Monday, December 22, 2008


Folks, it's official. The 2009 EV Conversion Workshop, funded by an Environmental Education grant from the Pennsylvania DEP, will take place June 22 - 26, 2009 -- but I can't tell you where because that bit isn't official yet! Hint: it will be geographically convenient, and we hope identical, to the site in 2007.

Even though I can't open registration until we're confirmed in our anticipated location, I do want to let anyone who's interested know to email a request to info at buckscountyrenewables dot com if you want registration information as soon as it comes out. There will be a mass mailing in mid-January to educators and environmentalists all over southern PA and I'll also post to EV sites like the new EV Wiki started by the St. Mark's EV Club up in Massachusetts. The EV Club at St. Mark's brought their solar-and-wind-powered Ford Ranger conversion "Woodstock" to the 21st Century Automotive Competitions in 2007 & 2008 sponsored by the Eastern Electric Vehicle Club and were long-time participants in the Tour de Sol previous to this. Speaking of the 21st Century Automotive Challenge, great news: it has found a new home in State College, PA, and is coming up this spring!

It looks like 2009 will be an active year for EV's locally -- I even hear a rumor that there will be a rally/gathering in Macungie in May, for which we plan to get the van charged up and rolling! While it hibernates we're driving the hybrid Highlander (21-22 mpg in the cold) and the ten-year-old Honda Civic, which dipped to below 40 mpg recently. We thought it might be the cold, but then realized the percentage drop was too high to explain the decline. Guess what it turned out to be -- a deflated tire. They are Not Kidding about the effect on mileage of running below optimal inflation. Check your tires (and back up your computer data while you're at it, if you're not the kind of person who checks your tires and backs up your data regularly!)

In other news, here's a link I liked about miles per gallon -- a topic on which I myself had been planning a blog entry, but Sebastian got there first -- and another Autobloggreen article reporting how ethanol measures up against other alternative fuels.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Struggle is the Voice of Dissent

So I spent the weekend camping out in spectacular weather in Kempton PA and hanging around in the Transportation Tent at the Pennsylvania Alternative Energy Festival.  Thanks to the tireless and gifted oversight of Phil Jones of MAREA there were upwards of twenty alternative fuel vehicles on display and a full roster of lectures and workshops going in two tents (plus the waste veggie oil conversion sponsored by Fossil Fuels, which took place outside).  The EV contingent was well-represented, primarily by members of the Eastern Electric Vehicle Club

On Friday I talked to three different student groups ranging from sixth grade to high school (sharing center stage with Steve Savitz and Perry Del Rossi from Methacton High School's Electric Car Club -- they were proudly displaying the newly-rebatteried Lorax, previously described in this blog).  

On Saturday morning Bill put on a 3-hour workshop for folks interested in pursuing an EV conversion, and in the afternoon informational session I moderated a panel featuring Alan Arrison, Ken Barbor, Bill Kirkpatrick, Paul Kydd, and Oliver Perry answering questions from an audience wanting EV conversion pointers.  These folks offered up a wealth of  conversion experiences, purposes, and opinions; it was so great  that I recruited the same group to join us at the end of Sunday morning's 3-hour workshop (Dr. Kydd was gone but Don Young came on board to talk about his production Mars Electric vehicle and the Ford Ranger conversion he's just completed).  We did one more panel in the afternoon and then dispersed, well satisfied with the weekend.  Lots of people came through,, and they all seemed to go away happy.

What a grand time it was!  -- and it was just the tip of the iceberg, since all over the festival people were crowding into tents to hear about wind and solar power, sustainable agriculture, home funeral practices, conservation, recycling, food preservation, socially responsible investing, community organizing to stop polluting energy plants, and more.  

I'm waiting for pictures of our little corner of the festival, but I couldn't wait to post this.  In a different context earlier this summer (at a week-long institute concerned with an approach to education that is equally as radical as the notion of battery-powered vehicles is) I heard Pat Carini, who has been involved in the progressive school movement since the early 1970's, speak.   She gave an amazing talk to the 20 or so of us there -- mostly public school teachers -- and basically said that things have never been worse, but she encouraged like-minded individuals to keep meeting and discussing the issues.  She said,  "Struggle is the voice of dissent."  

