In ‘Electric vehicles’ Category

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Melbourne EV Expo 2015

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Here’s the latest news about the EV Expo in Melbourne this April. Find out how you can get involved.

We’re doing it again! The Melbourne EV Expo 2015 will be held on Sunday April 19th in the Atrium at Swinburne University in Hawthorn. Please put this date in your diary!


This years event is shaping up to be bigger and better than last time. Still with all the same great stuff, some new bits, and much more advertising planned.

We are calling for all enthusiasts with electric cars, bikes, motorbikes, scooters, skateboards, outboards, or any other vehicles propelled by electric motors. Bring your vehicle along for the chance to be admired, and even judged in the Show ‘N’ Shine for prizes and cred if you want (registrations MUST be made prior to the event this year).

We are really keen to get a vintage electric car if possible, who knows someone with one? Please put us in touch with them if you can.

We are also keen to hear from anyone who can donate a couple of hours on the day to help with the running of the event. You will be rewarded with a free Expo t-shirt, and will feel great about helping bring EV’s to the masses!

Please get in touch if you’d like to assist with the pre-event planning too, we could always use a couple more people.

Please email if you can help out in any way.

We look forward to seeing you there, and please say you’ll attend on our Facebook event page here to receive updates about the event.


Kael Rail: Ultralight solar bike rail project

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Being involved with the ATA (ReNew’s publisher) is something that brings great variety and enjoyment. A great example of this was a chance phone call with Danielle and her seven-year-old daughter Kael. Doug Rolfe explains.


Seven-year old Kael had an idea for her local school science competition, but working out if the idea was realistic was proving a problem. After all, where do you go to ask about solar-powered trains for transporting kids with bikes to school?

Queensland Rail did their best to help with information about their electric rolling stock, but the scale of the average locomotive and standard carriages was well beyond what Kael was thinking of.

Happily, someone put Danielle, Kael’s mum, onto the ATA. We quickly saw that Kael’s idea had merit and pooled our office expertise to help find existing projects worldwide. Our local experience with Melbourne trams and custom electric vehicles also proved helpful.

After some help in understanding the rough energy requirements, Kael was able to finish her research and complete her project.


A few weeks later, we got the exciting news— after receiving a highly commended award at Mudgeeraba Creek State School, Kael had won first place in the Year 2 and 3 division of the Griffith University Gold Coast Schools Science Competition in the Environmental Action Project section. Of course, Kael was most excited by the prize of an iTunes voucher:”You can download games!”

This success also meant that Kael’s project was automatically entered in the science competition run by the Science Teachers Association of Queensland. After some nervous days, Danielle received word that Kael had to attend as she had won a prize.

In the end, Kael’s project won her first prize in her division in the Queensland event. Mudgeeraba Creek State School won the prize for best overall school—they received 21 prizes from their 31 entries, including the Queensland Science Student of the Year!

What gave Kael the idea? 

Kael says: “We love our school, which is why we travel the extra distance. I have always wanted to ride my bike to school. But Mum and Dad say it’s too dangerous and there are places without bike paths. We do have electric trains, but not near us. I like riding my bike and I’m getting really fast. At school, we were looking at how we use energy in our lives. So then I thought of a solar-powered bike rail. Solar is free energy from the sun and no pollution.”

Danielle, Kael’s mum, says that the local roads are a big traffic area during school times. Some mornings it can take 40 minutes to do what’s usually a seven-minute drive. The high concentration of schools in the area means that a local public transport option would be quite desirable.

Kael says, “We wanted it [the railway] along the road, but it would make the road more crowded. Then we decided to have it away from the traffic.”

Kael worked out a very practical 5 km route for the ultralight train that would collect students on bikes from a number of schools along the way, using existing power and water easements behind the local community.

Kael spoke to Nick Abroms, Gold Coast Council’s Active Travel Project Officer who thought the idea made real sense. He said it was clear that people would use it, because it would cut down travelling time and be safe

Read more in ReNew 130.


Food vs fuel: Ethics and sustainability

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Does biofuel production contribute to global food shortage and hunger, or not? Dr Seona Candy steps us through the pros, cons and complexities of using food crops for biofuels.


In a recent edition of ReNew (ReNew 127), an article describing the use of grain as fuel for wood pellet stoves was published. It inspired some opposing comments regarding the use of food for fuel. Although I can’t comment directly on this particular case of burning grain for space heating, I can perhaps provide some insight into the complexity, ethics and sustainability of the wider debate.

The ‘food vs fuel’ debate, as it is commonly known, is mainly concerned with first-generation liquid biofuels. These biofuels are derived from various agricultural crops that can also be used for food and feed, and have been developed primarily for transport uses. This is the case because there are already considered to be sufficient renewable energy options available to provide stationary energy.

The central argument in the ‘food vs fuel’ ethical debate is about whether the development (or not) of biofuels will cause people to go hungry. Critics of biofuels argue that diverting food crops to biofuel production will increase food prices and cause hunger, particularly among the global poor. Advocates of biofuels argue that their development will help mitigate climate change, and its potential future impacts on agriculture and food production, thus avoiding hunger for everyone (the global poor included) in the longer term.

The first of these two arguments seems fairly straightforward. Indeed, biofuel development in the early 2000s did precede significant rises in the prices of staple crops, causing the 2007/08 global food crisis and food riots in many countries. But it is not safe to assume that biofuels alone caused food prices to rise or that the impacts of rising food prices were negative for all groups who make up the global poor.

According to a report from the International Food Policy Research Institute, the 2007/08 food crisis was primarily driven by a combination of rising oil prices, a greater demand for biofuels and trade shocks in the food market.

Rising oil prices led to increased costs of cereal production, as conventional agriculture is an energy-intensive enterprise. Higher energy prices increased the demand for biofuels, which became more competitively priced when compared with oil. At the same time, cereal demand increased from oil-producing countries and weather shocks reduced the supply of some grains, increasing prices further. This led to a ban on exports by producers and panic buying by importers, which only increased prices yet again.

