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How Electric Car Labs Work


Experimental EV Labs
Inside the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle.
Inside the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle.
Kristen Hall-Geisler

Jim Husted repairs electric forklift engines for a living in his shop in Redmond, Ore. While making his repair rounds, he met John Wayland, who, in his spare time, drag races a Datsun converted to electric power. Wayland showed Husted the two modified forklift engines crammed under the hood of his race car, White Zombie.

Husted thought he could do better, so he went back to his shop and fiddled with engines until he found a solution for Wayland's two-motor problem. He made a few modifications to the equipment and coupled the two motors together end to end. The motors now weighed 25 pounds (11 kg) less and were 7 inches (18 centimeters) shorter, which added up to faster track times for Wayland. The resulting two-motor vehicle was painted purple and dubbed the Siamese 8.

Husted has been experimenting in his shop ever since. He's produced engines for the record-setting KillaCycle electric motorcycle and has restored a 1910 electric motor for a fellow EV enthusiast's century-old horseless carriage project [source: Hi-Torque Electric].

Sometimes, the ingenuity of an entrepreneur and the university lab comes together to create a useful technology. A123Systems, whose lithium-ion batteries have powered record-setting drag strip times for both White Zombie and KillaCycle, used nanotechnologies developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create its batteries. A123Systems has one of the largest lithium-ion research and development teams in the U.S. Using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's nanoscale materials in their own labs, the research and development teams developed a battery that can withstand real-world abuses for more than 10 years and still use environmentally friendly technology.

It will be a long time before gasoline-powered cars permanently leave our streets, but labs at all levels are working to bring safe, reliable, fast and fun electric-powered transportation to consumers. Thanks to the innovations birthed at these labs, your next car may be powered by the solar panels on your roof.

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