She went on to say that when people give up and stop talking about an issue,  the language of that discourse falls into disuse and starts to sound kind of funny or quaint.  So that those who continue to wield that language are really doing something quite vital, even though (and here I am perhaps putting words in her mouth, but this is what I came away with) it is basically impossible and ridiculous to conceive of how to actually manifest change on the scale which is necessary.  

I hope you can see my point -- whether it be changing the presumptions of US education or shifting our personal transportation over to primarily electric-powered, the struggle is the voice of dissent. One car or person or weekend festival at a time, each articulation of it keeps the idea alive.  From Oliver Perry and Paul Kydd, who have been advocating and working on EV's for decades and have transmitted their enthusiasm to countless students, to Ken Barbor, who saw Who Killed the Electric Car in November, started building his Geo Metro conversion on January 1, and has been riding back and forth to work in his home-brewed EV since April 1, every EV enthusiast present was a passionate and articulate voice for the cause.  

And did I mention it was tremendous fun and the weather was beyond perfect?!?!?

Pictures coming, I hope.  I kept leaving my camera in my car and the ones I took are fairly execrable.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Half-Day Workshops September 20 & 21

On July 28 Bill, the e-van and I rendezvoused at NMTCC with Anna, who would like to see her vanagon begin the journey towards becoming an electric vehicle!

Anna and I were put in touch by Jim Crater, the visionary who runs Recycling Services, Inc. down in Pottstown, PA -- Jim has a wealth of encouragement, ideas and resources to draw on in a variety of fields including electric vehicles, alternative energy, interesting solar applications (like their Mobile Solar Electric unit that powers speakers with the sun!), durability, composting, preservation of open space & organic farming. Jim's an advocate of networking and practices what he preaches by putting people in touch with each other. So if you're in his neck of the woods, don't fail to check out the recycling center (on Tuesdays & Saturdays) and introduce yourself.

Van looked great and started up fine ...

Anna got to test drive it, so she knows what kind of handling and response she can expect from her converted vehicle.

Her current vehicle is a veggie-oil burning Jetta converted by greasecar. Bill and I were happy to get to look at it! In the trunk is the metal tank for the veggie oil and a jug of her home-filtered fuel.

Anna knows a lot about how her adapted engine works but she did have some questions about hose position -- seemed like some of them were too close together and rubbing -- she and Bill had an enjoyable time troubleshooting and chatting. Anna's conversion will happen under the auspices of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association, which will provide non-profit status for the project. We don't have a schedule yet for the conversion, but are standing by as she seeks funding for it! Stay tuned!

As far as the existing e-van goes, Bill anticipates using the van for regular commuting this fall, once it is fully re-registered as a modified vehicle. (It's insured and registered now, but we didn't re-title it yet.) We will bring the van with us to MAREA's Alternative Energy Festival September 19-21 in Kempton, PA, where we're presenting half-day workshops for folks interested in an in-depth introduction to the EV conversion process. Here's the official description from the program:

Electric Car Conversion Workshop

Converting a gasoline powered car to electric power is not a small project, but you can have a car of the future now. This half-day workshop explores the design options, conversion process and hardware selection for going electric. Offered twice, Saturday 9AM and Sunday 9AM. If class size is exceeded, a third session may be offered Saturday afternoon. Fee: $15. Coordinated by Jenny Isaacs of Bucks County Renewables.

You can sign up now at the Energy Fest website! We'll have Anna's van as the "before" model and plenty of opportunity to get a close look at the e-van and ask Bill questions about the process.

There are lots more activities and educational workshops available (even a weekend-long class on converting your diesel to a WVO vehicle like Anna's greasecar!) so do check out the website and plan to join us at the Fest. It's always a wonderful time.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Ex-Intel Director on the Tipping Point for EV's

Andrew Grove was Time's Man of the Year in 1997

Andy Grove, the former chairman of Intel, has joined ex-CIA director James Woolsey, former Secretary of State George Schultz, and as an advocate for EV's and plug-in hybrids. He's been busily educating himself about alternative fuels, and he's sold on electricity as the solution, citing its ability to be generated domestically from a variety of sources.

Contrary to many EV enthusiasts who downplay home conversions, he compares the individuals converting their vehicles to pure EV or plug-in hybrids to the computer hobbyists in the mid-70's who helped usher in the age of personal computing.

Grove calls the point at which circumstances will drive corporations towards change the 'strategic inflection point' -- and he thinks that time has arrived with $4 gasoline and the evident risks of oil politics.

