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Old 01-12-2012, 08:38 PM   #1 (permalink)
EV test pilot
bennelson's Avatar
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Oconomowoc, WI, USA
Posts: 4,435

Electric Cycle - '81 Kawasaki KZ440
90 day: 334.6 mpg (US)

S10 - '95 Chevy S10
90 day: 30.48 mpg (US)

Electro-Metro - '96 Ben Nelson's "Electro-Metro"
90 day: 129.81 mpg (US)

The Wife's Car - Plug-in Prius - '04 Toyota Prius
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DIY Open Source Plug-In Hybrid

Hello everyone!

I have decided on a new project.

For the last few years, I have somehow managed to fall into the world of home-built electric vehicles, renewable energy, and DIY ecology.

For a guy with absolutely NO EXPERIENCE working on cars, I managed to stumble my way through building an electric motorcycle and an electric car.

And I love hybrids! They do save gas - but there's the problem right there - they USE gas. An electric is nice because it totally does away with that, but an affordable homebuilt EV ends up having a pretty short range. (Which is actually just fine and a very practical vehicle for somebody in a city.)

I've also played around a bit, experimenting in my Electro-Metro by adding a generator to it. Which would have worked much better if I had ever really gotten that generator running right. Unfortunately, the Metro is a bit small to simply throw a generator of the right size in there. My experiments lead me to the thought that a home-built plug-in hybrid could be an excellent project and very good transportation, as long as it was PLANNED AS A HYBRID in the first place.

My situation is most likely not an uncommon one either. I live only a few miles for town, but 35-40 miles away from the big city ( 80+ miles round trip is common.) There are plenty of times where I only have to go a few miles, and would love to not fire up an engine at all. But there's also times that I have to drive a distance that my Electro-Metro couldn't reach in it's wildest dreams.

Thinking about it, a vehicle like a Chevy Volt would actually work pretty well for me. Other than that I have no money for one. And the Volt still runs on gas after it's 30-40 miles of batteries. I'd really prefer to be able to run on any sort of alternate or bio-fuel.

The other thing that has been really amazing is all the people that I have met while working on my projects! All sorts of amazing folks who know motors and diesels, and machining, and batteries and all the other fun things I've been learning about. Especially the electronics. Those are really fun! (Just a couple days ago, I got to destroy, er, beta-test a 1000A DC motor controller!)

So, here is what I am proposing...


We have all the skills, tools, and brainpower to do this with people right here on this forum.

So, the plan is:
Build a vehicle that can run on batteries or liquid fuel (preferably bio-fuel when available), build it affordably, and share how it's done.

Main components of the vehicle will be either "off-the-shelf" for cost savings and availability due to mass-manufacture - or - DIY Open Source components to custom create the unique parts required for the project.

The mechanics of the vehicle must be relatively simple - no made from scratch planetary transmissions. Electronics can be wildly complicated, as long as we have somebody who knows what they are doing designing them. Schematics for electronics can be easily replicated for other people to build a similar project.

Right now, I am leaning towards a plug-in parallel hybrid, using lead acid batteries. Here's why. Lead-acid is cheap, reliable, and available. Should somebody see the project and realize how cool it is and want to donate a large sum of money THEN I would happily upgrade the system to Lithium batteries. (Note to self... please design system to make it easy to upgrade to Lithium batteries...)

A parallel hybrid system has a few advantages that people often don't think about. It could be designed to run on EITHER the Electric OR the ICE system. If one part fails, you can still drive home. Especially nice feature when I am in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE!

Properly designed a driver would simply use whichever system is more appropriate at the time. For example, you could have a switch on the dashboard that says EV/ICE. Flip it to EV for in town, and ICE for the freeway.

The Electric system would use either an AC motor or a BRUSHLESS DC motor. I have enough experience working with DC motors that I would like to continue on and learn all about AC and/or brushless DC. Either one makes a much better generator than a brushed DC motor does. This will allow for not just regenerative braking, but also CHARGING WHILE CRUISING.

Another thing I would like to do is MAKE IT FOUR-WHEEL-DRIVE. If two drive axels are used, the gas/diesel engine could be connected to one set, with the electric motor connected to the other. This would allow for four wheel drive, which is great for snow and off-road, and can also provide additional torque for quick starts.

