Mihir Vardhan has been fascinated by tools since the age of three.
The 20-year-old was introduced to the world of engineering by his parents, and received his first toolbox from his father when he was six years old. Since then, he’s been tinkering around with items with his screwdriver and building things like robots, LED panels, and 3D printers.
“My father would buy me and my brother little lights, bulbs, and batteries. He would teach us how to wire them up. Every birthday, I would get some kind of tool. I started building my collection at the age of six and it continues till today. My entire room turned into a workshop,” he tells The Better India.
When he was in Class 8, Mihir launched his YouTube channel called ‘Making with Mihir’. He wanted to communicate his love for engineering through this channel.
While he started from small projects like building a torch, today, his works have grown into something bigger. Take, for example, the petrol car that he converted into an electric vehicle.
His latest video, titled ‘Simplest EV Conversion under $3000 – Convert Your Car in 3 Days!’, has grabbed quite a few eyeballs.
Converting a car to electric in three days
The idea for this was born almost a decade ago. Mihir credits his family friend James Abraham for instilling the idea in his head.
“James’ uncle is an engineer and used to teach me about electronics. He is a ‘green guy’ and runs a solar company. When I was in Class 5, he told me that we need to convert a petrol car to an electric one. He used to say that we should buy a small car like a Maruti 800 and convert it. At that time, I just laughed it off. But he kept reminding me of this project every year,” he says.
Mihir is currently pursuing electrical engineering at the University of Illinois and is in his third year. When he returned home to Gurugram for a short trip in September 2021, James reminded him of the project yet again. This time, Mihir took it seriously and decided to go ahead with it.
He decided to convert his grandfather’s 12-year-old Hyundai Santro.
“The Santro was just lying in our garage and I thought, ‘Why don’t we take the engine out and make it a completely electric car?’. It’s a beautiful car, only the engine is a little tired. I went on the internet and searched for videos of people converting cars. But instead of replicating what others had done, I decided to make some tweaks,” says Mihir.
He says that the three most important things when it comes to conversion are picking a motor, a controller, and a battery.
While the wheels were set in motion in September, they came to fruition in January 2022, when Mihir returned to India for a short trip.
“I went on the Indiamart website and reached out to sellers of items I needed. Slowly, the pieces of the puzzle started falling into place. As my trip to India was a very short one in January, I had to execute this in a short period. I love tight timelines and the challenge,” laughs Mihir.
Making the conversion simpler and cheaper
Once he reached India in January, he started ordering the motor, controller, battery, and converter to replace the car battery. It took almost 10 days for these items to arrive. He was left with just three days before he flew back.
Mihir was clear about two things with respect to the conversion — keeping it simple and cheap.
“I wanted to keep the process as simple as possible, and use as much of the car as I could. I also wanted to minimise the welding and machining, and devise a process which can be done in the basement of your building without using fancy tools,” he says.
In fact, he did the conversion using a basic socket set, a floor jack, and two bricks.
Usually, in such conversions, the entire engine is removed and replaced by a motor. But Mihir decided to remove only half the engine.
“When the entire engine is removed, you need to add two more motors to power the power steering pump and AC compressor. You also then have to come up with mounting brackets and add a lot of wires. It is time-consuming, difficult, and expensive. I decided to leave half the engine in, and mount the motor on the remaining part of the engine,” says Mihir.
While this will compromise performance and efficiency, it is enough for city driving, says Mihir. The advantage is that you can power the wheels of the car, the power steering pump, and the AC compressor. This way, he has also saved about Rs 1.5 lakh, he says.
Modifications made in the car
Mihir started by taking out the engine. He removed the engine head and pistons to reduce the engine’s weight and retained the engine block. He then mounted the 6 kW Brushless DC motor on top of this engine block using an L-shaped motor block. He connected this motor to a 350A Kelly Controller.
He placed the 72V 100Ah Lithium Ferrophosphate (LFP) battery in the trunk. He has placed the charging wire where one would usually put petrol.
Since braking would be an issue, and he wanted power braking, he added an electric brake booster vacuum pump. He also added a 72-12V DC-DC convertor to charge the battery that powers the locks, lights, and power windows.
Mihir spent Rs 2.4 lakh on this conversion. The car runs at a top speed of 60 km/hour and has a range of 80 km.
He also says that the cost of running this car is less than Rs 1/km, while a petrol car costs Rs 8-10/km, including maintenance.
“Although a car’s performance would be better with a larger motor and battery, this is good enough for city driving. It is also a good use of an end-of-life car like the one I used. Instead of throwing it out, and adding to the carbon emissions, we can reuse it like this. In most end-of-life cars, it’s only the engine that doesn’t function well, leading to increased emissions. By converting to an electric vehicle, you save on these emissions,” says Mihir.
As per a report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), India will have more than two crore end-of-life vehicles by 2025. The report says that these vehicles will cause huge pollution and environmental damage.
Such conversions can be a good use of these vehicles, for us and the environment.
“I want to get people thinking about converting their cars to electric. There are so many resources available online. Just speak to sellers on Indiamart and your local mechanics. They will be able to provide a good idea of the different options available,” he says.
“I want to get people thinking about converting their cars to electric. There are so many resources available online. Just speak to sellers on Indiamart, and speak to your local mechanics. They will be able to provide a good idea of the different options available,” he says.
Mihir also took the help of his local mechanic Ustad, who was with him throughout the process. He hopes to inspire more people to take up engineering and use their knowledge for good. During the peak of the pandemic, two of his projects greatly benefited the public.
He says he printed more than 1,200 face shields for doctors using a 3D printer at home. He also created UVC (Ultraviolet C) machines that could sanitise and disinfect.
“I created two disinfection chambers first, one big and one small. Once people saw them, orders started to pour in. I named it the Terminator Mega and sold one to the PMO’s office, and six to the Army. I also created a robot called Terminator Turbo that can sanitise an entire room,” he says.
He is now focusing on projects related to sustainability and hopes to start a sustainable business in India after finishing his engineering.
In 2018, he solved the problem of a high electrical cost at an orphanage near his house. He designed and managed the installation of a 19.5 kW solar plant at the orphanage, which now has reduced their costs to a great extent.
“I want to work towards practical, affordable, and accessible solutions for sustainability,” says Mihir.
‘India will have over 2 crore end-of-life vehicles by 2025: CSE Report’ Published on 28 September, 2020 Courtesy Autocar professional
Edited by Divya Sethu, Images courtesy Mihir Vardhan
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