The DIY J1772 Charging Adapter

by Ben N on March 31, 2015

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Not long after I purchased the Vectrix, I started wondering “If it’s an international vehicle, what would it take to charge on 240V (instead of 120V) and from a public J1772 Level 2 EV charging station?”.

Everything I had heard lead me to believe that the charger on the bike is much like a modern computer power supply – it will run off AC power from a range of somewhere between 100-250V or so. I already have a 240V electric outlet in my garage, used for a welder. It’s a 30-amp twist lock connector. I looked around, and sure enough, I actually already had all the parts I needed to build an adapter that would physically connect the 30 amp twist lock to a typical 120V electric outlet.

So, I sat down in my living room one night last week and built the adapter. Afterwards, I went out to the garage, plugged everything in, crossed my fingers, and flipped the circuit breaker on. A moment later, the Vectrix booted up into charge mode, exactly as it normally would. It worked! I just charged the cycle on 240!

For some of you hard-core DIY electric car folks out there, you’ve been running on 240V for years, but I’ve never had a 240V charger before. So, it’s still pretty exciting.

The other part of this is that there is a shocking LACK of 120V charging available. Some of the few public chargers that appeared in my area originally had both 120VAC power AND a 240V J1772 connection, but the more recent ones ONLY have J1772. That doesn’t help out a person with a Hymotion Prius with a standard plug on it OR most electric motorcyclers.

But getting my bike to charge from a plain 240V outlet is one thing, and charging from a “smart” Level 2 EVSE is another! Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment actually communicates with the vehicle and only activates power after a handshake and confirmation that everything is connected. It goes something like this..

“Hi, how ya doing. I’m an EVSE.”
“Uh, good. I’m an electric car. Can I get some juice?”
“Sure thing, let me turn that on for you….”

Ok, perhaps I’m anthropomorphizing a bit, but the point is that it’s not JUST as simple as plugging in a cable. On the other hand, it’s not rocket science either. I browsed through a few forums and asked a few friends for advice. After an evening of research, I had a pretty good sense of what I needed to do.

For me, pictures always help, and one of the best ones I found was over on the EVTV blog. http://evtv.me/2011/01/j1772-2009-charging-for-your-ev/  I also found another good article and diagram at: http://www.aprs.org/charging-DIY.html

In a nut shell, the magic of the J1772 connection is just a diode, two resistors, and a switch. Pin 4 of the connection carries a signal from the EVSE. It goes through the diode, through a 2.7K ohm resistor, and then to ground. A second resistor, of 1.3K ohms is connected in parallel with the first when a switch is connected. When that happens, the total resistance is 877 ohms. Pin 4 on the EVSE responds to 2.7K ohms as “Hey hello there” and 877 ohms as “Okay, sure, let me turn the power on for you.”

IMG_2668I set to work by first removing the power inlet power from my salvaged Mitsubishi iMIEV. Yes, that’s still sitting in my garage. Needs parts? I’ll give you a good deal, but you can’t buy the power inlet because I just built an adapter from it.

IMG_2737I had already hit the hardware store and purchased a 4″x4″x4″ marine grade electrical junction box. I drilled a hole in it’s lid with a hole saw that matched the J1772 connector.

I also purchased a regular old 120V electric outlet, except that this one happened to be rated for 20 amps and was only a single outlet instead of two. I didn’t need a second plug, and it saves space inside the box. I drilled a hole in the side of the box to fit that single outlet.

I cut the very end off the wire harness of the Mitsubishi power inlet. I stripped the end of the two hot wires, and then connected them to the two main connections of the electric outlet. I did NOT connect the third pin to the ground on the electric outlet. It would act as the electronics/communications ground as well, so I added a short pig-tail to the electric outlet ground, knowing that there would be several other wires going to it as well.

IMG_2770Next, I had to tackle the electronics – if you can call a diode and two resistors electronics. Of course, I didn’t actually have two resistors of those exact values, so I had to put several together to come up with those total values. That meant I had 5 resistors instead of 2. Oh well. Since I was going to have several connections, I first tested it all out on a bread-board. Only after I had it all worked out did I transfer the components to a small project PCB board and solder them. On one side of the board was a 1N4003 diode, going to 2.7K ohms of resistors. On the other side was 1.3K ohms of resistors, the a switch, and then the parallel connection to the end of the other half of the circuit.

I soldered Pin 4 from the J1772 connection to the front of my circuit board, going to the diode. On the back end of the circuit, I soldered on a ground wire, then wire nutted that to the Pin 3 on the J1772 and the ground wire on the electric outlet.

