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The inaugural IDTechEx electric vehicle event in San Jose, California was a great success and it will now be repeated annually in three continents. As promised, all forms of electric vehicle were covered allowing leading edge developers of very different vehicles, with very similar materials and component challenges, to meet for the first time. Delegates from as far afield as Europe, New Zealand, India, Korea and China were fascinated by the exhibition of a Hawkes Ocean Technologies submarine that flies underwater, a 200 mph silent Formula One Racing car from Kleenspeed and other awesome electric vehicles on display.
Korean television and other media in attendance filmed sparkling interviews from experts alongside these vehicles. Some of these experts foresee planes that fly, dive and submarine and NASA and others scoped silent personal planes, some with vertical takeoff. NASA is offering the largest prize in the history of aviation - $1.5 million for an exceptionally fuel efficient plane - and we heard from a German contestant. By contrast, lake boats were presented - increasingly the only option as internal combustion engines are forbidden on lakes and rivers across the world. The car aspect was not ignored however and BMW, Nissan and Fiat provided fascinating views and announcements. Detailed market statistics for all types of electric vehicle were shared.
It is commendable that the best-selling Cessna aircraft is receiving a pure electric powertrain for trials and many conventional cars, trucks, buses, boats and other vehicles are having electric drives shoehorned into them. However, Professor Pietro Perlo of Fiat Central Research insisted that, for maximum benefits, vehicles must be "born electric". He is developing small pure electric cars because they have the clearest business case, being lower cost, not just non-polluting at point of use. However, he is cautious about the first generation in-wheel motors. Others are using them confidently.
Professor Shashank Priya of Virginia Tech showed how the born electric approach has led to robot jellyfish using electroactive polymers. It is leading to the largely wireless car using self-powered piezoelectric sensors and actuators: that includes smart tires based on energy harvesting and supercapacitors. His Center for Energy Harvesting Materials and Systems has even developed piezo transformers and the printing of ceramic at speed to form structures that efficiently sense many parameters. Supercabatteries were covered by others, underlining the need for land, sea and air vehicle developers to share experience of a host of new components they are using.
Disagreement and debate
Many of the developers were able to talk to each other for the first time at the event. A feature of the conference was the disagreement about key components and design rules and the need for those making electric vehicles to learn from those making electric planes and so on. For example, most on-road electric vehicles are moving to high voltages, even 700 volts in some cases, in order to use high efficiency drives. However, Kleenspeed is revisiting 120 volt drives to save cost and, surprisingly, weight. Other challenges to conventional thinking that have credible backing and rollout programs included tiny Bladon Jets fitted as range extenders in the new Jaguar supercar concept and eagerly chased by many delegates including for aircraft. Contrarian thinking also came from AFS Trinity Power Corporation making supercapacitors do most of the work in hybrids, with batteries in a reduced role.
Grid, infrastructure and community
Grid, infrastructure and community issues were discussed with several trials analysed and a plea for standardisation and optimal tariff-driven balancing to the grid. Charging stations are expected to become much more sophisticated in their interface to the grid. Open protocols do not exist in many countries and they are badly needed.
Seeing the future of traction batteries
On-road vehicle makers shun third generation traction batteries such as lithium sulfur, fearing for safety, but they are already used in electric aircraft and military off road vehicles. 1kWh/kg is achieved with lithium air and lithium water, where carbonate based electrolytes have proved a dead end. Presenter PolyPlus Battery Company claimed to have cracked this problem, having moved on from lithium sulfur focus. Indeed, with its compliant seal, its batteries are pressure tolerant for EVs at great depths under the ocean and rival the energy density of gasoline. 1 kWh/liter and 600 wh/kg are being targeted under a recent ARPA-E grant. This work and that of Sion Energy on lithium sulfur target 300 miles affordable range for pure electric land and air vehicles. Toyota and IBM recognise that here is the future. Meanwhile, 1.3 kWh/kg and 700 Wh/liter has been achieved with a damage tolerant lithium water battery for marine use that has no self-discharge. A pilot line is planned next.
By contrast, Oxis Energy said it is applying its polymer lithium sulfur batteries first to two wheelers based on increased safety, range and cost because car manufacturers are very cautious.They may adopt in 2014. This speaker noted problems with conventional lithium-ion batteries following the burning of a UPS plane in September that was carrying them. 360-400 Wh/liter 400-800 Wh/kg with excellent safety is claimed by Oxis Energy. Cyclability needs work but cyclability demands of e-bikes are modest. The self-discharge problem may be solved. There was no consensus about the potential for fuel cell power over the next ten years. The decades of trials continue and there are a few cautious rollouts. Energy harvesting and smart skin are among the key enabling technologies for the future.
Future of Electric Vehicles Europe will take place in June 2011 in Munich, Germany. See www.idtechex.com/evEurope for more.
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Cara van Heest
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