EV Salvage – AC Motor and Controller from Van

by Ben N on November 21, 2017

About a week or so ago, I got an e-mail from my friend, Tom. He had a “hot lead” on some electric vehicle salvage.  And it turned out that I was already familiar with the project. In fact, I had already shot a YouTube video about it!

Tom has been involved in salvage for some time now, so he knows plenty of people in the industry. He was tipped off by a friend that there was an electric van going to the scrap-yard. The guy who ran the tow truck that was going to transport the the van ALSO knew Tom. Because of these existing contacts, we were able to temporarily divert the van from the salvage yard, get it parked in a garage, and claim some salvage rights to it. (You might remember Tom from when we did a video series on him converting a Dodge Neon to electric.)

So, yesterday, I packed up my tools and video camera and met Tom at an undisclosed secure location to work on the van. It turns out that it was the Marquette University e-Limo. The Milwaukee, WI based university has a number of vans used on campus for transporting students. This one had been converted by the engineering students to a Battery Electric Vehicle. A few years back, the van actually stopped at my house to recharge on the way out to an event in Madison, Wisconsin. While it was in my driveway, I shot a video on it.

Unfortunately, the van was no longer it it’s former glory. It was ready to get scrapped out. (Really a shame in quite a few ways. The body and frame were in great shape, for example.) When Tom and I got to it, the lithium batteries were gone. Besides that, other components from the EV system were removed, including the battery charger, the DC/DC converter, and the instrumentation. The main components which WERE still there were the AC-55 electric motor and the Azure Dynamics DMOC 445 motor controller, and that’s what we were there to get.

IMG_7354We set to work by removing the hood, to make some space to work. Inside the van, near the front, the motor and controller were accessible in the area where the transmission would traditionally be in a typical van. To begin with, we started snipping zip ties, and unplugging any wiring that was easily accessible. There was a junction box of a rat’s-nest of wires. We unscrewed all the terminals and pulled the miscellaneous wires out. Under the hood, I disconnected and removed the potentiometer which was cabled to the accelerator.

The motor and controller were mounted to a steel angle-iron frame bolted and welded to the frame of the van. There was also an air-conditioning unit above and to the front of the motor. It appeared to have been an RV air-conditioner repurposed as a heat-pump. The original van air filter lead to some PVC pipe connections, and through a radiator. It LOOKED like something engineering students would do – something clever, yet put together with plumbing parts from the hardware store.

In fact, Tom and I had quite a few good laughs comparing the van to our home-brew electric vehicles, my Geo Metro and Tom’s Dodge Neon. Some aspects of the Van were extremely well done, and others were just like I did in my driveway, never having worked on an electric car before!

IMG_7358We planned to drop the electric motor out the bottom of the van. Unfortunately, steel supports cradled the motor from below. I did appreciate that with a van, I could simply slide right under it to work from below – something I could never do on the Metro without jacks and stands! We took a look at pulling the motor out through the top, but even if we had an engine hoist, that would have been challenging, getting the motor past the steering wheel and driver seat. (I did later pull out the driver’s seat. The building owner wanted it. It was part of a “thank you” to the him for using his space.)

Instead, we broke out the Sawzall and set to work cutting away the steel supports from below. We slid the two-t0n jack under the van, to the motor, and jacked it up to support motor. Next, we pulled out the bolts holding the motor to the angle-iron frame. At that point, the motor was free, other than it still being connected to the driveshaft. We were hoping to get enough wiggle room to pull it off the shaft once it was unbolted, but no luck.

Next, we started to cut one of the two steel angle irons under the motor. We SHOULD only have to cut the one to have enough room to pull the motor out.

At this point, I would like to go ON RECORD that I asked Tom if we wanted to reposition the jack to better center it and/or to prevent the motor from rotating when we pulled the support. Tom though it wouldn’t be an issue. If there was an unexpected amount of weight on the support, it should start to bend while we were doing the second cut.