I drilled a small hole in the side of the box, pushed the toggle switch through, and mounted it in place by tightening the nut.

I mounted the circuit board inside the box, against the side, with hot glue. The J1772 connector was hot-glued to the inside of the lid, and the electric outlet to the side of the box.

IMG_2778With the components all mounted in place, the next trick was to fit all the wiring inside. The J1772 connector still had several feet of wire on it. Part of the reason why is that there was already some properly done splicing of a ground cable part way down. Also, who knows, maybe I will need some longer wire for a different version of this adapter. The point is I still had several feet of wire to wind around and squeeze into this four-inch-square box.

Once I wrangled it in there, I attached the lid with the four screws that went with it. The last step was to add labels, so I would remember which direction was ON and OFF for the switch, and a warning that the 120V electric outlet would actually have 240V going to it.

I hopped on the Vectrix and zipped over to a friend’s house, several miles away, who has a home electric car charger right on the side of her house. I opened my truck, plugged the Vectrix cord into the adapter, and then plugged the EVSE cable into the box. On the EVSE, a light turned on, indicating that it registered that it was plugged in, but not yet providing power.

I flipped the switch on the box. KA-THUNK!

Yipes! I thought for sure something was wrong, that the EVSE faulted out. Nope. It took me a moment to realize that it was just the contractor inside the EVSE turning on. It sure sounded loud though, and I guess I just wasn’t expecting the noise. In all that time that I’ve been working on electric cars, I realized that I have never even ONCE plugged in a car to a commercial 240V EVSE.

Of course, a moment later, the Vectrix booted right up into charge mode and began charging as usual.

IMG_2796I played around with the position of the adapter box in the trunk of the Vectrix. I was able to arrange it so that I could have the adapter in the trunk with the EVSE plugged into it AND fit my helmet in there, AND close and lock the trunk. The cord goes out through a notch in the edge of the trunk designed for such a purpose. The EVSE cable is thicker than the regular charging cord, so it’s tight, but it does fit!

I let the bike charge for a few minutes, and then flipped the switch on the adapter box back to off. The bike stopped charging, and its fans spun down.

So, the adapter box worked! The best part is that it worked the first time! No building/fixing/tinkering/makingversion2 and THEN having it worked.

Sometimes things just work the way they are supposed to.

Stay charged up, I know I will.
-Ben

 

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Removing the Nissan LEAF cells

by Ben N on March 18, 2015

Whew, what a day!

After doing what I needed to for the day for work, I set to taking the cover off the Nissan LEAF battery pack to start to strip out the cell modules.

The cover came off pretty easy, just a whole pile of 10mm bolts around the perimeter, 4 13mm bolts on the corner, and then 6 “tamper-resistant” screws, which were no match for my “Tools of Warranty Breaking”.

Once the cover was off, it was time for actual safety, as the voltage inside the pack is easily high enough to kill a person. I donned my black rubber gloves and safety glasses and did not taunt even a single orange cable. The interior of the pack is laid out simple enough, with three main areas of 12, 12, and 24 cell modules.

I carefully disconnected a few bus bars, unplugged some low-voltage sensor wires, and then set to work removing the nuts that held each of the three sections of modules in place. Once I had the first one unbolted, I used my chain hoist to pull the battery section straight up out of the case. I then had to carefully swing it over and lower it down NOT back in to the case.

I repeated this with the second section, this time first locating a non-conductive lifting-strap.  God bless that lifting strap, these batteries are heavy!

The third block of the pack is 24 modules, which is actually HALF the pack. I unbolted everything, lifted it straight up, and then pulled the entire battery case out from under it, then set it back down.

It was a pretty exciting couple hours of work, and I even managed to neither electrocute myself, nor drop 600 lbs of batteries on my foot. I think my wife has happy about that.

I also measured the voltage on the three sections and added them up for 394V, or 8.2V per module, 4.1V per cell, which is fully charged. The poor guy who crashed the car this battery came out of must have just left his driveway on a fresh charge when it happened!

That’s it for now. Of course it was more work that just what I said in this brief update, but I was also shooting video, so watch that for all the details.

Stay charged up!
-Ben

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Today, I got my hands on a Nissan Leaf battery pack. As usual, it started as a simple road trip, and ended as an adventure.

I headed out, first to the Credit Union to get some money. When I had spoken to the salvage yard, it sounded like cash would be the best way to pay, even though the cost of the battery pack was in the neighborhood of about two-and-a-half mortgage payments (including interest, insurance, property tax, etc.) While I’m not made of money, I had enough to withdraw from my account. I then started driving towards Milwaukee and then to the south. Taking a left at the Mars Cheese Castle, I was now going towards Kenosha, Wisconsin to Jantz’s salvage yard.

