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ByMuller Industries

Muller Industries Valence U27-12XP Lithium Battery Pack Disassembly

Battery Pack Disassembly

by Ben N on April 18, 2019

Once we finally made it back from North Carolina, we needed to unload the batteries. While we had a forklift to LOAD the batteries, we didn’t have one at my place and had to resort to an engine hoist, furniture dollies, and finally, steel pipes.

Getting 2,000 pounds of batteries off the trailer was no easy task. They don’t have any lifting eyes, nor are there even spacers under the boxes to make it easy to slide a strap under. We eventually got them off the trailer. The driveway was too rough for the furniture dollies, or even the wheels of the engine hoist. What ended up working the best was to place the battery boxes on steel pipes and then push and pull them with my electric lawn tractor.

The next day, I could start the process of opening up the boxes, seeing what’s inside, and removing the cells.
I opened the first box, the driver side battery, to figure out how it all worked. Then I filmed taking apart the passenger side battery box.

In each of the two boxes are two layers of 12 Valence lithium batteries, for a total of 48. Those batteries are rated at 12.8V, 138AH, 1766WH. Altogether, that’s a faceplate capacity of over 80kWh!

The Smith truck uses 48 of these Valence U27-12XP batteries.

I set to work disassembling the battery pack. First, I had to remove all the stainless steel bolts around the edge of the box. Once that was done, I slid a pry-bar inside to break the seal. I needed to disconnect a few wires in the end from the inside before I could remove the lid of the box.

With the lid removed, I could finally see the Battery Management System (BMS), contactors, and the other balance of system components.

Of course, I used my multimeter to check the various connections before touching or disconnecting any components. Once I made sure I was working safely, I unbolted any cables holding this top layer over the batteries. Then the top layer was removed.

Now at the battery layer, I could see all the BMS and inter-cell connections. I snipped the zip ties holding some of the cables to each other, unplugged the BMS cables, and set to work removing the cables between the batteries.

I really like the style of terminal used on these batteries. A plastic-headed bolt threads down into the battery. As it does, it completely covers the terminal and battery cable. Only a tiny hole in the middle is still conductive. Perfect as a test point for a volt-meter. This is a great safety feature as there are essentially no places to accidentally cause a short. (Of course, always follow best practices, no matter what when it comes to high voltage DC!)

With all the battery cables disconnected, I could simply lift out the batteries one at a time.

For the bottom layer of batteries, it was essentially the same – just disconnect all the cables, and lift the batteries out.

We now have 80kWh of lithium batteries to use for solar backups and off-grid power, DIY electric vehicles, and anything else!

Until next time, Stay charged-up!
-Ben Nelson

ByMuller Industries

Valence U27-12XP Lithium Battery

Removing Valence Rechargeable Batteries from the Smith Electric Truck

by Ben N on April 15, 2019

Well, it’s been an adventure so far…
I was originally asked by my friend, Seth, to accompany him on a roadtrip to buy a commercial electric truck.

The Copart auction had already taken place. He just had to drive 900 miles to get the truck and drag it back home. In the highlight of the trip, we were able to get it to run and drive. After that, we transported it over to a local business where we could work on it.

The first thing we did was take a LOT of measurements – total height, width, wheel-base, etc. We also didn’t know the exact weight of the truck. (It appears that commercial trucks just list their GROSS weight, not the weight of the vehicle itself!)
Based on the size of the truck, the size of the trailer we had with, and the advice of the professional auto transporter whose place we were working at, we decided that we could NOT tow the truck home.

Of course, this was a major disappointment.

We threw around a lot of ideas, none of which were ideal. Every option we could come up with was less than perfect in one way or another. We also still had to get home soon. We were on a tight budget and schedule.

In the end, we decided the best course of action was simply to REMOVE the batteries. The truck could be stored at that location temporarily until we could return and transport it properly, or at a minimum, dismantle all the EV components.

The batteries themselves are inside two large black cases, one on either side, in the approximate location where a diesel fuel tank would otherwise be. Each one weighs about 1,000 pounds for a total of a literal TON of batteries.

To remove them, we had to undo the stainless steel straps that wrapped around the cases. We applied penetrating oil to the screws that tensioned the straps. On a few of them, we were able to loosen the screws pretty easily. Others were rusted in place and even the head was filled in with rust, so that we needed to use vice grips to get them to budge at all.

Once the straps were unhooked, we disconnected the electrical. On the side of each box is a mechanical manual disconnect. This opens the circuit inside the battery box, and makes sure all power at the cables is dead. Some of the wires were easy to remove. The BMS cable simply unscrewed. On the other hand, some of the high-voltage power cables just went right through the side of the box. There’s a weatherproof strain relief there, but NOT a quick disconnect. That meant we would have to simply cut the cables.
As terrible as that sounds, it’s just cable, and new parts are available in the welding supply aisle of my local farm and truck store.
*Snip* *Snip*

A view of the High Voltage cables at the master battery box.

Next, we had to physically remove the battery boxes.
One of the reasons we moved the truck to a local business to work on it was that they had a forklift there. (OK. Technically a tractor with a forklift attachment…)
Using the forklift, we could gently lift the box and then slide it OUT from the sides of the truck. We put the batteries on the trailer and strapped them down.

After that, there was nothing left to do except make the long return trip home. Our plans had certainly changed from the start to the end of the trip, but at least we didn’t leave empty-handed. We had 80 kWh of working lithium batteries.

