How to Build a Zero Carbon Car
By Bill Moore
Canadian Bill Kemp lives in a near-zero carbon, off-grid, solar house in the country. He's written numerous books about renewable energy. His day job is engineering sustainable power systems.
But he wasn't satisfied. He still drove a carbon-spewing automobile. There had to be a better way, a zero carbon way to get to and from work, so he set out to build a The Zero-Carbon Car.
When Aztext Press sent me the book this past winter, it sat on the shelf unread. I had several other books ahead of it to read and authors to interview. Besides, I assumed -- wrongly -- that this was just another theoretical book on how hybrids and biodiesel and electric cars will save humanity from itself.
A couple emails from Aztext inquiring if I'd read the book yet prompted me to pull if off the shelf and start thumbing through it one afternoon.
Sure there was the usual lamentations about dwindling oil supplies and global warming and why corn-based ethanol and natural gas-dependent hydrogen aren't the saviors they've been portrayed. But there, somewhere around the middle of the book, all 544-pages of it, emerged, piece-by-piece, the detailed blue-print -- and electronic circuit schematics -- for a bio-diesel-electric, plug-in range extended electric car.
Bill Kemp was transforming theory into reality and fully documenting the process along the way. So, as soon as I could arrange it, I got him on the telephone and talked to him about the book and his tiny Mazda Miata REEV.
As he explains in this 35-minute interview, it was the idea for the book that came first, but as the project gradually evolved, he decided that he had to put theory to the test by building the vehicle. Gratefully, he would recruit the assistance of a number of local electric car enthusiasts from the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa (EVCO), pictured above at the official unveiling.
While Zero-Carbon Car isn't necessarily a step-by-step, how-to book, it comes pretty darn close to telling and showing you everything you need to know to build a similar project. Kemp explains he picked the Miata because he got a good deal on it... always an important criteria for a project like this. The entire project -- car and all -- had a budget of $35,000CAD. For cost reasons, the car uses 10 Optima lead-acid batteries weighing 510 lbs (231 kg). Each is connected to its own small Soneil Co. charger. The 120-volt pack -- which is neatly housed in an insulated box for protection against Canadian winters -- powers a series-wound DC motor, mounted in place of the car's former IC engine. The entire electric drive -- batteries, chargers, motor and controller -- mounts under the Miata's front hood.
In order to extend the range of the car, Kemp and his colleagues selected the German-made Fischer Panda diesel generator (pictured below), which is normally used in marine applications like sailboats. The company modified the unit from its conventional 48-volt output to 120 volts to match the needs of Kemp's car. Amazingly, the 238 lbs (108 kg), 10kW gen-set fit neatly into the car's tiny trunk, with the engineering assistance of EVOC's Rick Lane. The entire process is meticulously documented in text and photos in the book.
Still not satisfied that he'd built a car with the potential to be zero-carbon, especially on the liquid-fuel side, Kemp then built his own small bio-diesel refinery in his garage -- and there are plans and explanations for that, as well. To make sure his electricity is "green" he has bought renewable energy tags from Toronto-based Bullfrog Power. As he explains in the interview and in the book, this more or less insures that regardless of where he plugs in the car to recharge the batteries, his portion of the power drawn from the mains is helping pay for more renewable energy installations. And of course, he can charge the car from his solar panels at home, when the car's there.
But as with any experiment, the project has its short-comings, which you'll learn about when you listen to the complete interview using either of the two MP3 players at the top of the page, or by downloading the file to your computer for transfer to your favorite MP3 device.
For a glimpse of the Zero-Carbon Car in action, Kemp prepared the video below as a teaser to promote the book, which costs $34.95, but is an amazing wealth of information, both high level policy and dirt-under-the-nails practical. If you're looking for inspiration and guidance in building your own plug-in, range-extended hybrid -- for about the expected price of a Volt -- this will be your bible.