Light weight modular power system design enables a world-class riding experience
“After the first ride I was convinced that electric motorcycles should be a business. The bike gives you a feeling of limitless torque, with no vibration, no noise and no heat – there is almost a magical feeling to it.”
That was the experience of Richard Hatfield, founder and CEO of Lightning Motorcycles Corporation, which now holds the land speed record for electric motorcycles, exceeding 215mph. The San Carlos, California., company was founded in 2007, just a few streets over from another electric vehicle pioneer– Tesla. San Carlos at that time was ground zero for electric vehicle development and collaboration.
Lightning strikes and breaks land speed record
Having cut his teeth on EVs in the late 1990s on the development of an electric Porsche, Hatfield, a lifelong motorcyclist, set his sights on creating a motorcycle that leveraged the same technology. In the early days, lithium batteries were a scarce luxury item, but by 2005 he was able to source some of the first iron-phosphate lithium cells, an off the shelf industrial variable-frequency-drive inverter and an induction motor.
After developing early prototypes with his original EV motorcycle design, Hatfield equipped his next bike with a Tesla motor and Lightning was born.
“We took it to the Bonneville Salt Flats and broke a speed record that had stood for 35 years,” Hatfield said. “We still hold the Bonneville record – an SCTA (Southern California Timing Association) sanctioned 215.962mph – in addition to 211.7 at the El Mirage dry lake bed. Then we raced it in the inaugural AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) zero-emission road racing series and won the North American championship.”
Soon after Hatfield produced Lightning’s first production bike, the LS-218. In 2013 they ran in the open class of the Race to the Clouds at the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb. Hatfield’s LS-218 EV motorcycle out-scrambled the entire field, winning the event by more than 20 seconds over the fastest gas bikes.
Honing a world class riding experience
Building on their history of motorbike performance excellence, the next challenges were range and charging time. Lightning’s latest battery packs replaced the typical graphite anode with silicon anodes providing an energy density in the 300-watt-hour-per-kilogram range – higher than most automotive EV OEMs can achieve, according to Hatfield. Lightning’s top bikes now range more than 170 miles and can recharge to 80 percent in 10 minutes.
Power modules the easy choice for top performance
As Lightning’s bikes became more sophisticated, the electronics on board demanded more power, but not weight. Managing electrical noise in a vehicle that’s extremely compact and lightweight is always a challenge. Lightning adopted Vicor DCM power modules in all of its products, to power the 12V control electronics, lighting system, dash instrumentation and sensors. A decision Hatfield attributed to their superior reliability, low noise, power density and superior thermal management.
Lightning uses the Vicor DCM4623 DC-DC converter, which is power-dense, light-weight and a very cost-effective solution.
Solving power system challenges
One early issue was the safe and reliable connection of the battery to the DCM in handling the extremely high transient voltage step (V/µs). There were also mechanical relays that connect the battery to the loads such as actuators and the motor, where noise can damage the DC-DC converter and other electronics. To address this, Vicor incorporated a “pre-charge” circuit and input filter to allow stable operation when turning ON and OFF. Vicor was instrumental in supporting Lightning’s power system design needs as they evolved.
What’s down the road for Lightning
Hatfield is planning to return to the El Mirage dry lake beds in southern California and to the salt flats at Bonneville this year to see if his team can break the record the Lightning team set previously. They also have aspirations of racing at Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, which is the largest salt flat in the world and covers almost 4,000 square miles at 12,000 feet.
For Hatfield, while the records are important, it’s the poetry of riding an EV motorcycle that is most satisfying.
“It’s just a more advanced feeling,” he said. “You don’t need a transmission, you don’t have to shift, and you have limitless torque all the way across the power band. We hear that a lot from our customers. Most of them are lifelong motorcyclists, but they don’t ride their gas bikes so much anymore because of the experience they get from the Lightning.”
DCM™ is a trademark of Vicor Corporation.