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HEVC – The future of hybrid and electric vehicles

Future Hybrid and Electric Vehicles

The future of hybrid and electric vehicles was revealed at the Hybrid and Electric Vehicles Conference (HEVC) 2011; for the second year, Beating Spirit
was the only media in attendance, so here’s our user-friendly summary of the key points that you need to know.

The event was organised by Cenex, and leading experts from the academic and business worlds presented the latest thinking and advances in the field of hybrid and electric vehicles.

The vast majority of the presentations related to technical and engineering developments. However one speaker, Helen Middleton from the University of Sunderland, reminded the audience that people buy cars – including low carbon cars – primarily for emotional rather than for technical reasons.

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The styling of electric cars

The visual appearance of a car is one of the main aspects of an emotional purchase. People’s choice of car, especially in the UK, is driven by self-image; people buy cars because they like them. Yet according to research conducted by the University of Sunderland with an 18-30 age group, when most people are asked to visualise what an electric car looks like, they think of cars that look like a mad inventor’s home-made product designed in a shed fifty years ago.

So if manufacturers want people to buy electric cars, then they need to design them to overcome the traditional (negative) perceptions that most people have about EVs. So what should they look like? Well, based on its study, the University has come up with the ultimate design for an electric car. This is pictured above; perhaps not surprisingly, the visualisation looks like a sports car, and probably represents the dream car for an 18-30 year old regardless of whether it’s electric or not. Which is a bit of a problem seeing as though most EVs, with their limited range, are ideally suited to being city cars.

At least it should reinforce the idea that badly-designed quadricycles are not appealing, but cars such as the Renault Dezir and Citroen Survolt are probably more along the lines of what the findings of the survey recommended.

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Anyway, back to the main focus of the conference: technical issues.

The future of electric vehicles

The keynote speech was delivered by Dr Alan Lloyd from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), who has worked for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on the Californian ZEV programme. Alan saw great progress happening now and in the near future with the move to ultra-low carbon vehicles. Based on manufacturers’ plans, he believes that most vehicles will be hybrids very soon, and that the majority of vehicles will be battery-electric by 2025, and fuel cell-powered by 2050. With the growth of mega-cities in countries such as China, there are likely to be more urban areas where only zero-emission vehicles will be allowed.

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Costs of the electric technology will come down, but he saw the next stage of ‘advanced’ batteries as being more difficult. Instead, he believed fuel cells would be a big opportunity in areas such as California where a public hydrogen infrastructure is being developed.

Current early adopters are likely to be incentivised to buy EVs, but the challenge will be the second wave of customers, who are traditionally more risk-averse. This makes it all the more important for the current launch to enjoy a successful customer response.

Linked with this, he also he warned that manufacturers mustn’t claim amazingly high miles per gallon and low CO2 figures for new vehicles if the consumer isn’t likely to achieve such figures in real-life ownership. That could risk a car buyer being very disappointed with their new EV, and this news spreading to potential customers. This would need the official fuel consumption tests for cars such as plug-in hybrids to change.

Although the industry is making good progress with EVs, it is essential for the government to develop more low carbon electricity, to ensure that EVs have lower CO2 impact than efficient diesels.

Alan saw that biofuels will play a part in the future fuels mix but they should be used in areas such as aviation and heavy vehicles, as their need is greater.

Finally Alan reminded us about the new film, Revenge of the Electric Car. With almost every major car maker now jumping to produce new electric models, the film follows the race to be the first, the best, and to win the hearts and minds of the public around the world. www.revengeoftheelectriccar.com

The most environmentally-friendly fuel

Chris Walsh from Cenex gave a presentation about a method to evaluate the lowest carbon fuel; although the tool was impressive, the most interesting thing was the outcome – ie. what is the most environmentally-friendly fuel?

The idea is to compare different fuels and technologies to calculate what is the best green option, and which is the lowest cost option. To do this, Cenex has developed the Fleet Carbon Reduction Guidance and Tool.

The tool models what vehicles are doing in the real-world. Chris described a case study involving a fleet of fifty 3.5 tonne urban delivery vans. Although their official emissions were 240 g/km CO2, the real world emissions in an urban environment were 360 g/km, ie. 50% higher.

