Issue: Sep 2011


FUTURE CHALLENGES FOR ELECTRIC VEHICLES



by Tony Davison

From failure to the future 

What will your children drive 20 years or more from now? According to one analyst, many of them are likely to take the wheel of an electric car. The primary argument for electric vehicles is overall efficiency, said Philip Gott, director of automotive consulting for industry analyst Global Insight, at the firm’s annual Detroit conference. Why? Because electric cars simply consume less “wells to wheels” energy than alternatives do. 

Introduction of battery management and intermediate storage 

Another improvement is to decouple the electric motor from the battery through electronic control, employing ultra-capacitors to buffer large but short power demands and regenerative braking energy. The development of new cell types combined with intelligent cell management improved both weak points mentioned above. The cell management involves not only monitoring the health of the cells but also a redundant cell configuration (one more cell than needed). With sophisticated switched wiring it is possible to condition one cell while the rest are on duty. 

Faster battery recharging 

By soaking the matter found in conventional lithium ion batteries in a special solution, lithium ion batteries were supposedly said to be recharged 100 times faster. This test was however done with a specially-designed battery with little capacity. Batteries with higher capacity can be recharged 40 times faster. The research was conducted by Byoungwoo Kang (1). 

Why isn’t plug-ins in production? 

Automakers cite the high cost of lithium-ion batteries. Ford and Toyota have announced active interest in plug-ins, but for now they are sticking by their hybrids. DaimlerChrysler is currently testing a plug-in hybrid version of its Sprinter delivery van. Progress, maybe, but no one's making production commitments. GM has taken the biggest leap, awarding contracts to battery makers to produce lithium-ion packs for its Saturn Vue Green Line. The more radically designed Chevy Volt - which has a gas engine that recharges the batteries, and never powers the wheels - will have to wait. It needs a 400-pound battery, which GM estimates won't be feasible until 2013 at the earliest.

Conclusion

There are two significant problems. Battery prices need to be shaved at least in half and range needs to be improved by at least 100%. Then the problem of battery depreciation rolls in – batteries are unlikely to last much more than eight years, which will destroy the trade in value of the first electric vehicles. It’s a “wait a minute” time for prognosticators.

All that is not to say that pure EV has a place in close up, urban, and short distance use. But very few people can justify the investment in another vehicle for only short range. Hybrids could work, but the emphasis has to go to the series hybrid with less battery and far more combustion efficiency to the wheels. 

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