Turquoise Energy News #4

Craig Carmichael   June 5th 2008

   Last month I wrote that I hoped most everything I was working on would be up and running in a month or two. While good progress continues, that schedule won't be met.

   The Electric Hubcaptm car drive motor has been done for a while now, and I've made a "fairing" cover for it (genuine garry oak!). The Turquoise Motor Controller to turn it has now been assembled. Although there appears to be a lot of force (judging by all the vibration), and the wheel has moved back and forth a bit, it hasn't turned properly yet. I'm now troubleshooting it. A little movie of the second test is here (for a limited time): http://www.saers.com/~craig/ElHupcapTest2Clip.AVI [22MB].

   The theory for the wave power unit appears sound, but my mechanism as built needs some reworking, and it's been taking a back seat to the other projects. Essentially the short motions from the small waves available at boat ramps (even on very stormy days) are largely dissipated in mechanical slack and in bouncing the trailer, and what's left over isn't enough to overcome the friction and generator cogging in the mechanism. Here's a movie clip from my last test:
http://www.saers.com/~craig/CLIP0011-WPTest5Clip.AVI [26MB].

   The batteries are being delayed for another reason: I've found, and am figuring out details of implementing, a better chemistry that promises almost three times the energy storage of Ni-MH from almost the same chemicals!

   And increasingly with warmer weather my attention has been directed towards making lumber from logs on an electric sawmill I designed and made a couple of years ago, hoping to make ends meet with some specialty lumber sales. ("V.I. Exotic Hardwoods")

Topics Below:

Technology Implementation Editorial
The Electric HubcapTM Drive Motor
Turquoise Motor Controller
Turquoise BatteryTM
Site C Peace River Hydro versus Vancouver Island Wave Power

Technology Implementation Editorial

   I'm not sensing much potential commercial interest in my work. If I still find none here when the designs are ready, I'll post them on the web with full details for anyone in the world to use rather than see my work go to waste. The Turquoise Energy MPMG is already up as a fabulous stand-alone electrical generator that anyone can make even at home, with the comment that it might make a great electric car motor, the idea I have since been pursuing.

   Do we want to lead the world with these sorts of technologies, or import them from China in a few years? As long as inventors and product developers like myself with a track record of "world's firsts" and "world's bests" fall through the cracks and are left to fend for ourselves while glossy "pie in the sky" projects merit awards, bursaries, R & D money and investment capital, it seems to me western civilization is handicapping itself. I have never seen our society so reluctant to entertain and invest in promising, practical looking new ideas, engines that can drive real change, while, for example, China, India and others seem to be forging ahead. I think if the computer revolution was starting out today, no one would take much notice and Steve Jobs and Bill Gates would end up working in some obscure jobs somewhere.
   Everybody seems to be waiting for somebody else to deliver new solutions to our increasingly serious energy problems, while those with resources draw up all the plans and budgets to further the status quo without reference to things that could easily alter the whole picture if they were encouraged.

   For example, ocean wave power could be as big as river hydro, yet it can start at a very modest scale and be deployed as needed at perhaps half the capital cost per KWH. Why then the big, well organized push for the six billion dollar "all or nothing" site C dam megaproject and no organized effort to harness the wave power that crashes in continuously from the open Pacific on our wild island west coast? If we as a society gave it any priority, serious wave power sites would be on line in two years.
   The R & D budget to get it happening could be one percent of the almost a billion dollars now being spent simply to upgrade power lines to Vancouver Island.

   I could be wrong, but I expect if people were proposing such things in China, people in authority would be latching on to them and prudently putting some resources into them, and factories would be ready to go as soon as the product is producable. As it is, if once I put the designs on the web, with the lack of interest here it's entirely possible we'll be importing the finished products - car plug-in hybrid kits, axial flux electrical motors and generators, better batteries and wave power machines - and whole electric cars - from China in a few years. Then western industry will be left to play catch-up, much like the North American auto industry vis a vis Japan's.
   It is nowhere written that the west has a monopoly on being at the forefront of progress. Prudence is wise and new ideas need to be tested, but we need to dare, to err and to progress, starting within those prudent limits. As a plumber once said to me, "The only people who never make mistakes are the ones who never do anything." With our massive resistance toward most any real change we seem to be losing our place at the forefront of thought and development in religion, philosophy, governmental and industrial organization and culture.

