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19 Jan 2012 09:01:57

EV event uniquely reflecting the new realities



EV event uniquely reflecting the new realities
By Dr Peter Harrop, chairman, IDTechEx

We have entered 2012 with an electric vehicle scene that is very different from that which was envisaged not long ago. There are now six key enabling technologies not three and vehicle makers increasingly make some of them, so suppliers increasingly have to compete with their largest potential customers. Precious metals in EV components are being removed remarkably rapidly.

The market beyond cars surged forward as expected, mainly without government support and based on paybacks and a large variety of performance benefits. Not so with cars. The forthcoming event Electric Vehicles Land Sea Air in San Jose California March 27–28 uniquely reflects these new realities and more that we give below, including the fact that you must look beyond cars to see the main market and best practice, which is rarely seen first in cars. There are presentations by two agricultural vehicle manufacturers that have recently launched EVs – the two large hybrid vehicles of John Deere and the tiny pure electric tractors of SolTrac. There are four presentations on new two- wheelers but with the new emphasis on motorcycles. There are four presentations on electric aircraft, with both Boeing and Airbus now involved in these projects from airliners to helicopters. That said, the situation with electric cars is also comprehensively covered in the event by Mitsubishi Motors, BMW and others.

One might have expected many manufacturers of electric vehicles to be closing the gap with tsunami troubled Toyota with its quality recalls. After all, Volkswagen made far more conventional vehicles than Toyota did in 2011, so it is called world automotive leader now. Nonetheless, are these so-called reciprocaurs are a good indicator of future success?

Indeed, the opposite is true in the future-oriented electric vehicle scene. Here Toyota, for all its temporary troubles, surprisingly widened the huge gap between it and number two. Toyota is world number one in electric material handling vehicles such as fork lifts. They are mainly pure electric but hybrid outdoor forklifts are just beginning to replace conventional versions on cost of ownership and performance - a huge new market. Call it the heavy industrial vehicle sector. Toyota is a leader in electric buses and trucks under the Hino brand, mainly hybrid. It remains by far the leader in electric cars, almost all hybrid and with the Prius alone outselling all other hybrid cars put together. Indeed, in a report, IDTechEx has looked at 40,000 patents on advanced energy storage technologies and found Toyota to be increasing its patent filings on traction battery technology faster and more broadly than anyone. Toyota makes both asynchronous and synchronous traction motors and advanced electronics. Wherever you look, no one is closing the gap with Toyota in breadth or depth of EV activity.

It should therefore come as no surprise that Toyota is giving two presentations at Electric Vehicles Land Sea Air, one being on its progress towards having a hybrid version of all models plus a range of pure electric on-road and other vehicles. The second Toyota presentation will concern its work in Europe on a fuel cell vehicle. As the range extender session will clarify, fuel cells are no longer seen as replacing the traction battery but they can be range extenders charging the battery, most of the trials being on buses over the last twenty years but with fuel cell buses, trucks, vans, cars, aircraft and underwater vehicles now being trialled or rolled out. Fuel cells must now be seen as competing with other "fuel generators" ,that inherently produce electricity such as the Clarian Laboratories' Wankel engine in coils, and with range extenders such as tiny jet engines, not batteries. All will be presented at the event as well as breakthrough platinum free fuel cells – a precious metal work-around by ACAL Energy.

Cars, hybrid and pure electric, failed to reach half the total expenditure on electric vehicles and it is now clear that they will not do so within the decade. That is even before factoring in any ill-considered and sudden action by governments in withdrawing benefits as happened recently with solar power in Japan then Spain then the UK.

To our surprise, we still have no idea how popular the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt will be because they have been production limited, with priority given to fleet orders and many showroom demonstrators being authorised to be sold. The Nissan Leaf ended the year selling at about one fifth the rate of the world's best-selling car, the Ingersoll Rand "Club Car" branded golf car. However, golf cars are in a zero growth market and pure electric on-road cars have a fast growth scenario when the various problems are overcome. One such problem is getting more than 100 miles/160km range out of pure electric on-road vehicles instead of complaining about how stupid most drivers are in rejecting it. Surprisingly few of the affordable new alternatives offer better range but a host of new developments, to be aired at the event, will solve the problem.

Totally new batteries

Totally new inorganic batteries, some printed reel to reel, are now seen in military land vehicles and unmanned electric aircraft and they will shortly appear in trial motorcycles and microcars. They have no organic electrolyte to burn and they have higher energy density and none of the cobalt that is subject to price hikes. Now they will no longer be called something for the decade after this one. Watch Oxis Energy (at the event), Sion Energy and IBM announcements for example.

Work rounds for the battery problems

It is now clear that the better range (or for some work vehicles, more power for longer) will not simply be achieved by better batteries but by a host of improvements. Those include lighter, more aerodynamic bodies, some with "structural batteries" in the sides as newly seen in electric racing cars.

Multiple energy harvesting, not just regenerative braking, will help a great deal. A delightful situation that is emerging here is that the different forms of energy harvesting can act as a tag team: when one is losing its capability during the duty cycle, another is taking over. For example, small wind turbines and conformal and unfolding solar panels will charge batteries during parking. Thermoelectric harvesting on the engine and the exhaust pipe of a hybrid – now near to market – is maximised during cruise. Energy harvesting shock absorbers (dampers) kick in particularly strongly on bumpy roads, including off-road. Harvesting kinetic energy by flywheels (eg Volvo car trials) and regenerative braking though motors working in reverse occurs only when slowing down. The outcome, as more of these are brought to market, is less need for a big battery. That will be assisted by the more capable supercapacitors (two presentations at the event) and top up by fast charging, which is also covered. Some small supercapacitors now have the energy density of lead acid batteries and there is talk of achieving lithium-ion energy density with twice the life and much better current handling and safety. There is even some introduction of continuous charging by KAIST of Korea and OLEV Technologies (who present) from the race track to Boston Logan Airport and theme parks.

Big changes with motors

There has been a strong move from brushed to brushless motors as the need for reliability, high revs and so on becomes clear but now those brushless traction motors are changing radically. They almost all used permanent magnets up to 2010, subjecting them to price hikes from neodymium, and, whereas work on neodymium-free magnets is slowly progressing, other work-rounds are going straight into the market. They consist of switched reluctance synchronous motors in the Renault Fluence with none of the noise that was previously a problem with this type of motor. Then there are asynchronous, so-called AC induction motors being adopted way beyond their initial EV penetration in forklifts then heavy trucks and buses and the Tesla car. The minority of motor manufacturers that are paying attention to these sea changes are changing and broadening what they offer. Most of the other 100 or more will be pushed out of the business, even though there remains a major opportunity in permanent magnet motors for some time yet.


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