Using the Cenex tool, different drivetrains were modeled for this fleet, using four fuels: diesel, biomethane, electric and hydrogen. The well-to-wheel CO2 figures were as follows: diesel 385 g/km, biomethane 156 g/km, electric 278 g/km and hydrogen 718 g/km. As can be seen, biomethane has the lowest carbon footprint, by quite a margin – even compared to electric. People might be surprised to see hydrogen with such a high figure. This is for hydrogen that is typically available in the UK, ie. manufactured from natural gas. The eventual idea is for hydrogen to be produced from renewable resources such as solar and wind energy, when the carbon footprint will drop significantly, close to zero.

Biomethane is produced from landfill gas or organic matter, so it is renewable. In the Cenex case study model, using biomethane saved 700 tonnes of CO2. In terms of total cost of ownership, diesel and biomethane are both similar – although biomethane is slightly cheaper than diesel, there is a cost to convert the vehicles to run on the fuel. Battery electric and hydrogen vehicles cost even more.

A case study about biomethane can be found here


Electric vehicle recharging

A number of speakers looked at where we are at the moment with electric vehicle recharging, and what the future holds.

Currently, the UK is in the process of installing electric recharging points. The first three locations taking part in the Plugged-in Places scheme are making most progress, these areas being London, Milton Keynes and the North East. Most charge points charge at the same speed as from a domestic mains supply – in other words around 8 hours for a full recharge. Rapid chargers can recharge the battery to around 80% in just 30 minutes. However there are currently few such chargers around, and they are expensive to install.

Another option is inductive charging, where a vehicle parks or even drives over a plate in the road to recharge. Such systems are currently being trialled, but none are available commercially yet. Such an infrastructure would entail significant installation costs, and needs standard technology in all electric vehicles that would use the charging. Electric buses would need huge batteries, however inductive charging may work for buses, which could drive on routes with induction charging installed – similar to trams. It could also potentially work for taxis, as they could be recharged using inductive charging at taxi ranks.

There are currently no standards for inductive charging, and there are lots of potential issues regarding safety to be ironed out, particularly relating to electro-magnetic fields (EMF), in the same way as there have been concerns about the impact of EMF on human health from electricity power lines, mobile phones and wifi.

Another recharging concept is battery swapping, as promoted by Project Better Place. However for this to be adopted successfully on a large scale, it would require common standards for electric cars and batteries amongst all car manufacturers, which is highly unlikely to happen. It would also be very expensive to set up the necessary infrastructure.

The results of the recent CABLED electric vehicle trial in the West Midlands were presented. This showed that 60% of people charged their vehicles at home (this would have been influenced by the lack of public recharging infrastucture). As most people spend a lot of time at work, it would be feasible to slow charge at a business location. Supermarkets should also be incentivised to install charge points.

Most charges were top-ups, as people don’t generally allow their EVs to completely run out of charge. Such charging is fine for most modern batteries as they don’t have memory problems and therefore it won’t have an effect on battery life, although constant rapid charging may have an impact.

The average cost for a full charge, giving 60-80 miles of driving range, was around £1.50.

One of the final presentations of the day looked at the strategy to create an intelligent integrated electric vehicle charging system in the UK. The idea is that an EV owner will be able to move around the country and recharge, paying for electricity all on one bill. However to do this it will be necessary to integrate between a large number of different organisations, systems, etc. This challenge can be summed up in one word: complex.

The electric vehicle will obviously play a central part in the grand plan, not least because it should be possible to take electricity out of the car and put it back into the grid. The advent of smart grids and smart meters will be essential to enable this plan to move to its final, fully intelligent stage. It should be remembered that a similar model has already been implemented in Portugal.

Summary

We are at the beginning of an electric car revolution. We now have electric cars in the form of the Nissan LEAF and the Vauxhall Ampera that perform extremely well. However the charging infrastructure is currently relatively basic; a lot of work needs to be done to make this ‘intelligent’.

The fact that biomethane is currently one of the greenest fuels shows that electricity generation needs to be decarbonised to make EVs a truly ultra-low carbon solution.

And we hope that we have now reached the stage where electric vehicles are well-designed and are aspirational products to buy.

The HEVC 11 Conference was organised by Cenex and hosted by the University of Warwick.

Paul Clarke

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