Battery Pack Disassembly

by Ben N on April 18, 2019

Once we finally made it back from North Carolina, we needed to unload the batteries. While we had a forklift to LOAD the batteries, we didn’t have one at my place and had to resort to an engine hoist, furniture dollies, and finally, steel pipes.

Getting 2,000 pounds of batteries off the trailer was no easy task. They don’t have any lifting eyes, nor are there even spacers under the boxes to make it easy to slide a strap under. We eventually got them off the trailer. The driveway was too rough for the furniture dollies, or even the wheels of the engine hoist. What ended up working the best was to place the battery boxes on steel pipes and then push and pull them with my electric lawn tractor.

The next day, I could start the process of opening up the boxes, seeing what’s inside, and removing the cells.
I opened the first box, the driver side battery, to figure out how it all worked. Then I filmed taking apart the passenger side battery box.

In each of the two boxes are two layers of 12 Valence lithium batteries, for a total of 48. Those batteries are rated at 12.8V, 138AH, 1766WH. Altogether, that’s a faceplate capacity of over 80kWh!

The Smith truck uses 48 of these Valence U27-12XP batteries.

I set to work disassembling the battery pack. First, I had to remove all the stainless steel bolts around the edge of the box. Once that was done, I slid a pry-bar inside to break the seal. I needed to disconnect a few wires in the end from the inside before I could remove the lid of the box.

With the lid removed, I could finally see the Battery Management System (BMS), contactors, and the other balance of system components.

Of course, I used my multimeter to check the various connections before touching or disconnecting any components. Once I made sure I was working safely, I unbolted any cables holding this top layer over the batteries. Then the top layer was removed.

Now at the battery layer, I could see all the BMS and inter-cell connections. I snipped the zip ties holding some of the cables to each other, unplugged the BMS cables, and set to work removing the cables between the batteries.

I really like the style of terminal used on these batteries. A plastic-headed bolt threads down into the battery. As it does, it completely covers the terminal and battery cable. Only a tiny hole in the middle is still conductive. Perfect as a test point for a volt-meter. This is a great safety feature as there are essentially no places to accidentally cause a short. (Of course, always follow best practices, no matter what when it comes to high voltage DC!)

Video of Disassembling the Battery Pack

With all the battery cables disconnected, I could simply lift out the batteries one at a time.

For the bottom layer of batteries, it was essentially the same – just disconnect all the cables, and lift the batteries out.

We now have 80kWh of lithium batteries to use for solar backups and off-grid power, DIY electric vehicles, and anything else!

Until next time, Stay charged-up!
-Ben Nelson


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Well, it’s been an adventure so far…
I was originally asked by my friend, Seth, to accompany him on a road trip to buy a commercial electric truck.

The Copart auction had already taken place. He just had to drive 900 miles to get the truck and drag it back home. In the highlight of the trip, we were able to get it to run and drive. After that, we transported it over to a local business where we could work on it.

The first thing we did was take a LOT of measurements – total height, width, wheel-base, etc. We also didn’t know the exact weight of the truck. (It appears that commercial trucks just list their GROSS weight, not the weight of the vehicle itself!)
Based on the size of the truck, the size of the trailer we had with, and the advice of the professional auto transporter whose place we were working at, we decided that we could NOT tow the truck home.

Of course, this was a major disappointment.

We threw around a lot of ideas, none of which were ideal. Every option we could come up with was less than perfect in one way or another. We also still had to get home soon. We were on a tight budget and schedule.

In the end, we decided the best course of action was simply to REMOVE the batteries. The truck could be stored at that location temporarily until we could return and transport it properly, or at a minimum, dismantle all the EV components.

Out comes one of the two 1,000 pound batteries.

The batteries themselves are inside two large black cases, one on either side, in the approximate location where a diesel fuel tank would otherwise be. Each one weighs about 1,000 pounds for a total of a literal TON of batteries.

To remove them, we had to undo the stainless steel straps that wrapped around the cases. We applied penetrating oil to the screws that tensioned the straps. On a few of them, we were able to loosen the screws pretty easily. Others were rusted in place and even the head was filled in with rust, so that we needed to use vice grips to get them to budge at all.

