Friday, December 18, 2009

I finished!!!

... 23 pages of curriculum, 5 pages of report narrative, 4 pages of reimbursement requests, 3 original BCR productions (2 videos and 1 slide show) successfully burned to cd, and a partridge in a pear tree ... I mean, even the envelope is addressed and ready to mail tomorrow!

Okay I will link to the re-edited (and much improved) movie here before I go crash asleep. And roll out links to the online version of the curriculum later -- look for them here in early January.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

This sign, as you may recall, was in the welding shop at NMTCC. I took this picture last June and it was featured in the very first blog entry about the 2009 EV Conversion Workshop!

And man oh man it has held true for the E-Van ever since. Thought I'd take a break from last-minute labors and make a breathless post about recent e-Van-related achievements, all arising from your basic standstill until like last Thursday. For one thing, the long-awaited follow-up to the little movie on this page, "A Consumer's Guide to The Electric Car" is done! It's elegantly titled "What Makes an EV Go". I sent all the 2009 workshop participants a sneak-peek link to it, but I'm not quite ready to release it here because I want to re-edit it one more time before submitting it to the PA DEP as part of our hands-on curriculum.

That will be soon, because it's due the day after tomorrow! So look for those long-awaited actual updates soon. Bill informed me on Saturday that the e-Van is still in Paint Jail, though he claims to have released it once from tape-and-plastic bondage and driven around the parking lot with a troop of Brownies who were touring the vo-tech. (I worry that this story might have something to do with the paint job having taken such a long time. )

Anyway. Life is fun and busy! Thanks for following along!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Your Van's in Paint Jail!"

That's what Ken Barbour said to me at the Energy Fest back in September when I explained why the e-Van wasn't there. I said, "What?! You mean this is a recognized phenomenon?!" and he confirmed it. According to Ken, when you have a project car and somebody else is painting it for you -- especially if they're doing it as a favor, meaning it is a second priority behind actual paid jobs -- you always think it's going to take a week or two at the most. And it always turns out to take months and months. I was ecstatically relieved to know I'm not alone with the experience of my vehicle disappearing into Paint Jail! "That's why you always schedule painting in the winter," Ken concluded. Well, now I know.

Here are a few shots of the van in bondage! It's fully prepped, taped and bondo'ed and -- at least so I heard last week -- really and truly on the verge of receiving its long-awaited paint job. Larry and Bill have a date to build battery enclosure A on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. And I finally wrote to the state of Pennsylvania asking when they would begin the reimbursement process on the grant monies that subsidized the 2009 EV Conversion Workshop. I submitted a request for reimbursement in July, but it was held up by the state budget impasse for months! The 2009-10 budget was finally signed on October 9; I waited a few more weeks and then dropped my very patient and helpful grant coordinator a tickle. She reported that the Comptroller's office had released the funds on October 22, so I should get my big fat reimbursement check any day now, and be able to pay off the personal loan that allowed us to offer the workshop in the first place.

Meanwhile I have submitted a request to NMTCC for a series of Saturday dates in the spring and am waiting for them to get back to me. This workshop would not be grant-supported; we will either re-convert our Dodge Colt using the existing EV components (meaning we wouldn't have to purchase too many supplies, just cover insurance, shop rental and teacher's salary out of the workshop fees) or do a full conversion for an owner who will pay for the conversion kit themselves. The latter model seems like a very good way to continue offering educational workshops and getting more EV's on the road!

Finally, Bill and Lynn and I are in the final stages of developing the EV curriculum that was funded by the PA Department of Environmental Protection grant. It is due on December 15 to the state, so check back here for the completed offering in a month or so! This curriculum, consisting of a week's worth of hands-on activities based around a benchmounted low-voltage battery and circuit system, will be freely distributed to teachers once it is complete. I'm looking forward to sharing it! Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Energy Fest 2009

Wow, was this a fun weekend -- the weather was glorious and the transportation display was bigger and better than ever! Here are just a few of the vehicles that were new to the tent this year ...

Val Bertoia's solar-powered fully-electric Honda Insight conversion (last seen in Macungie in May) was on display, though Val himself was in Europe. Don Young got to drive the 50/50 Miracle Honda up to the Fest for him, and had a great time doing it -- though he says he actually prefers the way his own 144-volt Honda Civic (below) handles.

This time last year Don Young and his father Judge Robert Young of Macungie PA showcased Bob's newly-converted Ford Ranger (and it was back this year as well) -- but this vehicle was still a work-in-progress, stripped of its ICE components but not yet electrified. It's been up and running as Don's regular commuting vehicle for almost a year now! Here you can see the nifty tilt-up display panel for the e-components, and down by the wheel you can just glimpse the nice new ELECTRIC 144 blazon he added this summer ...

not to mention his terrific new display board!

