New Issues with Battery Power

firesign
firesign

The main power source of the electric car, the lithium ion battery, may face bigger issues, though not with its performance in cars but in misinformation, especially in the latest news on the grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, a string of fires in the Boeing 787 was said to have started from the lithium ion battery pack of the aircraft.

Despite being in another vehicle platform altogether, many commentators are now saying that the Boeing issue has also the same incidents “that have shown up in electric cars.” Unfortunately this conclusion is at best misleading and the two battery types are very different from one another.

The said conclusion was made by Paul Czysz, Professor Emeritus of Aeronautical Engineering at St. Louis University, when he said, “Unfortunately, what Boeing did to save weight is use the same batteries that are in the electric cars and they are running into the same problems with the 787 as the same problems that have shown up in electric cars.”

This quote had appeared in the Boston Herald, which than went into a narration of a 2011 Chevy Volt fire during crash testing done at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. By 2012, the same investigation concluded that ‘there is no discernible defect trend exists’. It further said that ‘modifications recently developed by General Motors reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts.’

Unfortunately, the conclusion is at best misleading, because while the Boeing battery and the electric car battery are both lithium ion batteries, they have very different chemistries. While both are batteries, there are major differences that clearly make the Boeing battery very different from the electric car battery. One such example is the composition of the Boeing battery, built by GS Yuasa, and utilizes a cobalt oxide chemistry very similar to what consumer electronics such as mobile phones and laptops would have. This composition is considered as having the highest rating regarding energy content but its downside its high susceptibility to overheating that can lead to electrical fires.

On the side of the electric cars, only the Tesla Roadster utilizes this version of the lithium ion battery. Other cars, such as the Chevy Volt, use the LG Chem Prismatic Cells with manganese spinel (LiMn2O4) cathode chemistry. While this has a lower energy per volume rating, this chemical set up makes it less susceptible to overheating and thermal events.

This is in essence what ignorance of the facts can lead to hysteria and misinformation. Unfortunately, even learned engineers make the same mistake.

The Travel of the Electric Car

some cars at zero pollution
some cars at zero pollution

The electric car revolution is clearly at hand. Aside from the actions undertaken by the electric car manufacturers, the government is now taking a more active participation in the change that is approaching at the horizon.

One such move is the government requiring that electric and hybrid vehicles produce more noise when travelling at low speeds. The purpose of the noise is to warn pedestrians of the presence and passing of these vehicles.

The move is an application of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 as electrics and hybrid vehicles produce less noise compared to its conventional engine vehicles. This is most important when the electrics or hybrids are at low speed to warn pedestrians, bicycle riders and those that are visually disabled. The main agency proposing the changes is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and their main proposal is to have car makers produce more noise at speeds under eighteen (18) miles per hour. At higher speeds, these new vehicles are able to produce adequate noise.

For manufacturers, a wide range of options are available but the sounds need to be uniform in order that other road users can distinguish between ambient noise and the oncoming vehicle. The government agency has opened commentaries from concerned citizens on the proposal and would use the recommendations for the final rules to be implemented. It is projected that the new noise regulations would save future accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists on the road.

This is but another sign that the electric revolution is here. The figures from 2012 clearly show the increasing market share of electrics and hybrids on the road. Amongst the biggest gainers is the Chevrolet Volt, which tripled its share in the United States this year alone. A total of 23,461 Volts were sold but this represents only one third of a percent of total sales of passenger cars in the country.

Experts are projecting an annual sales figure of 3.8 million electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles by the year 2020. Other vehicle sales include the Nissan Leaf or non plug in hybrids such as the Toyota Prius would continue to climb in sales in the coming years.

Just wait and see.

First Responders Beware when Approaching Electrics and Hybrids

DANGER
DANGER

Electric cars, as well as hybrids, are very different from how conventional cars are built and operate. Thus, as more and more of these vehicles are introduced into the market and are used on the roadways, the higher the possibility of having an accident that may need emergency team assistance.

In many areas in the United States and in Europe, specialized training is now being undertaken by police, fire and emergency service personnel in dealing with high voltage systems for crashed electric and hybrid vehicles. The next stumbling block would be differentiating conventional from alternative vehicles when they are in a road mishap and their passengers need immediate attention.

One of the ways to assist first responders is the SAE International suggestion that electric and hybrid vehicles should have large stickers to inform the many of their electric fuel design. These would be inch high letters or badges on both sides and the rear of the vehicle to help first responders to identify and warn of their electrically charged nature. Another way would be to place lettering at the dashboard area, so that emergency personnel would see through the windshield.

This though, would not be a problem for high profile vehicles such as the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf. This can help tremendously in differentiating an electric from a conventional for a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry, as there isn’t much of a difference between the two.

These recommendations are enumerated in SAE’s report entitled Hybrid and EV First and Second Responder Recommended Practice. The report provides references as to electrics and hybrids, as well as guidance for tow truck operators and other post accident handlers to avoid further mishaps and injuries.

