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Electric Vehicles but Not as We Know Them

Electric vehicles use electricity wholly or partly for traction - making them go along. That encompasses an increasingly large variety of modes of travel by land, sea and air. Add to that fresh water. Electric vehicle manufacturers and those supplying their components vary from ones that are so large, well funded and ambitious that they go for the biggest opportunity, which is hybrid cars for the next decade. At the other extreme, small niche players with astute marketing are dominating niches. Sadly, in between, there are a lot of underfunded, delusional vehicle and parts manufacturers that go for the largest markets without much thought about how they could have more chance of success in niches, let alone create such niches. Yet those smaller market sectors often involve premium pricing, specialist technologies and components and power trains both much larger and much smaller than those for cars.

The truth is that an electric power train offers a huge number of benefits from quietness, reliability, maneuverability and acceleration to environmental credentials and, in the military, little or no heat signature for missiles to home in on. A hybrid vehicle can even act as a power supply for military or civil work carried out at destination.

Here are just a few of the increasing variety of applications of electric vehicle technology.

Year of introduction of new types of electric vehicle.



Micro hybrids are just off the radar. This is a tongue in cheek term for conventional vehicles that automatically switch off the engine when the vehicle comes to a halt and automatically switch it on when the accelerator is next pressed. They tend to use larger batteries and/ or regenerative braking to manage this. Many vehicle manufacturers are caught wrong footed with no electric vehicles in their range, so calling stop start conventional vehicles "micro hybrids" buys them time while helping to meet tighter pollution laws such as those recently introduced in Europe.

Forecasting the future markets for real electric vehicles is tricky because so many new sectors are emerging. For example, over 37 million will be sold in 2015 but the variety will be formidable.

Let us look at some of the niches, many of which have hefty funding and can lead to billion dollar activities.

Military innovation

Military traction batteries need to be very reliable, even bullet proof, and, when they are in hybrids, sharply reduce fuel consumption to create operational flexibility. For example, in 2010, Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide, Inc., announced its Clandestine Electric Reconnaissance Vehicle (CERV), an all-wheel-drive diesel hybrid electric vehicle designed by Quantum and TARDEC's National Automotive Center (NAC) with funding support from the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). The unit can maintain speeds of 80 miles per hour and climb 60 percent grades - all while reducing fuel consumption by up to 25 percent compared with conventional vehicles of comparable size. QT has developed a land-based V22 hybrid reconnaissance surveillance and targeting vehicle "RSTV", a hybrid FMTV truck and a hybrid line hauler. The development budget granted by the US military for the projects was $43 million.

New marine markets

Battery driven surface craft help to meet pollution regulations from India to the USA. Indeed, on some inland lakes, the internal combustion engine is banned so even fast boats pulling water skiers are pure electric. Out at sea, the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle AUV has considerable funding because its uses are widening rapidly. They already include sea condition monitoring, meteorology, oil rig maintenance, research, mine and submarine detection and countermeasures, search and rescue and mineral prospecting. Some stay at sea for years, so their batteries, energy harvesting and control electronics have to be highly sophisticated. These are not toy traction batteries either. AUVs may look like torpedoes but their traction batteries are typically 60kWh in capacity and some being developed to take 300kWh batteries, much bigger than those in an electric car and pressure resistant. The market for existing types of AUV alone is worth $2.3bn over the next decade with 1,400 new AUVs built particularly for military, scientific and oil and gas sectors according to the IET. AUV traction battery packs can be 20% of the cost and some AUVs cost $5 million each. Read about the Gulf of Mexico and realise that many more AUV types are needed.

Yachts become electric vehicles

A particularly brilliant example of creation of a new market for traction batteries happened this year. In February, Valence Technology signed a deal worth up to $45 million to supply the largest yacht maker in the world, Bénéteau Group of France with traction batteries for a new concept of fully integrated hybrid yachts, sailboats and motor boats. The global leisure boat market is at least $20 billion - some niche.

