Volkswagen and Toyota are developing advanced lithium-ion battery systems for their hybrid vehicles
28 May 2008

Toyota and Volkswagen have put their money behind opposing technologies as the high oil price makes hybrid cars a viable consumer option.Volkswagen has partnered with Sanyo, the world’s largest manufacturer of rechargeable batteries, to develop a lithium-ion battery system for use in its hybrid vehicles.Sanyo intends to open a new factory in 2010 that will have the capacity to produce enough batteries to power 1.75 million hybrid vehicles. The company also produces nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries for Ford.Toyota’s technology partner, Panasonic, continues to produce NiMH batteries for the car maker’s hybrid range. The pair recently released details of their new battery plant north of Tokyo, which will produce 100,000 NiMH batteries a year by 2010.Panasonic has been licensing the NiMH technology from Cobasys since 2005, but the patent is due to expire in 2015.

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28 May 2008

It will certainly be welcome to see energy wasted during braking used to assist acceleration (the most energy high part of moving) to further reduce fuel consumption.

As for electric vehicles ask the question again in about 20 years time and there may be an answer ready.

Welcome to Oil. Our 'powerful old friend' and our future for as long as anyone can credably and sanely look into the future. Debate over.

28 May 2008

So looks like we're going to see alot more of these electric/oil cars in the future then... Can't wait for the new VW Golf MK XVI GTiE in the year 2050!

28 May 2008

Consumers have no 'loyalty' to any technology including oil. Offer consumers an electric, Ethanol, Methanol, Solar powered vehicle tomorrow that costs 10p a mile to run, has a range of 250+ miles and that's on a par (price and quality) with todays petrol or diesel and you can wave goodbye to oil powered cars inside a week.

There is NOTHING stopping the so-called green energy industry or the green vehicle manufacturers taking over the planet tomorrow.

I watched Channel 4 News yesterday with a green twit from the UK's Energy quango say "we have got to ween ourselves off oil now". I also saw the "11th Hour" C4 programme aired 2 days ago where an 'economist' writing for The Economist news magazine claim green energy is already here and "could be economical today". Dreamers both of them. Dangerous stupid dreamers to be precise.

Solar and wind couldn't power the nations toasters let alone its transport. Secondly we haven't a power industry that has the capacity to supply enough energy/electricity to power our transport system. Add up the energy/power supplied by oil to move 30M vehicles a day. I've no actual estimates but you're probably looking at doubling the nations power stations would have thought - that'd take 8-10 years to raise the money and then build.

As for methanol and ethanol they've been around nearly 100 years and are as lame today as they were 100 years ago. Hydrogen has also been around decades. There's some progress on the very real storage problems but it still has low energy per gallon problems.

The only alternative fuel with potential is LPG (2 gases from oil wells). It still provides 20% less energy per gallon than petrol or diesel but that's not too far away from being economically viable and a 2nd choice alternative. But add the taxes slapped on petrol and diesel and consumers will not go for it.

Quite simply we can't 'ween ourselves off oil'. It's like saying let's ween ourselves off wheat, milk, sugar, bricks and glass for windows. These greens need to be locked into a kindergarden and the keys thrown away until they learn maths, physics, economics and some sanity. Look at the UK's scandelous Ethanol fuel policy. It's a joke made by Clowns.

29 May 2008

JJ - I've had a look at the figures (UK road transport energy consumption, UK annual electricity generation and UK generation capacity). I won't bore you with the sums*, unless you really want, but the answers are:

To replace all of the energy used in road transport (cars+freight) would require a 130% increase in annual generation. So your guess was approximately correct.

However, this is worst-case and doesn't account for the better efficiency and lower energy demand of electric vehicles. Based on the figures I have seen for both and making some assumptions about energy demand over a realistic usage cycle (i.e. not just all urban driving, which is where EVs have the biggest advantage) the actual increase required would be between 33% and 50% for all road transport and 22-33% for cars alone (35% of annual energy usage on the roads is freight).

