Thursday, March 29, 2012

Now That's Green!

  Our AntiPrius project is in the home stretch. Some background for those of you who just got here: The first NMC Hybrid Electric Vehicle class transplanted the components from a wrecked 2004 Toyota Prius into a tube frame dune buggy (aka sand rail) in an effort to build a vehicle suited for training purposes. Visible and physical access to all of the hybrid components is a key factor of the design. We have been tweaking the design of the vehicle for over a year, so it was finally time to disassemble it and send out the frame and some of the pieces for powder coating. Our current HEV class had the car down too the bare frame in less that 3 hours. I was quite impressed not only with their organizational skills but also with the way that they worked together as a group. Until today, our "trainer vehicle" has been in raw metal form. Constant wiping with light oil has held back the rust so far, but we needed a permanent solution. The powder coat provides a rock hard, easy to clean finish. And it doesn't look too bad, either! The original plan was to use a powder coat that mimics chrome plating (at least that was the claim). After seeing samples of the finish in person, it was obvious that nothing looks like real chrome unless it really is chrome! So the choice was made to go with a green finish. Not only is green part of the NMC logo, it represents the green thinking that embodies what the hybrid electric vehicle movement is all about - fewer emissions and using less fuel. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012


  This week our class began the portion of the course that focuses on battery technology. The students have removed the batteries from our Ford Escape, Honda Civic and Mercury Milan hybrid electric vehicles. They also removed the battery package from our AntiPrius trainer vehicle, which is the same as any 2004 to 2009 Toyota Prius. The AntiPrius battery package has  been disassembled right down to the individual battery modules. A total of 28 modules make up the package. At 7.2 volts each, that adds up to just over 200 volts. The modules are connected to each other in series by bus bars (flat strips of metal with holes in them). We were not surprised to see corrosion on the bus bars, as our studies have found that this problem is not uncommon after 100,000 miles. The point of this exercise is to train our students in the art of rebuilding hybrid electric vehicle batteries. I am often asked the question of what happens to all of the large hybrid and electric vehicle batteries when they have reached the end of there service life. Do they end up in the landfill? Can they be recycled? Will they bring about the end of our planet? Rest easy. There is now an entirely new industry springing up around the millions of HEV and EV vehicles on the road. HEV battery failures rarely render the entire battery useless. The usual scenario is that one or two of the many individual modules that make up the battery can no longer retain and give up energy at the same rate as the rest, resulting in loss of power, a drop in fuel economy, warning lights, and other problems. Businesses such as Re-InVolt will test all of the modules in a battery by running the modules through multiple discharge/recharge cycles to determine their health and capacity. Poor performing modules are recycled and the battery package is reassembled with only the properly performing modules. The finished product is available for a fraction of the cost of a new battery and come with a warranty. The result is that used batteries from crashed hybrid vehicles are in high demand. It would be foolish to dispose of even the worst hybrid battery; there are simply too many valuable parts inside of them! To add to the demand, many ecologically minded persons have found that they can use the individual battery modules in small groups to power electric bicycles and scooters. Others have figured out that with a small package of these modules they can power their campsite all weekend. And some folks have built portable 110 volt A/C emergency power supplies with them. 
   I feel extremely fortunate to have the support of the forward minded department heads at Northwestern Michigan College who saw the demand for training in this new technology. Thanks to them, the students who finish our class will have a valuable skill set to offer their future employers. Over the next few weeks, students will test and treat the batteries from our small fleet of HEV's. There are over 2.5 million Toyota Prius HEV's on the road today. Add to that the rest of the automaker's offerings and it's obvious that the demand for qualified technicians with the skills to maintain and repair these vehicles will surpass the available workforce. 

Bus bars connecting the modules

Corroded bus bars

Battery bottom showing temperature sensors

Individual battery modules

Ford escape battery

Charging an individual Prius battery module