Brandon Hollinger, who attended the BCR workshop under the transportation tent at last year's Fest, this year proudly drove all the way from Lancaster in his beautiful Saab 96 EV. No, it's not from 1996, this is a 1970 vehicle -- but it does happen to feature a 96 volt system! The Saab debuted at the May 3 2009 EV-ent in Macungie, but sported a temporary plywood dashboard at the time ...

now check out those stylish chrome-framed gauges! Very sweet! There's a great article and video of Brandon's EV posted here.

This Tesla Roadster out of Lebanon, PA attracted a lot of attention.

The first Tesla delivered to PA, this is a truly fossil-fuel-free vehicle: owner Don provided it with electricity from a wind turbine at first, and has just mounted a dedicated solar array to charge it!

Mike Kugler of Providence RI came down with his converted electric motorcycle and ATV -- plus his whole family! Mike heard about the Energy Fest from Ken Barbour (whose mini-E was also new to the Fest -- check out his new blog at and Al Arrison down at the Power of DC EV-ent in August, and I'm so glad they lured him down; I immediately snagged him to participate in our workshop owner panel and he was a wonderful addition to the collective wisdom offered there.

This 1997 Honda CBR 600 is a 72-volt system that easily gets 25 miles of range cruising between 45 and 55 mph.

Mike says converting a motorcycle is a great lower-cost introduction to the EV conversion process. Lots of details about his experience on his EVAlbum web page here.

This year Bucks County Renewables had an exhibit table (for the first time since 2006) as well as offering sessions in the transportation tent. A million thanks to Lynn McConville and Anna DiGate for helping staff the table (yay for the EV ladies!!!) while Bill and I were presenting our 3-hour mini-workshops on the EV conversion process. I was delighted to run into some former workshop participants (shout-out to Judy McKinney, who demanded, "Where's my van?!?" and to Afshin Kaighobady, who had great news: he's about to open the first electric bicycle store in Philadelphia!) Check out the link for info about Philly Electric Wheels' opening celebration on Thursday, October 15!

The mini-workshop on Saturday was very well-attended and as usual the owner panel was the highlight: what an amazing assemblage of technical know-how and helpful insights from the panelists! Brandon Hollinger, Mike Kugler, Ollie Perry, Paul Kydd, Alan Arrison, Ken Barbour and Daniel Monroe (who hauled along his entire conversion kit to display) generously gave of their time to share their experiences with folks interested enough to sign up and pay a small fee for the pre-registered 3-hour session. Thanks once again to all of you, and to Phil Jones of MAREA who did his usual superlative job of coordinating the transportation tent!

Gotta also give thanks to the weather gods for providing a gorgeous weekend for camping out under the stars of Kempton. Here's my tent, mostly held up by string 'cause when I got there it turned out I was missing a pole! Thank goodness it didn't rain on my rickety set-up!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hitches, Glitches, and Last-Minute Schedule Collapse

Away back when during the workshop in June I pledged a post to be called "Hitches and Glitches." Well, the time has obviously come. First, though, check out the collage above showing that the e-Van did indeed begin the paint-prepping process on Friday! I drove my friend Ramon up from New Jersey to help out Bob of NMTCC with the paint prep, and while they ground and sanded and did minor body work, Bill and I busied ourselves cutting out new carpet and even covering those terrible seats!

Alas, due to a number of scheduling and access difficulties at North Montco this month, things began to happen too late to manage prepping, painting, and fabricating battery box enclosures before the Energy Fest. Up until today I was holding on to a wisp of hope that we might get a partially-assembled e-Van up to Kempton -- but I'm afraid it's gonna be a no go in 2009.

Of course I'll still be offering both an overview and an in-depth look at the EV conversion process (the basic version on Friday morning and the longer one on Saturday afternoon in the Transportation Tent -- see the Friday and Saturday schedules for exact times, plus take a look at the amazing array of other offerings at the Fest!). Since in addition to making these presentations I also need to be spending time up at the Bucks County Renewables exhibit table it's just as well that I won't be tempted to stand by the van outside the tent happily spieling to passers-by -- but that's my favorite part of the Fest! So I'm disappointed!

There will be plenty of opportunities to trot out the e-Van in all its painted and battery-enclosed glory, however, at next May's EV-ent in Macungie (yup, we're working on it already!) if not before. And I am more determined than ever to get it completed and performance-tested so we can really assess the improvements gained in installing a completely new battery pack in the new 144-volt configuration.