Jantz_sign_IMG_2558When I got there, the place was hopping. Pickup trucks were headed in and out. Large signs on pole barns and fences declared “No Tresspassing”. Inside, there were lines for all four countermen. I finally made it to “Joe”, the guy I had spoken to on the phone. He said the battery was all ready for me, and then we started counting out crisp, blue-green hundred dollar bills on the counter. Once done, I had my “Paid in Full” receipt and was told to pull my truck up to the shipping building.

Perhaps I should have examined the battery in person BEFORE shelling out that much cash….

At the shipping building, I parked, got out and headed inside with my receipt. The pole barn had a concrete floor with assorted engines and transmissions on pallets, along with a floor-to-16-foot-ceiling of pallet racking with more of the same. What it DIDN’T have was a Nissan LEAF battery pack. It was a big place though, and I assumed the battery was probably around a corner or somewhere else that I didn’t immediately see it. I handed my receipt to a grease-monkey and told him I was the guy buying the LEAF battery. He eyed the slip and said he’d grab it for me right away. Immediately, he hopped onto a forklift and zipped straight to a small battery pack on a mini-pallet.

NOT a LEAF pack NOT a LEAF pack

“Woah, Woah, there buddy!” I hollered. “THAT is NOT a Nissan battery pack.” I had to point out the small tag on it that clearly stated HONDA CIVIC HYBRID. That and the fact that the LEAF battery itself is the size of a small car. I also had with me a print-out of the information for the part, including its tag number and photograph of the car. He made a phone call back up to the front office, and then sent me there as well.

Talking once again to Joe The Salesman at the front desk, he reassured me that there was no wool to be pulled over anyone’s eyes, and it must have been a some sort of simple mistake. He tried calling a yard boss, Gus, while I stood to the side, twiddling my thumbs.

Ten minutes later, a different yard worker finally made it to the front.
Joe: “We’re trying to find this LEAF battery. Any idea where it is?”
Other guy (I think his name was Jason. Why don’t these guys have name tags?) “Um. Not sure. Maybe. With those other batteries I guess.”
Joe: “Well, go back and find it. Take this guy with you,” referring to me, “He knows what it looks like.”

With few grunts exchanged, I followed Mister Mullet through the chain link fence, past the “No Tresspassing” signs, and into 40 acres of Jurassic Salvage Park.

Huge racks held row after row of rims, while giant off-road forklifts impaled SUVs and threw them about like toys.

We explored several dimly-lit sheet metal buildings crammed with engines and transmissions. It was as though I stumbled into the last scene of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. As the camera pulls back, it is revealed that the ark will be forever lost in the near infinite space of identical crates in a giant warehouse. How would we ever find one particular part without a barcode and GPS?

Finally, in the furthest corner of the darkest building, behind an engine and next to a transmission, was a large silver box. On it, in tiny letters, was a sticker that simply stated NISSAN.

“There it is!” I declared. I wasn’t sure if all the foot-prints on the battery were from a cat or a raccoon. Fortunately, I only cared what the INSIDE of the battery pack was like. The grease-monkey puzzled over how to get this 600-pound block out from the cramped and remote corner. Finally, he told me to go back to the office while they figured out how to get a forklift to it.

I headed back to the office, and then again with my truck to the shipping area. Twenty minutes later, I spied a forklift coming my way with the battery on it.

IMG_2546Piloting the forklift was Gus. “You guys aren’t going to believe how heavy this thing is! Not sure how we are going to load it,” he hollered to the rest of the crew. They managed to swap off the battery with a smaller, more nimble electric forklift, and from there, put it onto a standard-sized pallet. One of the other guys prepped the battery for shipping – dusting off ambiguous animal prints, marking it, and banding it to the pallet.

“Well here’s your problem,” looking at the tag on the battery, “It’s off by a digit. That should be a 1 instead of a 2.” Go figure. Who knew that the part would be mis-marked by one, and that the next part ONLY ONE DIGIT OFF on a string of 18 characters, would ALSO be a battery, although a smaller one of a different brand? These guys sold LOTS of hybrid batteries, but I don’t think any of them had ever sold an ELECTRIC CAR battery before. They all stood around commenting on its size and weight. When I talked to the salesman before leaving, he mentioned how many calls he had been getting lately about the battery, even saying the one guy from Atlanta wanted to buy it and have it shipped down. “We have an absolutely no-shipping policy,” he stated flatly.