The Electric HubcapTM Drive Motor

   The first electric hubcap was mounted on the car in April, but testing awaited completion of the solid state motor controller and batteries. The awaited controller parts (high-spec power MOSFET driver transistors) arrived in late May and I was able to finish the controller a few days ago.
   Although it hasn't run properly yet, testing at low voltage shows a surprising energy, expressed as very strong vibration, and I have little doubt that one motor will be enough to run the car. The reasons for a second motor on the opposite wheel, then, are: to balance the thrust, improve and balance the dynamic braking, provide more traction when it's slippery... and to make the car a real "hot rod"!

   With the controller in with the motor on the wheel, all that needs to be mounted inside the car is the dash control panel, an electric windshield defogger/heater fan (perhaps built into the dash panel in a production version), and the batteries, which I hope will either be even smaller and lighter than seemed possible a month ago, (less than the previous "size of a spare tire") or, by added capacity, will be good for 100+ Km driving range instead of 30-40 Km. (When the batteries die you have to switch to the regular gas engine to continue driving.)

The motor doesn't stick out as far as the rear view mirror. Among other jobs, it really needs the Electric Hubcap  -> Power to Go -> label put on! Though above the wheel rim, it seems surprisingly low to the ground and I can see some care will be needed parallel parking at curbs. I'll put on some coil springs fore and aft that make a noise when they rub, a device once popular around 1960 as I recall.

Electric Hubcap Motor Factoids:

- The motor per se has no moving parts: only the car's wheel turns.
- The frictionless magnetic link magnifies useful power by transmitting it all directly to the wheel. It requires no gear shifting or other attention by the driver, and is virtually silent.
- The RPM with 13 inch wheels is about 10 per one kilometer per hour of speed, that is, 450 RPM at 45 Km/Hour. Most electric motors prefer much higher speeds, but the "Hubcap" has good low RPM torque and power. 120 Km/hour is just 1200 RPM, a stately pace for most electric motors but a good high end range for the "Hubcap".
- There are no connections with or changes to the car's existing mechanical components and systems.
- When not in use, the motor has no more effect on the car than any other 40 pounds of luggage.
- The motor sticks out just 4" from the wheel, less protrusion than the outside rear view mirror.
- A tachometer coil and an IC temperature sensor (AD590) are built in to ascertain actual speed and to warn of any overheating.
- It's air cooled. I have a vague idea it will get pretty hot driving a car up a mountain. I have an idea for "porous" polyester casting to improve the stator's internal cooling, that I hope to try out on the second motor.
- The rotor is a 10 inch steel disk with 12 NIB supermagnets. The stator, cast in polyester, has 9 coils of 60 turns in 3 phase "Y" configuration. Magnetic flux is axial.
- A unique design breakthrough is that the stator iron is strips of nail gun finishing nails in the coil cores. Without even an axle, it is simple enough to make at home, or the coils could be wound by machine and just set into place for the casting, for super economical mass production.

Turquoise Motor Controller

   The six 200 volt, 65 amps power MOSFET transistors having finally arrived, I've put together the solid state controller that converts the DC power of the battery into variable frequency AC power, on a PWB mounted in a chassis made from sheet aluminum and a couple of nice aluminum heat sinks that have been in my garage for - um - 30 years. Although I'm a BCIT Electronics Technologist who once designed and built whole computers, this is my first circuit design/electronics project in a couple of decades.
   In my first few tests, it hasn't turned the (jacked up) wheel properly. I've been slowly weeding out possible causes one by one: mistake in the controller wiring? motor coil wired backwards? other mistake in the motor? no... no... no...
   Hopefully I'll have it running in a few days. Then it will just need properly installing, the batteries, and of course the logo on the motor housing, to run the car.

The motor controller: a gruelling saga of measuring, figuring out what to make and how to lay it out so stray inductance wouldn't fry everything, operating heat would escape and the heavy #10 power wires wouldn't shred the delicate electronics during assembly, trips back and forth to stores (often just for a couple of "trivial" forgotten parts), hours to make a few chassis holes (mostly owing to threading taps breaking off in the holes), and finally many hours slaving over a hot soldering iron.
Above it is the cover for the driver's dash panel, with the main Forward-Off-Reverse switch. A Gas Engine On-Off switch needs to be added, with the whole unit powered from the ignition key. Conveniently, one can roughly track the battery charge simply with the trip odometer, but I'll probably add a couple of overheat warning lights. Two switches, two warning lights, and a potentiometer under the gas pedal... I can't think how to make it much simpler.

