India’s Flirtations with Electric Vehicles


After years of work and experimentation, the first commercially viable electric motorcycle from India has been made available. Made by the start up Ampere, the electric bike is one design that many Indians, especially in the rural areas, have purchased for their daily needs.

The electric motorcycle is not sleek and shiny designed for the urban setting but it is a heavy converted Chinese bicycle that has a top speed of fifteen miles per hour and it is a workhorse when it comes to heavy loads. Named the Angel, its main customer base are farmers and tradespersons and it is lauded for its low cost, about U.S. $386. The motorcycle is able to withstand great stress workload and is powered by free electricity available in the southern countryside of Tamil Nadu.

Unfortunately, a recent power shortage hit the agricultural state forcing the government to ration electricity. This tremendously affected the sales of the bikes, up from 600 a month to just 60 bikes.

This is just a microcosm of the worsening power issues that affect the sub-Continent. Since the electric vehicle market is still in its infancy, the continued power crisis would affect the bottom line for individuals who are worried they would not be able to fully charge their batteries with the rationed power.

In the macro sense, the power crisis is affecting the whole of India and has been pinpointed to the mismanagement of a specific power grid, causing massive blackouts affecting 600 million individuals for two whole days. This though is part of a recurring problem that many Indians have grown accustomed to, nicknaming them as ‘power cuts’.

The shadow of rolling blackouts has affected not just start ups like Ampere, but also established players such as Hero Electric. Hero Electric is one of the biggest producers of two wheeled electric vehicles in the country and their bottom line has been tremendously affected with the flickering of the power grid.

According to the Chief Executive Officer of Hero Electric, “We have discovered that in the last six months our sales have dropped to only fifteen percent of what it was in Tamil Nadu. Because there is nothing in sight, no resolution in the next few months, the sentiment is really subdued and the dealerships are closing one by one.”

It is hoped that the future of electric vehicle revolution bodes well for India. The central government has promised U.S. $4.13 billion stimulus program, with subsidies with the objective of having six (6) million electric vehicles on Indian roads by 2020. A previous program to subsidize electric cars back in 2010 was prematurely stopped when funds dried up and this program now can only be hoped to work.

New Breakthroughs with Battery Chemistry


New research conducted at the Concordia University is allowing the fruition of the goal of clean viable energy. Now it is possible to extend the length of time a battery like enzyme can store energy to mere seconds instead of hours. The new study would be published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The study is headed by Laszlo Kalman, Associate Professor at Concordia. in coordination with graduate students Sasmit Deshmukh and Kait Tang from the Department of Physics. The group has been working with an enzyme found in bacteria that helps in efficiently capturing social energy. The light induces charge separation in the enzyme, allowing one end to be negatively charged and the other end charged positively like a battery.

In a natural setting, this energy is used almost immediately, but Kalman has found a way to store that electrical potential and further studies found how to preserve that charge separated state of the enzyme for extended periods of time.

“We had to create a situation where the charges don’t want to or are not allowed to go back and that’s what we did in this study, “ according to Dr Kalman.

The group showed that by adding different molecules they were able to alter the shape of the enzyme and extending the lifespan of the electrical potential of the enzyme. The enzyme is often embedded in the cell’s outer layer in an area known as the lipid membrane. The structure of the enzyme allows the same to quickly recombine the charges and recover from the charge separated state.

When different lipid molecules comprise the membrane, there would be a mismatch between the membrane’s shape and embedding of the enzyme within it. The enzyme and the membrane both would eventually change their shapes to find a good common fit. These changes would make the enzyme have difficulty to recombine charges, allowing for a longer lifespan in the charged state.

Kalman added, “What we’re doing is similar to placing a racecar on snow-covered streets. The surrounding conditions prevent the racecar from performing as it would on a racetrack just like the different lipids prevent the enzyme from recombining the charges as efficiently as it does under normal circumstances.”

One of the earliest energy conversion processes is photosynthesis that has existed for billions of years. To which Kalman adds, “All our food, our energy sources, such as gasoline, coal --- everything is product of some ancient photosynthetic activity.”

For its part, the researchers are using nature’s battery to inspire more sustainable, human made energy converting systems.

Alternative Fuels Generated from Electricity


A new study found that there may be a future where one can use electricity to power the car, even if is not an electric vehicle. This was found through the research conducted at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The process involves conversion of carbon dioxide into liquid fuel isobutanol through electrolysis. Electrolysis though involves high volumes of electricity. This though cannot be done as current battery technology, with chemical batteries still unable to provide the needs of the process. Furthermore, the technological requisites remain incompatible with the platforms used for actual transportation.

The study was published last March 30 in the journal Science. The team was headed by James Liao, the Chairman for the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation for Chemical Engineering for UCLA. They were able to found the process wherein electrical energy can be stored in higher alcohols, which in turn can be utilized as liquid transportation fuels for cars of the future.

According to Liao, “The current way to store electricity is with lithium ion batteries in which density is low, but when you store it in liquid fuel, the density could actually be very high. In addition, we have the potential to use electricity as transportation fuel without needing to change current infrastructure.”

The UCLA research team had engineered a lithoautotrophic microorganism that is known scientifically as Ralstonia Eutropha H16. The cells would produce isobutanol and 3-methyl-1-butanol in a bioreactor. Carbon dioxide would be added as the sole carbon source with electricity as the singular energy input.

What the process does is similar to photosynthesis, which is the process of converting light energy into chemical energy stored as sugar. The two process involved has two steps, namely light reaction and a dark reaction. The light reaction would convert light energy into chemical energy and light must be present. On the other hand, the dark reaction would convert CO2 into sugar and need not be done with light present.

Liao added, “We’ve been able to separate the light reaction from the dark reaction and instead of using biological photosynthesis, we are using solar panels to convert the sunlight to electrical energy, then to a chemical intermediate and using that to power carbon dioxide fixation to produce the fuel. This method could be more efficient than the biological system.”

He added, “Instead of using hydrogen, we use formic acid as the intermediary. We use electricity to generate formic acid and then use the formic acid to power the CO2 fixation in bacteria in the dark to produce isobutanol and higher alcohols.”