U of C students want to convert old cars into electrics without breaking the bank

A group of University of Calgary students is working to come up with new technologies to convert gas powered vehicles to electric ones, affordably. 

Ratik Kapoor, an electrical and computer engineering student at the University of Calgary, is the founder of the Relectric Car Team.

“A lot of my friends, we got together and we’re thinking, hey, these electric cars are awesome, but we really can’t afford one at the moment, so what can we do to bring electric cars to us, and to everybody?” Kapoor told The Homestretch.

The group is currently working on converting a 1966 Volvo C220, donated by Jim Steele of Go Electric. 

Kapoor said an older, manual car is easier to convert than the newer, computer driven models.

“With newer cars, it’s difficult because they have so many sensors and it’s all tech,” he said. “So we want to take the ‘easiness’ of converting an old car, and make it applicable to converting a new car as well. So we’re building our own sensors, our own computers, and we’re tying everything together in a custom infotainment system.”

He  said there are a few steps to converting a gas-powered vehicle into an electric one. The first is to remove the old engine and the gas tank. Then, make an adapter from the electric motor that will plug into the original transmission of a manual car. 

“It will let you take electric power or the motor power, and then bring it to your wheels through your original transmission, which works really nicely,” Kapoor said.

A group of electrical engineering students at the University of Calgary is working on converting a 1966 Volvo from gas to electric. (Wilson Tang)

The Volvo now has batteries stored in the former gas tank area and spare tire area.

Kapoor said the cost of converting their current project is between $30,000 and $40,000, and that their goal is to get that cost down to $10,000.

“I think what’s holding a lot of us back is just the cost of batteries,” he said. “We’re looking more at the motor control … like all these parts that cost many thousands of dollars for a good one — how can we scale it down in price, but still keep that same quality?” 

There are about 50 students working on the project at the U of C, Kapoor says roughly 10 people on the mechanical team, 10 people on the electrical team, 10 on software, as well as a business and geomatics team.

They plan to offer their findings to the world.

“We’re trying to make all of the stuff we do open-source,” Kapoor said. “Taking whatever technology we make, whatever developments we make and putting it out there for the public to use. So it’s easier and more accessible for anybody to take their old car and even like for a mechanic or something to use our designs and just go ahead and convert it.”

The group plans to get back to work soon after being halted by the pandemic.

“We dropped in the motor right before school went online … so things have been kind of stagnant since then,” Kapoor said. “But we’re hoping to get back in pretty soon here — and then I think by the end of the school year or probably around April-ish, we’ll have it running under its own power.”

With files from The Homestretch.

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