These increased prices led to food riots in developing countries. As Thompson2 argues, though, increased food prices negatively impact mainly the urban poor, who must purchase their food. For the rural poor, however, who produce and sell their food, rising food prices could be an advantage. It would increase their income and ability to buy food that they don’t grow themselves. Since the rural poor make up around 80% of the global poor, fewer people may in fact go hungry due to rising food prices.

Read the full article in ReNew 130.


Electric vehicles and the grid

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Increased EV uptake means challenges for the grid, but the good news is that demand-side management could help. Marcus Brazil and Julian de Hoog explain.

The last few years have seen a rapid increase across the globe in the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs). A recent report by the US Department of Energy points out that sales of EVs are increasing faster than those of hybrids, if you compare the same stages of the technology life cycle. One of the leading manufacturers of EVs, Tesla, is now valued at more than $30 billion and has been projected to be a major disrupter of the automotive industry. Many major car makers are planning to introduce electric and hybrid models into the Australian market in the near future.


An important question that is often overlooked in discussions on electric vehicles is: what will be their impact on the electricity grid? An EV with a typical daily commute of 40 km requires roughly 6–8 kWh of energy to recharge; this is equivalent to the daily needs of a small household. In other words, if you buy an electric vehicle, the impact on the local electricity network is about the same as adding a small house to the neighbourhood. Furthermore, in an unregulated environment, most EV owners are likely to plug in when they arrive home, around 6 pm, at exactly the time that residential electricity networks experience peak demand.

The impact of EVs on the electricity grid

The main challenges to the grid arising from the increased uptake of electric vehicles fall into three categories.

Peak load

Perhaps the most well known of the problems, peak load occurs at the time of day when the highest demand for electricity occurs. Our networks are sized to withstand peak demand, but if electric vehicles are added to the network, then the additional demand may be too much for the local lines and transformer to handle. New infrastructure may need to be installed, the cost of which is inevitably borne by the consumer.

Voltage drop

The lines in a local distribution network have an impedance of their own. As current travels from the transformer to your house, this impedance leads to a decrease in voltage. The more current you draw, the more the voltage drops. An electric vehicle can draw a lot of current for long periods of time, and therefore cause a significant, sustained drop in your voltage. Low voltage can mean that some appliances may not run properly, or may run inefficiently (reducing their lifetimes). What’s more, the drop in voltage caused by an EV does not affect only its owner; it can affect other houses in the network too, particularly those furthest from the transformer.

Phase unbalance and power quality

Most distribution networks in Australia are 3-phase, and most houses connect to only one of these phases. If several people in a neighbourhood buy EVs, and by chance these are connected to the same phase, then there can be significant losses in efficiency in the network due to the resulting unbalance. There is also the potential that an EV and its charge point could affect the overall quality of the power in the network, for example by distorting the 50 Hz grid waveform.

When are these problems likely to arise? A study of two networks in Australia suggests that there can already be problems at fairly low vehicle uptake rates—for example at only 10% in a network based in Melbourne. While even a 10% uptake of EVs is some years away, now is a good time to start thinking about how to prepare for these problems.

The solution: shifting of demand

The good news is that many of these problems can be prevented. Electric vehicles are among the most ‘flexible’ loads in the grid: they can be shifted to other times of the day, such as overnight, when there is more capacity in the network.

Read the full article in ReNew 129.


The world record breaking eVe

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Doug Rolfe meets team Sunswift as they embark on their record breaking race with the very sleek eVe.

In the chill and deep morning fog north of Anglesea, the University of New South Wales Sunswift team is preparing eVe for a big day. This amazing car is a sleek, black vehicle that has the look of a high end sports car, yet it uses only around 3HP at 100km/hr.


With the solar panels carefully taped over and sealed against light leakage, the arrays disconnected and the solar power controller removed from the car, it has become a pure battery electric vehicle for an attempt at the world record for the average speed over 500km for a vehicle under 500kg. The previous record was 73km/hr set in 1988 by the GM Sunracer. The team are expecting to easily beat that record. “We didn’t come here to do 75km/hr.” says 2013 team project director, Sam. The race will consist of 120 laps of the 4.2km track at the Australian Automotive Research Centre proving ground.

Team Sunswift make final checks to the vehicle before the big race begins.

Driver, Garth Walden, familiarising himself with the vehicle cockpit.


Project Director, Hayden Smith, says the UNSW project began in 1995 with a team from a range of disciplines including mechanical, electrical, software, renewable and photovoltaic engineering. “Furthermore, we have students from other faculties contributing to the team – arts, media, design, business, science – the list is endless. It’s by far one of the most academically diverse undergraduate student groups at UNSW,” says Hayden.

The committed team of engineering students swarm over the car, changing tyres, adjusting tyre pressures, checking connections, and mounting their ‘piece de resistance’, a short aerodynamic tail designed to improve the already impressive aerodynamic by another 5%. Finally the aerodynamic wheel covers are taped on.

There’s a large Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) team scrutinising the vehicle, locking off the solar panel connections and mounting the lap transponder. After they go over the vehicle with a thorough series of safety checks, Garth Walden, driver for the ELMOFO EV race vehicle, climbs in and mounts the removable steering wheel. After getting strapped in to the race harness and completing radio checks, the door gets taped shut for aerodynamic advantage.

Finally, with CAMS approval, eVe heads out with a quiet whir for a shakedown lap. As it flys past the pits, the team cheer it on as the radar gun clocks it at 110 km/hr. It’s quietness is a true sign of the efficiency of this vehicle at these speeds.

With all set and a nod from the timekeeper, eVe sets out on her goal: 120 laps of the 4.2km track in the shortest time possible.

The design of the 2-seater car is impressive. With such high aerodynamic performance (a CdA under 0.2) and a lightweight carbon fibre body, its energy requirements are more on the scale of household appliance rather than a road-going vehicle.

