Dow Kokam Powered Zombie…10s in 2010! (pt. 2)

Hello to All,

Just in time for Thanksgiving, here’s the second installment:

Continued from pt. 1….

After a two year drought seeking lithium, in the period immediately following the Wayland Invitational IV races things really started to happen. Figures, it all happened ‘after’ the races! Oh well, I guess I shouldn’t complain!

It took me a while, but I finally realized that sometimes it takes a team approach to get things done, and that’s exactly the change I made in 2009. I am fortunate to have good friends in the EV community, and many assisted in my efforts to acquire a high power lithium battery maker’s sponsorship. I had been working through Dick Brown to get in contact with Kokam. It was Dick Brown who had acquired sponsorship from Enersys in 2005 when a friend of his was high up in that company. This man, like Dick, knew and appreciated the value of proving a battery’s power and reliability on the race track. Soon after though, he left Enersys and moved on to form Kokam America, becoming the company president. Dick and I were in contact with him about the possibility of a Kokam sponsorship for the Zombie project, months before the WI-IV races. At the same Jim Husted and my new friend Bob Fagliano had also been talking with Kokam engineers about cells for another very high profile project. For those who were at the races and may have met him, Bob’s the guy who had that glossy-black ethonal powered T-Bird at the WI-IV races on display. I had met Bob in the weeks just before the WI-IV races, and we hit it off from the start. If you were at the Wayland EV Juice Bar enjoying the backyard craziness and social time, Bob provided those twin big coolers packed with icy-cold refreshments. Bob is heavily involved with alternative energy – ethonal, electric power, solar, wind, you name it, he’s into it! Like Dick Brown, Bob’s one of those guys who seems to know everybody, and as I’ve learned, he’s a guy who can get things done! Perhaps his best quality though, is that he’s just a good guy.

Bob had also established a relationship with Kokam’s national sales manager. Kokam’s markets have been mostly military and medical, but they have plans to get deeper into the EV market. Stimulus money was looking good for Kokam’s expansion plans to build an 800,000 square foot facility in Midland, Michigan that would produce advanced large format superior lithium polymer batteries for EVs. The sales manager is a sharp guy and saw the value in proving Kokam’s LiPol cells’ power and reliability in a stressful environment like EV drag racing, and he was convinced that showing off the cells in a high profile street legal electric car – not just a pure racing vehicle, was a great opportunity – the White Zombie project seemed a perfect fit. He also liked the whole TV series thing that was also brewing in the background. As it turned out, several of Kokam’s USA based engineers had seen the OPB video and were already hip to White Zombie. During the ongoing conversations and tech talks with the sales manager and key engineers, Dow was ironing-out their their partnership deal with Kokam America. At about the same time we were looking into a very special ‘ultra high power’ type lithium cell Kokam had made for a defense project, the U.S. Department of Energy announced a $161 million federal grant to Kokam for developing a new generation of high-power battery technology for supplying the automotive industry’s electric vehicles. All of the pieces were falling into place.

Bob had been in touch with one of Kokam’s top engineers, who besides being an expert on lithium cells, was very much into hi pro cars. Bob had been talking with him about White Zombie when he recommended the perfect cell for a street legal drag car – a cell with very high power density, yet also a cell with high energy density as well. Could it be, that the Zombie could have both insane levels of instantaneous power ‘and’ have a pack with enough energy density to up the ante in the miles-per-charge game? I had checked out the specs on this ultra high power LiPol cell, and quite frankly, was blown away with the stats!

While doing my daytime gig of wrenching on lift trucks getting beat up and covered in hydraulic oil, Bob called me in the very late afternoon, saying ‘he had something for me’. As it turned out, he and I were both in the same Oregon City area, so we arranged a top secret meeting in the darkened parking lot of Shari’s restaurant, and in the early evening, like some illegal drug deal, we met where he handed me ‘the package’. The box was a flat affair, about the size of a thick dinner tray and weighing maybe nine lbs. I opened it, to find a pair of vacuum-formed black plastic trays stacked together, and inside each were a pair of Kokam ultra high power lithium manganese cobalt polymer cells, looking like square pancakes sealed inside static bags and with two wide metal tabs at the top side. In my trembling hands, I was holding less than 8 lbs. of not-yet-available-to-the-public lithium cells that if connected in series could effortless crank a highway tractor – over and over, while making more instantaneous power than the tractor’s standard 200 lbs. of 8D lead acid cranking batteries!

One thing led to another, and I suddenly found myself in very positive negotiations with Kokam America. I studied the specs of these cells, and the more I read and the more I talked with Kokam’s engineers, the more excited I got over the possibility of getting enough of these to power-up the Zombie! Kokam America’s national sales manager even came to Portland for a face-to face meeting with team Plasma Boy. One of the team’s longtime members is Rich Rudman, who’s steadfastly supplied me with ever-increasingly more powerful chargers, BMS, and track side support from little known weeknight racing outings to full blown NEDRA EVents. Rich has always been there for me. Rich and his Manzanita Micro guys have been working with various brands of lithium and the BMS for it, for years now. Kokam was comfortable that we could handle the BMS to keep the cells alive.

We still had not been given the full go-ahead on cells, but we were very close. After being invited to visit the Kokam America plant in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Rich and I were on a plane to the Mid-west. To say we were treated well, is an understatement. After a terrific night out to dinner, the next day was all business and a very productive meeting ensued. I wanted to design a modular type system for the Zombie, and the assembled Kokam team agreed with the plan. Kokam added that they would provide engineering assistance with detailed mechanical drawings and all the EE help we might need, As part of the plant tour we received, we got to see the stack of ultra high power cells with a ‘Plasma Boy Racing’ label on the rack! Kokam America had worked with the US Navy on a special limited run of these ultra high power lithium polymer cells they had been developed for helicopter rotor crank duty, one of the most stringent applications for any battery.

Not long after returning home from Missouri, 210 of the special ultra high power cells found their way to Portland…we had our lithium! It’s ironic that these LiPol cells were developed for helicopter rotor crank duty, because the very first version of White Zombie used helicopter rotor crank NiCads! From the June 2009 Design News magazine:

A little more than a decade ago, virtually all racers considered electric vehicles to be glorified golf carts. That began changing in 1994, however, when the Oregon Electric Vehicle Association decided to stage an electric drag race to show the public that environmentally-acceptable EVs could be “fun and exciting.” The organization cordoned off a little street in downtown Portland, grabbed a few stop watches, and laid chalk lines on the cobblestone surface. Wayland, however, was not about to stand for the idea of a genteel, 30-mph drag race. He found the concept offensive; it was as if someone had tried to paint a smiley face on his soul. “I thought about the 72-volt cars that could barely get out of their own way, lumbering and wheezing uphill at 30 miles per hour,” Wayland recalls. “And I said, we can’t show this to the public.” He didn’t. Wayland used a helicopter battery and transformed his Datsun 1200 into a 175-volt race car. “They weren’t expecting cars like mine,” he says now. “Here I came with my Datsun, burning rubber in all five gears and smoking the tires. Women and children were running for cover!”

To see photos of the first time I used helicopter batteries in White Zombie, go here:


Stay tuned for pt. 3 where I get into the nitty-gritty specs and details of these cells, and tell all about the many changes being made to the car to better handle the new power level. How much power did I say? The answer, in pt. 3!

See Ya…John ‘Plasma Boy’ Wayland

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