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Research & Development Centre, Automotive Division,

INSIDE ELECTRIC CAR

Chetan Bhavsar ( R&D Proto Development)

Research & Development Centre, Automotive Division,

Inside Electric Car


The heart of an electric car is the combination of: The electric motor The motor's controller The batteries

A SIMPLE DC CONTROLLER CONNECTED TO THE BATTERIES AND THE DC MOTOR. IF THE DRIVER FLOORS THE ACCELERATOR PEDAL, THE CONTROLLER DELIVERS THE FULL 96 VOLTS FROM THE BATTERIES TO THE MOTOR. IF THE DRIVER TAKES HIS/HER FOOT OFF THE ACCELERATOR, THE CONTROLLER DELIVERS ZERO VOLTS TO THE MOTOR. FOR ANY SETTING IN BETWEEN, THE CONTROLLER "CHOPS" THE 96 VOLTS THOUSANDS OF TIMES PER SECOND TO CREATE AN AVERAGE VOLTAGE SOMEWHERE BETWEEN 0 AND 96 VOLTS. The controller takes power from the batteries and delivers it to the motor. The accelerator pedal hooks to a pair of potentiometers (variable resistors), and these potentiometers provide the signal that tells the controller how much power it is supposed to deliver. The controller can deliver zero power (when the car is stopped), full power (when the driver floors the accelerator pedal), or any power level in between.

Research & Development Centre, Automotive Division,

The controller normally dominates the scene when you open the hood, as you can see here:

THE 300-VOLT, 50-KILOWATT CONTROLLER FOR THIS ELECTRIC CAR IS THE BOX MARKED "U.S. ELECTRICAR."

In this car, the controller takes in 300 volts DC from the battery pack. It converts it into a maximum of 240 volts AC, three-phase, to send to the motor. It does this using very large transistors that rapidly turn the batteries' voltage on and off to create a sine wave.

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When you push on the gas pedal, a cable from the pedal connects to these two potentiometers:

POTENTIOMETER

CABLE

THE POTENTIOMETERS HOOK TO THE GAS PEDAL AND SEND A SIGNAL TO THE CONTROLLER.

The signal from the potentiometers tells the controller how much power to deliver to the electric car's motor. There are two potentiometers for safety's sake. The controller reads both potentiometers and makes sure that their signals are equal. If they are not, then the controller does not operate. This

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arrangement guards against a situation where a potentiometer fails in the fullon position.

HEAVY CABLES (ON THE LEFT) CONNECT THE BATTERY PACK TO THE CONTROLLER. IN THE MIDDLE IS A VERY LARGE ON/OFF SWITCH. THE BUNDLE OF SMALL WIRES ON THE RIGHT CARRIES SIGNALS FROM THERMOMETERS LOCATED BETWEEN THE BATTERIES, AS WELL AS POWER FOR FANS THAT KEEP THE BATTERIES COOL AND VENTILATED.

THE HEAVY WIRES ENTERING AND LEAVING THE CONTROLLER

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The controller's job in a DC electric car is easy to understand. Let's assume that the battery pack contains 12 12-volt batteries, wired in series to create 144 volts. The controller takes in 144 volts DC, and delivers it to the motor in a controlled way. The very simplest DC controller would be a big on/off switch wired to the accelerator pedal. When you push the pedal, it would turn the switch on, and when you take your foot off the pedal, it would turn it off. As the driver, you would have to push and release the accelerator to pulse the motor on and off to maintain a given speed. Obviously, that sort of on/off approach would work but it would be a pain to drive, so the controller does the pulsing for you. The controller reads the setting of the accelerator pedal from the potentiometers and regulates the power accordingly. Let's say that you have the accelerator pushed halfway down. The controller reads that setting from the potentiometer and rapidly switches the power to the motor on and off so that it is on half the time and off half the time. If you have the accelerator pedal 25 percent of the way down, the controller pulses the power so it is on 25 percent of the time and off 75 percent of the time. Most controllers pulse the power more than 15,000 times per second, in order to keep the pulsation outside the range of human hearing. The pulsed current causes the motor housing to vibrate at that frequency, so by pulsing at more than 15,000 cycles per second, the controller and motor are silent to human ears.