So -- want to hear about the glitches with those batteries back in June?

To start with, we originally decided we were going to order the exact same batteries (US 2200's). One key reason for this was so we could re-use all the cabling exactly as it was. Unfortunately, it turned out when we actually received the batteries that in the intervening two years the manufacturer had changed the style of the battery-posts. The old ones were "L-style" as below.

The new battery posts are vertical.

This changed the length required to make a neat and efficient linkage between terminals -- and meant we had to cut and recrimp all the old cable instead of being able to reuse it!

That was infuriating enough, but if I'd realized that we were going to have to do that anyway (plus reconfigure the battery racks themselves -- which we had originally decided just to leave as is, but then couldn't resist dinking with), well, I might well have budgeted for sealed batteries, just as Anonymous from Dracut, MA recently suggested here.

I might have expected the battery distributor that sold me the batteries in 2007 and again in 2009 to have alerted me to the fact that despite having the same name these batteries weren't the exact same configuration, but -- as we pointed out to the workshop participants -- that just goes to show the advantages of working with an EV conversion specialist who is aware of your purposes and would be alert to the technical problems posed by the different battery terminal shapes!

But really the moral of both June's mad scramble to recover from the wrong-shape-terminal surprise and last week's mad scramble to design and construct battery enclosures so that they can vent air safely while charging and be protected from curious fingers or dropped items while the vehicle is displayed ... that moral would be, Leave More Time to Get Things Done and you will be able to circumvent the hitches and glitches gracefully. Otherwise, they can take you right under and throw you off deadline.

Ah me, when will I learn?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Imagine if all our electricity came from the sun ...

then our EV's would be truly fossil-fuel free.

And what would the world look like if all global electricity came from distributed solar PV arrays?

Here's one take on it:

(click on the image for a beautifully readable enlargement)

from this amazing site

where you can see a similar graphic for world energy needs met by offshore windpower alone.

If you read far enough down you will learn that the author favors "maximizing of diversity of clean energy technologies and of points of generation." Cogently put! I am stealing that for my own rap, with credit to Rob Ferry. Keep reading down on the landartgenerator site and you will encounter some truly visionary stuff -- what Ferry calls "pragmatic architecture" -- works of beauty and grace that also generate clean energy.

Not about EV's, but not to be missed!

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Well, not on the e-Van, but we have planned and are now scheduling our next work dates on it ... battery box enclosures and the long-awaited paint-and-spruce-up-interior project are on the horizon. Meanwhile Bill and Lynn and I have met twice, once to review the 2009 workshop itself and begin planning our next one (!) and once to confer over the curriculum we're developing for high school students. I am so excited about this: as workshop participants know, one of this summer's goals was to develop hands-on activities for students to perform in a classroom setting.

Recognizing that most schools don't have funds for a full-scale conversion, we have developed a low-cost lab-based overview of how electric vehicles function. Tentatively titled "Transportation of Tomorrow - Electric Vehicles, Their Promise and Potential," the 5-day unit will provide an overview of EV's in the social and environmental realm along with hands-on experience with the fundamentals of electricity, low-voltage battery wiring, and circuit design. Covering a number of PA Standards, this class will allow students to build a functioning 24-volt electric vehicle drive system, which can either be bench-mounted and demonstrated or be incorporated into a small go-cart or golf-cart design for classes who want to take the project further. The class would be appropriate for a physical science, physics, engineering or automotive class or club.

There is lots more I want to tell you about that but I have to leave room in this post for lots more news, including:

Bucks County Renewables will once again sponsor mini-workshops on converting your own electric vehicle at the PA Energy Fest. Where the newly refurbished e-Van -- along with lots of other great conversions and many representatives from the Eastern Electric Vehicle Club -- will also be on display so don't miss it!

I also recently attended the first planning meeting for EV's in Macungie 2010 -- yes, we're going to do it again! More about that as it progresses but for now -- if you have a 2010 calendar -- mark Saturday May 1 for it. We'll have a rain date this year!

In publicity news, an article on the workshop appeared in Brett's and my local newspaper, the Bucks County Herald -- the editor cheerfully printed the correction I sent in to clarify that it wasn't Brett's van that was converted but Bucks County Renewables' teaching vehicle! (I hear that an article appeared in Chris' local paper up in Long Island, NY as well, but haven't seen it.)

