Evida Power: Charging in the right direction

A look how the rise of battery technology is playing a key role in the transition from the combustion engine to electric power
 

By Jonathan Shine, VP of Business Development & Co-founder, Evida Power Ltd

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The combustion engine, which sits at the heart of modern day transport, has created a world of nations which are heavily reliant on oil. However the ever-increasing prominence of tougher legislation to force down carbon emissions, coupled with the rising of cost of petrol and diesel is clearly challenging the dominance of fossil fuelled-powertrains and sparking the development of alternative clean propulsion technologies.

Electric vehicles (EVs), which are one of the more talked about solutions to pollutant-free motoring, have become an increasingly viable alternative to conventional power sources thanks to the great strides which have been made in battery technology, and the associated increase in energy density (i.e. how much energy batteries can actually hold). Once confined to the traditional lead acid compound which continues to only offer a capacity of 30 watt hours per kilogram (wh/kg), OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers), such as Tesla Motors who produce the Roadster fully-electric sportscar, now have at their disposal lithium-ion (Li-ion) compound which brings a rating in excess of 150 wh/kg depending on the chosen composition. This therefore allows vehicles to go a lot further with less of a weight burden, but this does nonetheless come at a cost which is five times higher per watt hour relative to that of lead acid.

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The higher density of Li-ion should not act as an incentive for suppliers to focus solely on the level of performance that the battery is able to offer to the end-user or to come to the marketplace first with the largest possible capacity. If research and development into new technology, and the building of new components to achieve this have been too costly, the price offered to vehicle manufacturers will also, in turn, be prohibitive.

One approach which we have indeed adopted at Evida Power to counteract this pitfall is the design of battery packs using components which are already in existence, thereby saving the expense of extensive R&D programmes, lowering costs of production and the price to consumers, and speeding up the concept to production cycle. As a multinational company, we custom design and build all battery packs in China using parts which are readily available, a similar approach to that used by the Dell IT Corporation. Adopting this low cost and high speed philosophy has enabled our business to sign this year, one of the largest component deals in the EV sector so far, worth $250 million. The agreement is to supply the French-German vehicle producer, Mia Electric, with lithium-ion 8 kWh battery packs until 2016.

Although from an environmental perspective, the transition to electric is one workable answer to emission and guilt-free motoring, the move away from the combustion engine may not prove as straightforward for consumers or fleet owners alike. Just as miles per gallon is today one of the key criterion when purchasing a petrol, diesel or hybrid-driven vehicle, a key selling point of an electric-driven model is the total range which the vehicle is able to achieve on a single charge. For example, one of the latest arrivals on to the new electric car market is the Nissan Leaf, a vehicle which I have recently purchased. The Leaf is powered by a 24 kWh battery pack, providing the ability to drive for around 110 miles (177 km) before needing to plug in. Despite Nissan arguing that this range is sufficient for the majority of motorists as the average daily distance driven is less than 30 miles, the opinion that this range is still too limited to be practical for those who are not confined solely to the urban environment does continue to persist.

To make the transition to electric power as attractive as possible, battery pack manufacturers face a myriad of issues which will need to be addressed comprehensively if motorists and fleet operators are going to be fully convinced about giving up to what they have become accustomed to. It is not only the chemical make-up of the battery itself which is important, but the associated loss of capacity and power delivery over time through recharging (as with a mobile phone or laptop battery), the cost of replacement (which can run into thousands of pounds), and the time to replenish the battery (which can be relatively slow on a 240V plug socket compared to the often optional 32Amp and 64Amp units), which are creating additional and often complex challenges.

Furthermore, electric vehicle recharging posts or ‘juice points’ are generally both few and far between beyond the city streets, and are also cable-based which can both be viewed as potential obstacles. One company trying to address the latter barrier is the New Zealand-based company, HaloIPT, who became the first organisation to showcase the inductive or wire-free car charging technology on the Rolls Royce 102EX Phantom Experimental Electric Vehicle at this year’s Geneva Motorshow. If this type of system enters into full-scale production, this may encourage a greater number of motorists and businesses to turn to electric.

Evida has in fact recently announced a Memorandum of Understanding with HaloIPT where we will jointly undertake a study designed to explore the feasibility of the manufacture of 40,000 Induction Power Transfer systems over a five-year period. The goal of this partnership is to develop a long-term venture for deployment of the technology. These systems are intended for supply as a specification option on a forthcoming electric car, for which sales are estimated to reach 70,000 units by 2015.

With all factors taken into consideration, there is reason to be upbeat when looking to the future. There is an abundance of data showing that battery technology is in a constant and positive state of evolution which will only result in increased capacity and efficiency for end-users. On a more strategic level, the speed at which this progression of batteries does occur will continue to play a key role in how fast electric power will be widely adopted at the expense of fossil fuels, and, more importantly at what cost.

For more information on Evida Power, please visit www.evida.com

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