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DESIGNING A N ELECTRIC VEHICLE CONVERSION

Bradley C. Keoun
Solar Car Corporation
1300 Lake Washington Road
Melbourne, FL 32935
(407) 254-2997

INTRODUCTION a n electric vehicle conversion will include:


removal of internal combustion engine and
National efforts to improve air quality in related parts, choice of electric vehicle
heaviiy populated urban communities- by components, installation of electric vehicle
reducing vehicular tailpipe emissions - have components, and integration of electric
rekindled interest in the development of vehicle accessory systems. For practical
electric vehicle technology and infrastructure. purposes, this paper will limit consideration
Electric vehicles make ideal urban-commuter of EV components currently available at a
vehicles, for driving t o and from, and within a cost that reflects high-volume production. A
city. However, electric vehicles are currently block diagram of the components in an
manufactured only in low volumes, and electric vehicle is given in Figure 1 .
consequently the price of most commercially
available electric vehicles re ma ins high.

As an alternative t o purchasing a new


electric vehicle, it is now possible for a
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private individual or organization t o build an U

electric vehicle w i t h ease - and a t low cost -


w i t h reliable, off-the-shelf electric vehicle
components.

Designing an electric vehicle presents a


formidable engineering challenge: the Figure 1. Electric Vehicle Component Block
integration of various aspects of vehicle Diagram.
design-suspension, body, drivetrain, fuel
system, electrical systems, and climate
control-cain be time-consuming and costly. REMOVAL OF lNTERNAL COMBUSTION
ENGINE AND RELATED PARTS
It is possible, however, to build an electric
ve hic I e by 'I conve rting 'I a gas o Iine- pow e red The following parts will be removed from the
vehicle-thejt is, replacing the internal original gasoline-powered vehicle: internal
combustion engine in an existing gasoline- combustion engine, starter, alternator, power
powered vehicle w i t h an electric drivetrain. steering pump, air conditioner compressor,
This process is called, appropriately, "electric radiator, heater core, fuel lines, fuel tank,
vehicle conversion," and has become popular exhaust pipe, catalytic converter, exhaust tail
in recent years among hobbyists, schools, pipe, and muffler. The following parts will be
and clean-air enthusiasts, as a means of retained in the electric vehicle conversion:
providing an immediate solution to clean-air transmission and rearward drivetrain; brake
transportation. Many of the commercial cylinder and reservoir; condenser and
electric vehicles sold in this country today evaporator(if air conditioning is desired on
are in fact electric vehicle conversions. finished conversion); steering and front end
linkage; and existing electrical harness.
This paper addresses the design
considerations involved in the conversion of a
gasoline-powered vehicle to electric.
Discussion of the various design elements in
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CHOKE OF TYPE OF BATTERIES time it is used. For example, a battery
w i t h a 5 0 0 cycle-life may last as many as
Given the current market, lead-acid is the 1000 cycles, if it is only discharged 20%
only viable battery technology for electric a t each use. For this reason, a 500 cycle-
vehicle conversion. The following is a list of life electric vehicle battery may last as
criteria to use in selecting an electric vehicle many as 5 years.
battery:
1, Voltage. Batteries are available in both 6V Today, most electric vehicle conversions use
and 12V units. Most standard, wet-cell, standard 6V wet-cell golf cart batteries-
golf cart batteries are 6V units. Most available in a wide range of sizes. Sealed
sealed batteries are 12V units. lead-acid 12V batteries, however, have
2. Amg-hour rating. The capacity of a become popular in recent months as an
battery is rated in amp-hours. This rating improved battery for electric vehicle
must be specified w i t h a given discharge conversions. Advantages of sealed batteries
rate. include zero maintenance requirements, no
3. Discharge rate. The discharge rate of a hydrogen gassing during charging, and spill-
battery is the minimum length of time proof, leak-proof construction. A sealed,
during which the battery must be maintenance-free battery is shown in Figure
discharged in order to meet the specified L.
amp-hour rating. For example, a 12V
sealed lead-acid battery w i t h a 93 amp-
hour rating at a 2 4 hour discharge rate
will produce, 93Ahr/24hr= 3.875A, for a
minimum of 2 4 hours.
4, Watt-hour rating. The watt-hour rating is
a true indication of the energy capacity of
a battery, Like the amp-hour rating, this
rating must be specified w i t h a discharge
rate. The watt-hour rating of a battery is Figure 2. A sealed, maintenance-free 12V
the amp-hour rating multiplied by the lead-acid battery.
specified voltage of the battery. For
example, assume a 6V battery has a
197Ahr rating a t a 5 hour discharge rate, NUMBER OF BATTERIES
and a 12V battery has a 105Ahr rating a t
a 5 hour discharge rate. The watt-hour The number of batteries in an electric vehicle
rating of the 6 V battery is therefore conversion will depend on the voltage of the
(197Ahr)(6V)= 1 182Whr, and the w a t t - battery type to be used, the size of the
hour rating of the 12V battery is battery type t o be used, the desired nominal
(1OEiAhr)(12V) = 1260Whr. In this system voltage, and the size of vehicle in
example, the 12V battery has more total which the batteries will be installed. In
energy capacity than the 6V battery. general, a greater system voltage will result
5 . Energy density. Energy density is the in increased performance, whereas a greater
energy capacity of the battery, in w a t t - watt-hour capacity will result in increased
hours, divided by the weight of the vehicle driving range.
battery, in kilograms. This is a critical
factor in selecting an electric vehicle In order t o achieve the desired nominal
battery-the amount of energy a battery system voltage, the vehicle must be large
carries per unit weight. enough t o carry the required number of
6. Cycle-life. Cycle-life is the number of batteries. For example, assume that a
times a battery can be fully discharged subcompact car is t o be converted t o
before replacement. However, in most electric, and that performance is the chief
real applications, a lead-acid battery will design objective. In order t o get maximum
exceed its specified cycle-life, since the performance on this particular conversion, a
battery will not be fully discharged every 120V system is desired. The subcompact
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vehicle is not large enough to fit 2 0 6 V a useful indicator of the performance
batteries. In this case, 1 0 1 2 V batteries capabilities of a DC series-wound electric
linked in a series configuration will give the motor in an electric vehicle conversion.
desired norninal system voltage.
For general purposes, it is useful t o refer t o
On the other hand, if vehicle driving range is the size of an electric motor by referring t o
the chief design objective, a different set of its continuous rated horsepower at a specific
design parameters must be considered. voltage. A DC series-wound motors,
Assume that the same subcompact car is however, can be used a t voltages other than
large enough t o contain 1 6 6 V batteries. This its rated voltage. Note that the continuous
condition 2;uggests using 1 6 6 V batteries horsepower output of a DC series-wound
linked in a series configuration for a nominal motor will increase with voltage.
system vohage of 96V, or 1 6 12V batteries
in a series-parallel configuration(two strings
of 8 1 2 V batteries in parallel). In either case,
the increased number of batteries will result
in a greater total watt-hour capacity-for an c
increase in vehicle driving range.

It is imporiant to remember that each lead-


acid electric vehicle battery weighs 50-601bs.
Thus, the number of batteries in an electric Figure 3. A DC series-wound motor for
vehicle conversion will have a significant electric vehicle applications.
effect on the total system efficiency. A t a
certain "saturation" point, simply installing
additional batteries will not effect a Motor efficiency increases w i t h motor
corresponding increase in vehicle driving voltage and diameter. High-efficiency DC
range. series-wound motors are available for electric
vehicle applications. One currently available
CHOICE OF::ELECTRIC DRIVETRAIN DC series-wound motor has a 9.1 I' diameter,
and achieves efficiency as high as 91%
A number of manufacturers offer a range of when operated at 144V.
affordable DC * series-wound motors,
specifically designed for electric vehicles. The simplest w a y to select an electric motor
Although AC induction motors and DC is to estimate the weight of the finished
brushless rinotors are currently used in some conversion, including batteries, and then t o
electric vehicle conversions, only DC series- select a motor based on an electric vehicle
wound motors are available at a cost that motor application guideline supplied by the
reflects high-volume production. electric vehicle motor manufacturer. These
guidelines should give a general estimate of
The torque-speed curve of a DC series- performance for a given electric vehicle
wound motor is ideal for vehicular conversion, powered by a given motor. See
application:;. However, the current required Table 1.
t o produce high torque at low speed exceeds
the limits of currently available, off-the-shelf
electronic controllers for DC series-wound
motors. Thus, though a 9.1" diameter,
1431b. DC series-wound motor may have a
rated maximum stall torque at 1 2 0 V of 9 6 5
ft.-lbs., the motor will require 2 8 6 5 A t Q
actually achieve the rated stall torque. The
maximum current limit of off-the-shelf
electronic controllers available today is Table 1 . Electric Vehicle Motor Application
550A, at 144V. Stall torque, therefore, is not Guide.
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The type of off-the-shelf electronic controller a 1 hour rating of 1 5 0 A will be adequate for
most commonly used with series-wound this motor.
motors in electric vehicle conversions uses
MOSFET technology, using a pulse-width INSTALLATION OF ELECTRIC DRIVETRAIN
moduI at ed , vo It a ge 'I c hoppe r " s c heme.
In order t o keep the motor within a specific
The output of the electronic controller in a operating range, and t o simplify the electric
typical electric vehicle installation is vehicle conversion process, the existing
determined by an auxiliary input signal, fed transmission-including clutch, flywheel, and
t h ro ug h a 0- 5 k o h m " t hrott Ie 'I pote nt io m et e r , pressure plate from the original gas-powered
which is connected t o the accelerator pedal vehicle - is retained.
of the original gas-powered vehicle. For a
vehicle w i t h a 1 2 0 V nominal system voltage, The DC series-wound electric motor is
the input voltage t o the electric motor wlll be coupled t o the existing transmission using an
6OV if the accelerator pedal is half- "adaptel, plate." One side of the adapter
depressed, or 12OV if the accelerator pedal plate matches the shape, mounting holes,
is fully depressed. In either case, the and alignment pins of the bell housing of the
maximum current provided to the electric original transmission; the other side of the
motor will be limited t o 400A. An electronic adapter plate matches the shape and
controller is shown in Figure 4. mounting holes of the electric motor.
Because improper mounting of the electric
motor will result in excessive wear t o both
electric motor and the transmission, the
adapter plate must be machined according t o
precision specifications. Ready-made adapter
plates for an extensive portfolio of vehicles
may be available from electric vehicle
component suppliers.

The main shaft of the electric motor is


Figure 4. A 1 2 0 V , 400A electronic controller. coupled t o the flywheel of the transmission
using a "hub assembly." The hub assembly
slides onto the keyed shaft of the electric
The electronic controllers currently used in motor, and mounts to the flywheel of the
electric vehicles are rated at 2 minute, 5 original transmission. The flywheel should be
minute, and one hour ratings. These ratings balanced t o enhance the smooth, vibration-
specify the amount of current the controller free operation of the electric drivetrain, and
will handle for the given time period. For may be lightened t o further improve total
example, a controller w i t h a 2 minute rating system performance and efficiency. The
of 4 0 0 A will handle 400A for 2 minutes. The starter ring is not necessary i n an electric
same controller may handle 750A for drivetrain, and may be removed from the
continuous operation during one hour. flywheel prior t o installation.

For a complete electric drivetrain for an A n automatic transmission will result in


electric vehicle conversion, match controller additional system inefficiencies. However, if
ratings t o rated motor current requirements, an automatic transmission is t o be used, the
so that the power draw of the motor in a automatic transmission should be rebuilt t o
given operating state will not exceed the reflect the optimum operating range of the
current capacity of the motor controller. For DC series-wound electric motor. For
example, a motor operating a t 1 2 0 V may example, if the most efficient operating range
draw 4OOA during heavy acceleration but of the electric motor falls around 4500rpm,
only 1 3 5 A during continuous operation at the automatic transmission should be rebuilt
6200rpm. A n off-the-shelf 1 2 0 V electronic t o shift at a reasonably higher motor speed-
controller w i t h a 2 minute rating of 4 0 0 A and say, a t 5000rpm.
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INTEGRATION OF 12V ACCESSORY INTEGRATION OF CLIMATE CONTROL
ELECTRICAL SYSTEM SYSTEM

The light:;, turn signals, wipers, stereo, For vehicles w i t h air conditioning, removal of
power loclks, power windows, etc., will be the internal combustion engine necessitates
powered b y a 12V power supply. The the removal of the belt-driven air conditioner
existing 12V starter battery may be retained compressor. Air conditioning may be
as a power source for these accessories. removed, or modified t o function in the
converted electric vehicle. In the modified
Since removal of the internal combustion system, the air conditioner compressor is
engine requires removal of the belt-driven either belt-driven off the tailshaft of the DC
alternator, a separate system is required in series-wound motor, or powered by a
an electric vehicle conversion in order to separate, high-efficiency compressor motor.
keep the 12V accessory battery charged. The stock condenser and evaporator from the
This system is provided w i t h an additional original vehicle are used in the modified
electric component-the DC/DC converter. system .
The DC/DC converter has a high-voltage
input, w i t h a 12V output, and is thus used t o Heating is provided by a resistive solid-state
charge tho 12V accessory battery using a heating element, powered by the main
high-voltage input from the main battery battery pack. Using a relay and spark
pack. capacitor, the heating element may be
switched on and off from the interior of the
INTEGRATION OF POWER BRAKE SYSTEM vehicle, using existing heater controls.

On a gasoline-powered car, the source of MODIFICATIONS TO INSTRUMENT PANEL


vacuum for the power brake system is intake
manifold on the internal combustion engine. The fuel level, engine temperature, and oil
In an electric vehicle conversion, an auxiliary pressure gauges are not used in an electric
vacuum pump and vacuum reservoir must be vehicle conversion.
supplied in order t o retain a power brake
system. The vacuum pump is powered b y a Several additional gauges are necessary t o
small, off-the-shelf 12V electric motor. A n monitor electric vehicle operating conditions.
electric switch 'senses pressure in the A n electric "fuel" guage displays the state-
vacuum reservoir, and turns the vacuum of-charge of the main battery pack, and an
pump on and off as needed. ammeter displays instantaneous current flow.
A tachometer is installed t o monitor electric
INTEGRATION OF POWER STEERING motor operating rpm.
SYSTEM

For vehicles w i t h power steering, removal of


the internal combustion engine necessitates
the removal of the belt-driven power steering
pump. On an electric vehicle conversion,
power steering can be handled in t w o ways:
exchanging the existing power steering
system for a manual steering system, or
modifying the existing power steering system
t o work in the converted vehicle. If power
steering is retained, the power steering pump
may be belt-driven off the accessory shaft of
the DC series-wound motor, or powered b y a Figure 5. A completed Ford Festiva
separate, high-efficiency pump motor. conversion.

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Figure 6. A completed Chevy S-10 pickup
truck conversion.

Using existing, off-the-shelf technology,


converting a gasoline-powered vehicle to
electric can be a simple and successful
project. A sleek, professional electric vehicle
conversion will provide satisfying,
economical, and environmentally-friendly
trans portation.

REFERENCES

Wong, Jo Yung, Theory of Ground Vehicles.


(New York: John Wiley & Sons, I' 9 7 8 )

yres, Robert, and McKenna, Richard,


Alternatives to * the Internal Combustion
Engine. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1972)

Solar Car Corporation, Chevy S-IO Pickup


Conversion Manual. (Melbourne, FL: Solar
Car Corporation, 1992)

Brant, Bob, Build Your Own Electric Vehicle.


(Blue Ridge Summit, PA: 1 9 9 4 )

Advanced DC Motors, Inc., Product


Information Brochure. (Syracuse, NY)

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