In the administrative department, I will take a bow here and announce that I turned in the post-workshop budget report in a timely manner to the incredibly helpful grant coordinator at the PA DEP's Environmental Education Grants Program, who answers all my last-minute questions cheerfully and patiently. While the final numbers are not in for painting and supplies for the battery box enclosure, we are on track with our projected budget and the expenditures have been approved!

And last but not least, has finally been updated so you don't land on the announcement for the completed 2009 workshop (blush).

Apologies to anyone who was hoping for some actual technical updates on the e-Van in this post -- to tell the truth, we have yet to run it down from its first full charge because the 144 v upgrade is so mighty. It is kinda sitting for a while and resting from all the excitement of being re-converted. Meanwhile we have been working up curriculum and doing all the aforesaid paper work and thinking work as well as exciting planning for the weeks ahead as we work to roll out e-Van 2009 at the Energy Fest! I will document our preparations ... and I still have that "Hitches and Glitches" post to make.

Hope to see you at the Fest,


Friday, July 10, 2009

Post-Workshop Bits and Pieces

Wow, these two weeks have flown by, filled with family obligations and vacations. Next week Bill and I will be putting our heads together on completing the battery enclosures, doing our range-testing and benchmarking, and arranging for van refurbishment, all in preparation for rolling out the 2009 version of the e-Van at the Energy Fest sponsored by our friends at the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association. Click on the poster below for festival details!

Meanwhile I have some catching up and thanks to express to the class participants of 2009. Bill and I have gotten some wonderful emails and photos from students, all of whom say they had a terrific time at the workshop. We are so grateful to all of you for the outpouring of enthusiasm!

A shout-out to Chris for surprising me with the new blog logo up top! Chris also posted the first video of e-Van 2009 rolling -- see it whiz by so quietly you can hear us talking in the background!

Rudy also took a ton of photos during the class, including the 2009 group portrait which you can see in miniature to the left, but which I'll also post here:

Inexplicably missing from the class photo is Matt, who deserves acknowledgment for contributing permanent engraved identifying plaques for all the van's e-drive features -- quite an improvement on the old sharpie-on-masking-tape labelling technique!

Below, a few photos courtesy of Rudy from the van's successful trial runs and our subsequent celebration.
Bill gives JJ how-to-drive-an-EV instructions prior to the initial run around the parking lot.
Vincent has that EV grin.

After the test drives, a toast and a cheer ...

and acknowledgment of a job well done by all.

Next week, the promised "Hitches and Glitches" post, as well as the final budget summary. Till then, thanks for following along!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Day 5 2009

Friday morning we gathered for our last review session of the prior day's activities and reading. These were always interesting discussions. In this particular one we spent some time talking about the role of the DC-DC converter (Bill had sneaked in after-hours and installed it himself instead of assigning it to a team the other day!) and the dashboard gauges. Since we left the existing small-gauge (low-voltage, low-amperage) wiring in place from 2007, this was a theoretical rather than a hands-on portion of the class.

We had a list of tasks for the morning. Lots to finish before the van can roll!

But there is also time for everybody to come take a peek at one last alternative fuel vehicle -- this one a SVO (Straight Vegetable Oil) conversion, or "greasecar." This 2005 Volkswagen Jetta TDI gets over 40 mpg gallon on diesel fuel -- and the same on used and filtered vegetable oil. Owner Bob spent the whole morning with us so that folks could come out, admire and ask questions instead of twiddling their thumbs between assignments or while waiting for another task group to complete their work. We are very grateful to Bob for his generous, impromptu visit, and to Stan of NMTCC for arranging it!

This is the tank for the used veggie oil, neatly installed in the former spare tire compartment in the trunk.

On the left above is the original diesel filter. and in the foreground the installed filter for the veg oil. A greasecar begins running on diesel, then switches to SVO when the engine reaches the proper temperature. Thus, they're ideal for people who do a lot of driving at a time, and less suitable for those who have limited commutes. The perfect long-range complement to an EV!

For more information visit Greasecar Vegetable Fuel Systems.
Bill is dying to put one of these into his diesel Benz, and the two of us have been dreaming for a little while about putting on a workshop on that process. Stay tuned--and email me if you have an interest so I can send you an announcement directly if & when this idea comes to fruition!

Meanwhile, back on the van, Rudy gets his first crimping lesson ...

from start to finish.

John also gets a chance to crimp while JJ and Bill ponder wiring issues in the background.

Paul's wiring up the speedometer, which had come unhooked somehow (so there was a little bit of hands-on work behind the dashboard after all!).

Now things are moving into high gear as the rear battery racks are mounted and the batteries installed.

Completed batteries in their battery racks.