Eventually the fog lifts, and so do the spirits of the team as, lap after lap, eVe performs faultlessly. There’s a scheduled pit stop planned for lap 60, but on lap 53 the car blows a front right tyre. The car travels a few more kilometres to complete the lap and return to the pit area, running only on the rim of the carbon fibre wheel. The team was fully prepared and after a quick and smooth seven minute pit stop to change drivers and both front wheels, CAMS driver Karl Reindler heads out for the second half of the day. Seeing the chase/support car being refuelled during the pit stop provided an interesting contrast to the zero emission eVe.

The post-mortem on the blown tyre shows it was heavily worn, but had failed when an object had pierced the sidewall. Even so, the team is focused on their goal and plan for a second pit stop. On lap 97, in only four minutes, they change the front right wheel (taking the cornering load) and Garth heads out again to finish off. Karl clearly enjoyed himself: “I could do that all day; it’s comfortable, relaxing, but the racing seat is hard on the lower back!”

Egged on with cheers and waves, eVe crosses the line, completing the 120 laps in just over four and a half hours giving an average speed of well over 105km/hr (the actual record confirmation is an International FIA process that takes up to a month). The sense of relief and celebration is obvious, but also interesting is the team’s confidence in their vehicle during the day. They clearly had no doubt that they we’re going to comfortably break the existing record. We look forward to a friendly rivalry of teams with stunning designs like this attempting to break the new record.

eVe solar car crosses the line and breaks the record!


The following puts eVe’s effort in context.

Vehicle Energy used to travel 500km*

UNSW Sunswift eVe 20 kWh @ 107 km/h [1]

Nissan LEAF 86 kWh @ 89 km/h [2]

Tesla Model S 67 kWh @ 89 km/h [3]

2013 Toyota Corolla 238 kWh @ 62.6 km/h [4]

[1] 20 kWh approximate – it’s still a race vehicle so there are secrets

[2] highway cycle, 24kWh pack @ 80%DOD, 4.5 charges

[3] 85 kWh pack @ 80%DOD (510 km range = 0.98 charge)

[4] E170/2013 model, ADR 81/02 ‘extra urban’ = 5.4lt/100km, 8.8 kWh/lt for 91 octane fuel.

Charging the battery.

eVe’s Future

It’s pretty hard to compare these test conditions and vehicles, but it’s still possible to say that eVe uses roughly one-quarter to one-third of the energy of a ‘normal’ electric car and maybe one-tenth of that of a petrol vehicle.

To become road legal eVe will need lights, a higher running height, a safety glass windscreen some latches and stronger hinges for the doors and possibly side impact protection. That will add some weight, but would still come under 500-600kg and be capable of travelling 400+km at highway speeds. If current EVs with that capability are high-end sports vehicles using up to four times as much energy, storing all that energy means larger battery capacity and therefore cost. Through great design the UNSW Sunswift team have demonstrated a way to break the price/range problem.

The spaghetti wiring and raw internal look clearly shows that this isn’t a production vehicle, but those are relatively trivial things to change. The basic vehicle is a true candidate to become a road going hypercar. Exciting times!


Controller: 2x Tritium Wave Sculptor 22

Motors: Two rear wheel motors based on the winning CSIRO design, bought in and then re-engineered. These motors have a peak power output of 10kW, 20kg weight per wheel, 97% nominal efficiency and normally run at 1-2kW.

Solar array: The 4 m2 array is considered to be a range extender. The Sunpower monocrystalline solar cells have 22% efficiency (after encapsulation) which equates to about 880W for the array.

Battery: The lithium ion battery used for the record run weighs 100kg and has

20kwh useable capacity (12 hours to charge). The nominal system voltage is 140 volts

Battery Monitoring System: Custom system that monitors individual cell voltage and temperatures and also the total energy used from the battery pack.

Tyres: Michelin special order low rolling resistance (LRR) tyres.


UNSW Sunswift


Clint's Renders 2.62web

The SolarX solar car: part 2

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Energy will flow from the sun, the brakes and even the shock absorbers in the SolarX solar car. Clint Steele describes the power train in part 2 of our series on the car’s design.

The main function of a solar car is, not surprisingly, to convert solar energy to torque at the driving wheels so that the car can travel at speeds that make it a practical driving option.

Power flow


The biggest difference in a solar car’s power system, compared to a conventional car, is in the flow of energy and the recapture of that energy. In a standard petrol car, the power flow is pretty much one way: fuel engine transmission.

In this solar car, however, there’s an additional flow, with power reclaimed via regenerative braking. This is common to most electric vehicles.

There’s also one more power flow in the SolarX. In most cars (electric or non-electric), energy is lost in the suspension system as it dampens the car vibrations. Shock absorbers can reach up to 180 °C as they dispel this energy as heat. This sounds high, but the actual amount of energy is usually not enough to warrant the effort of regenerative shock

absorbers. This is not the case here—the power used by the car is so small that the suspension units will make a significant difference. Thus, the team working on the suspension are also developing a regenerative shock absorber.

Power management

In a standard car, the power is delivered as needed: fuel is delivered to the engine or the current is drawn from the batteries when required.

However, the sun is an energy source that can’t be controlled in such a way. If the batteries are fully charged and the vehicle is at a speed that needs a relatively small amount of power, any excess energy falling on the solar cells is lost. And, in fact, this extra energy needs to be managed, to avoid damaging the batteries. This is another unusual aspect of managing the energy flow in this solar car.

Figure 1 shows the major components and the layout of the power system that ultimately converts sunshine to tractive effort. The subsystems are discussed below.

Energy storage

Most electric vehicles on the market today rely on lithium battery technology. For the SolarX car, the design team is investigating a hybrid energy storage system consisting of traditional lithium ion batteries coupled with supercapacitors.

Supercapacitors have superior power density, much higher than that of chemical batteries, which means they can be lighter for the same peak output power capacity.