Read the AP interview here and an excellent summary of Grove's article in the July/August issue of The American here in the NYTimes technology blog. One of the the first comments posted there nominates Grove for Secretary of Energy -- wouldn't that be great?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Another E-Vanagon in the Works?

Breaking news (just in time for me to make my personal goal of updating this blog at least once a month!) -- I've had a flurry of emails recently around the possibility of converting another Vanagon. We have a very motivated owner in the Allentown PA area who wants to convert her 1982 Vanagon, and the MidAtlantic Renewable Energy Asssociation is willing to serve as the sponsoring nonprofit. I'm ready to help in any way I can, including referring the folks who've been contacting me wondering whether there would be a workshop in 2008 and of course sharing what we learned from our experience with the e-Vanagon. So stay tuned -- perhaps there will be an opportunity for the e-curious to get some hands-on experience in a conversion workshop in the near future!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Worth Sharing

This article is an in-depth and fascinating (to me, anyway) examination of the role of futures speculation in the current price of oil. I can't vouch for the author, F. William Engdahl (pictured above) but if half of what he says is true it's remarkable to consider, and worth plowing through the amount of financial detail in this article.

Wikipedia notes that Engdahl, who formerly subscribed to the peak oil theory, "now believes in the Russian hypothesis that oil is not a 'fossil fuel' but is produced underground by unknown materials, conditions and forces deeper down in the Earth's core."

Following up on this and investigating abiogenic petroleum origin was even more interesting than the oil-price-speculation article. I am by no means convinced that oil is abiogenic in origin, but I'm astounded to learn that there exists active scientific debate over this question.

If oil is, after all, a renewable resource, if there's more of it than we thought, we can choose from now on to use it wisely. We can stop using it in inefficient and wasteful ways -- burning it billions of individual engines, making styrofoam coffee cups and one-use throw-away containers out of it -- but wouldn't it be nice to have a future with plastic and heating oil? I'm excited. Hope you are too.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Nothing but a cartoon this time! Plus a plug for the Eastern Electric Vehicle Club's 21st Century Challenge to be held at Burlington County Institute of Technology, Westampton, NJ, June 7th & 8th. Go here for details.

And if you're yearning for some ahem more frequently updated information about what's hot in electric vehicles at the moment, you should check in regularly with Autobloggreen's EV/Plug-in News

Till next time,



Tuesday, April 29, 2008

E-Van back at NMTCC, Jenny forgets her camera

Sunday April 27th was the 40th anniversary celebration of North Montco Technical Career Center, and I'd promised to bring the e-van down to display for alumni and visitors. I finally got a poster made up with some quick facts about oil and electric vehicles to share, and -- just as we'd envisioned in the conversion class -- covered the motorwell with plexiglas so that viewers can look through. I successfully labeled the major parts of the system, though I blush to admit that I had to ask Bill what one little gray box was (vacuum pump regulator). Thanks to Marty F for trash-picking a piece of plexiglas just the right size to cover a Vanagon engine hatch!

I couldn't hang out for long at the event but it was lovely to catch up with Bill a bit. Wish I'd had time to see Larry Dyer as well. Going back through blog photos to make a little collage of the class brought me back to the excitement and thrills of last summer's down-to-the-wire conversion effort.

Since this is an embarrassingly substance-less post without photographs of the e-van (decked out by Bill with some promotional flyers for the Plug-In Partners national campaign for PHEVs), I'll also share this link to an interesting autobloggreen piece about the latest revision to the CAFE rules, a perverse shift in methodology that may have the effect of encouraging automakers to produce larger cars. Isn't it odd how our regulatory efforts in this country always seem to end up promoting business as usual, instead of the reform they pretend to offer?

Bill reports that he's helping a group over at Methacton High School get going on a biodiesel project. There's a hint for you as to what Bucks County Renewables might get up to during the 2008-09 school year, in addition to offering another conversion workshop in the summer of 2009. I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cars That Don't Need Gasoline, and Other Topics

Although the snow is gone, replaced by snowdrops and even a few tiny crocuses in early bloom, I'm abashed to say we haven't yet put the e-Vanagon on the road for testing. Instead we've been examining our options for a 2nd car that meets our immediate needs -- that is, to make a 30-mile commute without running out of motive power. It's been an interesting process.

