Electric Car Support Developments


The electric car revolution is not just about the car itself, but all the other major changes that need to be modified to adjust to the new demand. One of the key areas being looked at is the effect of the electric car demand on the power grid in the United States.

A current study at University of Notre Dame is doing just that, exploring how the expanding electric car market would affect the U.S. power grid. The research is funded in part by the National Science Foundation’s Physical Systems Program. The process involves the development of mathematical algorithms that would help in guiding the integration of plug-in electric vehicles to the national grid.

Initial findings from the research team lauded the benefits that electric cars can provide their owners as well as the transportation industry and the electric companies. Their low impact would also help the environment. While there are win-win solutions, there are also drawbacks that need to be addressed. These include: balancing electricity demand and supply as well as the existing infrastructure in the transportation and delivery of electrical power to the end user.

According to the study lead, Vijay Gupta, “Electrification of the transportation market offers revenue growth for utility companies and automobile manufacturers, lower operational costs for consumers and benefits to the environment.” He adds, “By addressing problems that will arise as PEV impose extra load on the grid and by solving the challenges that currently impede the use of PEVs as distributed storage resources, this research will directly impact society.”

Another industry that needs development and support would be the battery market. Researchers at the Ohio State University have discovered a means that can provide a better battery to be used for both electric and hybrid cars.

The study used lithium ion batteries and researchers found that as the batteries age, the lithium accumulates what is termed as a ‘current collector’. This substance is a sheet of copper that helps in facilitating better electron transfer between the electrodes in the car’s electrical system. This discovery can help in improving battery design for cars, as well as provide enhanced performance and battery life for the user.

According to study lead, Bharat Bhushan, “Our study shows that the copper current collector plays a role in the performance of the battery. We didn’t set out to find lithium in the current collector, so you could say we accidentally discovered it and how it got there is a bit of a mystery. As far as we know, nobody has ever expected active lithium to migrant inside the current collector.”

Many hybrid electric and all electric car platforms utilize lithium ion batteries in their systems as rechargeable power packs. The lithium ions travel between the anode and cathode end of the battery. When charging, the electrons are on the anode end while they are all at the cathode end when discharging. The current discovery debunks the long held belief that when a battery ages, the lithium builds up on the anode’s surface resulting in loss of charge capacity.

One step at a time for the Electric Car Support Developments.

Battery Investments and Research on the Upswing


One of the world’s largest corporations, General Electric Co, is increasing its exposure in batteries investments with a U.S. $170 million factory. This facility would make the firm the largest maker of electric turbines, which the company foresees as a key element in its burgeoning energy business.

The conglomerate is planning to unveil its factory on Tuesday and said that it was increasing its investment in the site from its original U.S. $100 million investment planned in 2009. The increase in the investment would double the capacity of the plant’s production.

The company is located at Schenectady, New York and would employ four hundred fifty individuals at full capacity. The factory is expected to spearhead a projected U.S. $1 billion revenue return for the company.

This is but another move for GE Chief Executive Jim Immelt, who has spearheaded up GE’s focus on energy projects in the last two years. These include an astounding U.S. $11 billion in takeovers from 2010 and 2011. Other investments that the company has undertaken include a stake in A123 Systems Inc. and a lithium ion battery maker for electric and hybrid cars. The purchases were funded by proceeds from the sale of a majority stake in the NBC Universal media operation as well as U.S. $15 million in funding from New York state authorities as well as U.S.$5 million from local officials.

The company has also confirmed that it has received its first order of batteries from Megatron Federal, a South African engineering firm. The order amounts to 6,000 units to be used as backup power supplies for its telecommunication sites. The total amount of the order remained undisclosed.

This move by GE seems to echo a projected decrease in the cost of batteries used in electric vehicle platforms. The decrease in the price is foreseen to amount to a seventy percent by 2025, with increasing oil prices and stricter fuel efficiency standards are pushing carmakers to build more cars of this design.