According to Todd Mackintosh, Chairman of the SAE Technical Committee, “As electric vehicles enter the marketplace in greater numbers, it’s an appropriate time to recognize best practices that facilitate a safe response when these vehicles are in an accident.” He added that a ‘cheat sheet for first responders’ would be most helpful, not just in terms of safety of the passengers in the vehicle, but most especially for those first responders.

One of the more adamant recommendations is a ‘kill switch’ mechanism that would turn off battery power in the event of an accident. It also recommends standardization of the location of these switches in order to have easy access in times of emergencies.

The electric carmakers themselves are installing safety features. The Nissan Leaf’s battery pack is in an all steel case, designing it to sense a crash and disable its electrical charge. Ford for its part, has published ‘Electric Badges’ which are clearly marked logos on the doors and trunk lid to warn of possible electric shock. Cables are wrapped in orange high voltage warning sleeves under the hood of the vehicle.  GM’s Chevy Volt has helped create training modules for first responders.

Electric Car Sales Buoyed for November

Electric cars
Electric cars

The month of November is a high point in the electric car revolution, as this month is the fourth consecutive month where sales records have continued to increase. The increase for this month was attributed to the introduction of the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in electric hybrid into the market.

The steady upsurge was observed by Aaron Chew of the Maxim Group, as he counted 7,600 electric cars sold in November. This makes the total count for 2012 at 47,500 and the experts predict that the year would close at about 56,000 electric and plug in hybrid electric vehicles sold.

Other incentives have helped buoy sales for the electric car. These include Nissan’s U.S. $199 leases and U.S. 5,000 price breaks on the Leaf, jumpstarting sales for the year. There have also been a number of new models that have widened the selections of buyers for electric cars. Ford for its part sold 1,259 units of the C-Max Energi just in November, a month after it was introduced into the market. The highest seller was the Toyota Prius plug in at1,766 units followed by the Chevrolet Volt, which posted 1,519 units sold. Tesla, despite its secretive sales records, was said to have sold 1,150 of its Model S sports sedans in the same period.

Despite the sales, there are still some major issues that electric cars face in the coming years, some of which are as follows:

a)      The Cost. While electricity is much cheaper compared to gasoline, the cost of amortizing an EV is still way above the standard costs for an internal combustion engine vehicle. The prices though are steadily decreasing, making it more affordable to purchase an electric vehicle in both the short term and long term.

b)      The Source. While the main issue with gas guzzlers is the emission of pollutive greenhouse gases from the vehicle, electric cars do not have this problem. The main issue is the generator of electricity, which is still the coal fired electric generator. Even with natural gas generators, there are still emissions created and thus allocation of this pollutant factors must still be addressed.

c)       The Technology. The main drawback is still the power source of electric vehicles as the range and effectivity is still determined by the amount of electrical power stored in the battery packs. While many of these battery developers are bellying up because of the prohibitive costs and limited market scale, the improvements in the technology are around the corner to make the electric car as dependable as it is affordable as the standard gasoline powered car.

Top Ten Plug Ins for 2012

electricsedan
electricsedan

Top 10. The expanded market Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt. As new markets in Canada and the UK receive the Opel Ampera, the European version of the Volt, the market base is expected to increase. As for the Leaf, it would also start to show up in Nissan showrooms in the UK and other fifty states in the United States.

Top 9. The SmartforTwo Electric Drive. The Smart Car builder Daimler has said that it would be launching its third generation SmartForTwo Electric Drive car in thirty new markets by the fall of 2012. The delay from the original summer 2012 launch was due to quality control issues with its battery supplier Li-Tec.

Top 8. The Honda Fit EV. This EV from Honda was scheduled to be released in Oregon and some parts of California by the summer of 2012, with only 1,100 scheduled to be built in the next three years.

Top 7. The Mitsubishi i. This is the updated version of the MiEV and is available in both Japan and the United Kingdom since the start of 2012. Costing just about U.S.$29,125 before the application of the incentives from state and federal law, this is clearly one of the most affordable EVs in the market today.

Top 6. The Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid. The Prius Goes Plural campaign in full swing, the Japanese car giant has offered this new hybrid version to its current stable of hybrid models.

Top 5. The Ford Focus Electric. The market ready ones would become ready for the market by the spring of 2012. This is the first pure electric vehicle from one of the Detroit Big Three carmakers.

Top 4. The Fisker Karma. Despite the delays, the Fisker Karma has now become available. The first ones though need to be recalled for some minor repairs but the current issues of the company may eventually make this car an endangered species, especially with its six-figure purchase price.

Top 3. The Toyota RAV 4 EV. This is the joint venture project between Tesla and Toyota. The first few vehicles would become available in California, hopefully by mid-2012.

Top 2. The Ford C-Max Energi. This is a plug in version of the Ford C-Max wagon. This vehicle is scheduled to become available in the United States within 2012 while Europe would have to wait until 2013.

Top 1. The Tesla Model S. This is one of the longest waiting lists for cars in history, with 6,500 individuals placing their order together with U.S.$5,000 two years before its actual availability. This vehicle is one of the most awaited releases for 2012.