Lithium Hawk soars into future

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Custom bike star of electric vehicle showcase

When a black-clad driver atop a 900-pound skeletal super-bike glides next to you without making a sound, it makes an impression.

Driver Nap Pepin takes off his helmet as he puts the Lithium Hawk into park at Grant MacEwan University. Even in its unfinished state, the $24,000 hand-built three-wheeled electric motorbike looks like something out of NASA or Blade Runner.

He draws an audience within seconds. The vehicle gets about 200 kilometres per charge in the city, he says, and does zero to 100 kilometres an hour in about 5.8 seconds. “It’s very fast,” he says, and could get faster once he puts a body on it.

And for once it isn’t the only electric vehicle on the block. The Hawk was one of about 17 electric or alternative-fuelled vehicles at Grant MacEwan last Wednesday as part of a show and seminar on the future of transportation.

This electric bike is fast, fun, cheap to run and totally silent, Pepin says, and is featured in this month’s issue of Popular Science.

“It’s got tonnes and tonnes of power, and unbelievable acceleration,” he says. “There’s nothing really like this available.”

Electric supercars

About 90 Edmonton-area residents dropped by to check out the show, which was organized by the Solar Energy Society of Alberta.

It’s a big improvement over their 2010 show, says organizer Rob Harlan, when they could only find two vehicles.

“Things are changing,” he says, and people are getting more and more interested in electric cars. “A year ago you couldn’t go to a dealer and buy an all-electric Nissan Leaf or a [plug-in-hybrid] Chevy Volt. Now you can, in Edmonton.”

The show featured a mix of commercial and custom vehicles, including a Ford Transit Connect Electric, an experimental hydrogen-powered contraption from the University of Alberta, and Andrew Bell’s Toyota Prius, which he converted to a plug-in hybrid in 2010.

The Prius gets great mileage, says Bell, but he knew it could be better. “I got tired of waiting, so I did it myself.”

By adding a rechargeable metre-long rack of batteries to the back, he’s upped the car’s mileage to 77 miles per gallon (about 3.05 L/100 km). “If I’m just driving around town, I can get over 100 miles per gallon.”

If the extra batteries run out, it goes back to being a regular hybrid that gets about 50 miles/gallon.

But the Hawk was clearly the star of the show, drawing a small mob of onlookers that lasted most of the evening.

A fan of electric vehicles, Pepin says he had previously built a “Lithium BugE” from a kit, and decided to build another electric vehicle from the ground up.

That meant wiring 1,976 D-cell sized batteries together to form the Hawk’s power pack. “I had to do 23,712 spot welds by hand,” he says — a job that took about 200 hours.

He says he did 15,000 of them before he realized he’d messed up and had to start over.

The future of transport

Electric cars are far more efficient than gasoline ones, Harlan says, and can cost as little as a few cents per kilometre to drive. They can also be powered by renewable energy, greatly reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

They’re also far simpler to maintain, Pepin says, noting his motor has one moving part and he never has to change the oil.

“You ever seen the breakdown of a [regular]motor? It’s insane.”

And they can save you money. Bell says his plug-in Prius saves him about $1,500 a year in fuel costs compared to his old truck, which got about 16 miles per gallon, he’ll have paid off the cost of the conversion next year.

But industry still has to get more range out of its batteries, Pepin says, and more infrastructure in place to charge them.

“These cells can be charged in 15 minutes,” he says of the ones in his bike, but only with special equipment. A conventional charge takes seven hours.

The recent crash in the U.S. auto industry has forced manufacturers to build efficient cars like the Volt to get government support, Bell notes, but it will take more consumer demand to drive down the costs of those cars.

“[People] have to ask themselves, ‘How badly do they want to reduce their carbon footprint?'”

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.