UK annual average generation is 41GW, but installed capacity is 76GW meaning that over a year, we have 85% spare capacity. The daily minimum in demand (overnight) coincides with the time when most cars are parked not going anywhere, which goes a long way to easing the load balancing/scheduling issue.

So, on the face of it I'd say that running all of our cars from the grid - whilst non-trivial - could be entirely possible without building a single new power station. That said we need to get building pronto either way as a number of nuclear plants are scheduled to close soon, and the EU want us to shut down quite a few coal/oil plants to reduce sulphur/NOx emissions.

*I was going to, but my browser crashed. I'll admit the figures regarding EVs are open to debate but the energy usage/electricity generation figures are direct from source, which you probably won't trust anyway as it's all the damn' gubmint...

29 May 2008

Your point about cars parked overnight recharging is a good one. But can you stuff enough batteries in a car to make it have a viable range? The Prius battery weighs 70-100kg and has a range of 40 miles. To store enough power for a viable 250 mile range (I don't think consumers would accept anything less) you'd need 6x more batteries - around half a ton of batteries!!

You say electric vehicles are "more efficient". Not when they carry 500kgs of Duracell around they aren't. Compare it to the 60-80kg of petrol carried in the average car tank -which gets lighter to carry as the tank empties - while the electric vehicle has to carry its half a ton of dead weight around 100% of the time.

And imagine. Wifey: "Honey I'm just popping down the hairdresser". Hubby: "Sorry Luv, just driven to the office and back. You have to wait 3 hours for the batteries to recharge"!!!

Yes I probably would 2nd guess your figures in a very un-scientific manner. Adding up the electricity needed to run a house (kettle, dishwasher, lights, heating etc) I doubt that energy would run a 50cc motorbike let alone a car.

To drive a car on a 50 mile round trip (shop, hairdresser,office and back) over say 2 hours I'd estimate would take the power supplied to 20-30 houses in the same 2 hours. There are 30M vehicles in the UK. Equiv to 90M houses needing power. The current power grid would need to be doubled even allowing for recharging overnight in my back-of-the-envelope view.

The official figures also don't add up (as usual). If we've "85% spare capacity" why do we need to replace the nuclears? If it's to meet peek demand (the biggest strain is during TV advertising breaks to drive kettles being switched on - gives you an idea of how weak the power grid is) maybe the Electric Co's need batteries!

29 May 2008

As I said, I originally typed out the figures, but lost them in a browser crash. You can look them up quite easily - the road transport figures are given in TOE (tonne of oil equivalent) and electricity production in TWh - I converted both to joules (the SI unit of energy) to compare.

Electric vehicles are fundamentally 'more efficient'. Carrying a 500kg battery pack (which is nonsense anyway) does not affect efficiency (power out/power in), it affects energy demand (Wh/km). The two are separate - efficiency and fuel economy are not the same thing.

The Prius uses NiMH batteries, and the pack actually weighs 54kg, not 70-100kg. (See http://www.nrel.gov/vehiclesandfuels/energystorage/pdfs/2a_2002_01_1962.pdf). NiMH is old tech. Its energy density by mass (Wh/kg) is only 1/3rd that of current Li-Ion cells. To store 6x the energy stored in a Prius with current technology you'd need 110kg worth of batteries, which is more than compensated for by the loss of the engine and its ancillaries in a full EV.

NiMH batteries also have a very poor cycle efficiency compared to Li-Ion - 66% vs 99.9% which means that a third of the energy the Prius regenerates is wasted as heat in the battery. There are a number of advanced Li-Ion battery technologies in the pipeline which promise at least a three-fold increase in energy density within a few years and quite possibly as much as 10 times over a longer span. The power density is also being increased meaning that recharge times will come down to a few minutes. Tech like LiFePO4 is making them far safer too.

What you have to understand about the grid is that it has very little storage. Power being delivered in one place has to be generated somewhere else at that exact moment. About the only storage we have is pumped hydro (the Swiss make $$ out of theirs by buying off-peak French nuclear power and selling it back at peak rates) which is indeed used to meet short-term demand spikes like advert breaks. Big plants ('base load') take a long time to change their output, and even longer to come up to speed from a cold start. Short term response is covered by diesel, pumped storage and gas turbines.