Once the straps were unhooked, we disconnected the electrical. On the side of each box is a mechanical manual disconnect. This opens the circuit inside the battery box, and makes sure all power at the cables is dead. Some of the wires were easy to remove. The BMS cable simply unscrewed. On the other hand, some of the high-voltage power cables just went right through the side of the box. There’s a weatherproof strain relief there, but NOT a quick disconnect. That meant we would have to simply cut the cables.
As terrible as that sounds, it’s just cable, and new parts are available in the welding supply aisle of my local farm and truck store.
*Snip* *Snip*

A view of the High Voltage cables at the master battery box.

Next, we had to physically remove the battery boxes.
One of the reasons we moved the truck to a local business to work on it was that they had a forklift there. (OK. Technically a tractor with a forklift attachment…)
Using the forklift, we could gently lift the box and then slide it OUT from the sides of the truck. We put the batteries on the trailer and strapped them down.

After that, there was nothing left to do except make the long return trip home. Our plans had certainly changed from the start to the end of the trip, but at least we didn’t leave empty-handed. We had 80 kWh of working lithium batteries.

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben

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June 2019 Electric Bill

by Ben N on July 8, 2019

I actually got my electric bill in the mail a few days ago, but wanted to save opening it on camera. Today, I broke out the camera and opened the electric bill. Here’s what I found…

In June, we produced 243 kWh of energy MORE than we used! This was pretty comparable to the same billing cycle last year, where we overproduced 234 kWhs.
(Note: Our billing cycle doesn’t actually line up with calendar months. It’s actually the 4th week of the month through to the 3rd week of the next month. I use the name of the month the billing cycle is 3/4ths in for simplicity’s sake.)

It’s been sunnier lately, but not too hot for the most part. We just recently started using air-conditioning, but that will show up on NEXT month’s bill!

Our credit this month for over production was $11.16. Add that to the existing credit of $19.37, and the power company now owes us a balance of $30.53.

The important thing to remember is NOT the power company owning us eleven bucks, it’s that we DIDN’T have to pay in the first place! I ran a custom report in my solar software and found that we produced over 752 kWh of energy during the dates covered on the electric bill. Multiplying that number by the current rate of electricity comes to $93.18. THAT’S the value of solar this month!

In a nut shell, we used a little less than $60 worth of electricity, but produced over $90, paid all the flat fees and still had $11 left over!

On top of that, the electricity is used to power the garage, the house, AND the electric car! So, not only did I not have an electric bill, but I didn’t have to pay for gasoline either!
Getting PAID to run my house and drive my car?! Sounds like a win to me!

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

PS: You can always see how much power my solar is making by using the link at: https://300mpg.org/bens-solar-garage/

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Future of Transportation in Wisconsin

by Ben N on April 27, 2019

Yesterday, I attended a conference about the future of transportation in Wisconsin. The Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership hosted the event at “The Garage” space at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee.

Unfortunately, the trip from my house, to the event and BACK, is just a little further than the available range per charge on my modest electric car. So, I threw my bicycle in the back, with the plan to charge my car down the street from Harley while I attended. After arriving at Potawatomi Casino to use one of their charging stations, I biked the rest of the way to Harley.

Pulling in to the event, I met the only other bicyclist there, who came in on his electric cargo bike. Seemed like a good start to the event!

Once the conference actually started, it was a series of panels. The main focus was on FUNDING state transportation. Wisconsin has NOT properly funded roads in a LONG time! One of the reasons why is that “Indexing” of the state gas tax was repealed in 2006. That means that the tax has NOT followed inflation in well over a decade. The other means of funding roads has been from vehicle registrations, which have also remained flat. (Likewise, the Federal gas tax hasn’t been raised in 25 years!)

Wisconsin has instead chosen to continuously BORROW money to pay for roads. (The politicians call it “Bonding”. But call it what it is – borrowing from the future to pay for something now.) The Department of Transportation has been so dependent on borrowing that 20% of the budget is simply to make payments on the bonds! The DOT is 5.7 BILLION dollars in debt.

DOT Deputy Secretary, Paul Hammer, gave an overview of the proposed Tony Evers budget. That would include reinstating inflation indexing of the gas tax, an 8 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax, and a 27% increase in heavy truck registration fees.

