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The concept of a weekly show requires us to actually do some work each week.  We had a very good week this past, the last week in October.  It rained every day, so no goofing around in the electric Speedster.

We had done a video on the EVision installation.  What we didn’t show was all the wires we got in wrong.  We spent a day troubleshooting this and finally got everything hooked up correctly.  The display mounted in the air vent is absolutely gorgeous, and now gives me a way to monitor energy into and out of the pack.

This week’s show is largely about DC-DC converters.  Our pack voltage is nominally 375 volts.  We charge to 392, but as soon as you remove the charger, it settles to about 375.  The Mini Cooper is an absolutely AMAZING device.  Normally, automotive manufactures add “features” that they can upsell to customers at additional cost.  The BMW Mini Cooper is quite different. It has DOZENS of “hidden” features you will never know are there.

For example, the engine control unit, termed a DME in BMW parlance, has a power management system.  A fuseblock just off the battery terminal allows it to monitor battery voltage, battery CURRENT and battery temperature.  There are several levels of ON in this car.  There is unswitched power to run the courtesy lights, remote control radio, power windows, doorlocks, etc.  Then if you put the remote in it’s little dock, the CAS computer  starts waking things up.  The system has a body K CAN bus, a power train PT CAN bus, a MORE bus for the radios, etc.  And it brings up power in different “levels” or “terminals”.

If the engine is running, and the battery starts to provide a lot of 12 vdc power, the DME can actually note this, and will very subtly increase engine RPM to increase alternator output.

This is just one example.  The heated seats are another.  They contain temperature monitors and when you turn on the heated seats, they don’t just switch 12 vdc to some heaters.  They monitor the switch at three levels, and the temperature monitor, and power the resistive heating elements with separate pulse width modulators.

This theme is repeated throughout the car.  There are dozens of hidden items.  The air conditioning and heating has temperature sensors at two points in the car, a SOLAR sensor to detect sunlight gain, temp sensors on the heat exchanger and air conditioning evaporator, etc. etc. etc.  How much heat or air conditioning is not exactly a function of hi/med/lo on this car.  It has a separate computer just to calculate how much hot/cold/fresh air to mix.  VERY advanced.  And hard for us country bumpkins to deal with in a way.  But WHAT A CAR.

In any event, in this weeks show we look at some options for replacing the battery and alternator for this car with a pair of DC to DC converters.  We talk about the Brusa model 412.  This monster puts out 1725 watts of power (125 amps at 13.8 vdc from 375 vdc input).  Very capable.  But the falling dollar has likely put it out of reach of most at $3200.

We do describe how to combine three Kelly 125 vdc DC-DC converters to put out about 120 amps for $450.  But what we actually USE in the car is a homebrew DC-DC converter I made for less than $200 using some Vicor DC-DC converter bricks purchased on eBay for $20 each.  We have one 400 watt 12.6 vdc converter to replace the battery providing DC power all the time.  It’s fanless, and so doesn’t eat much of our pack energy when the car is just sitting.  But when you open the door and start doing stuff, it provides the “heartbeat” power to begin bringing up the systems.

If you hit the START/STOP button, it powers up a second fan cooled 1500 watt DC-DC converter made of the Vicor bricks.  These bricks, nominally 300 volt input, can operate quite well over the range of 180 to 380 vdc.  Three of them will put out 120 amps at 12.8 vdc.

Both DC-DC converters fit nicely into the battery compartment – saving about 20 lbs of weight.  On this car, I roughly calculate 50 pounds weight to an additional 1 mile range.  And they can never “run down”.  If they can run down the 40 kW traction pack, you’ve let it sit a LONG time.

Sounds simple, but it’s actually one of those pernicious electric car problems that never quite get solved satisfactorily.  I’m pretty happy with this one.

Note that in the video, I mentioned 90K trim resistors to get 12.8 vdc output.  These are the wrong values (different DC-DC converter).  This one uses 140K trim resistors.   I don’t care if they are 1% or not.  I just use a good ohmeter and manually match these as closely as possible by picking them out of a band of 100 of them.  It is kind of important they be very close to the same value if you want the three bricks to share nicely.

Also not mentioned was any kind of input fuse.  You really should have a small 10 amp fuse on the +375 volt input.  If one of the bricks goes berserk, it will disconnect you from the pack voltage.

What else?  Well, we have started playing with chargers and charging.  Like the Brusa 412, the Brusa NLG-513 is available for Euros, which has caused the price to go up in dollars.  It’s now $3,900.  That’s a lot for a charger that will put out 8.5 amps at 400 volts.  We were going to use TWO of them to get 17 amps at 400 volts.  That would let us charge the 40 kW pack in about 6 hours.  An acceptable performance.  But $7800 for chargers?

We’re not finding an inexpensive solution here frankly.  A 375 volt system charged to 392 volts requires a charger that will put out 400 volts or so.  That’s a pretty rarified area for chargers.  And the ones that can do it, are all pretty much limited to 3.3-3.6 kW.  That implies a 12 hour charge time.  That’s probably too long to really be comfortable.  If I roll in at Midnight and can’t really count on a full charge until 10:00Am or worse noon, that’s not optimum.