The study was conducted by McKinsey and Co and it stated that manufacturing these batteries on a greater production scale represents one third of the total price decrease by 2025. There is also an expected increase in the number of companies participating in this sector together with the creation of new technology taken from consumer electronics makers can also provide more impetus to cut the costs of lithium ion battery creation.

The report stated, “Cheaper batteries could enable the broader adoption of electrified vehicles, potentially disrupting the transportation, power and petroleum sectors.”

The consultancy firm is projecting that the price of a lithium ion battery array could be as low as U.S. $200 in 2020 and U.S. $160 in 2025 per kilowatt-hour. Current prices range between U.S. $500 to U.S. $600 per kilowatt-hour. Should gasoline prices remain at U.S. $3.50 per gallon or even higher, carmakers that can purchase battery arrays at U.S. $250 per kilowatt hour can provide electric vehicles at prices competitive enough against advanced internal combustion engine powered cars and trucks.

The costs for batteries remain one of the biggest issues to the continued increase in electric vehicle adoption, according to the consultancy firm. The current U.S. Department of Energy goal is to aim for the reduction of the cost of a battery array to just U.S. $300 per kilowatt-hour by 2014. The standard 23-kilowatt hour battery used in Ford Focus Electric costs about U.S. $652 per kilowatt-hour totaling between U.S. $12,000 and U.S. $15,000 for each vehicle.

The experts say, “It’s the consumer electronics industry as much as any other industry that’s driving the costs lower.” Let’s all wait and see.

Elixir for Greater Battery Efficiency from the Earth


The San Andreas Fault is said to be one of the most active fault lines in the world and much of the Western United States is awaiting its next big movement. Despite the doomsayers, there is gold in there hills, but this time it’s for battery technology.

The fault line is an area that is a great source of geothermal energy and one of its byproducts is hot brine, now used to drive turbines to generate electricity. This brine also has the ability to collect minerals, one of which is lithium. Lithium is one of the key components in the creation of modern electric car batteries and other electrical devices.

One company, Simbol Materials, extracts lithium from the brine and has access to large reserves to this very important metal. This avoids the need to dig large mines to extract the ore for material use. The extracted lithium is used by start up company Envia Systems and is now being used to create a battery of higher density and at lower cost than what had been done before. When this occurs, the cost of batteries would be reduced affecting the cost of electric cars.

While many areas of the San Andreas fault may seem to be uninviting areas to propagate a revolution, its ability to provide sources of energy and minerals may prove to be the true value of this area to the world.

Another avenue how minerals that can help improve the technology of battery devices would be the use of sulfur enriched nanoparticles in new battery arrays. As the demand for batteries continues to increase exponentially, the need for more efficient in terms of energy delivery as well as size and weight becomes more pronounced. This is where lithium sulfur batteries leave lithium ion batteries in their wake.

In this new battery design, lithium, ions are exchanged between lithium and sulfur carbon electrodes, where the sulfur is able to absorb two lithium ions per sulfur atom. This makes the system a more efficient energy storage system with its power to weight ratio. At the same time, sulfur is a poor conductor of electricity and thus electrons can only be transported with great difficulty during charging and discharging. This is augmented with a larger interface area for electron transfer through coupling of the system with nanostructured conductive material.

According to Thomas Bein of the Nanosystems Initiative Munich, “The sulfur is very accessible electrically in these novel and highly porous carbon nanoparticles and is stabilized so that we can achieve a high initial capacity of 1200 mAh/g and good cycle stability. Our results underscore the significance of nano-morphology for the performance of new energy storage concepts.”

Soon enough, this system would become standard issue when it comes to the future of batteries for electric cars.

Rural Chinese Choose Electric Cars


One of the most popular electric cars in the world finds its niche in rural China. The EV is the Shifeng, a vehicle that resembles a fat Fiat Mini with extra large headlights. The electric vehicle is able to reach top speeds of fifty kilometers per hour or thirty miles per hour.