Bob Poole, a proponent of tolling, liked the increases in funding, but said that it didn’t go far enough. “We need to replace the per gallon fuel tax for the long term.”
Mr. Poole gave an excellent brief presentation on the merits of modern electronic tolling and how it COULD be used to completely fund certain sections of Wisconsin roads.

The overall feeling I got during the discussion of FUNDING transportation in our state is just how poorly we HAVE funded it in the past, and how heavily we have relied on DEBT! Jerry Petrowski, State Senator (R) from the Wausau area said “We pay $800 Million….. in debt payments. Imagine what we could do if we didn’t have to pay that!”
He also spoke about a proposal to use sales tax from auto parts and related items to help fund roads. The downside is that those funds would then no longer go to the General Fund, which pays for everything from schools to healthcare. Petrowski continued “What we have to do is simple,” referring to increasing revenue for the DOT. “Just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy.”

In an upbeat section of the program, two University of Wisconsin faculty presented about their research. Jie You spoke on Mobility as a Service – new ways to get around using emerging technologies and social changes. Think Uber on steroids.
Michael Schlicting spoke on smart cities and future transportation planning. While the Foxconn development has dramatically changed, Mr. Schlicting used it as an opportunity to research Smart City design.

Next was a surprise visit by former governor and namesake of the group organizing the event – Tommy Thompson himself. He spoke brief and passionately about transportation in our state. “I’ve never seen a Republican road or a Democrat street… If there’s one issue that needs bipartisan support, it’s transportation!”

Former Governor Tommy Thompson

WI DOT Secretary, Craig Thompson, gave the lunchtime keynote. It was great to hear about transportation in this state directly from the top. Secretary Thompson reiterated the challenges of budgeting and the need for changes in how we fund. He spoke of variables in the future that we simply can NOT accurately plan for, including Electric Vehicles and Autonomous Vehicles. He also warned against the folly of debt. “Debt service is clearly NOT a sustainable solution.”

After the presentation, I was able to get a few words in edgewise with the Secretary of Transportation. I specifically asked about funding for Electric Vehicle Charging Stations and was told “Yeah, it’s in the budget.”

After lunch, a panel spoke about FREIGHT in Wisconsin. Teresa Adams is a University of Wisconsin Madison Professor of Engineering and a former Director of the National Center for Friegth and Infrastructure Research and Education. Her presentation asked how we will need to design our infrastructure for Climate Change, including how we will need to raise bridges and deal with worsening freeze/thaw cycles. She also spoke about tractor trailer aerodynamics and how semis will save energy in the future by safely drafting. Trucks will do this using LIDAR, adaptive cruise control, and other technologies already available in many passenger cars.

I’m very glad I got to attend the conference.
The overall feeling is that we have some MAJOR challenges for transportation in the State of Wisconsin. Budgeting is the single largest one, but that can be dealt with by proper political willpower and perhaps tightening our belts a bit. I also enjoyed the NON-PARTISAN feel of the event. It felt like people were there to help find solutions, rather than to find others to blame.

Transit, freight, bicycling, ports, and more were also talked about at the event, although this would be a long article if I focused on all of those as well. (Although many of those DO tie in to jobs and the economy!)
One bit that caught my notice was a presentation about “The Last Mile”. This refers to getting to and from Transit. Even in places with excellent bus and train service, riders still need to get from them to the job. I felt a bit of this myself because I couldn’t charge my electric car at Harley. Instead, I biked from where I could charge it. In many places in Wisconsin, a worker may have a 90 minute commute by a combination of bus and other transportation just to get to their job.

Have you been following what’s going on in the Wisconsin State Budget? What would you like to see happen in regards to how Plug-In Vehicles are treated by the DOT? Let us know!

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

PS: I also got to see the LIVEWIRE electric motorcycle on display at the Harley-Davidson Museum. Of course, I rode a friend’s electric Harley to the release event for the LiveWire a few years back. See that HERE.

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Briggs & Stratton 6-Wheel Hybrid

by Ben N on April 25, 2019

I was doing some work at Briggs & Stratton – an engine producer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when I stumbled on an amazing car! It’s a vintage 6-wheel hybrid!

