The DIY, Open-Source, Plug-In Hybrid SuperTruck!

by Ben N on May 29, 2012

 Well, it’s time to throw my hat over the fence.

 What? You’ve never heard that term before? Ok, let me explain. Let’s say that you really  want to get yourself over the top of a fence. But it’s tall, and the top is pretty pointy. Maybe you’ll do it tomorrow.. So here’s what you do. You throw your hat over the fence. Now you HAVE to get over the fence. If you don’t you’ve just lost your hat!  Not that too many people are climbing over fences recently, or even wearing cool hats for that matter, but here’s why I bring it up.

  A couple summers ago, I built an electric car. In the end, it was a fantastic project. I was amazed at how much I learned, how many neat new people I met, and how proud I was to have my own personal transportation that didn’t use one lick of gasoline. If there was any single “secret” that I could give to anyone else on building your own electric car, it’s this: Tell everyone you are building an electric car. I mean it, everyone. Your friends, your boss, the postman, everyone. Why? Because there is magic in it. Ok, well magic might be a stretch – maybe it’s more meta-physical. Did you watch THE SECRET? Yeah, I know, it was a bit “airy-fairy” for me too. But there were a few things in that film that were pretty self-evident to everyone, things that you simply knew to be true. And one of those things is that saying you are going to do something MAKES it happen! At a bare minimum, you friends will start pestering you – “Hey, how’s that car project going?” and at best, the Universe will reward you for your intent, and start helping you on your way.

 When I told all my friends I was building an electric car, people came out of the woodwork to help me. A friend who works in construction said that they were scrapping out their welding cable, and asked if I wanted it. “Sure!”. He showed up a few hours later and dropped off 150’ of 2/0 welding cable in my driveway. Wow – several hundred dollars of battery cable for free! (Thanks Mike!)

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of the other magic was things like “Do you know Hotrod Jim? He might be able to give you a hand!” Indeed he did. When I visited Jim, he  was doing custom work on a mint ’57 Chevy that looked like it had been hand-dipped in chrome. I explained my project. Jim said he’s never worked on an electric car before. Suddenly, helping me out was at the top of HIS project list.

But why have I been wasting your time with several paragraphs about an OLD project? Because this is really about the newest one. For some time, I’ve had an idea rattling around in my head. It just keeps rattling around in there, getting louder, and I can’t get rid of it….

First, I built an electric bike. It was from a kit, and simple. Anyone could build one. Then I built an electric motorcycle – not much more complicated than the bike, but more time, work, and money to put together. Then winter happened, and I decided it would be better to have an electric vehicle with a roof and four wheels. By the end of the next summer, I had built an Electric Geo Metro. It was powered by a forklift motor, and eventually the motor controller was a collaboratively-built Open Source project.   

 The DIY Electric Geo Metro

 The car was great, but relatively short range. So when a friend gave me a non-running LP generator, along with the repair manual for it, I started thinking HYBRID! I fixed up the generator, and mounted it in the trunk of the car, along with the LP bottle from my Bar-B-Q grill! Wow! A series hybrid that actually worked!

 Well, it worked, but the generator wasn’t exactly quiet. Also, it was running on propane, which burns clean, but is still a fossil fuel….

My gasoline vehicle is a Chevy S10 Pickup truck. I can get 30mpg in it in the summer. But it’s still running on gasoline. Hmmmmmm. Even the Prius runs on gasoline. And you can’t plug a stock Prius in to charge from the wall the way my Geo Metro can. And a Prius really isn’t designed to tow either. It would be nice to pull my utility trailer and teardrop trailer on occasion.

 So here’s where things start coming together for me.

I have a pickup truck. They are a good platform for experimental vehicles, as they have a solid frame, and plenty of outside space both in and under the bed. A few years back, I picked up a diesel engine out of a Mercedes 240D. It’s a great engine, that has been very popular for vegetable oil conversions. While it’s not turbo-charged, it’s very durable and simple – no computer controls here.

 A diesel engine from a Mercedes
I’m also a member of a hackerspace and DIY electric car club. A few years ago, we pulled some big forklift motors out of a junkyard. So far, we have two Ford Rangers running on them, and a Saab in the works right now. Those motors have both drive-shafts and tailshafts to connect either end of the motor. Some EV hot-rodders have even used that to connect two electric motors end-to-end to double the power of their vehicle. What if it was instead connected to a diesel engine?

