and ventilation tubes. Now he is scheming: how to have those vent fans come on whenever the charger is plugged in? He'd prefer not to have a separate toggle vent fan switch. Ultimately the design should be that when the 120-volt AC cable is plugged into the van to charge, one leg goes to the charger and another to a 12V DC transformer which will power the fans automatically. But while we are still swapping the charger back and forth between our two EV's this may not be practical.

Dan has some clever suggestions for workarounds -- we'll see if Bill can implement one of them this week.

Vent fan & ventilation tube in the battery box.

Bill did find some mysterious oil on the vacuum pump, will watch to see where that's coming from. Other than that it all looks good -- no oozing or overheating during and after testing -- and we brought down the charger to give the battery pack its first official charge overnight.

Next: distance testing!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tweaks and Testing: Day 1

After a relaxing ten days away from the van Bill began the process of tidying up and making it street-worthy on Monday. There were lots of things that hadn't been squared away in the last minute rush to roll on the 10th! Dan was hoping to be able to join him, but so far they have only managed to connect by email.

See all the loose wires dangling in this shot from the last day of class? In addition to remounting the potbox and upgrading the accelerator cable connection hardware, Bill tidied all the wires away.

Says Dan, "Split loom tubing is a wonderful thing." Bill also fixed the gauges (whoops! they were dyslexic) and changed the gear oil.

Even with new oil the transmission remains a little noisy. There was a lot of metal fuzz on the magnetic drain plug, so he tells us we should probably prepare to replace the transmission at some point in the not-too-distant future ...

Meanwhile he has removed the clutch pedal and now the van is clutchless for real.

Bill road-tested the e-van, driving it about 8 miles. He achieved a whopping 50 mph on the flat, reporting "Can't remember if I was in 3rd or 4th gear (too excited)."

With 10 miles on the odometer the van's fuel gauge is at 1/2. Time to charge those batteries up! It will take some time for the motor to burn in and for the batteries to achieve full range; our goal is 50/50 (a top speed of fifty miles per hour and a range of fifty miles).

Stay tuned for the Adventure of the Missing Seatbelts, among other news from Day 2!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

And Immediately Afterwards

We toasted our success with bubbly apple juice and this delicious chocolate cake that Lynn brought:

That's "Pennsylvania Electric Vehicle Conversion Workshop 1" painted on the side of the Vanagon -- and that's me smiling away behind the wheel!

The funny story Lynn related about the cake was that the box she'd planned to bring it in didn't fit. So the first thing she had to do on the last morning of the workshop was -- you guessed it! -- fabricate a box! My goodness, what an enduring theme that was over the last two weeks.

Despite my pledge to post the parts and suppliers list for the conversion this week, I have not completed my self-imposed homework assignment. Please check back in next week for the full data on costs of the conversion, and -- for those of you who can't get enough of the technical details -- updates on work that is still being done to the van, plus the range testing process.

Thanks for following along!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Day 10 - The Electrifying Final Chapter

Class officially began at 8:30, but when I got in ahead of time on Friday ...

I found Paul and Dan already there working on the DC-DC converter wiring. (Bill and Mike tell me Paul was there early every day and got to work as soon as the shop was opened.)

Here's the whiteboard status from Thursday. I had invited the press to cover our roll-out at 1:00 -- that was when I thought we would have tested the day before and be confident that the wheels would turn and the van would move! Now I was feeling a little stressed. Bill, as usual, was calm. "I think we can do it," he said.

One fan has been mounted in the ducts Afshin & Kevin made yesterday. The van can roll without these ventilation boxes installed - they're to outgas hydrogen while the batteries are charging. So these will go in later; there was more important work to be done on and around the batteries.

Afshin and Bill discuss how to mount the main circuit-breaker, while Mike looks on.

Paul is wiring the DC-DC converter up.

Kevin re-installs the interior panels.

There's still plenty of time before 1:00.

Larry checks the seat configuration on top of the battery boxes -- then it's back to crouching over the batteries doing the high-voltage wiring.

Dan brought in a new left turn signal light for me, and shows how the connector has rusted because water has collected behind the lens. This is a typical Vanagon quirk.

Lynn is crimping lugs!

Circuit breaker secured in mounting box.

Mike sketched a design for the metal seat straps which will secure the bench seat to the lid of the battery boxes, and Bill headed back to the welding shop again. I said, "You only offered this class so you would get to play in the machine shop!"

