Recycle your car by electrifying your engine

One Change: You can retrofit an electric engine into your vehicle for as little as €2,000

For those of us who’ve never seen the sense in buying a brand new car (nor ever been able to afford one), the electric car presents a dilemma. It’s clear that electric vehicles (EVs) are the most ecological solution if public transport isn’t available, but how can we justify scrapping a perfectly worthy car that has already emitted large amounts of carbon during its manufacturing to swap it for another vehicle that will emit the same amount again? The number crunchers tell us that after 30,000km it will have saved more greenhouse gases through driving than were produced in its manufacturing, but one can’t help feeling that there must be a better way.

The idea of retrofitting electric motors into old vehicles didn’t make sense even a few years ago, but things are changing. A Wicklow-based venture, New Electric Ireland, have been training mechanics how to remove the engine, the gearbox and the fuel tank, and replace them with a motor and a set of batteries. The conversion can be done within half a day, and costs as little as €2,000, but that’s for a battery range of just 80km. We’d need a network of rapid chargers throughout the country for that to be viable. Kevin Sharpe of New Electric Ireland estimates that within a year or two a range of 240-320km will be achievable for a conversion cost of about €5,000. The principal hurdle is sourcing batteries as, while conversion kits are increasingly available for many car models, batteries remain elusive and expensive.

Scrapping is farcical

Once the car has been converted, it gets tested by an automotive engineer and can then be retaxed as an electric vehicle. It should pass through an NCT inspection like any other electric vehicle. Surprisingly, the heavy batteries don’t increase the overall weight as they are counteracted by the removal of the internal combustion engine, fuel tank, gearbox and catalytic converter, according to Sharpe.

Scrapping several tonnes of perfectly good plastic, metal and fabric to satisfy a consumer whim is farcical. The EU’s Right to Repair legislation is aiming to tackle built-in obsolescence. “By converting a car you can add another 10 or 20 years to its life,” says Sharpe. “You keep the precious metal and oil in the ground, and avoid the emissions and environmental destruction needed to extract them. The overall aim of New Electric Ireland is upcycling, as opposed to replacing.”

Tom Spencer, who edits an independent guide to electric vehicles in Ireland, IrishEVs.com, believes that conversions should play a key role in electrifying Ireland’s car fleet, and recommends that a grant is offered to help people convert their cars, rather than the Government continuing to fund scrappage schemes. “We need to start training mechanics now how to convert cars safely, as with every year the price of batteries is dropping and the conversion parts are more available. EV conversions are an important part of our transport future.”