Sunday, February 21, 2016

Chevy Volt Lithium Battery Packs For My Montana RV

Chevy Volt Lithium Battery Packs Converted to 12 Volts.  What you see is my 800 Amp Hours battery pack, with a weight of 188 lbs.  This will replace my Six Trojan T-105 (675 Amp Hours) with a  weight of 384 lbs.
Hi Folks,

My six Trojan T-105 Golf Cart Batteries are are six years old, and running out of gas.  I wanted to replace them with Lithium Batteries, but they are not cheap.  Reading up on Lithium Batteries, I found the three things will greatly reduce the lifespan of Lithium batteries.  1) Letting the batteries discharge to far, 2) over charging them, and 3) letting them get to hot.

I picked up four Chevy Volt Lithium Battery Packs converted to 12 Volts each rated at 200 AH.  The batteries have liquid cooling, which I plan to use.  The batteries also have a temperature sensor, so I will be able to monitor the battery temperature.  There really isn't any off the self Battery Management Systems (BMS) that will work with Chevy Volts batteries outside being in a Chevy Volt.  The little I could find out was that very max cell voltage is 4.2 volts per cell; however, if you charge them that high, you will shorten the lifespan to less than 4-5 years.  Charging the batteries to 4.02 volts per cell, the batteries will last 15-20 years.  Charge them to 4.1 volts per cell, and the lifespan drops to 7-8 years.

I haven't found any data on max temperature, but some folks say keep them under 90 degrees.  I plan to keep my battery cell voltage between 3.3 Volts and 4.01 Volts, which I can adjust in the program, once I get some real world use.

Speaking of program, my BMS is home grown, using Arduino Mega microprocessor.

Arduino Mega Microprocessor 256 KB Memory 16 Analog Inputs and 54 Digital Input/Output Pins

I added off the self Ethernet board that plugs right into the Arduino, and I added two prototype boards with my circuits to measure cell voltage, battery temperature, total battery voltage and Boostcaps voltage.

In case you wonder what a Boostcap is, here you go, I will explain later why you need them.

Top and side view of my BMS.  Four ribbon cables will attach to the two prototype circuit boards.  I still need to wire the fan and pump control pieces.  I will use two MOSFIT so I can control the speed of the fan and pump.

Here is the side view of my four Chevy Volt battery packs.  Two packs are connected together to make two 400 AH battery packs.
Battery Management connections.  One for each pack.

This is my development work in progress.  The very top you will see the Boostcaps (six in series).  The front center you will see the battery relay.  To the right of the battery is my BMS, and to the right of that is hobby battery monitor, balancer, and discharged.

Here is two packs connected to the BMS.

Here is the Battery Management System web page I programmed for the two battery packs above.  

Here is the completed BMS web page, with batteries not connected.

OK, so the why do we need the Boostcaps?  There two reasons, the solar controller isn't really made for Lithium batteries, and neither is the Montana's converter (converts 120 volts AC to 13.5 Volts DC).  Lithium battery will charge a very high rate, but when they reach the charge voltage, you need to stop charging them.  The most common RV batteries are Lead Acid, AMG, and Gel batteries, which you have to hold a high voltage of charge for 3 hours to fully charge them. These type of batteries require 15% more power put into them, than you get back out.  Also only 50% of AH capacity can be used.  The number of cycles is around 500.

With Lithium batteries, you get the same amount of power out as you put back in.  Lithium batteries can safely use 80% of AH capacity, and number of cycles is 3,000 to 4,000.  If not pushed beyond the 4.02 volts per cell, battery temperature maintained, the batteries could last 15-20 years.

The drawback to Lithium batteries, is you must have special charging systems that manages the charging, discharging of the batteries, and keeps the cells balanced.

So now we come to the Boostcaps, to trick the dummy charger into thinking it is charging a Lead Acid battery.  The Boostcaps are very low voltage (2.7V) so putting six in series the can handle 16.2 volts with millions of cycles.  I don't know how many Amp Hours are in the Boostcaps, but the can deliver 1,000 Amps for short period of time, and recharge in seconds when connected to a battery.   

Since the solar controller can be damaged if disconnected from the batteries while the solar array is making power, the Boostcaps provide a battery like equivalent, and everyone is happy.

Now we need a way to connect the batteries to the Boostcaps when the batteries need charging, and to disconnect when fully charged.  And if the Boostcaps voltage drops below the battery voltage (meaning no more solar power or load is greater than solar output), we need to connect the batteries to recharge the Boostcaps.  We also need to make sure no battery cells drop below the set value in the BMS parameters.

Battery relay is controlled by the Arduino program, which monitors all the batteries cells, battery voltage, and Boostcap voltage.  The program will then decide weather the relay should be closed or not.