For a while it looked like we might have to re-engineer some of the hold-downs, because some of the tabs had been installed backwards and there wasn't quite enough clearance for the passenger seat to latch. There was talk of making longer bolts, and my heart sank at the thought of another round of fabricating, welding and waiting for paint to dry. No way would the van roll by 4 if that had to happen! Instead Bill proposed an ingenious short-cut: make holes in the back of the seat to accommodate the battery racks. That was quick and easy, and it did the job, so whew!

Now Paul could move on to torquing down the washers on the batteries ...

and Rob and Vincent could begin wiring up the connections.

Everything began moving fast (above, wrapping orange electrical tape around the conduit sleeving for the long cable that will connect rear batteries to front batteries).

Meanwhile (and I have no pictures of this because I was too busy panicking) we had to weather a small crisis with the auxiliary DC battery. First Bill and Paul told me it didn't work and we would need to wait half an hour for a new Vanagon battery to get here from the auto parts delivery store. This turned out to be a joke -- ha ha, but with not even two hours left on the clock, it was too scary to be very funny to me! Then, guess what -- the working, but not-properly-sized for a Vanagon battery turned out to be the wrong size for the battery compartment.

There was some concern about stretching of cables and whether we'd be able to close the top of the compartment (we couldn't). At this point I blush to admit that I was so worried we wouldn't roll that I burst into tears! Everything depends on the DC battery, since without it the main contactor won't open. But I was reassured the e-Van could roll and we could safely test it with this temporary set-up.
I was incredibly relieved, though I was still sniffling a little when Leo gathered the class (plus a group of summer campers from NMTCC) to explain to everybody how all the major components of the EV system work together to make the vehicle go. It was an exceptionally lucid and educational review; Rob took a video of the whole thing, which I hope to post a link to on this site soon.  Note from the future: you can watch it here

After the overview of components, the safety check began. Following the steps outlined in our "bible," Bob Batson's EVAmerica conversion manual, Leo checked the voltages at each major connection.

With the safety checklist completed, we were ready to power up and test the main contactor and then the throttle linkage. This, of course, needs to be done with the van lifted off the ground, so up she went on the lift. When the key turned in the ignition, the contactor opened -- but when the accelerator was pressed, nothing happened. No controller whine, no wheels turning. Oh no! And look what time it was!

I managed not to have a meltdown while the diagnostic scurry took place. In surprisingly short order it was established that actually, one of the long high-voltage cables had been installed backwards. (There had been some debate about whether to innovate on this aspect of the wiring because we'd switched the battery configuration around, or follow Bob Batson's original schematic -- in the end, Bob Batson was right! That's what we get for not following the bible!)

Bill informed me afterwards that we were very, very lucky that we didn't blow the controller. All that happened was that nothing happened -- much, much better than a pop and smoke, and the loss of a $1500 EV component! Not to mention that that would have put an end to our hopes of getting the van to roll ...

With the cable swapped around (and, incidentally, the proper Vanagon battery installed), Paul got the honor of turning the key on the second test. Key on, contactor open. Press down on the throttle and YES! The controller whined and the wheels turned!

This van wants to be electric -- but she also seems to want to get there at the last possible minute!

Bill backed the e-Van off the lift and out of the shop and took her for her first spin around the parking lot, and then everybody got to drive her. Check out all the EV grins in the photo collage below! I was so wobbly with relief that I didn't get shots of everyone behind the wheel but I hope class members will send them in (along with any video) so I can post them.

After a parting toast with non-alcoholic champagne and handing out of completion certificates, EV Conversion Workshop 2009 came to an official close with hugs, handshakes and farewells. This was really an amazing group of people who came together for a week to undertake a challenging project, worked together to solve countless difficulties under time pressure, and somehow managed to keep it all friendly, positive and fun! I am so grateful to Bill for leading us all through the process and to all the participants for their tremendous contributions.

There's a lot left to tidy up on the e-Van, of course. Leo sent a detailed list of the loose ends that need to be attended to in the wiring department -- and we still need to build battery boxes so that the batteries are safely enclosed. Bill and I are also hoping to give the van a paint job and spruce up the interior before show time at the PA Energy Fest in Kempton, PA September 18, 19, and 20!

Hope to see you there -- and in the meantime, I'll post regular updates on our progress and on the performance benchmarking. The rebuilt e-Van certainly feels speedier and more powerful, and an hour of testing didn't drop the battery-charge indicators at all -- but we'd like to get some numbers on our range and see if we've achieved our 50-mile goal!

Thanks for following along!