A series of high-power car stops and starts will cycle a battery enough to shorten its life. By using supercapacitors to take these peaks, the life of the battery can be extended considerably.

This is not a concern in solar car racing, which is the pedigree of this car, but it is in road cars.

One of the challenges of this project will be managing the flow of electricity to each of the batteries and capacitors as desired.

Read the full article in ReNew 127. Read Part 1 of the article here.


Final render.197 web

The SolarX solar car: part 1

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Swinburne University designs a Mad Max-inspired car that could survive in a post-apocalyptic world devoid of fuel or power, writes Clint Steele.

Solar cars have been around for more than 30 years. Most ReNew readers will have seen at least one story about the World Solar Challenge, the solar car race from Darwin to Adelaide (including in the last ReNew!).


Solar cars now readily make this journey every two years. In fact, it may have become a bit passé. There was a time when the event would gain considerable attention, but now it seems less of a challenge and more of a hobby for those with the desire and technical know-how, and the media is less interested.

Perhaps it’s time to take solar cars to the next level.

The idea to make a commercially viable solar car—one that can be sold at a profit and so allow for a sustainable business—is not completely new. There is the Venturi Eclectic, for example (see full article for details).

Of course, there’s a lot more needed than an idea to make something happen. Experience, expertise and commercial nous are essential.

This is the first article in a series about a group of Australians (solar racers, engineering students and business investors) working together to develop a locally produced solarpowered sports car for road use.

The power of solar

Imagine a car that will keep on running as long as the sun keeps rising each day. No matter how far you are from the nearest service station, you can keep driving. That’s the strength of the solar car: complete freedom.

Not only can you keep on going, you know that there is no question of pollution while you drive. Standard electric cars need power from somewhere and this might be a renewable source or not. With a solar car, there is no doubt: it’s clean.

That was the idea from the chairman of Aurora Solar Racing: a Mad Max-inspired car that could survive in a post-apocalyptic world devoid of fuel or power, and designed to show to the world just how powerful solar power can be.

It is intended that the solar car will look and handle like a sports car, with respectable take off and tight handling, to counter some of the common stereotypes about solar cars (slow, poor handling, more like a golf buggy than a real car) and so demonstrate the wider potential of solar power. The plan is that this is a car that could be used for doing the shopping, but also for more exciting things.

Read the full article in ReNew 126, or part 2 of the article here.


Carrying power

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Can pedal power be used to replace a car? Adam Peck says yes, with his household replacing one car with two electric cargo bikes. He discusses the options.

Cargo bikes are becoming more and more popular these days. This article explains what they are and how to go about choosing one for your needs. It also highlights my family’s journey from a two-car family with two garage-bound pushies to our new one-car status with two well-used electric cargo bikes.


Cargo bikes have become very popular in Holland and Denmark. They are often used as a family transport vehicle in these countries’ bike-friendly cities—and also just for lugging bulky items around. Most of these are pedal-powered pushies due to the mainly flat roads and short distances.

The case for electric
In Australia, cargo bikes are becoming a more common sight around the roads, carrying kids and cargo. At least here in Perth, it seems that these are often electric cargo bikes. With our more hilly roads and longer distances, an electric cargo bike is more practical, making it more likely that it will be used frequently, and as a car replacement.

Cargo bikes are pretty heavy and the loads they carry can be even heavier, another reason why electric assistance is an attractive option. Most box-style cargo bikes (bakfiets, or box bikes) weigh 30+ kg, and can carry 80+ kg in the box, 40 kg on the back rack plus the weight of the rider—over 250 kg in total! With those sorts of loads, unless you have legs of steel, you might have to get off and push that bike uphill if it doesn’t provide some assistance.

Cargo bike styles
There are a couple of different styles of cargo bikes. I nominally split them into three categories: bikes, trikes and utilities.

Read the full article in ReNew 126

Sunswift - eVe

The sunny side of the street – Solar cars evolve

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Amy Rolfe checks out the cars competing in the 2013 World Solar Challenge, powered by nothing but solar energy.


The battle for efficiency and sustainability can be seen in everything from recycling bins to our rooftops as Australian society becomes more concerned about the damage our way of life is having on the environment. One sector of our lives, however, has remained relatively untouched—our cars. The electric car movement has begun to work on this problem as they integrate with rooftop solar systems and upgrade petrol vehicles with electric motors and increasingly light lithium battery packs. But another group of enthusiasts has taken a different approach.

The World Solar Challenge (WSC) has been running since 1987—a marathon 3000 km journey from Darwin to Adelaide powered by nothing but solar energy. Teams leave Darwin and drive as far as possible until 5 pm each day, when they must stop wherever they are and set up camp until the next day. In 2013, 48 teams from 24 countries are participating in the WSC.

The vehicles fall into three different classes—the Michelin Cruiser class, the Go Pro Adventure class and the indubitably gorgeous Challenger class.

The Cruiser class is created for practicality—cars that would meet road registration requirements in their country of origin and carry the driver and at least one passenger.

The Adventure class consists only of cars that have already participated in previous races, including the WSC.

The Challenger class is at the forefront of design, striving to create faster, sleeker and more energy efficient cars than any that have ever graced the Stuart Highway. This year, 28 teams have cars in the Challenger class. Two of these teams are Australian: TeamArrow, a Queensland-based team, who are participating for their first year ever with the Arrow1, and the University of Western Sydney, with their vehicle the SolAce.

Two other Australian teams, the TAFE SA Solar Spirit team with Solar Spirit 3 and UNSW Sunswift with eVe, are partaking in the Cruiser class, and the Aurora Vehicle Association are participating in the Adventure class with their familiar car, the Aurora Evolution.

A guide to form
The Aurora team manager, Andris Sampsons, gave us an insider’s opinion on the likely top contenders this year: “The Challenger class represents the pinnacle of solar vehicle efficiency. Based on previous form and their new vehicles it looks like the top picks would be Nuon Solar Team, Nuna 7 (Netherlands), Tokai University, Tokai Challenger (Japan) and University of Michigan, Generation (USA).”