Here is the Arduino, with my two prototype boards and the battery balancer.  When all four packs are hooked up there will be four battery balancers plug into the two prototype boards.

Although I have already prototype'd the Fan, Pump, and Heater controls, I need to put those circuits my finished prototype boards.

I also need to build a insulated battery box to keep batteries warm.  After that I will need to plumb the cooling lines, pump, and radiator to keep then cool.

A couple folks have asked how the batteries were converted to 12 Volts.  I bought them already converted, but basically the cell connection plates are cut into sets of three cells in series.  Then the four sets are wire together in parallel.

Battery heat, pump and fan circuit.

Here I have just the Boostcaps connected so I and test the new circuits I built tonight (2-23-2016).  Also test low and high voltage disconnects.  The light will be my heat source.

Here you can see the three MOSFITS that control the Heat (three light bulbs), water pump, and fan on the radiator.

This is my electric water pump from a Priest. 

I got a small radiator with electric fan.

More to come....


  1. Howdy,

    Interesting, specially your converting the Volt batteries from the original 48V down to 12V, and your work on the Arduino BMS. Some questions:

    1) The Volt battery seems to be "conventional" lithium-ion, instead of the safer LiFePO4. Are you going to install any safeties or otherwise handle the additional fire risk?

    2) Can you comment on the 48V-to-12V conversion process for the Volt battery? Was it just a matter of disassembling/reassembling the packs?

    3) How did you acquire the Volt battery and how much did you pay for it?

    4) What about your Arduino work? Do you plan on opensourcing it, and/or selling the custom boards as a kit?

    Just to mention my interest in all this, I'm an IT sysadmin a few years from retirement, when I plan on hitting the road as a full-time RVer. I have some Arduino development experience and love to boondock, which is why I'm very interested on your work.


    1. Hi Vall,

      I bought the packs already converter to 12 Volts. I got them off of eBay.

      Mine didn't have the PCB/BMS or the end plates. I was able to get the end plates from the seller, and I had to wait just a little while for end plates with nipples.

      I will add a photo or two to the current blog post showing under the cover, and you can see the conversion.

      Arduino controls the battery connect relay, if there is a failure with that, the battery will disconnect from load and charging, so there should be any fire issues.

      I don't mine sharing what I have learned, but my with my work schedule, I don't have time to builds kits.

      If you would like to talk on the phone PM me with a phone #, TZ, good times to call.

    2. The VOLT batteries are available in 12-144vdc modules with plug and play BMS systems available from or calling 925.292.8565

  2. Thanks for the info, John, and for your kind offer for the phone conversation. My interest in the matter now is mostly planning/theoretical as I'm still about 1.5 years from my RV purchase, but I'll be sure to take you up on it when the time comes.

  3. I found an interesting "mileage on electric only with temp variable" comparison between volt and leaf. The volt gets the best mileage at 20C. Might make a good target for your heating/cooling system.

    1. Without some kind of air conditioning, that isn't going to be possible. I am more concern with number of cycle. I have abandoned the liquid cooling and going to move to forcing air through in stead. I can't seem to get the end plates to seal, and I am tired of messing with it.

  4. The Scandia labs test ess with volt batteries used air cooling. I would think that'll work for us too.

  5. Great project, do you have the pinouts for the connector on the module where you're monitoring cell voltages etc? Thanks!

  6. If the battery has been converted to 12 volts, I would not use the connector, I found after 1 year the first cell in the first in the battery did not balance. See my post in January 2018 for update on how I reconfigured the batteries. Also don't need cooling for RV application.

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  10. I am looking to use the volt battery pack for my small camp and trying to figure out how to do it. I have 2 300w solar panel (total 600w) with mppt controller on 12v system. I know lithium batteries are 3.7v per cell and to make 12v it is different than regular 12v like other battery so my actual inverter will stop before even if battery still ok because it stop at 10.5v.
    I would like to get information since what you got is 12v and not 24 or 48 volt like other post I found.
    my email address is
    I really would appreciate to get more info and in respect of your time also.
    I already found my volt battery and I am almost on my way to go get it. I need to know in what kind of expense I will get after getting the battery.

  11. Thank you for this post. I am concerned about the way the 48vdc was converted to 12vdc. The added wire leads are much much too small to handle the amperage what you have is a dangerous fire hazard. Those small gauge wires someone added would never withstand the amount of current that can be discharged from those batteries. Those wires will get extremely hot, melt the insulation and act like a fuse burning, if you are lucky that will be all that happens, however if those batteries catch fire you are in a world of hurt. Also, you will need to source a special fire extinguisher rated for Lithium because a standard fire extinguisher will NOT put out a Lithium battery fire. Please dont learn that lesson the hard way.