As the forklift lowered the LEAF battery, my truck groaned and sunk a few inches towards the ground. It still had plenty of suspension (thank you, airbags in the coil-springs!)  I closed up the tailgate and was ready for my hour and twenty minute ride home.

Back in my driveway, with the sun setting, I had only one thought on my mind…

How do I get this back OUT of my truck!?

Stay charged up!
-Ben

 

UPDATE: Here’s how I got it out of the back of the truck.

 

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Riding the Vectrix Home – Almost

by Ben N on March 8, 2015

IMG_2436Since I’ve been working on the Vectrix over at my Dad’s shop, at some point I actually need to transport it home. While I COULD do that with the back of a pickup truck, where’s the fun in that!?

I’d much rather just ride the cycle home. It’s only an 8 or 9 mile trip, and my test ride last week showed that my fuel gauge only dropped by about a quarter with a 4.6 mile ride. So, I SHOULD be able to make it home with only about half a charge…  right?

If only it were that simple. Frankly, I have NO idea the actual condition of the battery pack. “It’s Dead, Jim!” - While I managed to resurrect this pack, I didn’t replace any cells or do any other work on it. I originally thought that perhaps I would try riding the cycle home, and have somebody follow me in a car, just in case I had a problem.

However, it was such a nice day, and hey, I have a cell-phone! So, I got dropped off over at my cycle and just took it from there.

trunk_IMG_2384To start with, I have to say that I really like the TRUNK on the bike. There’s plenty of room for the power cord, an extension cord and Killawatt, a hardcover book, some cleaner and wax, and whatever else you want to throw in there. I had a full charge with an estimated 44 mile range.

I took off, using the backroads instead of the freeway (knowing how speed kills range) and was on roads of 25-35 miles per hour. There’s a point on the trip where the side-road runs into the last bit of freeway, which then turns into the main road in to town. It looks like a state freeway there, but the speed limit is only 45. It’s easier just to merge onto that road than to go around to the other frontage road, so I did.

What I noticed was that I didn’t have the acceleration that I thought I would and my speed topped out at about 45. (I had gone 55 on a side road in my original test ride!) That’s when the red battery light on the dashboard turned on. Yipes. My estimated range dropped to 3.

Three Miles total estimated range! That’s it! I had only gone just under 6 miles and had about 3 miles still to go. The speed limit dropped to 25 right after that and was slightly downhill, so I just kept going until I could pull off the road into a parking lot, in this case, Taco Bell.

My battery gauge was still at about half, but my estimated range was down at 3 and the red battery light was on. I turned the cycle off, then on, to see if the battery indicator would go away, which it did. However, my range also dropped again – to ZERO – and my battery gauge was now at NOTHING.

I was thinking that it was probably NOT a good idea to try to drive the rest of the way. Fortunately, possibly the ONLY public EV charging anywhere between where I started and my home just happened to be at the local organic foods store, which was RIGHT NEXT DOOR to the Taco Bell. I scooted over and plugged in to the outdoor electric outlet, using my Killawatt, so I could track how much energy I was using. Pack voltage was at 129V.

charging_IMG_2389Inside, I told the owner what I was doing, and bought a cup of free-range organic beef chili and a muffin for lunch. Too bad Taco Bell doesn’t have EV charging, or they could have been earning my business. (No, that’s not true. Food at the green grocery was better anyways.) I ate my lunch, and caught up on my social media while sitting at a sunny table on the south end of the store. My wife was out running errands, and she stopped in. We left together for a while to give the cycle some more time to charge. (Fresh and Green is a neat little store, which you should patronize.)

Total charge time on the cycle came to an hour and 48 minutes, and used 1.22 KWH. With that much energy, at that much time, it means the Vectrix was averaging a charge of about 700 watts, which doesn’t sound right, because the charger usually runs at about 1500 watts. So, the charger was only running half the time – the other half of the time, the cooling fan must have been running, keeping the cells within appropriate charging temperature. This sounds about right for bad cells that would overheat when they discharge and charge. It also means that I only got HALF the charge I could have in that time. (I offered to pay for the electricity used, but was turned down. Instead, I put a handful of change into the donation jar on the counter.)