 My buddy Steve installs a forklift motor in a pickup truck
So, here goes. I present to you that I am going to build an Open Source D.I.Y. Plug-in Bio-Diesel/Electric Hybrid Pickup truck and share it with the world!

 Have I ever done something like this before? Heck no. But I have played around enough with motors, engines, cars, cycles, and batteries to think that it is totally possible.

HOW will I do it? I have no idea.

But I also had no idea when I started the cycle or when I started my electric car. But I’m pretty good at learning by doing. I’m also pretty good at talking to folks and learning from them and making new friends.

 Chevy S10 to become diesel electric hybrid
One thing’s for sure. I’m going to need your help on this one. The project is going to take a while and I am certainly NOT going to be able to do it all by myself. But that’s the fun of collaboration – working together, learning, and sharing.

Look to this blog in the future for updates as the project picks up steam. (Steam! That’s a great power source too. Um, maybe for a different project…..)

I’ll be taking photos, posting YouTube Videos, and Twittering like a mad man once we really get going. (Yes, you can find me on Twitter now! –!/300MPGBen )

Speaking of going – I’m headed out shortly to the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington. If you are going to be there too, come see me. I’m be giving a presentation on DIY Hybrid Vehicles, and I’ll be talking there more in detail about the Super-Truck project.

If you have some ideas about the project, or even just a few words of “Yes! We can do this!” please let me know!


{ 1 trackback }

Mother Earth Fair in Review
June 6, 2012 at 12:06 pm

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mark in OKC May 29, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Yes Ben… You can do it!!!

I think the DIY Hybrid is ultimately the answer for extended driving range.

However, I believe for the average DIY’er, it would be easier to have dual drive systems. One powered by electric and one powered by a biofuel such as biodiesel or ethanol in the same car.

I think you could take an AWD vehicle and use a small tractor engine to power the front wheels and then modify the rear drive to support an electric motor.

Another alternative would be to build an onboard generator system powered by biofuel motor to directly power an electric motor. Our trains are powered by electric motors supported by diesel powered generators.

Here’s a link to what inspired the idea of a dual motor option:

XR3 Plug-In Hybrid
A Three-Wheeled 125-MPG Diesel Hybrid Vehicle

VIDEO: XR3 Plug-in Hybrid Gets Over 200 mpg

2 admin May 29, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Yep, Mark, you pretty much just nailed the three main ways to do it. I AM leaning towards a “dual-drive” system. A friend of mine bought a copy of the XR3 plans. It’s a pretty cool idea for a vehicle. By starting with an existing vehicle and converting it to a plug-in hybrid, it will save all the work of building a custom car from absolute scratch. That said, it won’t look quite as cool as the XR3.

3 Jay June 4, 2012 at 2:51 pm

‘Twas great to see you again at the Mother Earth News Fair, Ben.
I’ve also got plans for a DIY hybrid dual-drive truck, this one being my 1987 F250 with the bulletproof 6.9 liter indirect-injected, naturally-aspirated International diesel; an engine that will run on anything that’s thin and greasy! My approach is to use a T19 manual transmission with a Power Take-Off. Putting power in through the PTO would enable electric-only maneuvering (while holding down the clutch pedal). Disengaging the PTO would reduce mechanical drag for highway cruising. Using an HPEV AC20 or AC50 drive would also allow significant regen, and another small benefit of this approach would be to shift in neutral and use the hybrid drive to start the engine faster than the 12V starter (also eliminating the need for one of the two big 12V cranking batteries, and allowing stationary genset duty, as well as engine start/stop in traffic jams (EV only for a bumper-to-bumper crawl).

4 admin June 5, 2012 at 10:08 am

Hi Jay!
Sounds like a great project! Please keep me updated on any progress if you go for it! Great seeing you at the Mother Earth Fair! Thanks to the Seattle and Tacoma EV clubs for coming out in force to show off all of those great vehicles! People had nothing but good things to say about the car show and how friendly and helpful all of the car presenters were.


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