Electric + Battery

Electric vehicles have a number of variations; plug-in electric vehicles (PEV) may be all electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid (PHEV) or extended range (EREV).  The all electric uses the battery the entire time so there are never any tailpipe emissions.  The plug-in hybrid EV typically has a smaller battery than an all electric vehicle and provides tailpipe emission free driving for a short trip and when the driver goes beyond the battery range, the internal combustion engine, fueled with conventional or alternative fuels, kicks in to accommodate longer trips.  Similar to they PHEV, the extended range EV also has an internal combustion engine but rather than being used to power the vehicle, the gasoline is used to generate electricity for the motor so the vehicle is always running on electricity.  EVs also have regenerative braking; energy normally lost during braking is captured and used to power the vehicle.  One of the greatest obstacles is battery technology but incentives for research and development has provided significant improvements with more to come.  To learn more, see Battery Technology below.

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Battery Technology

The battery is the most challenging component of the electric vehicle-- it takes hours to charge and it’s expensive (fortunately, oil is too).  It will take initiative, creativity and major breakthroughs in technology to provide solutions to these barriers.

Initiative:  President Obama has pledged $2.4 billion for advancements of electric vehicle technologies, namely the battery. 

Creativity:  companies like Better Place have developed battery swap stations as an alternative to DC Fast Charging.  Vehicles are specifically designed to accommodate their batteries and may be swapped out for another within minutes.  The provision of this type of “refueling” is an opportunity to reduce the cost of purchasing an EV—a person owns the EV but Better Place owns the battery and basically rents it out to subscribers.  Battery recycling is another means to improve battery advancements for two reasons 1) environmentally sound practice 2) components may be reused and reduce the overall cost of a new battery

Technology Breakthrough:  Lithium-ion batteries are the major contender in powering EVs.  Lithium is light weight, has a high energy density, can hold its charge and can withstand hundreds of charge cycles.  They of course have some issues to such as sensitivity to high temperatures.  Materials, over manufacturing, R&D, marketing, etc, are the most costly element of batteries.  Some solutions to curb costs include increasing efficiency such as lithium air battery technology, going 3-D with copper nanowires, using less expensive materials, reducing the amount of material needed, and economies of scale for production.

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