Hacking gets a cover story

We do see hacking in mainstream print media from time to time, but you know the movement must be gathering steam when a collection of hacks gets the cover story in a local paper. This week’s issue of The Isthmus – the premiere free newspaper here in Madison, WI – features the local hackerspace and a handful of green hacks.

The man seen riding the pedal-powered plow above is [Kevin Blake], a mechanical engineer for Trek Bicycles which is headquartered in Waterloo, WI. He built the rig with the chassis of a riding lawnmower, adding shovel blades in a V-shape on the front, with cranks and other parts salvaged from bicycles.

The article goes on to feature the local hackerspace, Sector67, by interviewing its founder, [Chris Meyer]. The paper tracked down some other local hackers (and Sector67 members) who have been prototyping wind turbines.

The largest feature in the story goes to [Ben Nelson's] Geo Metro electric vehicle conversion. The self-employed video producer picked up the diminutive car for about $500 and dropped in a forklift motor which he picked up at a garage sale ($50 + $50 for new brushes makes for a steal at $100). But here’s the best part of the project: after ripping out theĀ unneededĀ parts for the car he sold them for $550. Anyway, all said and done he’s got about $1300 invested in the project and now has an all-electric car that gets up to 45 mph with a range of twenty miles in between charges. Maybe a big tail cone would help extend that reach.

This is the most interesting stuff we’ve read in the newspaper in years. Maybe you should contact your local journalists for a feature in your area? If they’re not receptive, don’t fret… we’re always looking for great builds to feature here at Hackaday.

13 thoughts on “Hacking gets a cover story

  1. One more note on Ben’s car, I believe he won an Instructables/Craftsman contest, and $5,000 worth of tools. So he’s made a lot of money with that car! :)

    He’s also one of the people you’ll see down at the Milwaukee Makerspace, which just had their grand opening last weekend, and saw about 500 people come through the doors to see what was happening there.

  2. If there is a 48% chance that a plug in electric car runs on coal, how is that green, exactly? More importantly, if 2/3 of the electrical energy extracted from a process that is 30% efficient at best heats the wires above your head, what is the benefit to the environment? Reducing foreign oil imports, yes. Green? Not even close. Natural gas is the solution to our transportation fuel problem.

    1. Even if his car is run by coal electricity, it is still more green than your average Geo metro. Internal combustion engines at the scale used in cars are incredibly dirty for the work we get from them.

      Coal is worse than anything out there… except for cars.

  3. If he’s taken the motor from a FLT, then why not take the regenerative breaking system from it as well? Keep it topped up well and extends the range a whole lot.
    Fork Lift Trucks in warehouses run more than 20 miles a day and they never show signs of losing charge.

  4. Man, love stuff like that. Not sure I’d ever want one myself, but new mechanical inventions like the one featured are at least cool to look at

    @Joe Bonasses – Yeah, I’ve thought of that myself. Considering all the losses in power transmission and the fact that fossil fuels are used for generation, I really wonder about the positive environmental impact. Add manufacturing environmental costs, and you might be better off simply driving a efficient diesel into the ground. Not that I’ve really done my research…

    @ People who have hybrid cars etc. Stop getting vanity plates that say “50MPG” or something like that. You really look like tools.

  5. @JoeBoneass

    I learned a long time ago not to trust anyone claiming to have “the solution”. Most things in life are much more complex than that.

    All other things being equal, I’m a fan of electric drive trains. They’re powerful, mechanically simple and straightforward to maintain. They don’t care where the energy that drives the wheels originates, which allows them to run on whatever local fuel source is most economical. They are also future proof as new (cheaper? greener?) energy sources are developed.

    You are quite correct — electricity comes from somewhere, and the source is not always clean. But good luck finding any other system capable of running on Gasoline, Diesel, Biodiesel, Natural Gas, Hydrogen, Ethanol, Coal, Hydro, Solar, Wind, Tidal, and Nuclear power, etc.

  6. Electric systems are powered by electricity obviously – how the electricity is made is a completely different story.

    Saying that migrating to electric systems is a bad idea because 2/3 of it is made by burning coal is short sighted and ignorant.

    An Electric system can be powered by wave/solar/wind power to name a few. An “oil” powered engine cannot.

    Just because 2/3 of the energy may/may not stem from coal burning it doesn’t mean it will stay that way.

    The point here is to use renewable sources with a smaller CO2 footprint. If not now then in the long run.

    In any case if you really cared you’d go with public transportation.

    Where i come from the public transportation system is powered by natural gas, gasoline and electricity. A single train can freight several hundred passengers and a bus around the 40-50′ish – you’re probably not going to get anywhere close to that by private transport.

    Sure it’s not as nice as having your own car, but that’s not what we’re discussing :)

  7. If you actually do the math comparing CO2 produced to miles driven, a coal fired power plant creating electricity for a plug in hybrid is around two orders of magnitude cleaner than an internal combustion engine running on gasoline. Concentrating the burning of fossil fuels at the power plant versus a large number of small, horribly inefficient internal combustion engines is where most of the savings is realized. Although it might not be the ideal solution, it is better than what we have now.

  8. Now what if he happens to receive power from the Palo Verde nuclear generating station in Arizona? No CO2 produced here (well, almost none).

    But, I think it’s more about the experience of converting a car on the cheap rather than the debatable greenness. I can’t say I know anyone who’s done something this awesome.

  9. @JoeBonasses

    “If there is a 48% chance that a plug in electric car runs on coal, how is that green, exactly?”

    Without asking the owner, you’re possibly 100% wrong… For example, my electric car is powered from 100% renewable electricity. Odds are your electric utility provider offers an option for you to use 100% renewable power too.

  10. Yes, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, 48% of plug in electrics run on coal….

    @ Darren – You’re suggesting a late nineties lean burn 4 cylinder engine that runs on 87 octane gas is dirtier than energy produced using coal that contains mercury, arsenic, lead, Sox, and NOx? Are you aware of how many billions of dollars go into reducing acid rain emissions?

    @Eirinn – “Saying that migrating to electric systems is a bad idea because 2/3 of it is made by burning coal is short sighted and ignorant.”

    Except nobody said that. 2/3 of electricity generated from ALL sources is wasted heating the transmission lines above your head. 48% of all electricity in the U.S. comes from coal.

    @tony – 200X cleaner in regards to what emissions? I’d like to see your math. I’m willing to bet it doesn’t factor in the 66% energy loss over transmission wires.

    @matt- When you say “almost” are you including the 10,000 years of safekeeping involved in handling the spent uranium?

    @Chris – Electricity generation in my state is based on 100% coal. It’s impossible for a utility provider anywhere to allow the end user to “select” their power source, that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard….

  11. I just had the chance to interview these guys at sector67 on the inscight.org podcast (wp.me/p1ms6w-2Y) ! It was quite a pleasure, though I couldn’t quite get the sound of people rustling through nuts and bolts out of the background… :)

    I hope you guys check out the conversation.

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