The reason we have 85% spare capacity is that the peak to average power ratio is large - over the course of a winter day power demand varies from around 20GW at 3am to 60GW at 8am when everyone's getting up and going to work. Grid-connected batteries are extremely valuable to the grid, especially if supply becomes more variable (i.e. wind/wave/solar), hence the excitement about plug-in hybrids.

The nuclear plants are simply reaching the end of their useful lives and need to be decomissioned. I seem to remember hearing that new nuclear plants have been given the go-ahead and also that there is something of a skills shortage in the UK Nuclear industry.

One other thing - only 1/3rd of electricity is used in the domestic sector.

29 May 2008

Aha! So where's the Electric car showroom? Can I buy one of these "ultra efficient" electric vehicles now? Have Duracell got a coupe version I can buy at the weekend?

You're well ahead of me Niall on electricity but if it 'adds up already' where's the proof?

The Prius is swapping to Lithium-Ion batteries in 2010 but Nickel-MH batteries are continuing after 2010 with Sanyo from a new Japanese plant. But the weight of these batteries in new hybrids is severely limited because they remain a secondary power source to the petrol or diesel they're plugged in with.

There's still no electric vehicle around. Why? Because of the dead weight of the batteries, the very limited range and crap power output. GM's EV1 died a death because it had limited range, limited room for passengers or luggage, couldn’t climb a hill or run the air conditioning without the battery going flat and no device to get you home when your battery ran out.

And behind every electric car there's a coal fired power station chugging out CO2. So there's zero enviromental benefit either!

And I'm sorry the national grid does not have the power to move 30M vehicles around without doubling its capacity. Just managing to recharge 30M cars air-conditioning units would suck the entire UK grid dry overnight.

29 May 2008

[quote JJBoxster]And I'm sorry the national grid does not have the power to move 30M vehicles around without doubling its capacity. Just managing to recharge 30M cars air-conditioning units would suck the entire UK grid dry overnight. [/quote]

I've given you the figures - how do you justify the above statements? Go look them up - none of it's secret. A few minutes with a calculator and you'll get the same answers as I did. 'Sucking the grid dry' is a pretty meaningless phrase. There is no storage capacity to suck dry, but overnight there are 10s of Gigawatts of unused generation capacity going spare.

The Prius has a 1.3 kWh storage capacity. 6 times this is about 8 kWh. 1 kWh is equivalent to 3.6 MJ, multiply by 8 is 28.8 MJ. Multiply again by 30 million to get 864 TJ of energy. Dividing this by 6 hours (i.e. overnight) gives a power requirement of 40GW.

What this means is that the spare unused capacity in the UK grid could charge 30M 8 kWh EVs from completely flat overnight. How often does the entire country re-fill its petrol/diesel cars from empty in one 6-hour period, and what would happen if we tried to? To be honest, 8 kWh is probably unrealistically low. A better way of looking at this would be to consider how far each of those 30M cars goes in a day on average and how much energy that required. The overall demand depends on that, not the battery size.

Yes, a grid-powered EV gets its power from fossil fuel - this I stated in my original post. However, as a means of converting energy stored in fossil fuel into forward motion, the EV is more efficient overall. The CO2 situation is less clear since coal is mostly carbon whereas petrol and diesel are hydrocarbons. The big advantage of the EV is that it doesn't care how the electricity was generated - be it coal, oil, nuclear, wind, wave, solar, biomass, geothermal, tidal, harvesting of surplus parliamentary hot air, whatever. If electricity generation gets cleaner, so does the EV. The ICE powered car is stuck with oil or biofuels, which I know you have strong feelings about ;)

GM's EV1 started with lead-acid batteries! It also used an induction motor - things have moved on from there, hardly surprising as it's a car designed in the early 90s. EVs are very much a nascent technology and it's only very recently that we're seeing EVs that come even close to genuinely challenging conventional cars. The G-Wiz, for example, does not in any way, but the Tesla roadster comes a lot closer. Even that uses a relatively inefficient induction motor and a battery pack with modest energy density. Early days, JJ - there's still a long way to go. If anything, improvements are more likely to come in gradually through better and more electric hybrids rather than going straight into full EVs. I don't think for one moment that we won't still be running on oil for some time yet, but we'll be going far further per gallon. The wheel isn't going to get re-invented overnight, so I wouldn't worry whether the grid can support 30M EVs today as it's not going to happen tomorrow or by surprise.