What makes its attractive is its cost, as it is priced at just 31,600 renminbi or about U.S.$5,000. This makes this vehicle cheaper compared to the E6 from another Chinese automaker BYD. This latter vehicle costs 369,800 renminbi.

One of the reasons for the popularity of the Shifeng is its category determination by government. The electric car is not considered as a vehicle, in the same category as gasoline fueled cars. With gasoline cars, one needs to have a driver’s license as well as procure insurance, while with vehicles such as the Shifeng, these requirements are waived altogether.

The Chinese government had initially sputtered with its goal of putting half a million electric and hybrid cars on Chinese roads by 2015. It also projected that these vehicles would reach a population of five million by 2020. In real terms, only 8,159 such vehicles sold in the country, many of them for the government programs such as eTaxis and eBuses.

The program is heavily subsidized, but despite the assistance, the technology is still very expensive. The total government subsidies are worth 120,000 renminbi, the price of the BYD E6 still is priced well beyond the average salary in China. Another major factor is the lack of charging stations as well as the prohibitive cost of batteries.

While the top executives of carmakers as well as government officials continue to wrangle over the market, many small unlicensed backyard carmakers have begun taking the lower end of the market. This is the market not of upscale buyers or even the middle class market. The target and largest market is the lower income purchasers who want to trade in their bicycles for a four wheeled vehicle that is within their budget. This market is about 260 million strong and is the largest demographic area for the electric vehicle market.

These mini electric vehicles have become quite popular in the rural regions of China as it is the affordable and safer alternative to bicycles and motorcycles. On the other hand, mainstream automakers are quick to point out that these vehicles are illegal and unsafe. Despite the criticisms and roadblocks, many entrepreneurs have started to build mini electric vehicles, especially slow speed electrics.

The criticisms include the lack of safety measures in the vehicles as well as the lead acid batteries it uses to power its electric vehicles. There have been moves to change these batteries but the low cost is what makes these platforms very cost effective and attractive to the Chinese lower end market.

Toyota Forges Partnerships


BMW announced that it has entered into a partnership with Toyota Motor Corporation as to the supply of diesel engines and the joint development of car batteries.

This comprehensive technology alliance was announced as part of the Tokyo Motor Show where the importance of green technologies is underscored. This would also properly manage the costs in the development of power trains depending on customer preferences of a varied market.

Toyota has sustained its gasoline-electric hybrid core business while keeping its top spot in the Japanese auto market. The company though has struggled in Europe where diesel power has lead fuel efficiency and compliance with new stringent environmental rules. On the other hand, BMW has great experience in the European diesel market yet has lagged behind in terms of hybrid systems and lithium ion technologies.

The partnership would entail BMW supplying Toyota with 1.6 liter and 2.0-liter engines for its European models starting in 2014. The companies would also start research and development of the next-generation lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars.

According to Klaus Draeger, member of the BMW Board of Management said, “Toyota and BMW are perfect partners. By carrying out basic research together, we want to speed up development of battery-powered technology. Whoever has the best batteries in terms of cost and function will win more customers.”

For Toyota’s part, Didier Leroy, CEO of Toyota Motor Europe said the alliance would bolster both companies efficiency, improve economies of scale, lower development costs and deliver cars to the European market more quickly. The particular provisions of the equity partnership were not made public.

This partnership came three months after Toyota announced its agreement with Ford Motor Company to collaborate on hybrid powertrain development. Toyota has kept its leadership in hybrid sales, refusing to go into production for an all-electric car citing efficiency, infrastructure and range issues. The Ford-Toyota partnership though did not discuss the inclusion on the development of battery technologies.

Toyota’s move of entering into multiple partnerships is no surprise in light of the ever-increasing fuel efficiency standards worldwide as well as the driving need to reduce the overall developmental costs of hybrids and all-electric vehicles. Particular interest is the development of battery technology as it is the most problematic of all the new vehicle technologies.

According to Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota’s Executive Vice President said “We think that this collaboration will allow for development of next-generation batteries to be done faster and at a higher level,” referring to the partnerships with BMW and Ford.