But he notes: “In pushing the envelope on efficiency and performance, some teams are pushing the design rule boundaries and it will be interesting to see whether the prizewinner will be ultimately determined by post-race protest, rather than on the line placing.” Interesting!

In the revolutionary Cruiser class, Andris likes the look of both UNSW Solar Racing Team’s eVe and the Hochschule Bochum Solarcar Team’s PowerCore SunCruiser.

Read the full article in ReNew 125

group shot

Prize position – First place (first try!)

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Dedicated teacher John Evans tells the story of how his students won the 2012 schools e-bike race in the Hunter Valley EV Prize.

As part of our Year 9 and 10 Design and Technology course, Hunter Christian School registered to compete in the 2012 EV Prize Schools competition. This is an endurance race for student-designed and made electric bikes, organised by the University of Newcastle. The competitors are allowed a budget of just $200 to purchase an energy source. This is generally a battery of some sort, but other options are possible. The team that completes the most laps in 1.5 hours wins!


It was our first time entering. After many hours of research, the school’s two teams settled on a 24 volt LiFePO4 (lithium iron phosphate) 20 amp-hour battery to power the two bikes. This relatively new lithium battery technology needs a computer to manage the charging to maintain battery health (a BMS, or battery management system). Both the batteries and the BMS were purchased from Catavolt in Cardiff for $275.

After another lengthy period of research with some good learning for everyone involved on motor theory and types, the teams selected a 500 watt brushless DC motor with a built-in computer controller and planetary gearbox.

We chose this motor because it came with a planetary gearbox that efficiently dropped the rpm down to a usable range. We are not talking about professional riders, so the likelihood of 15- or 16-year-old students keeping the motor operating within a close rpm range was low. The motor is very efficient (93%) around 3000 rpm. With roughly a 10:1 drop in the gearbox, this gave us about 300 rpm.

Thanks to The Bike Man in Islington, the team obtained two secondhand bikes: a road bike and a mountain bike. Lots of bike maintenance and repairs ensued, prior to the rebirth of the bikes as 21st century electrical vehicles. There were plenty of breakages and some assistance from another shop, Two Wheel Industries, before the heartache subsided and two reliable vehicles rolled out ready for the race track.

The end result was a bike (with no pedals!) capable of doing 40 kph on the flat and able to maintain 30 kph around our local go-karts track.
In addition to building the bikes, the students were given a number of other options to be part of the team. Some designed a banner, logos, team bags and T-shirts. This meant that more students had the opportunity to use their gifts and skills and we all learnt lots about working as a team and how to manage a project.

Read the full article in ReNew 124

Eon composite

An electric bike buyers guide

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Cleaner transport options like cycling are not for everyone. But what if the bike could do a lot of the work? Lance Turner looks at the current options in electric bikes in ReNew 123.

Electric bikes (commonly called e-bikes) give the average person another option when it comes to mobility. While a regular human-powered bike is not seen as an option by many due to the need to be the only source of motive power, an e-bike looks a lot more attractive.


Firstly, we should start by looking at what an electric bike actually is. E-bikes come in a vast array of shapes and sizes, but there are two main categories—road-going and off-road bikes. These both consist of a bike or bike-like frame fitted with an electric motor (either frame-mounted or in one of the wheel hubs) which is powered by a battery (usually a lithium-based battery for low weight) via an electronic speed controller. There are many variations and many suppliers allow you to mix and match components or have a range of different models with different combinations, so finding an e-bike that suits your needs is no longer the problem it used to be.

Road bike power limit

Road-going bicycles are limited in motor power to just 250 watts in Australia, and 300 watts in New Zealand. In Australia, the limit was previously 200 watts but this was recently changed to 250 watts for ‘pedelecs’—bikes that only provide power assistance when you pedal. This reflects the global market, with adoption of the current European standard (EN 15194). Victoria was the first state to enact the change in September 2012; information on the new rules can be found at

So in Australia there are now two categories of road-going bikes—bikes that can run on motor power only, which can be up to 200 watts, and pedelecs, which can be up to 250 watts. There’s nothing like making legislation consistent!

Still, 250 watts is not a lot better than 200 watts. In some countries, such as the USA, there is no power limit, simply a maximum motor-only speed limit—a much more sensible limit as it enables the bike to better handle varying conditions such as steep hills.

Any bike with motor power over 250 watts, whether it has pedals or not, is not technically legal for use on-road under the current laws and should only be used off-road. Some designs, such as ‘step-through’ designs, may be registerable as motor scooters, or it may be better to buy a real electric moped which has passed ADR certification. It will be more expensive but it will be legal.

If you are looking at a road-going bike, then you should ask the supplier to confirm that it is legal for use on the road in your state. If they are not sure, you might be best to look elsewhere.

Buying the wrong bike, one that is technically not legal on the roads, can be a problem—or not. Some people ride without problems, others have been pulled over and been told they can no longer ride their bike. This can be a rather expensive problem as you are then left with a bike that is designed purely for on-road use, yet can no longer be used on the road.

Read the full article in ReNew 123


Getting the lead out: Alternatives to old battery technology

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There have been lots of promises of new battery technologies in recent years, but just how close are we to replacing lead-acid batteries for renewable energy storage? Lance Turner looks at a few advances.