Briggs & Stratton has a great museum at their main building. It tells the history of the company and showcases its roots in automobiles all the way up to modern lawn and garden equipment. There’s a fantastic display of go-karts and even the “Flyer”, the least expensive car ever made!

The Briggs & Stratton Hybrid

In a back corner of the museum is the Briggs & Stratton Hybrid. The car caught my eye because of the bright yellow color scheme and the fact that it has 6 Wheels! What was even stranger was that I instantly recognized the car! I’ve read articles about it before. About ten years ago, I built my first electric motorcycle using a Briggs & Stratton Etek electric motor. So, I was also researching the company and electric motors at that time.

Vintage home video of the Briggs & Stratton Hybrid.

Briggs built this car in about 1980, the golden age of jean-shorts. The body was fiberglass, the transmission from a Ford Pinto, and windshield and dash from a Volkswagen Scirocco. The overall look was designed by Kip Stevens, son of Milwaukee industrial designer Brooks Stevens, and the man responsible for the Excalibur. (I highly recommend reading INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH DESIGN. Great book! https://amzn.to/2UXoJu0 https://amzn.to/2UXoJu0)
The Stevens design studio also gave us the Oscar-Mayer Weinermobile, The Miller Beer logo, and most of the appliances in your parent’s and grand-parent’s kitchen!

Dual rear axles of the Hybrid.

But back to the car…. Although the hood was down, I was able to find some information about the drive system. The Briggs engine was an 18HP twin. That model was new at the time, and the car was in many ways a publicity stunt to show off the new engine. The electric motor was an 8HP Baldor. The two were connected by a Borg-Warner “Duo-Cam” automatic clutch. This allowed both the engine and motor to be used alone or together.*

The car’s engine, motor, and four-speed transmission are under the hood with a driveshaft connecting to the FRONT of the two rear axles. Only the front axel is driven. The rear axle free-wheels and is built as part of the battery box. The idea being that the entire battery box can disconnect, and easily roll-away, be replaced, or batteries hot-swapped! I wasn’t able to find any more information about the rear-axle battery swap. As far as I know, a second box and axle for battery swapping was never built.

It was a blast to get to see this vehicle in person. I wish it was featured more prominently and was better lit! It would have been great to see under the hood as well. For more about this car, please take a look at some links to existing information about it on the web.

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

*How Stuff Works Article https://auto.howstuffworks.com/1980-briggs-and-stratton-hybrid-concept-car1.htm

Jalopnik article: https://jalopnik.com/the-company-that-made-your-lawnmower-engine-also-made-t-1789444149

Consumer Guide: https://blog.consumerguide.com/briggs-stratton-hybird/

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Electric Truck Charging Adapter

April 22, 2019

While it’s pretty cool to have a classic factory built electric truck, one thing I don’t like is it’s NON-standard charge port. So, I set out to build an adapter so that I could charge in public and more conveniently at home. The Ford Ranger EV uses an AVCON “claw” charge connection. When I first […]

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Electric Truck Road Trip

April 13, 2019

The other day, I got a call from my friend, Seth. He said he was considering driving from Wisconsin to North Carolina to buy an electric box truck. I asked when he was thinking of doing it. He replied “Later today….” So, that’s why I’m near Charlotte, North Carolina, RIGHT NOW. The crazy plan was […]

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LED Headlight Fail!

April 10, 2019

One of the upgrades I made after purchasing my Mitsubishi iMiEV electric car was to install LED headlights. Well, today, the second of the two LED headlamps failed! I had to take a look at my blog to remember when I actually DID install the headlights. Turns out it was just over three years ago. […]

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Manthini e-bike

April 6, 2019

This past Saturday, I got to meet up with a couple of local guys who have been working on a neat e-bike design. We met up at the VeloCity bike shop in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Cal, John, Avi, and two other friends, neighbors, and co-workers have designed a 2-wheel drive electric bike. It’s their prototype bike, […]

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February Electric Bill

March 8, 2019

I just got my February Electric Bill!But how much will I save with my solar? February not only has short days, but it’s been terribly cloudy all month as well! At least the days are slowly starting to get longer! I got my electric bill and opened it up. Drumroll please….. $72.71! Yipes!I’m charged for […]

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