"This is a revolution, not an evolution, in marine propulsion, energy generation, storage and management," said Robert L. Kanode, President & CEO, Valence Technology. "Bénéteau is setting a new blue water standard for cleaner sailing yachts. Ports and harbors around the world will be cleaner, quieter and safer thanks to Valence Technology's safe, dynamic energy systems and the forward thinking of companies like Bénéteau Group, and ZF Marine, a pioneer in electric pod drives."

"The teams from the Bénéteau Group and Valence Technology have been working closely together for many months now, with the combination of their expertise paving the way for this major technological breakthrough," said Dieter Gust, Management Board Member, Bénéteau Group.

In a major departure from the way boats and yachts have been manufactured for decades, new hybrid-electric sea-going vessels yield low to zero-emissions, reduce fuel consumption and require less maintenance than traditional diesel marine propulsion systems. Valence Technology dynamic energy storage systems can power both propulsion and auxiliary power systems without affecting the vessel's performance or functionality. One of the most innovative features of the new hybrid drive system is the capability to recharge the advanced battery packs without the use of noisy, polluting diesel generators.

Electric aircraft get serious

Electric aircraft are ceasing to be one offs. Many organisations are involved including AeroVironment, Aurora Flight Sciences, Electric Aircraft Corporation, GE Aviation Systems, Yuneec International, Sonex Aircraft, Earthstar Aircraft, DARPA, ACV Electroservices, Electravia, NASA and a host of universities and research centers. There is even APAME in France, which translates as the Association for the Promotion of Electrical Engine Aircraft. This is getting to be quite an industry.

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Discussions

Very informative and interesting article Peter much better than many I have read here that focus on electric vehicles as though it is the only market. In fact it is likely the last market that will be impacted by electric vehicles due to the formidable infrastructure and economics surrounding gas driven vehicles. I see natural gas as making more inroads into that market than electric vehicles.

One area that you did not discuss is electric trains which are very common in Britain and Europe but almost non-existent in North America. Given the long distances high speed electric trains are ideal for the North American market but it requires the infrastructure first and that initiative is sadly lacking in the US and Canada. Even the new rail line to Toronto airport is going to be operated by diesel trains running through highly populated areas. How dumb is that!!!

Linear electric hovertrains would be the perfect solution for North America but we have exactly none of these......and we wonder why we are still dependent on oil.

The point is that it seems rather idiotic to develop exotic devices such as electric aeroplanes when we seem to be completely incapable of deploying the electric train technology we already have.

Malcolm

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Flying with batteries seems a dubious venture to me when yet the railroads haven't chosen to convert.

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Greetings Peter,

You've presented a very interesting perspective on electric vehicles. The batteries that may be best suited for vehicular application may not be the optimal choice for private cars. The flow battery that stores energy in the liquid electrolyte is suitable for certain types of marine applications and light duty railway application. The shock loads that most railway locomotives routinely encounter require an virtually indestructable battery.

NGK has developed a large scale molten metallic battery of several megawatt-hour storage capability . . . best used for stationary applications and perhaps some marine applications.

Compressed air and battery is well proven in mining locomotives and is being developed for some automotive applications (eg: Tata Motors of India). The cost of Lithium batteries will result in electric vehicles for a high-end consumer market such as the Tesla vehicle.

When it comes to storage, stationary energy storage powering commuter trains, streetcars and trolleybuses is one of the more cost competitive options.

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For niche applications, batteries may well be feasible in aircraft, though only a very few will every carry people. At least one European manufacturer has built an electrically powered aircraft that can fly for just under an hour. It may be a motor glider, in which case the 40 hp electric motor gets the glider airborne and then it's shut off.

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Of all the things you are forgetting the Sun. This will be main source of Energy for the future and for charging the Batteries.Have you forgotton Nuclear Bateries?. True in an accident this will be catastrophic but then these can be made collision proof . Nuclear batteries for Vehicles will be far long lasting than chemical ones These batteries are no longer a case for Science Fiction.When mass produced and using enormous amount of spent radioactive material thru recycling these will prove highly economic..

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"You still have to put in petroleum to get anywhere ." --- If that's true, then this social organization has PERHAPS one more generation to last.

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I am looking at manufacturer's advertisements and pictures of electric cars of a hundred years ago.