On the other hand, I still DID put 1.22 KWH into the bike. My experience has been that in city riding, an EV motorcycle can get 10 miles per Kilowatt hour. Sure enough, when I turned the cycle on, I got an estimated 11 mile range. But if a 44 mile estimate only got me 6, then an 11 mile range might only get me a mile and a half! And I was still a little over two miles to home…

Still, I wasn’t going on any section of freeway, although the last bit of road to my house is a 45mph zone. I headed home, taking it slow, and when I got to the 45 zone, there really wasn’t any traffic, so I kept it to 35. I got home with no problems, if you don’t count the jerk in the sports car, who thought coming out of nowhere and then passing on the right is good manners…

IMG_2435It was still sunny and warm when I got home. (The 40′s this time of year is warm.) So I got out my spray bottle and towel to clean off the cycle. I was able to remove the windshield by pulling out the four bolts that hold it on. I have NO idea how a person would get the windshield really clean without taking it off first! The cycle was still dirty from the original ride in the back of my truck from the Twin Cities, Minnesota down to southeastern Wisconsin. Add to that the layer of sawdust from being stored and worked on in my Dad’s shop for the winter, and the cycle wasn’t exactly clean.

After a quick spritz, I also used a little rub-on/rub-off wax, and was amazed how nice the cycle looked. Sure, the batteries are only good for 6 miles, but it’s a nice-looking bike!

I have a lead on a crashed Nissan Leaf in a junk yard and MIGHT be able to purchase the battery pack from it. If so, this cycle with Leaf cells in it would be “the bomb”.

In the mean time, I’ll wait for the weather to keep getting a little nicer, and tool around on the cycle on the side roads. I’ll also have to plug the cycle back in to the computer and see if the software can give me any leads on how I can otherwise improve the battery pack.

Til next time, stay charged up!

-Ben

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Vectrix: Maiden Voyage

by Ben N on March 2, 2015

Today was the maiden voyage on the Vectrix electric motorcycle. (Click the video above to see!)

I put on my long underwear, grabbed my best thick gloves, and headed over to where I’ve been working on the cycle. I powered it up and took it down to the road to get ready for the first ride.

IMG_2323The cycle booted right up, and I noted that the battery meter was all the way to the top (the first time I have ever seen that) and I was given a 45 mile estimated range. The odometer was at 1006 miles.

I twisted the throttle and Vectrix took off – VVVVRRRRRRRRRRRR! The combination of electric motor and planetary gearing gives a unique sound. To me, it certainly sounded loud, but I’ve never ridden another Vectrix to have anything to compare it to!

The Vectrix feels great. The seat is big and comfy, with the passenger section of the seat snugging right up to the small of my back. The heavy battery gives a low center of gravity and it always felt nicely balanced. It feels like a large vehicle when compared to my Kawasaki KZ440 EV.

IMG_2325The regenerative braking works great. It’s a manually controlled, by rolling the throttle in the reverse direction, and variable – the further you twist the throttle, the more the braking effect. (It also throws on the brake light.) If the Vectrix is at a stop, you can use the same backwards twist to activate reverse – a handy feature for quick Y-turns or parking.

I topped off the tire air pressure at the cabinet shop down the street. The business is run by a friend of mine, and my dad owns the building. Both of them were there, so I got to show off the cycle a bit.

I was testing the cycle on a side street, which dead-ends. There is almost no traffic there, but in the cold of winter, many side-streets buckle, making some nasty bumpy bits, not fun for cycles. Still, I zipped up and down the road a few times, including one time driving as fast as I was comfortable on those road conditions. Lets just say the Vectrix definitely has a higher top speed than the Kawasaki!

I also found out that if you leave the turn signal on, after a minute, the cycle starts beeping at you… with the horn. For a moment, I feared that it was some sort of low battery warning, but then I realized the turn signal was on and when I stopped it the horn beep stopped as well.

IMG_2333My total test drive was 4.6 miles, and the estimated range remaining was 36 miles. So, I started with an estimated 45 miles, drove 4.6, and had 36 miles left! If those numbers hold true, then I have about half the estimated actual range. While 23 miles doesn’t sound like a big number, that might work fine for me. When I run around in the summer, doing errands, banking, a trip to the hardware store, etc, it’s commonly about a 10 mile round trip. And there’s really no way to know what the actual pack capacity is until really using it.

Keeping in mind that the entire pack was at 1.9 volts when I got it – so low it wouldn’t even turn on the LED trunk light, and that that’s what got me such a good deal buying the cycle, even 20 miles of range in the battery pack is pretty darn good. I’ll likely just use the cycle and have some fun with it whatever its limited range happens to be. In the future, nothing is stopping me from upgrading the batteries to Thunderskys or Leaf cells.

Til next time, stay charged up!
-Ben

 

 

 

end: 36, 1010.6,   3 bars missing on battery meter

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