Using two driven axels would also make it simple to propel the vehicle at freeway speeds with the ICE, while the AC motor is set to light regen. This would recharge the battery, while also loading down the engine, with a little planning, this could be used to get the engine into its "sweet spot" of fuel economy. If an AC motor with an appropriate range of RPM is used, it ALSO could be used to propel the vehicle at freeway speeds. Microproccesor control could be used, checking battery voltage, to turn the engine on and off, and alternate between using the ICE and electric motor to propel the vehicle at full freeway speeds. Think Pulse-and-Glide, but with the electric motor filling in to keep you from slowing down!

One possible way of doing this whole project would be to start with a front-wheel drive car, with engine and drivetrain in just the front. The rear axle could get replaced with a driven rear axle, where the electric motor would be attached. A properly chosen motor should be able to get connected more or less directly to the differential.

I did manage to find a person whole has two Volkswagon Rabbit Pickup trucks. Those are front-wheel drive, with small diesel engines. Small diesels get great fuel economy, and could be run on diesel, bio-diesel, or (with a few small alterations) straight vegetable oil. On the rear, it's just a plain axle with leaf springs. That could easily be replaced with a rear-end from a small rear-wheel drive pickup truck, such as an older Toyota or Mazda. The pickup bed would allow for space for the batteries, motor controller, charger, etc. (A station wagon would also have many of the same good characteristics.)

I am NOT saying that's the only way to go, just that it meets some of the criteria I've been thinking about. I want YOU to weigh in with your best ideas on the ideal vehicle to use, and how to cruise it down the road.

I'm very serious about this project. This is not one of those threads with "Well, I've been thinking about this...." and nothing ever comes of it. I've created two real-world vehicles so far, which were both affordable and practical. I'd really like to build something that can combine practically, range, and minimize fossil fuels.

The Open ReVolt motor controller would be a great start for the electric side of the project. Of course it would have to be an AC or brushless DC version, but the cost savings and Open Source nature of it would be perfect.

Anyone working on a DIY battery charger, please chime in! An AC system is going to be at least 156V, and we'll need a charger to match. Ideally, one that can charge from 120V AC (60hz) and 240V in and selectable amp draw of 15A up to 30A+

Anyone who is knowlegeable on diesels, generators, bio-fuels, please add to the project!

And what good is a homebuilt vehicle that gets better fuel economy than a Volt or Plug-in-Prius while costing far less, if you DON'T SHOW IT OFF! That's why this vehicle is going to some big events this summer! (Assuming it can be built in time. But I already told them the Team Ecomodder is "bringing it!" so now we gotta!)

Events include driving the car to and showing it off at:
Midwest Renewable Energy Fair
Green Drive Expo (and competing in the "unlimited class" of the fuel economy challenge)
Mother Earth News Fair (There were no less than TWO X-Prize contestants and cars there this last year.)

And here's the new thing. A while back, I started a thread saying how I wanted to do "Something Big". I didn't know what, but wanted to do something related to fuel economy and DIY culture, with some social networking and video/film thrown in. Not long ago, somebody was interested in having me build an electric car, drive it cross-country, and make a film about it. While nothing has come of that, it did make for a nice little mock movie trailer. (See that HERE) But more importantly, it really got my brain going.

Frankly, there have been many events that feature a drive across the country. What happens when I get to the end? I would just have to turn around and drive a few thousand miles back home. That sure doesn't make sense from a fuel-use point of view! Also, here in the middle of the country, we sometimes get left out a bit. All the EVs come out on both coasts first. All the new movies appear there first. How about something here in the Mid-West, or near the Third Coast as I like to think of it. Yeah, you heard me, we have some GREAT LAKES here.

I propose to drive the DIY Open Source Plug-In Hybrid AROUND Lake Michigan! That's about 1000 miles on varying terrain through four States (plus tagging Canada on the way) and dipping my toes in Lakes Superior and Huron while I am at it. I can charge it up at campgrounds in Mighigan's Upper Penninsula, and at real EV Charging Stations in downtown Chicago!

A circle makes sense, it arrives back right where it starts from, just like an electric circuit or the water cycle. The event will be called "LOOP THE LAKE" - and will be a do-it-yourself fuel economy challenge. I'll be twittering the whole way and shooting video, documenting fuel use, where I charge and gas up, and meeting all the interesting folks along the way!

Want to challenge me? Please do! Start anywhere you want - just make sure you end back up where you started, and no cheating by taking a ferry!

If anyone knows anything about getting sponsorships for a crazy event like this, let me know! (I've got 1.5 million views on YouTube so far, that must be a good start.)

So, who is with me!? Raise your fist with a cartoon lightning bolt in it and say YES! I will be encouraging! YES, I have ideas on how to make this happen! YES, I would send you money or components or schematics or positive feedback!

I really, really, mean it.


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