This article is titled "Electric Vehicles but Not as We Knew Them." I would have titled it "Electric Vehicles, How little You Have Changed." I can't at the moment think of anything that has changed less in the last hundred years. There was the Pope, the Baker, Argo, Rauch and Long, the Columbus and more. I actually saw some of these cars gliding silently along and many Marshal Field electric delivery trucks in service in the Loop with their distinctive horn to gently warn pedestrians of their silent approach.

Then, as now the intractable problem was the range restricted by their lead/acid batteries. By 1910 range had increased to about 75 miles at 25 mph. In 1910, except for city boulevards, there was hardly anywhere you could drive even 25 mph. Regular streets were clogged with horse-drawn vehicles.

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"I can't at the moment think of anything that has changed less in the last hundred years." -- 1) AC motors 2) Three-phase IGBET inverters 3) high-voltage AC chargers 4) Lion and NICad batteries. 5) Intelligent cell-charge-discharge monitoring 6) Regenerative braking 7) solid-state digital signal controls.

An electrician from the 1900's wouldn't have a clue how a modern electric vehicle works, it would be magic to him. The IC engine has changed less, at least a mechanic from 1900's would recognize the main components.

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8) Permanent magnet motor fields. 9) etc. etc.

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9) high-performance structural alloys in the motor structures. 10) waterproof shaft seals. 11) permanently lubricated motor bearings. 12) motor bearings capable of 11,000 rpm in normal long-life operation. 12) etc. etc.

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Very interesting and thoughtful article.

It was intriguing to see the name Ferdinand Porsche in the table of electric vehicles. The latest Porsche Magazine has an article about the latest Porsche racing cars that spin up a fly wheel when braking into turns, then a motor clutches in to add acceleration through the turn. It increases total acceleration and reduces the fuel load the car needs to carry, making it more competitive. Hybrids may become standard technology for high end race cars.

I have misplaced an article published by the American Automobile Association (AAA) about how the limited amount of oil available will hinder the growing use of automobiles, and I doubt I will be able to find a reprint of that 1922 article. Remember how we ran out of natural gas in the 1970s? Oops, we have a lot of it.

As an economist I read the engineering thoughts with interest. It appears electric vehicles can make sense for stop and go, low speed city driving, and natural gas for a range where we know we can get refueled. In my family fleet I would readily include one each. I am probably not unique at all in being ready to purchase cars to fill multiple niches. So where is the dealer with a diesel cycle natural gas burning car that handles like a BMW?

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There seems to be this peculiar notion in the environmental movement that the “evil” car makers, oil producers, utilities etc, etc are all conspiring against man to ruin the environment. Utter crap.

Provided the government does not stifle competition, there is a constant interplay between those willing to buy and those willing to sell, with the impact on the planet varying more or less in proportion to what we collectively are willing to put up with. That may not always please everyone. Those in the minority need to accept this fact and stop attempting to dictate how we are to live out our lives.

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So who’s the arbiter of what constitutes “too much profit”. The government? The leftist environmentalists? Neither are qualified. Let the marketplace and well defined limits (i.e. laws that we, the majority, collectively put in place) work it out.

Did the BP screw-up knock the planet off its axis? No. Was it a mess? Sure, but there was no reason to go into the utter hysterics of the press and liberal elite.

If there appears to be a good demand for “multi-fueled” vehicles, then industry will build them. That demand is driven by cost. Toyota had the wisdom to design and build hybrid vehicles, in part so they could make money. The US government did not direct them to do it.

I seriously doubt that most folks will pay massive premiums (e.g. the Volt) for “green” vehicles because it makes no economic sense.

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"The government? The leftist environmentalists? Neither are qualified. Let the marketplace and well defined limits (i.e. laws that we, the majority, collectively put in place) work it out." -- Sorta wierd. A uniquely american attitude. Fred, "we, the majority" and "government" are one and the same thing. Even in the USA. Even if you don't agree with "the majority".

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The marketplace will decide. But EVs look very promising for local and commuting travel. There are 132 million US commuters and the average commute is well within the 80-mile range of present vehicles. If vehicles were streamlined to minimize electricity use (i.e. not SUV’s), the night grid can easily handle that load.

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