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Steve Chaplin
University Communications

Last modified: Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Physicist who turned a Honda Civic into fully electric 'Hondatron' to speak April 3

March 26, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A former post-doctoral researcher at Indiana University's Cyclotron Facility -- now a professor in the Physics Department at Western Michigan University -- who converted one of the world's most popular gasoline automobiles to full electric power will bring the story of this conversion to an April 3 Physics Department colloquium.


The Hondatron, a 1992 Honda Civic converted to all-electric power by former IU post-doctoral researcher Paul Pancella. Pancella, now a physicist at Western Michigan University, will speak at IU Bloomington April 3.

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Paul V. Pancella, an experimental nuclear physicist whose work has focused on nucleon scattering, drove a 1992 Honda Civic CX for 15 years before the engine gave out. His inherent interest in all things efficient, and in transportation systems in general, led him to gather together a cadre of gearhead friends and the team two years ago installed a rechargeable lithium iron phosphate battery system, a charger and a new electric motor in the car.

His presentation at IU Bloomington is titled "The Transition to Electric Cars."

"There is reason to believe that in the near future, more and more electricity will be used to power transportation, significantly reducing the amount of petroleum-derived fuels burned in internal combustion engines," Pancella said. "This talk will explore some of the physics behind this belief."

Researchers at the University of Texas in 1996 identified lithium iron phosphate as a cathode material for rechargeable lithium batteries. Five years later researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology addressed the primary problem with commercializing the battery - low conductivity - and systems based on those improvements are now used by leading corporations like Black and Decker, Daimler and Cessna.

"I can go 100 miles on a full charge, and expect the equivalent of 2,000 full recharge cycles before there is a noticeable decrease in energy storage capacity -- thus 200,000 miles," Pancella said. "There are caveats here, because there is very little data beyond five years of real-world automotive use, but during that time there is no maintenance required beyond safeguarding against overcharge and over-discharge."

So the life expectancy of the battery system will generally exceed the average useful life of passenger cars themselves, he noted. A power cord runs from the front of the car to a traditional wall socket when the vehicle needs a recharge.

And Pancella, who calls the car the Hondatron, said that as far as carbon dioxide output compares to a traditional gasoline-powered car, the electric car still produces less than the gasoline car, even when the electricity is produced solely from coal.

The colloquium is open to the public and will begin at 4 p.m., Wednesday, April 3, in Room 119 Swain Hall West.

For more information or to speak with Pancella, please contact Steve Chaplin, University Communications, at 812-856-1896 or