With many countries looking to increase the amount of renewable energy generation, it is generally recognised that a certain amount of high-capacity energy storage will eventually be needed to flatten out load and generation profiles.
To some degree, the coming proliferation of electric vehicles with bi-directional charging systems will provide much of this capacity, but EVs will not achieve a good penetration into the vehicle market until battery prices have fallen considerably.
As mentioned in the EV update article in this issue, leasing batteries instead of buying them can be one solution, but ultimately someone has to pay for the cost of those batteries. What we really need is a low cost battery technology with high energy and power densities, using abundant and environmentally friendly materials. But does such a thing exist?
Until now, large-scale storage has been the domain of lead-acid batteries due to their relatively low cost. But they have a low energy density (around 35 Wh/kg at best) and only medium energy density. This means they are not really suitable for electric vehicles, except for short-range vehicles, and the materials in them are quite toxic, despite being fully recyclable.
There have been a number of attempts to improve lead-acid battery capabilities, such as the CSIRO ultra-battery, but the key problem is that you are dealing with a very dense and therefore heavy material, so any energy density gains are going to be limited.
With the popularity of portable electronics there has been an explosion in lithium chemistry battery developments, with improvements in energy and power density as well as safety. The lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) chemistry has shown the most promise, and most current commercial electric vehicles are now using these batteries due to their long cycle life, deep discharge capabilities and high resistance to fire, even when badly damaged.
However, while prices for these batteries have dropped in recent years as demand, and hence production levels have ramped up, a set of LiFePO4 batteries suitable to run the average EV or off-grid renewable energy system is still a considerable upfront cost, even if the long term cost is lower than lead-acid due to higher reliability and longer lifespans.
Indeed, LiFePO4 batteries cost around $500 per kilowatt-hour here in Australia at current prices, not including the battery management system (BMS). This is around twice the price of lead-acid batteries.
While lithium batteries will take over as the main storage chemistry in the near future, what other options are likely to appear, and are there likely to be technologies with higher energy densities and lower costs?
While electric vehicles need energy storage that is light, strong and preferably low cost, not all of the same criteria are necessarily required for stationary storage systems. The main requirements for such systems are reliability, long cycle life and low cost per unit energy stored, but battery weight is generally not an issue.

Read the full article in ReNew 121

Volt front-side

EVs are coming—slowly!

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Where the EV industry is headed


We’ve looked at electric vehicles a number of times in recent years, but progress towards getting them on the road has been slow, at least in Australia. Lance Turner looks at what we can expect to see on our roads in the near future.

It seems the car industry has been promising electric vehicles for quite a while now, but in Australia very little is happening. We have seen the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi iMiEV enter the Australian market a little while ago, but uptake has been slow.

This is mainly due to the high price tags on what are effectively small cars. $50,000 plus is likely to be more than most people will want to pay for a small limited-range vehicle, especially when you look at what’s on offer in other countries.

Other potential causes of a slower than wished for uptake are the perceived issues of limited range, lack of charging infrastructure and lack of incentives to switch to electric vehicles. The rapidly escalating price of electricity in many parts of Australia is also reducing one of the potential advantages of owning an EV—reduced running costs.

However, it should be noted that other advanced technologies were also slow to get started. Hybrid vehicles were initially very slow to interest the consumer, and in fact, at the same point of their introduction, they were far less popular than EVs already are. Yet the Toyota Prius is now one of the biggest selling cars in the world. Toyota has also extended the Prius range and the hybrid drive system is appearing in other models. But, hybrids are still fossil fuel powered cars.

This is where Toyota’s plans get interesting. They are not only going to offer plug-in hybrid versions of the Prius, but are also planning to release pure EVs in the near future. Interestingly, one of those is a rehash of their first original EV from the 90s—the Rav4. Given Toyota’s global distribution network, it’s only a matter of time before the Rav4 arrives on our shores. How it will be priced is another matter entirely.

Image: Called a long-range electric vehicle (LREV), the Volt combines a liquid-cooled 288 cell 16.5 kWh lithium ion battery pack (pictured at right) and 111 kW/370 Nm electric motor to provide up to 87 km battery range. If you need to go further before recharging, a 1.4 litre petrol engine generator kicks in to provide electricity to the electric motor and to recharge the battery, giving unlimited range. The Volt allows you to use it as either a pure EV or as a hybrid when needed.

The standard charging system can use any regular power point and can charge the car in under 10 hours while the fast charge system can charge the car in under four hours.

Read the full article in ReNew 121

Nissan Leaf

Understanding EV emissions

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Does it really make a difference to your emissions if you buy an EV but run it on fossil-fuel-generated electricity, compared to sticking with the petrol guzzler? Bryce Gaton examines this issue.

You’ve bought an electric vehicle (EV), so you’re no longer using fossil fuel, right? Not quite: if you use electricity generated from fossil fuels, you’re still causing CO2 emissions somewhere—just not in your immediate vicinity.


The question that I address in this article is: Does owning an EV make any difference to your personal transport emissions? To investigate this, I will look at three scenarios for calculating your personal transport CO2 emissions:

  1. Buy an EV for city driving, but do no other CO2 reduction measures
  2. Combine an EV with a solar array at home
  3. Other methods for reduction of CO2 for EV electricity consumption.

Scenario 1:
Buy an EV for city driving, but take no other CO2 reduction measures
For this scenario, the exact answer will depend on where you live. Burning different fossil fuels, such as brown or black coal, or natural gas, produces different amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse pollutants (together referred to as CO2-e: see note 2). On top of this, some states also use hydroelectricity and wind power, which produce significantly less CO2-e emissions.

Therefore, as individual states and territories use different mixes of brown or black coal, natural gas, hydro and wind to generate electricity, any analysis of electricity CO2-e will need to take account of where the EV is used.

A second complication is that the figures generally stated for CO2 emissions for new internal combustion engine (ICE) cars are not the full story. The best figure to use, and the figure used in carbon accounting processes, is CO2-e. A comparison of EVs on fossil-fueled electricity and ICE vehicle emissions needs to be made on an ‘apples with apples’ basis.

Read the full article in ReNew 120.

DIY cargo bike – A recycling adventure

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Inspired by the abundance of cargo bikes across Europe, Simon Waugh built one at home from salvaged materials.

A while back I was lucky enough to enjoy a trip to Europe, where I was struck by the widespread use of bikes for everyday use. In Amsterdam I was particularly impressed by the ubiquitous cargo bike, to be seen at every turn ferrying children to and from primary school, bringing home the groceries or delivering goods for small businesses.


