Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for December 12, 2012

Conversion course produces an electric truck

A 1996 Ford Ranger pickup truck is not exactly the car you’d expect to see crowds of people flocking around.

By Ashley Joannou on December 12, 2012 at 4:48 pm

A 1996 Ford Ranger pickup truck is not exactly the car you’d expect to see crowds of people flocking around.

With the hood up, a small group of people has gathered to examine the truck, peppering its owner with questions, having discussions about power and efficiency.

At first glance, the vehicle’s innards look like they’ve been picked clean by someone on the hunt for spare parts.

The cavity designed to hold the engine now holds much less.

Notably, no engine

The truck has been converted from a gasoline-powered vehicle into an electric one. It’s the final project of a two-part course on converting vehicles, offered by Yukon College.

“We took out this great big motor and put in this tiny electric motor,” technical consultant Doug MacLean, peering over the side, explained Monday.

“It’s 60 lbs.; a teenager can hold it. But the one we took out, you need a winch or a crane.”

The first half of the course took place during two weekends and four evening classes last June.

The second half wrapped up last weekend.

Students got a chance to work on every part of the conversion, MacLean said, with the goal of “building up skills and knowledge here,” and helping learn if any changes need to be made specifically for the North.

“It was to see what modifications would need to be made to make the vehicles run well in the North,” he said.

“Similar to the ways you have to modify your gasoline vehicle to run in the North. You have to plug it in, you have to use synthetic oil.”

In the end, a few changes did have to be made. A power steering pump had to be found that could operate electronically, since the vehicle no longer has a motor.

Thirty-two small battery cells had to be installed in the back along with tiny (2 mm-thick) heaters to keep the system warm.

A fan can be swapped in to keep things cool in the summer.

The batteries are about 3.2 volts apiece, explained Michael Golub, the course instructor and University of Alaska Fairbanks mechanical engineer, as he drove the truck outside the college Monday.

It also still has the original 12-volt battery for running the lights and horn.

The truck’s exterior looks relatively ordinary, though it does run quietly, with only a hum coming from the pumps circulating the steering fluid and the coolant

The first real sign of its uniqueness comes when you open the gas tank door and are met with only a plug.

The standard 120-volt plug is all you need to charge the vehicle.

Officials suggest one charge will get you about 40 miles (64 km), though more testing still needs to be done.

Golub has been involved in a series of conversions. They include a four-wheeler used by his university’s police department and a second vehicle converted a few years ago in Dawson City.

The distance the truck can get on a single charge makes it ideal for a city like Whitehorse, he said.

“Especially in towns like this, knowing that you have a 40-mile range, you should have a lot more opportunities to charge.”

It also works well in the cold.

“I’ve driven trucks like this in Fairbanks, in the cold, and it does alright,” Golub said.

The entire project cost about $15,000.

MacLean said part of the price tag came from the decision to use more expensive lithium batteries instead of lead-based ones.

“You can do this kind of conversion for as little as $8,000,” he said.

“We wanted to use some leading-edge stuff so we got an AC motor, which is a little more expensive than a DC motor. We’re glad we did because it gives us a chance to look at the latest technology.”

For students involved, the project was a worthwhile experience.

Student Riley Hildebrand said he was most interested in the technology involved to make the conversion.

“It was food for thought for the future,” he said. “It was nice to do something new and learn some new things.”

Now that it’s built, Yukon Research Centre stafff will use the new vehicle as a work truck.

“They’re going to drive it to test it out, and they’re looking to do some projects coming up,” MacLean said.

“One is to look at using electric-thermal storage as a heater for the cabin. It will be used as a teaching tool.”

CommentsAdd a comment

thomas sawyer

Dec 12, 2012 at 7:22 pm

This is great news, bravo
it proves that electric vehicles can be used in the cold
I hope more show up in the north



Dec 13, 2012 at 11:29 am

It’s an interesting idea for a cab heater. I understand coming up with a source for passenger area heating has been a problem with electric vehicles intended for use in cold weather climates.

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