Electrogenic October 2020 Newsletter

Dear R-EV enthusiasts

You say you want environment and you want cars, so this month’s newsletter is a bonus:  two lead articles, and both of them are about cars and the environment.  We are proud sponsors of The Village Refill, who are local and who entrusted us with the re-powering of their 10-year old Mega electric van.  Also, we get lots of questions about hydrogen and its potential future in transport.  It’s a big subject, but we have accepted the challenge of giving you our take on it in four pithy paragraphs.

We are still looking for new staff, so please help put the word out: the clocks have changed but the lights are still blazing in the Electrogenic workshop and we could do with some more help!  And without further ado, welcome to October’s newsletter!

The Village Refill

Village Refill's Mega van

This month we had an unexpected visit – a 10 year old Mega van.  What’s a Mega van, I hear you ask?  It’s perhaps the distant ancestor of the Citroën Ami (?!) – it’s French, it’s 99% plastic and it’s certainly eccentric.  It has been driving around a campsite in Yorkshire for the last ten years, but now it is proudly owned by The Village Refill, and needed an upgrade to deal with the rigours of Oxfordshire tarmac.  The Village Refill is a brilliant enterprise, creating a local circular economy to eliminate single-use plastics from every-day household items like washing up liquid and shower gel.  Unfortunately you will only be able to access their fabulous products if you live within range of their Mega delivery van, but at Electrogenic we’re working on that…

The Mega is an EV pioneer, using an old 48V DC brushed GE motor and 12 lead-acid batteries.  As we discovered, it also has a cunning colour-coding system for the control wiring – all 30-odd wires are white – a control system logic that, well, defies logic and a charge lead that looks like the plug on our works kettle.  What The Village Refill needed was the top speed lifting above 28mph (downhill with a following wind), and improved range so that the delivery radius could be extended: if you are running a new eco business, you can’t have your products delivered by fossil fuels.

So what did we do?  Firstly we agreed to sponsor The Village Refill because we think they are fantastic (spot the Electrogenic logo in the picture above) and then we got to work.  We pulled out 360kg of lead acid batteries and repurposed them as storage for solar power in a narrow boat – thus reducing local diesel emissions.  We replaced them with 2 x Tesla Model S batteries (yes – a Tesla-powered Mega!), we neatly bypassed the Mega’s antediluvian charge system by adding our own, and we added one of our range/economy screens in the cab.  Along the way, we made the van 300kg lighter, fused the workshop electrics by pulling the kettle-cord out of the van before switching it off at the plug, and created our own James Bond moment.  When Maya came to collect the Tesla-Mega, we had just test-driven it and managed a flat-out speed of 14mph.  What was the problem?  Aha!  The motor controller thinks there are no batteries so it is speed-limiting to enable the van to get to a 13A socket.  What to do?  Logically, there are only two (white) wires that it could be, so we need to cut one of them…  Snip!  You could almost see the detonator clock stop at 007.

From this
To this!

Did it all work, I hear you ask?  Yes!  The Tesla-Mega is now happily zipping around Oxfordshire and it can keep up with local traffic. It’s cheeky and cheerful and doing The Village Refill proud.  So if you’re local, click the link, do your bit and smell great (we particularly recommend the shower gel).

Hydrogen powered R-EVs?

operation of a hydrogen fuel cell

We are often asked about whether our R-EVs will ever run on hydrogen fuel cells, rather than batteries.  The short answer is “we don’t think so”.  It’s a complex subject however and we will try to unpack it a little here.

A fuel cell works much like an electric battery, converting chemical energy into electrical energy.  The hydrogen “fuel” combines with oxygen from the air inside the cell, generating electricity and emitting water vapour as a waste product.  In a car, the electricity can be used to drive an electric motor…and you know the rest.

The big pluses for fuel cells in electric cars are a) you can refuel quicker, and b) you can reduce the weight of the vehicle.  The big minuses are that hydrogen “fuel pumps” are not trivial pieces of engineering (think explosion avoidance) and as charge-point infrastructure improves and using EVs changes people’s habits, the need/desire to drive to a filling station to refuel reduces.

Hydrogen is also structurally more expensive than batteries.  Energy is not free, and the electricity-storage-electricity cycle for hydrogen is less than 50% efficient, compared with about 85% cycle efficiency for batteries.  Hydrogen technology is improving in efficiency and cost effectiveness, but so is battery technology, and hydrogen is starting from behind.

Fuel Cell EV lifecycle impact

This diagram is from research presented in Applied Energy.  It shows Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) and Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) ownership cost and environmental impact, compared with  Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV).  The analysis concludes that battery EVs have a lower ownership cost and environmental impact than fuel cell EVs.

Where does the hydrogen come from?  At the moment, about 98% is produced from natural gas, with carbon dioxide as a by-product, and only a tiny fraction of that is used in EVs (it’s mostly used for making fertiliser).  We don’t have enough renewable energy to supply our electricity needs as it is, and the electrification of heating and transport will increase demand even further.  Increasing hydrogen usage therefore means increased use of natural gas (and hence CO2 emissions) in the short to medium term.

So will hydrogen be used in transport?  Fuel Cell EV technology (FEVC) could be useful for commercial applications where bulkier vehicles need to travel long distances, carry heavy loads and refuel with minimal downtime.  Road and rail bridges have weight restrictions and fewer/lighter batteries means more carrying capacity.  But for your R-EV?  We don’t think so.

What’s in the workshop?

This is where we make you do some of the work: figure out what vehicles these photos are from, and earn yourself a pat on the back when we publish the answers in the next newsletter.

Mystery Picture 13

Mystery Picture 14

Answers from September:

Mystery Picture 11 – it’s a Citroën C5 hydraulic pump for the hydro-pneumatic suspension system.  In the time since we took this, we have modified it, cauterised its brain, added a control system, fitted it into the Citroen DS and then driven it around with a petrol engine and electric suspension.  And it rides beautifully.  So now the engine is out and we are pressing ahead with the conversion of the drivetrain to match.

Mystery Picture 12 – the 12V DC-DC converter, charger blades, BMS, charge system and 12V system all ready to go into the eMini – which is sadly now back with its owner (we love that car).

And welcome to… Jake!

Jake is our new apprentice.  He comes to us all the way from a cattle station in Western Australia.  As Jake says, he has been searching the world for his perfect job, and now he has found it a Electro-GEnic!  Jake is studying at the Heritage Skills Academy at Bicester heritage and comes to us with some pretty mean welding skills (he made Mystery Picture 14), and boundless enthusiasm.  You can see examples here and here!

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