Solar Electric VW Bus: Phase 2

Reader Contribution by Brett Belan and Apparent Energy

Good Clean Fun!

First, I must apologize for not blogging sooner….  I have been deep in fabrication of phase two of the solar electric VW bus.  Phase two for those just tuning in, includes replacing a lead acid battery bank with LiFePo batteries of much great capacity for extended range.  Also, phase two includes the addition of more solar power to gather more charging sunlight. Unfortunately, I did not have time to run a crowd funding campaign and was forced to come up with the money myself to procure phase two.  But…

The show must go on!

Currently I am fitting 192 Calb Cam72 Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries.   These batteries will increase my storage capacity by almost 4 times and reduce weight by 200lbs!  Taking it easy with the 10kw-hr lead pack, I could go 50 miles.   Now with 44kw-hr of storage and 200 less pounds compared to my lead pack, I will be inching towards the 200 mile range mark.  I go slow.  50 mph is where the wind resistance starts to really deplete energy.  Also the bus is a 1973 and going much more than 60 feels a little hectic anyway.  It is an RV and for me and my family slowing down and connecting with nature is our aim.

Lithium Iron Phosphate Batteries Are Different than Other Lithium Batteries

Lithium Iron Phosphate based technology possesses superior thermal and chemical stability which provides better safety characteristics than those of Lithium-ion technology made with other cathode materials. Lithium phosphate cells are incombustible in the event of mishandling during charge or discharge, they are more stable under overcharge or short circuit conditions and they can withstand high temperatures without decomposing. When abuse does occur, the phosphate based cathode material will not burn and is not prone to thermal runaway. Phosphate chemistry also offers a longer cycle life.

I could have had about 66 kw-hr of energy storage instead of just 44kw-hr for the same price weight and size.  But, the LiFePo cells last significantly longer.

My decision, however, was first about safety.  The LiFePo battery is actually much safer and more environmentally friendly than the lead acid batteries I previously used.  Without the need to vent the LiFePo pack I can use my battery box vent system now to cool the LiFePo bank.

Secondarily, the toxicity concern is also addressed.  LiFePo batteries do not contain any heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, or any other corrosive acids.

Lithium Iron Phosphates Are Definitely the Eco Choice

I used a BMS, or battery management system from Thunderstruck Motors.  I will recommend all to this on line store since it has very knowledgeable and helpful people working there.

The BMS system monitors every battery to ensure if a cell fails it is known and doesn’t affect safety or harm any others cells.

More Solar Power!

I purchased 5,200 watt flexible panels from Jack Rickard of EVTV.  I will mount these in an aluminum frame.  When it’s all said and done, the array will weight just under 70 lbs.  It should be quite easy to maneuver.   For a 1200 watts array using conventionally framed, glass topped solar panels, we are looking at nearly 200 lbs. 

I will have a nice, light 1000 watt awning to keep me in the shade and 2200 total watts of solar including the 1200 watts I currently have up top.

My goal is to go 200 miles and charge up in two days.  I would like to hop between national parks and other American splendor….silently and with very low impact.

Comfort, space, and clean remote energy harvest…..SAY HELLO TO FREEDOM!!!

Photos by Kira Belan

Brett Belan lived off-grid in California for a decade before he and his family moved to Ashland, Oregon. There he co-founding Apparent Energy, an engineering company dedicated to improving our electrical systems. He spends his free time building electric vehicles and converted a 1973 VW bus to a fully electric, solar powered vehicle. Find out more at: Solar-Electric VW Bus. Follow Brett on Facebook and Instagram, and read his article in Home Power magazine. Read all of Brett’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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