Often the next step after looking at a bike is trying it out, but unfortunately the opportunity never presented itself and I returned home wondering what it would be like to use one of these amazing machines for real.

I started looking at them on the internet and discovered that I could purchase an imported Bakfiets cargo bike quite easily, but the prices were enough to make my eyes water.

Birth of a shed project
Somehow the idea of owning a cargo bike just wouldn’t go away and six months later I hit on an answer—I’d build my own! Perhaps I have too much spare time, but all of those shed projects have to start somewhere.

What about raw materials? During an early morning walk around the local streets I noticed that the piles of junk waiting for the next council kerbside collection included several bikes, in various states of repair. Some were complete wrecks, while others were in reasonable condition and even too good for what I had in mind. I returned home with a couple of likely candidates: a venerable Malvern Star ‘racer’ and a ‘supermarket’ mountain bike, complete with sprung fork.

A conventional cargo bike has a smaller front wheel, typically about 20 inches (51 centimetres). This is for practical purposes, allowing the front fork to fit in front of the cargo box and making it easier to arrange a steering linkage. However, among my collection of ‘it’ll be useful some day’ bits and pieces, I had a front wheel complete with a 200 watt motor, which seemed like a worthwhile addition to the project. I couldn’t see any way of building the motor into a smaller wheel, so I decided that my cargo bike would have a full size front wheel.

Read the full article in ReNew 119.

Cute little ute

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Ralph Hibble has driven more than 3000 kilometres in his electric Citroën since registering it last July.

Knowing that Citroëns are lightweight vehicles suitable for electric car conversions, I have taken a Citroën 2CV, previously crashed between two four-wheel drives and converted it to electric. I am an electric vehicle and Citroën enthusiast and already own a vintage Citroën AK van, plus a more modern Citroën hatchback.


With a badly damaged boot from the crash, I decided to make it a utility, with 160kg of batteries bolted to the back tray. The original gearbox and disc brake have been retained, close coupled to the electric motor, while the engine, exhaust, fuel tank and air cleaner have all been removed.

The front and rear bumpers were destroyed in the crash and have been replaced with aluminium bumpers. Standard 2cv tail lights have been recessed into the ute back and a Citroën logo has been glued in place.

To read the full version of this article in PDF format, click here.

EV charge at CERES

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CERES Community Environment Park in Melbourne launched a solar powered Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Station on March 22. The station is located just inside the CERES main gates on the corner of Stewarts and Robert Streets in Brunswick East and will be available to the public to charge their electric cars and bicycles.

The station is a working example of renewable energy and green power, and is an important step in the expansion of open access public EV charging facilities.


The station is powered by 2.7kW PV panels that have been fitted on the station’s roof. The station is fitted with a ChargePoint, which is compatible with all major electric vehicles on the market or about to come on the market. EV drivers will be able to locate and navigate themselves to the station with an iPhone or Android app.

The project has been realised through a Green Precincts Grant from the Federal Department of Sustainability and is a collaboration with the Victorian Department of Transport, Delta Energy Systems and Q-Cells Australia.

The solar PV system that will generate clean and renewable electricity to power electric vehicles was donated by Delta who provided the inverter and Q-Cells who provided the solar modules.

The station is part of the Victoria Government’s Electric Vehicle Trial, created to better understand the process, timelines and barriers for making to transition to electric vehicle technology. The trial is being delivered by the Department of Transport until mid 2014 and 180 households and 60 company fleets will be involved.

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Mythbusting electric vehicles

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With so much interest being shown by car manufacturers, EVs have become all the rage, at least overseas. But are they a real solution for low carbon transport or a technological red herring? Members of ATA’s Geelong and Melbourne Electric Vehicle Branches investigate.

Like anything new, there is usually a mismatch between the public understanding and the reality. Remember when CDs first appeared we were told that they were indestructible! Electric vehicles have seen similar problems, although it would be more accurate to say that electric vehicles have been ‘rediscovered’ as opposed to calling them new.


The beginning of the 20th Century marked the beginning of electric vehicle dominance in the pleasure car field. In 1900 in the United States, 4200 cars were sold—38% electric, 22% petrol and 40% steam powered.

As members of the ATA Geelong and Melbourne Electric Vehicle branches we do have a passion for this technology. Several of us have been driving electric vehicles for some time, and if anything, we have found the passion to be stronger now, since we have become hooked on the experience of relatively quiet, arguably clean, oil independent, nearly service free, low-cost transport.

Acknowledging our bias, the following is our best attempt to address some electric vehicle myths and present what we can of the ‘facts’.

Batteries cannot store enough electricity for a useful driving distance
The fear of running out of battery charge is called ‘range anxiety’ and is certainly seen as the Achilles heel of a battery powered car. However, more than 90% of commuting trips in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne are 30km or less. This is well within the range of electric cars, which can currently give at least a 100km range, with many models going much further.

It takes too long to recharge
Interestingly, whilst recharging can be done at any point where the car is parked to give further distance, overseas experience has shown that this is rarely done as people prefer to charge at home while the car is garaged overnight. The actual time taken to recharge is arguably more accurately reflected in how long it takes to plug the car in at night and unplug it in the morning (as compared to the time spent finding a petrol station, pulling into it, waiting in the queue, refilling, waiting to pay and then pulling back into traffic).

Aren’t you just moving the pollution out of the cities to the countryside?
This is by far the greatest perceived issue with an EV. If you use solar panels as the charging source or elect to use accredited GreenPower, then running the vehicle is virtually emissions free. However, if you use the normal peak period electricity supply in Australia, with its fossil fuel generating plants, then there is pollution associated with charging an electric car.

Read the full article in ReNew 118

Around the world in 80 days

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Dickson Beattie drove an EV called TREV through parts of the far east

Last year I participated in ZERO Race, an electric car race around the world in 80 days across 16 countries travelling 30,000km with zero greenhouse gas emissions. The cars were all powered by renewable energy and all unavoidable emissions like shipping, flights involved with getting people to and from the event and diesel from the support van were all accounted for and offset.