There's still time ...

Obviously the van can roll without a back seat -- but there are only so many people who can work on wiring at a time, so this is a good side project.

Kevin and Mike are measuring.

Although it is not necessary to include a circuit-breaker in the wiring suggested by EVAmerica, we've chosen to integrate one into this system. So we do need a circuit-breaker to roll. And that means another box, as you saw above. Now Afshin's cutting a hole in the lid for the switch.

Larry is wrapping cable ends with tape. "Anywhere you see tape on a cable, assume that end is hot," he cautions us.

Okay, time is starting to get short.

Paul is soldering connections.

There is a summer camp operating at NMTCC and the kids came to observe for a little while. Here Bill is describing the project to them.

Larry and Paul consult wiring diagrams.

Lynn and Peter are still crimping cables -- red ones this time -- that feels like progress!

Afshin is done with the circuit breaker box lid --

and it looks really good thanks to Dan's labelmaker. Hey guys: "disconnect" has two n's.

Lynn is cutting another length of cable.

Dan is still working on the DC-DC converter. This is where he stood to work on dashboard wiring all day on Wednesday, too, so he teased me for always taking pictures of him working up by the driver's seat. "It's like watching fruit rot!" he laughed.

Bill returns from the machine shop with the metal straps to hold the seat to the battery box lid.

Afshin had everyone sign the underside of the circuit breaker box lid. What a nice thought!

Kevin and Bill are still at work on the seat.

All right. It doesn't look like the van will be ready to roll in an hour -- it's still being wired up, and everyone needs to eat lunch. I decided to hope that nobody showed up to observe the roll-out.

In fact, at 1:00 we were joined by John Klein, a retired electrical engineer who had heard the roll-out announced on WNPV 1440 AM, and by Peggy Schmidt, the host of the radio program Mike, Lynn and I appeared on. We were able to tour them around the shop and show them the work in progress -- but no rolling van. I was very happy that no TV news crews had opted to cover the non-event! Now we had the whole afternoon to work. Everybody got to it with renewed energy.

Peter grinds the seat-to-box straps.

The fuel gauge -- the last piece missing from the conversion kit -- arrived by overnight mail. Now Dan has to pull out the dashboard again and wire it up. Good thing he likes installing gauges so much!

The motor is connected to the batteries now!

This large fuse is one of the safety interconnects. EVAmerica provided one with the kit; Larry suggests I should put another one on the other battery pack on a later date.

The fuel gauge is installed!

The short lengths of PVC pipe help ensure that the battery box lids will not sag down and contact the battery terminals.

The final high-voltage connections are being made!

At 2:00 the only task remaining was to install the circuit breaker box.

Of course, that took longer than we expected. Larry worked above sinking bolts while Paul tightened them from below. Afshin joked, "The last 4 bolts are taking 4 hours!"

Finally it was time to begin the check-list for the system evaluation process recommended by Mike Brown in his text Convert It.

But we hit a snag. Why are we reading 120 volts on this connection when the check-list says the voltage should be zero?

Larry goes off to study the EVAmerica manual and see if he can figure out why our test might be yielding different results than the Convert It checklist indicates.

Meanwhile, Lynn reads ahead on the process checklist, and points out to all of us that step 24 assumes that the main contactor and the battery are not yet connected. (That's step 48.) We have already made this connection, however, which probably explains why we are getting a voltage reading of 120.

The EVAmerica manual has a much less complex check-out procedure. We decide that we should use the process for the system we are using, not the Convert It process which would require us to unhook connections that we've already made! Here Bill is telling Dan that he is confident all our connections have been made correctly. After all, this wiring has been done by professionals -- Convert It is written for a more general audience and presumes that the person connecting the system is relatively inexperienced at this work.

At 3:35 we performed the simplified check-out procedure and were ready for the first real test: will the wheels roll off the ground? I climbed into the driver's seat and turned the key in the ignition of die Sprite for the first time in almost two years. The controller whined to life, I pressed down on the accelerator pedal and the wheels rolled!

Peter operated the lift, and die Sprite has all 4 tires on the ground again.

Paul is checking how heavy the van feels on its springs. It really does feel like it's roughly equivalent to Dan's camper van (he had driven it to school for comparison purposes.)

Dan had the honor of being test pilot. He handed his camera to Peter to document the test drive, and you can see the final moments of the EV Conversion Workshop here: