Well, it’s time to throw my hat over the fence.
What? You’ve never heard that term before? Ok, let me explain. Let’s say that you really want to get yourself over the top of a fence. But it’s tall, and the top is pretty pointy. Maybe you’ll do it tomorrow... So here’s what you do. You throw your hat over the fence. Now you HAVE to get over the fence. If you don’t you’ve just lost your hat!
Not that too many people are climbing over fences recently, or even wearing cool hats for that matter, but here’s why I bring it up.
A couple summers ago, I built an electric car. In the end, it was a fantastic project. I was amazed at how much I learned, how many neat new people I met, and how proud I was to have my own personal transportation that didn’t use one lick of gasoline.
If there was any single “secret” that I could give to anyone else on building your own electric car, it’s this: Tell everyone you are building an electric car. I mean it, everyone. Your friends, your boss, the postman, everyone. Why? Because there is magic in it. Ok, well magic might be a stretch - maybe it’s more meta-physical. Did you watch THE SECRET? Yeah, I know, it was a bit “airy-fairy” for me too. But there were a few things in that film that were pretty self-evident to everyone, things that you simply knew to be true. And one of those things is that saying you are going to do something MAKES it happen! At a bare minimum, you friends will start pestering you - “Hey, how’s that car project going?” and at best, the Universe will reward you for your intent, and start helping you on your way.
When I told all my friends I was building an electric car, people came out of the woodwork to help me. A friend who works in construction said that they were scrapping out their welding cable, and asked if I wanted it. “Sure!”. He showed up a few hours later and dropped off 150’ of 2/0 welding cable in my driveway. Wow - several hundred dollars of battery cable for free! Thanks Mike!
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of the other magic was things like “Do you know Hotrod Jim? He might be able to give you a hand!” Indeed he did. When I visited Jim, he was doing custom work on a mint ’57 Chevy that looked like it had been hand-dipped in chrome. I explained my project. Jim said he’s never worked on an electric car before. Suddenly, helping me out was at the top of HIS project list.
But why have I been wasting your time with several paragraphs about an OLD project? Because this is really about the newest one.
For some time, I’ve had an idea rattling around in my head. It just keeps rattling around in there, getting louder, and I can’t get rid of it....
First, I built an electric bike. It was from a kit, and simple. Anyone could build one. Then I built an electric motorcycle - not much more complicated than the bike, but more time, work, and money to put together. Then winter happened, and I decided it would be better to have an electric vehicle with a roof and four wheels. By the end of the next summer, I had built an Electric Geo Metro. It was powered by a forklift motor, and eventually the motor controller was a collaboratively-built Open Source project.
The car was great, but relatively short range. So when a friend gave me a non-running LP generator, along with the repair manual for it, I started thinking HYBRID! I fixed up the generator, and mounted it in the trunk of the car, along with the LP bottle from my Bar-B-Q grill! Wow! A series hybrid that actually worked!
Well, it worked, but the generator wasn’t exactly quiet. Also, it was running on propane, which burns clean, but is still a fossil fuel....
My gasoline vehicle is a Chevy S10 Pickup truck. I can get 30mpg in it in the summer. But it’s still running on gasoline.
Hmmmmmm. Even the Prius runs on gasoline. And you can’t plug a stock Prius in to charge from the wall the way my Geo Metro can. And a Prius really isn’t designed to tow either. It would be nice to pull my utility trailer and teardrop trailer on occasion.
So here’s where things start coming together for me.
I have a pickup truck. They are a good platform for experimental vehicles, as they have a solid frame, and plenty of outside space both in and under the bed. A few years back, I picked up a diesel engine out of a Mercedes 240D. It’s a great engine, that has been very popular for vegetable oil conversions. While it’s not turbo-charged, it’s very durable and simple - no computer controls here.
I’m also a member of a hackerspace and DIY electric car club. A few years ago, we pulled some big forklift motors out of a junkyard. So far, we have two Ford Rangers running on them, and a Saab in the works right now. Those motors have both drive-shafts and tailshafts to connect either end of the motor. Some EV hot-rodders have even used that to connect two electric motors end-to-end to double the power of their vehicle. What if it was instead connected to a diesel engine?
So, here goes. I present to you that I am going to build an Open Source D.I.Y. Plug-in Bio-Diesel/Electric Hybrid Pickup truck and share it with the world!
Have I ever done something like this before? Heck no. But I have played around enough with motors, engines, cars, cycles, and batteries to think that it is totally possible.
HOW will I do it? I have no idea.
But I also had no idea when I started the cycle or when I started my electric car. But I’m pretty good at learning by doing. I’m also pretty good at talking to folks and learning from them and making new friends.
One thing’s for sure. I’m going to need your help on this one. The project is going to take a while and I am certainly NOT going to be able to do it all by myself. But that’s the fun of collaboration - working together, learning, and sharing.
Look to this blog in the future for updates as the project picks up steam. (Steam! That’s a great power source too. Um, maybe for a different project.....)
I’ll be taking photos, posting YouTube Videos, and Twittering like a mad man once we really get going.
Speaking of going - I’m headed out shortly to the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington. If you are going to be there too, come see me. I’m be giving a presentation on DIY Hybrid Vehicles, and I’ll be talking there more in detail about the Super-Truck project.
If you have some ideas about the project, or even just a few words of “Yes! We can do this!” please let me know!
Ben Nelson isn't an expert. In fact, he's just the opposite. That just means he still has a LOT to learn. He's built electric cars, flushes his toilet with recycled laundry water, and has built all sorts of crazy contraptions from salvaged materials. His personal blog can be found at 300MPG.org