ZERO Race is the brainchild of Swiss adventurer Louis Palmer, known for circumnavigating the globe in his Solar Taxi.

Some didn’t think the event was possible, thinking there would be no electricity to be found along parts of the route. The race rules were that teams had to travel 250km at 80km/h then be able to charge fully in two hours. The days would be split in two drives, with a battery charge over lunch. All very simple in theory!

Australia’s entrant was TREV, the bright green three-wheeled electric vehicle borrowed from the University of South Australia by an independent team of enthusiasts, environmentalists, adventurers and Alternative Technology Association members known as TeamTREV. Internally the car was stripped then equipped with a new motor, batteries, suspension and electronics designed to take it around the world. We purchased $400 of wind power to be fed into the grid while we were driving and pulling dirty power from the grid elsewhere.

The race started in Geneva, Switzerland at the UN headquarters on August 22 and travelled 7000km through Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Ukraine. When I met the race in Russia the crew was exhausted; it had been a massive effort from the beginning to get sponsorship, get the car together and get it registered and to the start line on time.

My journey

I met the race in Tula around 200km before Moscow. There had been a mistake with distances for this day meaning we got into Moscow at 5am, my welcome to the race!

We headed due east out of Moscow through the beautiful and mystical cities of Nizniy, Novgorod and Kazan, passing the mighty Volga River. The days were demanding: the schedule was tight through Russia with media events during lunch time, charging generally in the town square and again on arrival in our overnight destinations, bad roads and thick traffic slowed down by the endless line of trucks.

Onward and eastward we crossed the Ural mountains which divides Europe and Asia. I will remember the freezing wind and snow and the battery temperature sensors reading 0°C. This race is definitely a great test of an electric car, with the cars tested in all conditions.

Driving through the Asian part of Russia into Chelyabinsk, which is the world’s dumping ground for nuclear waste, we passed within 60km of the most radioactive place on earth, a lake where waste was simply poured in. We were told if you were to spend one hour here the chances are you would drop dead! We spent that night sleeping in a disused sanitarium for radioactively exposed children.

Crossing the border into Kazakstan we were all a little nervous heading into the unknown. I had two folders full of official papers, one for me and one for the car. It was a half day process to get us and the cars through. The biggest hold-up was that border officials could not believe the number plate was ‘TREV’; apparently it was the first time they had seen a number plate without any numbers in it.

Kazakstan was where the real adventure started. There was no charging or accommodation organised, no plan, no guides to help us—just a map and a date we had to cross the Chinese border 2500km away.

This was truly the wild East; think yurts on the side of the road, wild horses, cattle across the road, seemingly endless deserts, very long driving legs, terrible roads full of pot holes, sometimes not seeing the support vehicle for three days at a time. One night the town I stopped in had no beds so I slept in TREV whilst I plugged in at an old barn. The charger kept the car warm overnight and it was suprisingly comfortable!

I made a brief stopover in Atana, the booming new capital city built with oil money. It’s amazing to think there was nothing there 10 years ago. We had a chance to catch up on sleep and maintenance on the cars. I was very lucky after hitting a pot hole that the only damage was to one of the shock absorbers. The last leg in Kazakstan was through the traditional capital Almaty, a very beautiful historic city with a huge mountain range backdrop and which was very green, almost tropical, like an oasis in a country full of desert.

Crossing the border into China at Khorgas was another half-day affair. The only way they would believe the number plate was to look for themselves, which lead to another 20 minutes of photos!
It was a cultural shock to go from a very poor country to the booming economic powerhouse that is China. After we changed language and changed electrical plugs we thought we were ready for the switch. Yet, it seems Chinese electrical standards are non-existent. We melted cables, blew up powerpoints and made switchboards so hot that they smoked. The second night I plugged in at the hotel’s reception the outlet caught alight. After the ensuing argument, where I tried to explain it was the fault of the hotel’s wiring not my car, I was kicked out of the hotel!

I had to change my tack towards charging. I bought my own outlets and thick cable and would wire them direct into the switchboards, live, connecting direct onto the incoming supply. It worked well, so from then on I looked for switchboards, not power outlets.

The motorways were generally great through China, except the parts that were under construction. We sometimes encountered detours onto dirt roads 100km long. TREV was designed for city commuting, not driving around the world, but stood up well to the dirt roads that would test most 4WDs!

We headed through the Gobi desert, again faced with long days of nothingness. This is a serious desert though, the second largest in the world. After spending the night below sea level in Turpan, we spent a very hot day behind the wheel with the stretches between towns getting longer. One leg there was nothing but sand and road for 150km. Not realising this on the map I nearly misjudged it and only just crawled into town with 7km left in the batteries.

In the city of Lanzhou I worked on a new charging method: plugging in at a carwash would mean paying for the car to get washed whilst getting a free charge.

Passing along the Great Wall of China we were travelling the ancient silk route, with more broken roads and more mountain passes. We did fit in some sightseeing, stopping in Xian to see the terracotta warriors, but this meant we had to make up the time, so I drove through the night, arriving at the hotel at 5am. I had a lot of trouble with charging that night, getting a total of one hour of sleep, which I could not catch up on as the distances in the last two days were massive.

On the last leg I opted to drive straight past the last hotel and drive through the night so I could be first into Shanghai. I hit the last motorway and the sun was getting higher in the sky. What a feeling of euphoria weaving through morning peak hour traffic and overtaking cars at over 100km/h.

Seeing the gradual change from Europe to Asia was the adventure of a lifetime.

Discover the full ZERO Race story at


eVolvo: A Swedish EVolution

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Looking for the perfect medium-sized car for an EV conversion, Greg Sievert and Wayne Bowers decided it just had to be a Volvo!

Click here to download the extended version of this article.


A shortened version of this article originally appeared in ReNew 117.