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AN AC CONTROLLER HOOKS TO AN AC MOTOR. USING SIX SETS OF POWER


TRANSISTORS , THE CONTROLLER TAKES IN

300 VOLTS DC AND PRODUCES 240 VOLTS AC,

3-PHASE. SEE HOW THE POWER GRID W ORKS FOR A DISCUSSION OF 3-PHASE POWER . T HE
CONTROLLER ADDITIONALLY PROVIDES A CHARGING SYSTEM FOR THE BATTERIES , AND A TO-DC CONVERTER TO RECHARGE THE

DC-

12-VOLT ACCESSORY BATTERY.

In an AC controller, the job is a little more complicated, but it is the same idea. The controller creates three pseudo-sine waves. It does this by taking the DC voltage from the batteries and pulsing it on and off. In an AC controller, there is the additional need to reverse the polarity of the voltage 60 times a second. Therefore, you actually need six sets of transistors in an AC controller, while you need only one set in a DC controller. In the AC controller, for each phase you need one set of transistors to pulse the voltage and another set to reverse the polarity. You replicate that three times for the three phases -- six total sets of transistors.

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Most DC controllers used in electric cars come from the electric forklift industry. The Hughes AC controller seen in the photo above is the same sort of AC controller used in the GM/Saturn EV-1 electric vehicle. It can deliver a maximum of 50,000 watts to the motor.

Electric-car Motors and Batteries


Electric cars can use AC or DC motors:

If the motor is a DC motor, then it may run on anything from 96 to 192 volts. Many of the DC motors used in electric cars come from the electric forklift industry. If it is an AC motor, then it probably is a three-phase AC motor running at 240 volts AC with a 300 volt battery pack.

DC installations tend to be simpler and less expensive. A typical motor will be in the 20KW to 30KW range. A typical controller will be in the 40 KW to 60 KW range (for example, a 96-volt controller will deliver a maximum of 400 or 600 amps). DC motors have the nice feature that you can overdrive them (up to a factor of 10-to-1) for short periods of time. That is, a 20 KW motor will accept 100 KW for a short period of time and deliver 5 times its rated horsepower. This is great for short bursts of acceleration. The only limitation is heat build-up in the motor. Too much overdriving and the motor heats up to the point where it self-destructs

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AC installations allow the use of almost any industrial three-phase AC motor, and that can make finding a motor with a specific size, shape or power rating easier. AC motors and controllers often have a regen feature. During braking, the motor turns into a generator and delivers power back to the batteries.

The weak link in any electric car is the batteries. There are at least six significant problems with current lead-acid battery technology: They are heavy (a typical lead-acid battery pack weighs 450Kg or more). They are bulky (the car we are examining here has 50 lead-acid batteries, each measuring roughly 6" x 8" by 6"). They have a limited capacity (a typical lead-acid battery pack might hold 12 to 15 kilowatt-hours of electricity, range of only 80 Km or so). They are slow to charge (typical recharge times for a lead-acid pack range between four to 10 hours for full charge, depending on the battery technology and the charger). They have a short life (three to four years, perhaps 200 full charge/discharge cycles). They are expensive (perhaps 80,000 Rs. for the battery pack shown in the sample car). giving a car a

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Battery Problems
You can replace lead-acid batteries with NiMH batteries. The range of the car will double and the batteries will last 10 years (thousands of charge/discharge cycles), but the cost of the batteries today is 10 to 15 times greater than lead-acid. In other words, an NiMH battery pack will cost Rs. 12,00,000 to 13,00,000 (today) instead of Rs.80,000. Prices for advanced batteries fall as they become mainstream, so over the next several years it is likely that NiMH and lithium-ion battery packs will become competitive with lead-acid battery prices. Electric cars will have significantly better range at that point. Just about any electric car has one other battery on board. This is the normal 12-volt lead-acid battery that every car has. The 12-volt battery provides power for accessories -- things like headlights, radios, fans,

computers, air bags, wipers, power windows and instruments inside the
car. Since all of these devices are readily available and standardized at 12 volts, it makes sense from an economic standpoint for an electric car to use them. Therefore, an electric car has a normal 12-volt lead-acid battery to power all of the accessories. To keep the battery charged, an electric car needs a DC-to-DC converter. This converter takes in the DC power from the main battery array (at, for example, 300 volts DC) and converts it down to 12 volts to recharge the accessory battery. When the car is on, the accessories get their power from the DC-to-DC converter. When the car is off, they get their power from the 12-volt battery as in any gasoline-powered vehicle.

