Alternative Fuel Adventure

Scott Brady

Part One: The Machines

The future is coming, so instead of fighting it, we are going to dip our big toe into the murky waters of electric motors, lithium-ion batteries and bio fuels.

We leave tomorrow on a multi-day adventure with the Zero DS electric motorcycle and the Jeep J8 running on bio diesel. This is more of an exercise in testing new technologies than actually embarking on an electric "expedition". The reality is that the systems are not quite developed enough to allow a fully self-supported expedition, at least not efficiently. However, it will be no less fun and we will share the details on equipment and lessons we learn along the way here on Expedition Portal. The complete story will be in the summer issue of Overland Journal


The Moto: 2010 Zero DS
Zero Motorcycles are the only legitimate high-volume motorcycle manufactures that make a street-legal, all-electric dual-sport bike. This Adventure Motorcycle has some impressive stats and more importantly is easy to ride every day. We have been using it for commuting and light trail use for the past few weeks and it has become the go-to bike at the shop. It literally plugs into a standard 120v wall socket and the cord stores in the frame. Zoom!

The Technology: While it would be difficult to take this bike around the world (though worth trying), the technology at play here is an electric motor that produces 50 ft. lb. of torque and a lithium ion battery pack. Our first thought was to attempt a ride using just solar, and while this is actually possible (we tested it), it is impossible to carry enough solar on the bike to make a trip efficient. Essentially, you would need to charge for 3.5 days for each 35-40 miles you ride, and that includes carrying a lithium Ion 12v. battery (30lbs) and a 1500 watt inverter (15lbs.) and 25 lbs. of folding solar panels on the bike and on your person. That leaves no payload or room for camping gear. Why is this so difficult?

The limitations of solar are the surface area required to generate notable wattage. In the case of the Zero, it requires 9.8 amps (about 1200 watts) at 115v AC. In a 12v DC system, that is around 90 amps of charging load. To generate 90 amps to run the inverter, you would need (40) 30-watt solar panels to charge the bike. Once you calculate the efficiency of the panels, the available sunlight, the efficiency lost in the inverter and the weight of the system it becomes immediately clear that charging with gear you carry on the bike is either impossible or very, very, very time consuming. But that is ok, because the technology is still exciting and the idea of spending $0.48 to "fill up" you bike is worth the exercise. That leaves two reasonable methods of charging the Zero for a long trip: 1. Charge from a vehicle with a healthy alternator and a big battery, and 2. Find a 120v outlet somewhere.

For this trip, we really want to test the range of the Zero and see how it handles a light camping load, so we are going to get completely off the beaten track and do about 100 miles of remote dirt roads from Prescott Arizona, into the Bradshaw Mountains and then east into Bloody Basin before turning back west through New River Canyon, ultimately ending at I17. This requires a support vehicle, which might as well be one of the most interesting vehicles in the US, the Jeep J8 Diesel.

The Portable Power Generator: Jeep J8 Diesel
The Jeep J8 is a military vehicle at heart, designed for the most severe applications and environments. It also must provide power for remote communication systems and military camps. This makes it a perfect mobile power source.


The Technology: We need to supply 90-100 amps of 12v DC to charge the Zero. The J8 is happy at idle, the 2.8L VM Turbo Diesel sipping fractions of a gallon per hour while produce over 80 amps from the 150 amp alternator. This particular J8 has also received some attention from Adventure Trailers, who installed a 240 Ah Deka AGM battery just aft of the rear axle. They also conveniently installed an Anderson HD charge plug just above the rear bumper. The alternator alone nearly provides the charging requirements we have, and when augmented by the large AGM battery, we have enough for hours of charging before hitting a 50% Depth of Draw (DOD). But producing a bunch of 12v power is not enough. . .