Well something didn’t go right. After we completed both cuts, something shifted, and the full weight of the motor came Ka-LUNK down to the floor, narrowly missing Tom’s head! YIPES! Safety first everybody!

The motor was still snarled up with the van because the short “stub-shaft” connected to it still needed to clear some of the frame under the van. We had to give some good wiggling and rotation of the motor to free it up. The motor was also still connected to the controller by about a ten foot long tether. That was the phase cables going from the controller to the motor, inside a heavy braid, and very securely connected on both ends. It looked like it would be best to just leave both joined. The only down-side of that is we had to then also remove the controller through the bottom of the car, and needed to make one more cut with the Sawzall.

IMG_7360With the motor and controller now completely out of the van, we were able to remove the stub-shaft from the end of the motor. We also decided that we wanted to make sure to have any of the mechanical parts connecting the motor to the driveline. Mostly, that meant the drive-shaft. I climbed under the van and tried removing the bolts that held the driveshaft to the differential. No luck – they were seized in place with rust. I torqued a wrench hard enough that I could see it flexing, getting ready to snap. Tom’s friend who owned the shop we were working in had an oxy-acetylene torch handy, so Tom used that to heat the bolts. After that, we were able to get them free, and we pulled out the driveshaft.

The important piece we would need was really just on the front end of the driveshaft. It was the splined connection that connected the stub-shaft to the u-joint. We put the driveshaft up on the workbench, pulled the c-clips from the u-joint, and pounded out the pin. We then had the splined connection which would be required to connect this electric motor up to any other standard drive-shaft.

Another component of the system was the “Gear Selector”. On the dashboard was a control – primarily a rotary knob, which commanded the inverter to Forward, Neutral, Reverse, and a few other features. This was an extremely frustrating item to remove! I have no idea how the engineering students ever mounted this component to the dashboard. All the bolts were inside it. I had to bend back part of the dash-board, be double-jointed, and I STILL had to cut a piece of metal with the Sawzall!

IMG_7362When we were all done, we had the Azure Dynamics DMOC 445 AC controller, the AC-55 electric motor, the driveshaft components to connect the motor, the “gear selector panel”, and a pot box. Pretty much the entire driveline from an electric car.

A few years back, hobbyists would be fighting over some equipment like this. Today, anyone can just BUY a nice used electric car at a more than fair price, complete with a good warranty! This equipment would still be great for a truck, a sleeper VW Beetle, or possibly a total overkill trike. Tom and I both already have too many projects. I still have dreams of building a hybrid pickup truck, although this motor doesn’t have a “pass-through” driven shaft, which is how I originally would have planned a hybrid truck. (It would certainly work with a 4-wheel drive transfer case!)
For the moment, this is all going on a pallet until we figure out what we want to do with it. (If you are interested in purchasing this equipment, shoot me an offer! We are in the greater Milwaukee, WI area.)

Not a bad day. I got to revisit a project I was familiar with, see a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, and NOT smash his head with a giant electric motor! It’s always fun to learn how these types of components work, and I hope you’ve learned something along the way too.

Until next time, stay charged up!

-Ben Nelson

EDIT: Our friend Jay found a link to an archived version of the University’s original blog about this electric van project. See it at: https://web.archive.org/web/20161008045538/http://www.muelimo.com/ 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jay Donnaway November 27, 2017 at 2:43 pm

Way to go Ben! I found the elimo website archived at https://web.archive.org/web/20161008045538/http://www.muelimo.com/
I grimaced at the last blog entry explaining that they were having 12V system problems- with the original starting battery! Some problems clear up in retrospect….

2 Ben N November 27, 2017 at 3:13 pm

Hi Jay! Thanks for finding that web archive!
I still have dreams of building a plug-in hybrid pickup truck, and a nice AC system like we pulled from the van would certainly suite the bill, although the economics of it may not make sense for what a person can buy a used EV for. Still can’t buy a decent plug-in pickup yet though!

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