Boulder tinkerers convert gas-guzzlers to electric vehicles
Local 'nerds' love DIY conversions By Terese Decker 01/01/2011
As new models of commercial electric vehicles, such as the Nissan
Leaf, are set to hit the market, a number of Boulder tinkerers are
actually working in garages to convert their own gas guzzlers into
Their goal: Reduce their carbon footprints, save some money, and have
fun along the way. Michael Kuss, an experienced retrofitter and =
electric vehicle enthusiast who conducts research on electric vehicles
at the National Renewable Energy Lab, said there is quite a presence
of retrofitters in Boulder. About 90 percent of them are "nerds =
looking for a weekend hobby," he jokes.
Retrofitting is a good way of keeping old cars out of the junkyard and
running like new. Plus, the much-deserved pride of saying, "I did it
myself" is priceless to those who take on these projects.
Last year, George Tomasevich, a self-proclaimed "inveterate =
Do-It-Yourselfer" and a chemist by trade, started retrofitting his =
Porsche 914 because he "got tired of waiting for the Chevy Volt."
He's been driving his new electric vehicle, "EV" for short, for about
a year now. Despite many costly upgrades to his home and added =
components to his car, Tomasevich said he's barely noticed a spike in =
his electric bill.
Kuss said that retrofitting is a difficult task that requires =
extensive working mechanical experience. He characterizes the process
as "half art, half science."
It entails first dismantling parts related to the internal combustion
engine and transmission, gutting it, rearranging all the remaining =
components to fit with the new electric components and making custom =
pieces to hold the new motor and controller in place. Then one has to =
bolt the new components into place, wire the entire system and finally
take care of the quirks such as power steering and brakes.
And voil. An "old-fashioned, 20th century, gas guzzling, planet =
killing, petrol-powered car is converted into a shiny new quiet clean =
electric car," Kuss said.
Kuss laments that the biggest technological challenge of retrofitting
is making the system capable of regenerative braking -- the concept of
recharging the battery with the energy that would ordinarily be wasted
"The power electronics involved with regenerative braking are =
bi-directional, purpose-built and very expensive," he said.
For this reason, Kuss suggests retrofitting old cars that already lack
the automatic luxuries of recently built cars like power steering, =
power brakes, air conditioning, heating and even cruise control. Plus,
he said, old cars are already paid off -- in money and carbon.
Tomasevich admits that he never expected to live long enough to save =
any money by converting the vehicle from running on gasoline to =
running on electricity. That was never the point.
That said, he also admits that he's not happy with his choice to =
retrofit his Porsche into an EV. He encountered many problems along =
the way, and the car is now 62 percent heavier than it was.
To make matters worse, the motor is not powerful enough, the car =
accelerates five times slower than it did and the battery pack cannot
deliver enough power to use the full capability of the motor.
For his part, Kuss said he probably won't convert his Subaru to an EV =
because he would rather just conserve by riding his bicycle and =
cutting back on long trips. He was sure to emphasize that =
"conservation is always better than using more stuff -- even if your
stuff is 'green.'" 
[Michael Kuss http://google.com/#hl=3Den&q=3D"Michael+Kuss"+nrel
George Tomasevich http://devc.info ]
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