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben

ByMuller Industries

Electric Truck Road Trip

300MPG.org and Muller Motors

by Ben N on April 13, 2019

The other day, I got a call from my friend, Seth. He said he was considering driving from Wisconsin to North Carolina to buy an electric box truck. I asked when he was thinking of doing it. He replied “Later today….” So, that’s why I’m near Charlotte, North Carolina, RIGHT NOW.

The crazy plan was to drive overnight, haul a huge trailer there, buy the truck, load it up, and drive home.

Video of our trip to North Carolina to buy the truck.

We left as soon as we could, heading south-east towards Chicago, IL to Louisville, KY, to not far from Charlotte, NC. It was a LONG drive. I ended up taking a shift driving in the wee hours of the morning. At 6:30AM, we parked in a Kroger parking lot and got about an hour sleep in the cab of the truck.

Driving into the Smokey Mountains on the way down.

After that, it was just keep on driving.
When we stopped at a gas station, I got a little worried, Seth was on the phone way too long with the bank. He had sent a Wire Transfer to purchase the truck the day before, but it looked like the there was an issue with it. I drove the truck so that Seth could just make arrangements. Seemed like the entire day that he was on the phone with the bank, had multiple issues, but eventually figured it out.

Once we finally got close to our destination, it started raining, hard. What should have been the last hour of our trip, took nearly two and a half. Eventually, we arrived at Copart, the auto auction salvage yard.

When Seth got to go to the counter, the wire transfer STILL had not gone through. He spent some more time on the phone, furrowing his brow. We did get to go out into the yard to see the truck, even though the payment hadn’t come through yet. Fortunately, it finally stopped raining. Plenty of gravel in the lot meant it wasn’t a complete mud-hole.

There were multiple trucks. All Smith Electrics used by Staples for local deliveries. Overall, the trucks looked good! The cabs on some were worn more than others, but the parts were all there. Some of the trucks even had paperwork inside – the truck manual and other information from Smith. The cabs were open, so we could turn the keys. None of the trucks had working batteries, so they couldn’t be turned on to check the digital odometer readings. I brought a multimeter and checked the house batteries on several trucks, they were all dead.

We got to go into the yard to check out the trucks.

On the box, there’s a roll-up rear door AND side door. Neither had outside locks. In the cab, I found a pair of switches that worked the doors. They were electric roll-up! But with dead batteries, we couldn’t operate them!
The trucks looked like all the EV components were there in place. Knocking on the big battery boxes, one could hear that they were solid. No dodgy scrap-yard guy had pulled the cells out from the box.
The cargo boxes on the trucks are almost 18 feet long. Based on the outside measurement, inside ceiling height must be at least 7 feet. So plenty of headroom for even a taller guy to stand. The box would be amazing for an RV conversion, mobile classroom, or Maker-Mobile!

Back in the office, the bank wire transfer FINALLY went through….to the broker Seth used for the transaction. When he called the broker, their accountant was out of the office, but was assured she would be back in before 5 PM. Of course, Copart closes at 5 PM and has NO weekend hours. On top of that we were told that Copart would NOT use their giant forklifts to load the vehicle (even though we saw lots of other vehicles being loaded up exactly that way!)

It was time to come up with a contingency plan. No matter what, we would have to hire a tow truck driver. Whether to help us get the truck on the trailer, haul it somewhere else, or otherwise, we’d have to pay for some professional help. So Seth again hit the phone, this time calling local towing companies and small repair shops. He hit gold when he found a owner/driver willing to not only haul the truck, but let us park it at his shop.

The clock was ticking! Would the broker pay in time!? Would the truck fit on the trailer?!
The tow truck driver was already in back, moving one truck out of the way to get at the one we purchased. He then got it hitched up and pulled it out front to the main loading area.

I could see Seth getting more disappointed as the clock kept ticking. Everything was done and ready accept for the payment from the broker coming through. The electric truck was hitched to the tow truck.
5 o’ clock PM came….. and went.

The office was closed, the yard was closing down. Seth had a talk with the driver. The truck pulled back and disappeared into the fenced-in area. We pulled out, empty-handed, and a yardman closed the gate behind us.

At 5:48, Seth got a text saying the payment had gone through and everything is complete and ready.
Copart has NO weekend hours. The truck is inaccessible until Monday.

So now what’s the plan?
It turned out the truck is a little bigger than we thought. It probably WON’T be able to go on the trailer, but that’s still not out of the picture yet. Seth wrangled a deal the the truck driver that we could park the truck at his shop, use his tools, strip all the EV related parts, and then trade the rest of the truck salvage rights to him in exchange for his work.

We won’t be able to do that until Monday. A couple more days I hadn’t planned for. Good thing my wife told me to pack an extra pair of socks. My clothes were soaked from the rain. We are at the hotel now. I asked if they had a laundy room. “Sure, just only the dryer doesn’t work right now!”

I still feel damp.
In terms of making lemonade from lemons, I have some relatives in the area that I’m hoping to meet up with. Charlotte also has a MakerSpace which would be fun to visit and get a tour.

We are also still running the numbers trying to figure out what makes the most sense in terms of buying salvaged electric trucks and putting them back onto the road, reselling them, making motors and batteries available to other DIY’ers, or how economically we can save trucks or at least make a little money working with them. It might be possible to buy more than one truck, sell parts from it, and then use the profits to fund resurrecting the best of the trucks.

For now, I’m just damp in a hotel room in Charlotte, a little disappointed that we aren’t driving home right now with an all-electric box truck, but the big picture is still interesting.

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

PS: The hotel lobby computer didn’t work with my phone, which I used to take many of the photos. I’ll add more photos to this post later.