Innovators: Building an electric car for speed

January 18, 2013Pethel-209

Proud Mike. Photo: Hugh Hamilton

 

Mike Pethel has pieced together what may be the fastest electric car anywhere, using two DC motors and enough batteries to power 750 homes.

BURN Host Alex Chadwick visits Mike at a garage in Venice, CA, and talks with the inventor, engineer, and race car buff about his never-ending quest to convert his pristine 70s BMW into a super fast, powerful, totally green car.

Then, Alex steps inside for road-burning ride somewhere in West LA.

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New From Burn & Marketplace: Maverick Inventor’s Quest to Build The World’s Fastest Battery-Powered Car

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:

Scott Busby

President | Founder

The Busby Group

scottb@thebusbygroup.com

310.475.2914

Public Radio’s Award-Winning “BURN: An Energy Journal” and APM’s “Marketplace” Team Up to Present Monthly Segments on Critical Energy Issues

Veteran Radio Journalist Alex Chadwick Leads Off with Story about a Maverick Inventor and his Quest to Build The Fastest Battery-Powered Green Car on the Planet

Los Angeles, California  – January 23, 2013 – Public Radio’s BURN: An Energy Journal and American Public Media’s Marketplace are partnering to present once-a-month feature stories exploring the complicated energy challenges that face communities all over the country and around the world.  The Marketplace segments will follow in the footsteps of BURN’s hour-long specials in 2012 that were broadcast nationally over the American Public Media network and won the prestigious AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  Produced by Peabody Award-winning SoundVision Productions © and anchored by one of public radio’s most trusted journalists and master storytellers, Alex Chadwick, BURN’s Marketplace stories will begin airing the last week of January, 2013.

Like the hour-long BURN documentaries, which will continue to be produced in 2013 via a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Marketplace segments will offer a far-ranging examination of how individuals, new scientific ideas, grassroots initiatives and potentially game-changing inventions are informing the energy debate in the country, and redefining America’s quest for greater energy independence.

“We’re thrilled to be working more closely with our colleagues at Marketplace,” says Bari Scott, executive director of SoundVision Productions, “and we’re grateful to the Sloan Foundation for their support.   What Alex and the entire BURN team are doing is unique and essential to America’s future.  They are exploring the science behind the most critical energy issues of the day and they’re finding intimate, human-scale stories that make these complicated issues understandable to the public.  That educational element is so important.”

In the first BURN Marketplace segment due to be broadcast next week, Chadwick visits Mike Pethel in a garage in Venice, California.  A color technologist for the film and TV industry by day, Pethel doubles as a mechanical savant, racecar enthusiast and obsessive inventor on his own time.  Chadwick featured Pethel in a BURN segment last year because he was attempting to do something that no one had realistically done before – build a high-performance “green” car that could go very fast.  His power source of choice?  Two electric motors and five big lithium ion phosphate batteries capable of generating 800 horsepower in the blink of an eye.  Pethel was installing all this into the hollowed-out chassis of an early 1970’s BMW 3.0 CS – and he wasn’t at all sure that it would work.

As Chadwick’s Marketplace story reveals, Pethel has more than succeeded – his experimental car can do zero to 60 miles per hour in approximately three seconds – but he also drives it quietly over city streets to his workplace every day.  The inventor takes the reporter on a memorable test drive (see video) and they discuss the on-going nature of his quest.  Chadwick also explores the promising future of battery-powered electric cars and explains the importance of inventors like Pethel in the context of the national and global energy debate.

BURN: An Energy Journal is produced by SoundVision Productions in partnership with APM’s Marketplace with a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  The BURN radio specials are distributed by American Public Media.   Share your ideas and opinions with BURN on Facebook.
For media inquiries, contact Scott Busby at scottb@thebusbygroup.com or 310.475.2914.

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APM’s Marketplace is heard weekdays on public radio.  To find your local airtime, visit marketplace.org/local-air-times. Marketplace is also available on demand via marketplace.org, iTunes, Slacker Radio and Stitcher Radio.

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To Build The Fastest ‘Green’ Car on Earth

BURN host Alex Chadwick visited Mike Pethel in a garage in Venice, California. A color technologist for the film and TV industry by day, Pethel doubles as a mechanical savant, racecar enthusiast and obsessive inventor on his own time. Pethel has built a high-performance “green” car that goes very fast. His power source of choice? Two electric motors and five big lithium ion phosphate batteries capable of generating 800 horsepower in the blink of an eye.