No need whatsoever for 'crap power output' either. Anything of considerable mass using fully regenerative braking needs huge power capabilities. Think how quickly cars go from 60-0 and the power dissipation associated with that. Stopping a 1500kg car from 60mph in 2.5s requires average power dissipation of 360 hp. Motors work the same whether motoring or generating and the power electronics/energy storage has got to be capable of working at full braking power levels anyway. A 4-fold increase in power for overtaking is entirely possible. Could make nitrous look weak!

If you want graphic illustration of how far motor and battery tech has come recently, look at the model aircraft scene. Some of the motors these guys use have a power-to-weight ratio of 5500 bhp/tonne - an F1 engine generates about 8000bhp/tonne. Overall power-to-weight on some 'planes is 600bhp/tonne.

29 May 2008

Niall - very good (informed) opinion. Despite the impressive figures the spanner in the works is reality which doesn't demonstrate your figures enthusiasm to prove itself!. There's no plans for electric vehicles by any major manufacturers to my knowledge - they're all hybrids for as far as the eye can see (7-8 years ahead).

Battery could indeed improve significantly over the coming years. So will petrol and diesel. And while the electricity grid is largely coal and oil fired (I think 20% Nuclear here and 80% in France) there's little difference between firing up a carbon fuel at a station and creating electricity and just having a petrol engine in your car quite frankly!

GM withdrew their all-electric EV1 model because of the major issues with electric mentioned. They've no plans to return it to the market but are further developing the technology to develope hybrids with Mercedes I understand. So for the future it looks like electricity doesn't work - except in model aeroplanes!

30 May 2008

You can't write off tomorrow's technology on the basis that it's not here today! Established manufacturers have huge amounts invested in, and huge knowledge and expertise in conventional IC engines. They'll keep pushing that technology as far as it will go - Mercedes DiesOtto, the FIAT/Alfa camless engine - even BMW have been working on a steam-cycle generator to extract some of the waste heat from the exhaust as useful energy. There's life in the old dog yet, but as the electric technology matures there's likely to be more of a crossover using the best bits of both.

Regen braking for example is pretty difficult to do without batteries (though F1 will be using a high-speed flywheel), same with some of the waste energy recovery techniques that could be applied to the IC engine (steam cycle, electric turbo-compounding). The 'beltless engine' is another good idea - pumps which have to work at idle become very wasteful at running speed, driving them electrically means they always run at the correct speed.

It may turn out to be more efficient to generate locally (in the car), it may not - I don't know. Fossil fuel power stations aren't greatly efficient (it's all in the mechanical side - turning steam into torque), but they're still a lot better than most cars. Conceivably with future engine development and better waste energy recovery a small (i.e. a few litres, not 10s of litres) diesel engine could match or exceed the efficiency of a big power plant in which case you might as well make use of the convenience and very high energy density of petroleum fuels.

At the moment it's mainly small start-ups who are setting about trying to build EVs (like the small-volume supercar makers I admire their bravery, but don't necessarily expect to see actual results), but I do believe Nissan have stated their intention to build an EV within the next 3-5 years or so. I've also read that Nissan under Ghosn are not allowed to lose money on any cars so they must think it's do-able economically. I wouldn't be surprised if tax breaks come into the equation.

Saying 'electricity doesn't work' just isn't true. More accurate would be to say that at the moment, a fully electric car doesn't make sense. I could agree with that, but I do think that after 7-8 years of hybrids and development the situation may be different. We shall see...

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