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The DC-to-DC converter is normally a separate box under the hood, but sometimes this box is built into the controller.

Charging an Electric Car


Any electric car that uses batteries needs a charging system to recharge the batteries. The charging system has two goals: To pump electricity into the batteries as quickly as the batteries will allow To monitor the batteries and avoid damaging them during the charging process

The most sophisticated charging systems monitor battery voltage, current flow and battery temperature to minimize charging time. The charger sends as much current as it can without raising battery temperature too much. Less sophisticated chargers might monitor voltage or amperage only and make certain assumptions about average battery characteristics. A charger like this might apply maximum current to the batteries up through 80 percent of their capacity, and then cut the current back to some preset level for the final 20 percent to avoid overheating the batteries.

Using a 240-volt circuit, The car might be able to receive 240 volts at 30 amps, or 6.6 kilowatt-hours per hour. This arrangement allows significantly faster charging, and can fully recharge the battery pack in four to five hours.

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PLUG THE CAR IN ANYWHERE TO RECHARGE .

In this car, the charger is built into the controller. In most home-brew cars, the charger is a separate box located under the hood, or could even be a freestanding unit that is separate from the car.

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The Magna-Charge System

The Magna-Charge system consists of two parts:

A CHARGING STATION MOUNTED TO THE WALL OF THE HOUSE

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A CHARGING SYSTEM IN THE TRUNK OF THE CAR

The charging station is hard-wired to a 240-volt 40-amp circuit through the house's circuit panel.

THE CHARGING SYSTEM SENDS ELECTRICITY TO THE CAR USING THIS INDUCTIVE PADDLE .

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THE PADDLE FITS INTO A SLOT HIDDEN BEHIND THE LICENSE PLATE OF THE CAR.

The paddle acts as one half of a transformer. The other half is inside the car, positioned around the slot behind the license plate. When you insert the paddle, it forms a complete transformer with the slot, and power transfers to the car. One advantage of the inductive system is that there are no exposed electrical contacts. You can touch the paddle or drop the paddle into a puddle of water and there is no hazard. The other advantage is the ability to pump a significant amount of current into the car very quickly because the charging station is hard-wired to a dedicated 240-volt circuit. The competing high-power charge connector is generally referred to as the "Avcon plug" and it is used by Ford and others. It features copper-tocopper contacts instead of the inductive paddle, and has an elaborate mechanical interconnect that keeps the contacts covered until the connector is mated with the receptacle on the vehicle. Pairing this connector with GFCI protection makes it safe in any kind of weather.

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Equalization charge
An important feature of the charging process is "equalization." An EV has a string of batteries (somewhere between 10 and 25 modules, each containing three to six cells). The batteries are closely matched, but they are not identical. Therefore they have slight differences in capacity and internal resistance. All batteries in a string necessarily put out the same current (laws of electricity), but the weaker batteries have to "work harder" to produce the current, so they're at a slightly lower state of charge at the end of the drive. Therefore, the weaker batteries need more recharge to get back to full charge.

Since the batteries are in series, they also get exactly the same amount of recharge, leaving the weak battery even weaker (relatively) than it was before. Over time, this results in one battery going bad long before the rest of the pack. The weakest-link effect means that this battery determines the range of the vehicle, and the usability of the car drops off.

The common solution to the problem is "equalization charge." You gently overcharge the batteries to make sure that the weakest cells are brought up to full charge. The trick is to keep the batteries equalized without damaging the strongest batteries with overcharging. There are more complex solutions that scan the batteries, measure individual voltages, and send extra charging current through the weakest module.