ENERGY WATCH #3 - November 13, 2018
Innovation race in electric mobility: solar cars, electric planes, vehicle-to-grid projects
by Karel Beckman
While nuclear power is struggling, developments – and innovations – in electric mobility keep on racing ahead, as we note in almost every issue of Energy Post Weekly.
Steve Hanley reports on CleanTechnica that Danish bicycle maker Biomega has just introduced the SIN 4-passenger electric car in Singapore.
The SIN “is intended strictly for the congestion that is commonplace in Singapore and other large world cities. The company plans to bring it to market no later than 2023.”
The SIN is constructed of what the company calls “modular carbon fiber” developed with partners in Germany and the UK. It weighs 950 kilograms including the batteries, seats four people, has four wheel steering, and four electric motors with a total of 80 horsepower, according to DesignBoom. Its range is said to be 160 kilometers from two batteries — a 14 kWh fixed battery and a 6 kWh battery that can be removed for easy charging.
“Biomega adheres to the less-is-more approach of Scandinavian design standards. Through the resulting uncluttered interior, the car rejects superfluous styling in favor of low cost, comfort and sustainability,” the company says. It sees the SIN as being ideal for ride-sharing and ride-hailing services in crowded urban areas.
Biomega says the SIN will sell for around $23,000. Hanley notes that this “is exactly the price Volkswagen says its entry level electric car based on its new MEB chassis will cost. Presumably, Volkswagen expects that car to come with such amenities as doors, windshield wipers, cup holders, and the other accoutrements real car buyers are accustomed to having in their cars.” In other words, the SIN will probably need to be significantly cheaper if it is to become a success, Hanley suggests.
And there is more innovation going on in the electric mobility space.
The website The Driven reports that Hyundai and Kia cars may be powered by solar roof tech by 2019.
“South Korean carmakers Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors are going one better than creating an EV charging network powered by solar energy – they want their cars to capture their own energy, via solar roof technology – and as soon as next year”, writes The Driven.
There will be three types of solar cells applied to the cars. The first could recharge a car’s battery by up to 30 to 60 per cent each day, potentially adding range without a stop at a charging station.
A second-gen semi-transparent system is also being launched, that would act as a “sun roof” – in more ways than one – and also a third-gen version that can be applied to the car bodies.
The solar panels would be compatible with not only hybrid and electric vehicles but also pure internal combustion cars, Hyundai stated in a press release.
Jeong-Gil Park, executive vice president of engineering design at Hyundai says the technology will elevate the role of the EV driver from just another consumer of centrally generated power.
“This will enable them to develop from a passive device that consumes energy to a solution that actively generates energy. The paradigm of the vehicle owner will shift from that of a consumer to an energy prosumer,” Park said in a statement.
Progress also continues to be made in electric planes.
Israeli-based electric aircraft maker Eviation is building the first of its all-electric passenger aircraft, called Alice, in France, The Driven reports.
The all-electric aircraft will carry up to 9 passengers, have a range of up to 1,000kms, and allow air travel providers to offer flights between regional centres, rather than through a central, city hub.
APAC business development lead Ron Hoffman gave a briefing about the proposal on Friday at the Australian Electric Vehicle Association conference in Brisbane. He says the maintenance and power costs of Alice’s emissions-free engine (presuming it’s charged with renewables) are around 30 per cent of conventional aircraft, which can cost $300 per flight hour for aviation fuel and $200 per flight hour for maintenance.
“The price will be comparable to a train and faster than driving [for] hours in a car,” Hoffman tells The Driven. “The interesting prospect is that there is a whole, new bigger network that was never dreamt before as commercially viable.”
Carrying a 900kWh li-ion energy pack, Alice will be able to travel much further than other electric aircraft being developed, such as air taxis like Kitty Hawk’s Cora, which is being tested in New Zealand and can fly up to 100km per flight, notes The Driven.
With Alice’s 1000km range, “new connections and new networks … suddenly make sense,” says Hoffman.
Additionally, because Alice has no engine noise, there is the possibility of being able to open up discount flight options in the curfew hours between 11pm and 5am.
With the first batch of aircraft already under production in France, Eviation plan to introduce Alice at the Paris Air Show next year, writes The Driven. After the air show, Eviation will take Alice to the US, where it will go through an FAA certification process to fly in US airspace.