But I just haven’t found a charger that will “finish” off a pack like the Brusa.  It’s Constant Voltage (CV) algorithm is pretty accurate.  And the programmability lets me kind of sneak up on the final charge, finishing off very gently at low power levels.

A LOT of the charger manufacturers are very closed about their “programmable” chargers.  We had a fascinating conversation with DeltaQ, who don’t do high power or high voltage anyway.  But they program “charge curves” that you can “select from.”  We asked them why they just don’t let us program the charge curves ourselves.  They are scared to death of being held liable for damage to batteries. Oh well….

So what we’re looking at is a combination of things.  We’ve been wanting to play with faster charging techniques.  We really don’t have a NEED to charge very quickly.  But purportedly, these cells can be charged at 3C or 300 amps.  They can certainly be charged at 1C or 100 amps which would let us charge in an hour.  So I’ve been planning on how to do that.  Nothing available will charge at 100 amps.

So this week we wired the car with a couple of 1 AWG short cables to the pack terminals.  These cables are terminated with Tweco welding cable quick disconnects.  These are great little devices for connecting high power cables.  The male “pin” which is about 3/8 inch in diameter, has a little cam in it.  A matching cam on the female plug allows you to insert this very large terminal pin, and twist it to lock it.  The cam forces the two faces together providing an excellent very low resistance current path.  And the connection is basically “locked”.  If you twist it the other way, the thing pops apart very easily.  I love these things and vastly prefer them to the Anderson Connectors traditionally used for batteries.  I’ve had several “incidents” with Andersons and do NOT like to use them, although some equipment comes wired with them already and what’s to do?

So the car is wired with terminals that would allow cable connections that would carry 400 vdc at 300 amps.  All I have to do is come up with that amount of power somewhere.

Long term, the obvious answer is a “mother” battery pack of 400 vdc.  This could charge all the time.  Pull the car in, connect the mother pack to the car, and it will dump a LOT of power into the pack.  That can get you going again.  Or you can then use the single Brusa to “finish charge” the pack.

An intermediate step is a large, high powered charger.  They’re not cheap either, but can be kept in the garage and used on multiple vehicles.  We just received serial number 3 of Manzanita’s PFC-75 charger.  They call this a 75 amp charger.  At 400 vdc it cannot deliver 75 amps.  It can DRAW 75 amps at 240 vac, purportedly.  At 400 vdc it can deliver about 38 amps dc charge.  But that’s double the 17 amps we would get from TWO Brusas.

The Brusa charger is isolated.  The Manzanita is NOT isolated.  You don’t want one of these feeding into the other.  But we think we can plug them BOTH in and do something kind of cool.  If we can set the voltage cutoff on the Manzanita so that it bulk charges up to a certain level and then shuts down, the Brusa can then continue to do the finish charge.  At 38 amps from the Manzanita, and 8.5 amps from the Brusa, we should be looking at 46.5 amps and a total charge time of about 2 hours.  This is also the IDEAL charge rate of 1/2 C for these cells.

In next week’s show I’m going to revue the pro’s and cons  of this $4400 Manzanita.  It’s very, very good, and very bad at the same time.

Long term, I see a mother battery bank, kept charged by the Manzanita, and then a charge function using both the Manzanita and the battery bank in less than an hour.  I’d like to package all of this in another vintage gas pump type package with cables and so forth.  Ultimately, we would combine all of this with a higher voltage PWM controller and some meters to let you “dial in” exactly the voltage and current you want to charge at to do multiple different vehicles conveniently.

In the meantime, we don’t have a drive train, and we can’t drive the car.  That lets us charge once in a row, and that’s not a real good test.  We had previously installed the 4kW electric water heater we will use for heat in the Mini Cooper.  This week we wired it up to the traction pack voltage and the 12 vdc control and pump supply.  The Mini just expects constant hot water from the engine and really doesn’t have any control for this.  It MONITORS the temperature to help with the air mixing function, but it doesn’t do anything to control it.  Worse, it’s kind of an integrated air conditioning/heating system and I can’t really find any function that is sufficiently analogous to use to turn on the water heater.  However I approach it, there would be times when the water heater is on and drawing 10 Ah per hour (10% of our pack capacity) when I don’t need heat, or not turned on at all when I do.

So we had to go to a manual solution.  We installed a three switch control panel in the center console that simply switches 12vdc from our new fuse block in the engine compartment to 3 different systems.  The first system will be the 4 kW water heater.  The other two are spare for the moment.  I rather believe we’ll have other areas where we fail to automate.

So to turn on the heat, you have to also turn on the heated water.  Flip a toggle switch.  They light up with little LED’s on the end of the toggle.  And of course flip it off when you don’t need heat.  I think this will all work pretty well actually.

So that gives us a LOAD.  It’s a bit slow, at 10Ah per hour.  But I do now have a way of draining the traction pack now so we can play with the charging process.

Jack Rickard