120v at 1500 watts continues, pure sine wave: In addition to the 12v DC power generation, we need to invert the power to 120v AC, and we need to make 1200 watts minimum at charge start-up. This takes a huge inverter, which fortunately Adventure Trailers had in stock. They modified it for semi-portable use and installed it in a Pelican case to protect that expensive piece of hardware. It plugs in with 0 gauge welding cable to the Anderson connector on the Jeep and provides input voltage and output wattage load monitoring. We will also be bringing along an amp meter to track the power requirements.

Solar: Goal 0
Since the Jeep power system is actually running at a deficit of 5-20 amps, we are going to augment the system with solar, and quite a bit of it by mobile standards. In addition, we didn't just want to set-up a bunch of clunky flat panels, we wanted something that could be stored in a large case and be easily adjustable to track the sun. Enter Goal 0 and their line of adventure-ready solar products. Overland Journal has been helping Goal 0 test some new products, including a few larger array units that can be dissembled easily and stored in the vehicle. For solar, we have two objectives: 1. Supplement the charging requirements of the Zero DS with 5-10 amps of power and a secondary (back-up) battery and 2. Have a smaller solar system with inverter to charge laptops and camera batteries during the adventure. The secondary system keeps additional drain off of the motorcycle charging system.

The Primary System:
The primary system includes a new prototype "overland" array that assembles in 2-3 minutes and uses four 30watt panels and a large tripod. The four 30 watt Boulder panels attach with cam fasteners and then mount to the tripod structure which both allows connection to the tripod but also adds rigidity to the panel array. The four panels daisy chain and produce a total of 120 watts in full sun and a cool day, which is exactly what we will have in the next few days. The panels then connect to an Extreme 350 battery packs. These are rated at 33ah and provide the solar charge control. The 350 pack is then connected to the Jeep to help augment the power requirements of the inverter.


We leave in the morning for our first charging stop, the Raven Cafe in downtown Prescott, where we will top-off the Zero from a wall outlet and enjoy a hearty breakfast and a few mochas before heading down the senator highway and ultimately to Mayer for our second wall charge (and lunch). That first 27 mile segment will determine how successful the rest of the adventure will be. . .

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Scott Brady

Everyone is getting an early start this morning as we need to finalize a few supplies. We also need to fill the J8 with bio diesel during the limited hours of the filling station here in Prescott.

We were also able to successfully test the charging of the Zero yesterday as well.

A big thanks to Adventure Trailers for their expertise with the AGM batteries and the inverter. The entire system fits in a Pelican case.


Photographer in the Wild
ok this is pretty slick I have to say. What type of milage does the J8Milspec get? The last time I drove a lifted jeep with 35's I did not miss to many gas stations either. be pretty slick if the diesel power plant was getting like 22mpg or so. On that note it would also be another reminder of the US gov continued stupidity in limiting our vehicle choices even when those vehicles are more efficient. The bike is tight. I can seriously see folks like the hackneys using bikes like these.

Scott Brady

We are less than an hour from leaving and have installed the Giant Loop bags on the Zero. As usual, they fit perfect. I even thought the key access was going to be a problem but loosening one strap makes it ok.

We are also prepping all of the camping and solar equipment for storage in the J8

And our last project on the J8 was fitting the new Truck-Lite Fog LEDs and the new Expedition Portal Winchline from Viking.

Austin and Brian are off to the store to pick up a few steaks and beer - then we are gone!


Photographer in the Wild
The J8 has no trouble getting 22mpg

haha figures. I just do not understand why to Gov would try to keep us from having this as a viable option straight from chrysler. granted I hope AEV is making a mint off of these to some degree, but along with some toyota vehicles these would be great here.


Expedition Leader
A lot of guys use their trucks for hauling the dirtbike to where they set up a base camp and then go exploring on their bikes. If you could make it so the bike could be charging while its being transported in the truck to the base camp you would have a fully charged bike ready to go when you got there. I love learning about alt. fuels especially because I am a mechanic and might be working on cars with these systems in a few years.

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