How It Works:

The DC power from the battery is converted to variable frequency three phase AC power, on three power wires that go to the motor to create a variable speed rotating magnetic field in the stator, the motionless part of the motor. That field rotates the magnet rotor on the wheel and hence the wheel. The frequency is controlled by pressing on (what else?) the "gas" pedal.

Increasing the frequency above the wheel's current speed (pressing farther) causes acceleration and the motor uses energy from the battery. Conversely, a lower frequency (letting the pedal up) causes deceleration, dynamic braking, which generates energy, which goes back into the batteries.

Frequency will go from 2Hz (2 Km/hour) to 120. At low frequencies, pulse width to the motor is limited, to eliminate the current overload otherwise associated with motors at low speeds.

Turquoise BatteryTM

While checking some chemistry details, I happened across a very intestesting electrochemical redox reaction of lanthanum: La(OH)3 + 3e- <===> La + 3OH- (-2.90 volts).

This reaction complements the usual nickel hydroxide/oxyhydroxide reaction of the positive terminal, and I had to ask myself "If lanthanum can produce -2.9 volts chemically and the reaction fits, why use it in a hydrogen storage alloy at just -.83 volts?"

The fairly similar cell would be about 3.45 volts instead of 1.35 volts (or nominally say 3.25 versus 1.2), and should have roughly the same amp hours, so 2.7 times as much energy from the same cell! Correspondingly fewer cells would be needed to attain a given voltage.

Electrolyte components to make the reaction work are evidently potassium chloride and MEK or (probably better) ethanal. I tried it with one battery and saw it charge up to voltages almost to 3 volts.

A major challenge to utilizing such reactions is that water dissociates above about 2 volts, preventing a number of otherwise good chemistries from working. My battery rather quickly discharged itself, and didn't get up to 3.45.

(Lithium cells, which provide 3 or more volts, use non-water based electrolytes, which are intrinsically slower for high power applications such as automotive uses, but don't have the 2 volt problem.) I think a voltage "ramp" can be created across the electrode separator so that the difference seen by the water at any given point is too small to dissociate it. For now I'm trying ferric oxide as the "ramping agent".

If successful, it will mean batteries 1/3 the size, weight and cost of Ni-MH, and 1/10th the size of lead-acid with way more recharge cycles, for about the same price. I think it's well worth exploring, but of course the new chemistry is going to take longer to get going and may hold unexpected surprises.

Even the old chemistry has unexpected surprises: One reads of nickel hydroxide as the positive battery electrode material. Delving deeper, one finds there's two types, alpha and beta. These convert into two types of nickel oxyhydroxide, gamma and beta. The alpha-gamma has the more energy, but the gamma doesn't convert back well because it's almost an electrical insulator, where the desired beta reaction is electrically reversible because beta nickel oxyhydroxide is conductive.

Of course, I just bought "nickel hydroxide powder" without reference to such fine details, and it seems the chemically made powder is as much alpha as beta. It seems one can convert it chemically to mostly beta, by oxidizing it with bleach and then reducing it again with hydrogen peroxide, in an alkaline environment. Yuk!

Site C Peace River Hydro
Vancouver Island Wave Power

Here is a quick economic calculation:

Captial  Cost
Power Capacity Annual Energy Environmental Impact
Site C 5.0 - 6.6 G$ 900 MW (closely)
4600 GWH/Yr Floods valuable land
VI Waves 2.2 - 3.2 G$
900 MW (roughly)
6300 GWH/Yr   
Environmentally benign


Site C: floods a large area. It's an all or nothing and high finance project: it won't make any electricity until it's done. Safe, reliable and low maintenance once completed.

Wave Power: Consists of floating units just offshore (900 MW in a single line would occupy major lengths of the stormy west coast), power poles with multiple equipment boxes attached, at regular intervals (eg, one per kilometer) along the deployed coastline and cables under the shore into the sea. It can be done incrementally as required - each individual shore installation, supporting 10 to 25 floating generators, should cost a few million dollars and soon begin producing power and revenue. Higher maintenance cost, and floating units are subject to possible occasional damage in exceptional storms. (With ferrocement and foam "starfish" or other unflippable, unsinkable units, maintenance is minimized and damage should usually be repairable.) Complementary to river hydro: power from rough seas (on stormy days when power demand is likely to be highest) will allow saving of river water for calm days.


Victoria BC