We decided to dismiss buying a second hybrid until a plug-in version is available, and have been focusing on cheap, high-mileage vehicles. We considered diesels -- that would give us the option of a future veggie-oil modification -- but finally concluded that the older diesels in our price range were too polluting to drive regularly and mostly too large for our needs.

So it's gasoline for us at the moment. (Blush.) Right now we're looking at Hondas, who deserve props for having the highest average fuel economy across their fleet. (Of course we're looking at older cars, not recent models -- but remember that average fuel economy has actually been declining over the years -- you can read all about that on the links at the end of this post.)

But what will become of the e-Vanagon? Never fear! I had a lovely summit breakfast with Lynn and Bill at the end of February and we began planning for an electric vehicle conversion workshop to be held in the summer of 2009. There are a couple of possibilities as far as a donor vehicle: we could sell the e-Van and use the funds to buy the materials for a different conversion. Or, we could strip the e-Van and have the class rebuild it. It's a good teaching vehicle because its size allows several small groups to work on it at once during the hands-on portion of the day. And I think we could then do the conversion in a week instead of two, which would make the workshop a lot more accessible to folks who have a limited number of weeks in their year! (Don't we all?!)

I've put in an application for funding for the class, and there are other possibilities for financing it if that one doesn't come through -- so stay tuned! You can sign up to get email notification of plans for the 2009 workshop as they unfold at "info at" (resisting spam harvesters by spelling out the email address for you).

Have some charts and two good reading links for you that I've garnered during my researches on fuel economy. The first set is from The chart below (charmingly titled "Cars That Don't Need Gasoline") details the different alternative-fuel vehicles commercially available during the last 8 years. It's just a jpeg, so you won't be able to click through the links in the pic, but you can see it better if you click to enlarge it:

Note how in the last five years our alternative fuel options have dwindled! In 2003 you could still acquire my dream car, the RAV-4 EV (in production 1997-2002). Check out the MPG and the teeny GHG emissions figures:

Sigh ... that car had an 80 - 100 mile range, by the way (enough to complete our daily sixty-six miles), and some of them are still on the road today getting the same performance out of their NiMH battery packs. (Toyota eventually stopped collecting and destroying the vehicles in the face of an organized campaign, Don', conducted by EV advocates turned activists. As documented in Who Killed The Electric Car? the initial protests by EV owners didn't deter GM from destroying all the extant EV-1s.)

I could go on and on about the RAV4 EV and how Texaco-Chevron put a halt to the manufacture of the large NiMH batteries that demonstrate that existing technology could be powering usable production EV's right now, and how mad that makes me, but I'll spare you any more and direct you to a couple of interesting reports on the issue of fuel economy instead: first, a clarion call from the US Congressional Joint Economic Committee to raise CAFE standards
and second, a frank look at US fuel economy trends by a Wall Street Journal columnist. Fun stuff.

Till next time!


Monday, January 28, 2008

Sixty-six Miles Per Day

I have been meaning to clock the daily miles we've been putting on our ICE vehicle, and had the chance over a 25-day period from December into January. Pretty significant numbers for a family where both parents work from home!

It is downright infuriating to think that there were production EV's available ten years ago -- with heat and other such amenities -- that would easily be able to achieve this range, then come home to plug in overnight. And yet, thanks to inertia and ill-will, that initiative stalled out and today we are largely limited to home-brewed EV's like the e-Vanagon -- and lead-acid battery technology, instead of the perfectly adequate, should've-been-widely-available-and-affordable-by-now NiMH battery packs that powered vehicles like the Toyota RAV-4 EV, the Ford Ranger EV, and the EV-1.

But before I get grumpy thinking about the past, let's turn our eyes towards the future. Hope everyone got to see EcoWorld's Electric Vehicle Gallery 2007 -- the most promising EV's available and under development at the moment in the US. But check out what's happening overseas!

Just this month, British blog Autocar reports that Renault-Nissan will bring a mass-production EV to market as soon as 2011. And a new lithium-ion battery factory opened last week in Europe, backed by a French billionaire who is working to get EV's on the streets of Italy even sooner -- by the summer of 2009!

Meanwhile, over the weekend EV clubs in San Diego and Miami held drag race events to show off the capabilities of a large collection of present-day EV's and promote the cause. Congratulations to the hardworking sponsors of "Battery Beach Burnout" and "Electric Dragin'"!