Pethel has installed all this into the hollowed-out chassis of an early 1970’s BMW 3.0 CS.  His experimental car can do zero to 60 miles per hour in approximately three seconds – but he also drives it quietly over city streets to his workplace every day.

 

Working under his green, super fast car at Elco Welding - Mike Pethel seems happiest here. One reason for making this car, he says, was to have something to work on for the rest of his life. If everything goes right, Mike will never be finished. Photo: Hugh Hamilton

Working under his green, super fast car at Elco Welding – Mike Pethel seems happiest here. One reason for making this car, he says, was to have something to work on for the rest of his life. If everything goes right, Mike will never be finished. Photo: Hugh Hamilton

 

January 18, 2013untitled-37

After a ride in Pethel’s car, Alex Chadwick (left) can’t stop smiling. Photo: Hugh Hamilton

 

"if I just had a really loud car," Mike Pethel says, "it might be exciting to some motor-head. But when you have an electric green, clean, quiet car, everybody likes it." Photo: Hugh Hamilton

“if I just had a really loud car,” Mike Pethel says, “it might be exciting to some motor-head. But when you have an electric green, clean, quiet car, everybody likes it.” Photo: Hugh Hamilton

Two bulletproof glass cases filled with battery cells sit where the back seat used to be. There's another box in the trunk. Photo: Hugh Hamilton

Two bulletproof glass cases filled with battery cells sit where the back seat used to be. There’s another box in the trunk. Photo: Hugh Hamilton

Although Mike Pethel (left) is a self-admittedly shy guy who enjoys the kind of introversion that can come with solving complex engineering puzzles, he still beams with every chance to show off his beautiful project. Photo: Hugh Hamilton

Although Mike Pethel (left) is a self-admittedly shy guy who enjoys the kind of introversion that can come with solving complex engineering puzzles, he still beams with every chance to show off his beautiful project. Photo: Hugh Hamilton

After a test drive that pushed the car to __ MPH, Mike worries that the car may be getting too hot. He uses an infrared thermometer and measures the motor at __ degrees F. Photo: Hugh Hamilton

After a test drive, Mike uses an infrared thermometer to make sure his motors aren’t overheating. Photo: Hugh Hamilton

Mike Pethel installs a new differential, which distributes power from the drive shaft to the rear wheels. This differential is custom built to handle the huge amount of torque Mike's car can push very quickly to the rear wheels. Photo: Hugh Hamilton

Mike Pethel installs a new differential, which distributes power from the drive shaft to the rear wheels. This differential is custom built to handle the huge amount of torque Mike’s car can push very quickly to the rear wheels. Photo: Hugh Hamilton

Under the hood of Mike Pethel's BMW 3.0 CS, the space has been gutted, and now there are just a pair of homemade motors built into a huge metal pipe. Photo: Hugh Hamilton

Under the hood of Mike Pethel’s BMW 3.0 CS, the space has been gutted, and now there are just a pair of homemade motors built into a huge metal pipe. Photo: Hugh Hamilton

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Fighting Greener Wars + Fukushima in America?

97-0930d11_apsAlex Chadwick

I’ve just spent several days in Washington working on energy stories and having conversations at National Geographic.

Here are a couple of observations, with stories in the works for Marketplace.

1. The Department of Defense is the largest energy user in the US. It may also be the most radical energy conservation organization anywhere, because it has to be. Supplying remote Combat Operational Posts in the provinces of Afghanistan – sites for 100-150 US soldiers – is dangerous and expensive. Make the the COPs self-sufficient, and cost and risk go way down. Energy costs turn out to be a very significant factor in achieving combat goals. DOD will begin deploying redesigned systems in Afghanistan this summer – the product of truly innovative thinking with input from high-tech, venture capitol and leading energy researchers. This is not the Army I slogged through long ago. These people are very smart.

2. A tip from inside the Nuclear Regulatory Commission led me to a hearing on venting options for nuclear reactors – a serious issue following the catastrophe at Fukushima two years ago, where gas build up inside the containment vessels led to explosions. I don’t yet fully understand everything I heard. But the part about the consequences for certain US-based reactors (absent venting upgrades) if a catastrophic natural event does occur – ‘high probability of reactor failure’ – that part I got.

Stay tuned.

 

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Politics and Climate ‘Uncertainties’

Nature: Probabilistic cost estimates for climate change mitigation

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