In the U.S. work is continuing on the development of a “powerful new battery that could give us electric planes that don’t pollute”, reports James Temple on MIT Technology Review.
Materials science professor Yet-Ming Chiang (MIT) and mechanical engineering professor Venkat Viswanathan (Carnegie Mellon) are trying to develop a battery that will enable electric planes to get off the ground. They are “taking a different approach … altering not the composition of the batteries but the alignment of the compounds within them. By applying magnetic forces to straighten the tortuous path that lithium ions navigate through the electrodes, the scientists believe, they could significantly boost the rate at which the device discharges electricity.”
That shot of power could open up a use that has long eluded batteries: meeting the huge demands of a passenger aircraft at liftoff, writes Temple. If it works as hoped, it would enable regional commuter flights that don’t burn fuel or produce direct climate emissions.
Viswanathan and Chiang are collaborating with 24M, a lithium-ion battery manufacturer Chiang cofounded in 2010, and Zunum Aero, an aircraft startup based in Bothell, Washington, to develop and test prototype batteries specifically designed for the needs of an advanced hybrid plane.
The article explains the research project in some details, but ends on some cautious remarks. It quotes
Richard Anderson, an aerospace engineer and director of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Eagle Flight Research Center, who points out that “batteries are at least 20 times heavier than fuel for a given amount of energy output. He is skeptical that companies pursuing hybrid commuter flights, like Zunum, can find enough ways to offset that added weight in the next few years. He also thinks the field is overestimating how quickly hybrid planes will be able to reach longer distances—while underestimating the regulatory challenges they’ll face.”
Indeed, the MIT and Carnegie researchers themselves “are quick to say that other big battery improvements will still be required to extend the range of electric planes, which may necessitate a shift to entirely different chemistries. On top of that, planes will probably need to be fundamentally redesigned to reduce energy demands, potentially by redistributing motors or changing the shape of the body to reduce drag, Viswanathan says.”
But he and Chiang are working to develop a technical capability that would be required regardless of any other advances, he says. “Even if other battery engineers find ways to make electric planes to fly a thousand miles, they’ll still need enough power to get off the ground.”
Another important type of innovation is to be found in vehicle-to-grid technology (V2G), which promises to turn EV drivers into power generators and to integrate EVs into the electricity system.
How far has this technology advanced by now? UK consultancy Everoze recently produced an overview of 50 V2G projects going on in the world. The report, commissioned by UK Power Networks and Innovate UK, draws the following “lessons learned” from what it calls its V2G Global Roadtrip:
- Vehicle-to-Grid is commercially viable: the Parker Project in Denmark has for the last two years been providing a commercial ‘frequency response’ service to the Danish equivalent of National Grid. This service requires the ability to respond to a grid signal within 2 seconds and is on call 24/7. In the US and UK market, businesses will soon have access to commercial offers that use V2G to reduce the costs of EV ownership.
- Vehicle-to-Grid can offer unique value over and above smart charging: V2G is particularly useful when i) combined with excess solar capacity, allowing households and businesses to increase their own self-consumption of on-site renewables, ii) where there are high peak prices or time of use charges iii) where longer duration services are required.
- Industry needs to reduce the cost and expand the range of the hardware (chargers and vehicles) while refining the offer to customers, in order to unlock mainstream potential. In parallel network operators need to simplify grid connection standards and design service specifications with V2G in mind.
Although much of the EV revolution is yet to happen, sales of EVs in Europe are continuing to rise. According to new data from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, released on 8 November, in the third quarter of 2018 “demand for alternatively-powered cars in the European Union continued to post strong growth (+29.7%), mostly driven by the strong performance of battery (+37.4%), hybrid (+37.1%) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (+24.5%). Demand for LPG and NGV vehicles also increased – up 11.8% in the third quarter of the year – supported by growth of both natural gas and propane-fuelled cars.”
Demand for alternatively-powered vehicles significantly increased in all the major EU markets, notes the EAMA. APV registrations saw the highest percentage gains in Spain (+62.5%) – thanks to a notable uplift in the LPG and NGV segments – and Germany (+51.4%).
Sales of petrol cars also rose – by 15% – notes the EAMA. Demand for diesel cars on the other hand went down by 18%.
For an overview of European EV markets and polices, see this recent article on Automotive News Europe.