Electric and Hybrid Vehicles
As of 2020 it is realised that reducing fossil-fuelled vehicle to a safe level is impossible. Hence the trend to electric and hybrid vehicles.
Many countries are already banning (or will ban soon) the sale of fossil-fuelled cars. These include France, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the U.K.
Twelve American states adhere to California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Program. The USA’s Trump administration, however, eased the requirement – from the mandated 5% a year – to 1.5% a year. Unless Trump is (improbably) re-elected, this situation is likely to change. Environmental bodies led by California have challenged Trump’s backward step.
Globally, there is move to electric vehicles. Apart from minor rubber tyre particles they are virtually emission free. They are also about 80% efficient. If, however, their electricity is from fossil-fuelled power stations, their emissions are similar to year-2020 petrol fuelled (or hybrid) vehicles.
Dirty Power Stations
Electricity vendors promote grid energy as ‘clean’. At present, however, that applies only to its usage. It’s generation is mostly filthy. As of 2020, 56% of Australia’s electricity is from centralised, carbon-intensive coal-fired power stations.These generate about one–third of all Australia’s carbon monoxide emissions. About 21% is from gas. Such power station emissions are similar worldwide. The remainder is from wind and solar.
Fully electrically-powered vehicles are virtually non-polluting. Most are over 80% energy efficient. If, however, the electricity they use is from most current power stations, their emissions are no lower than of a 2020 model petrol or hybrid vehicle. It thus makes little environmental sense to use an electric-only vehicle unless that electricity is wind or solar generated. This already possible in South Australia. It is also totally feasible (for commuting at least) to charge an electric vehicle by using solar energy at your home or place of work.
Electric and hybrid vehicles – the energy required
Urban-living Australians drive an average 38-40 kilometres each day. Most electric cars use about 1.0 kW/h to travel about 5 km. An electric vehicle (used as above) thus uses about 8 kWh of electricity/day. Grid electricity, on long-term contracts, costs about 20 cents per kW/h. If so the fuel cost is a mere $1.60 daily. However, as noted above, using grid power results in no overall fall in emissions.
Unless you can solar generate about 8 kW/h for daily commuting, it is (in 2020) better to use a hybrid. A typical hybrid generates less pollution than an electric-only vehicle run from current power stations. While hybrids are to be progressively be phased out in Australia from 2030, it is probable that the power station issues will have then been resolved.
Electrical and hybrid vehicles – charging from home solar
For those with ample home or business solar, it is readily feasible to charge the battery (or fuel cells) from that source. Such charging can even be done overnight by selling daytime solar energy to a grid supplier. You then repurchase it (often at low off-peak rates) at night. Or, to have ample solar energy available where the vehicle is parked during the day. Where ample sun access is available, there is a business opportunity for parking stations to provide vehicle battery charging.
Mainly retarding electric-car development is ultra-slow improvement of rechargeable batteries. The first-known lead-acid was invented by Gaston Planté (in 1859). In 1881, Camille Alphonse Faure’s improved version (of a lead grid lattice and a lead oxide paste) enabled higher and flexible performance. It was also easier to mass-produce.
Sealed versions later enabled batteries to be used in different positions without failure or leakage. That apart, there were no significant developments until the AGM version. It was initially developed for the U.S. military around 1980.
The next major development was the lithium-ion battery. This reduced battery weight and volume by over three times. It enabled charging and discharging at far higher rates. But while a significant battery breakthrough, it’s energy storage of 0.5 MJ per kilogram is tiny. That of petrol and diesel’s is 45 M.J. per kilogram. Hydrogen’s is 142 MJ per kilogram.
The latest major development (late-2020) are graphene-based batteries. These can (potentially) provide up 750-800 km per full charge. Graphene is a one-atom-thick composition of carbon atoms. The atoms are tightly bound in a hexagonal or honeycomb-like structure. This virtually two-dimensional structure enables excellent electrical and thermal conductivity. It also has high flexibility and strength, and low weight.
Graphenano claims its graphene-based batteries can be fully charged in just a few minutes. Furthermore, that they can charge and discharge 33 times faster than lithium-ion. Another development, (Gelion), uses zinc-bromine chemistry in combination with advanced electrolytes. These can be all-liquid, liquid/ion gel or all-ion/gel.
Samsung’s Advanced Institute of Technology’s revolutionary solid-state battery may provide up to 1400 km (875 miles) range. They are about half the size of comparable batteries.The first commercial vehicles with such solid-state batteries are likely to be launched by 2025 or so.
SAIT is also studying lithium-air battery technology. It focuses on cathode technology, protective films for lithium metal anodes, and electrolytes for energy-density improvement, long-term reliability, and safety. This technology has the potential to provide a range of more than 800 km (500 miles) on a single charge.
Battery prices, which were above $1,100 per kilowatt-hour in 2010, fell to $156 per kilowatt-hour in 2019. Research company BloombergNEF forecast that the average price will be close to $100/kWh by 2023.
Many other battery technologies are in hand – as are significant developments in fuel cells.
Electric and hybrid vehicles – hydrogen as a fuel
World-wide, hydrogen is being seriously considered to replace petroleum products. A major benefit is that its close to being emission-free. (A downside is that is very corrosive).
In terms of mass, hydrogen has nearly three times the energy content of petrol: 120 MJ/kg versus 44 MJ/kg for petrol. In terms of volume, however, liquified hydrogen’s density is 8 MJ/L. Petrol’s density is 32 MJ/L.
Work is in progress to highly compress stored gas. Fibre-reinforced composite pressure vessels are capable of withstanding about 700 times atmospheric pressure at lower cost than before. Other ways include cold or cryo-compressed hydrogen storage, and materials-based hydrogen storage technologies. These include sorbents, chemical hydrogen storage materials, and metal hydrides.
Hydrogen can be used to power existing petrol-powered vehicles (and with only minor changes). Plans have already been drawn up to have fleets of hydrogen fuel-cell electric buses on routes in up to ten central hub locations across Australia.
Another approach (already by car makers) is electric vehicles fuelled by stored hydrogen that is converted to electricity by a fuel cell.
Hydrogen fuelling stations
California is leading the USA in building retail hydrogen fuelling stations. As of mid-2020, there were about 60. The state is providing up to US$20 million per year through 2024 until there are at least 100 operational stations. Vehicle makers are only offering fuel-cell-powered cars in regions that have hydrogen fuel stations.
Electric and hybrid vehicles – fuel cells
Fuel cell electric vehicles are fuelled by stored hydrogen that is converted to electricity by the fuel cell. They are more efficient than conventional internal combustion engine vehicles. They are almost silent. Furthermore, they produce no harmful emissions: only very-pure water vapour and warm air.
These vehicles and the infrastructure to fuel them are in the early stages of being implemented. As with conventional vehicles, they take under five minutes to refuel. Currently, most have a range of about 500 km (300 miles). Fuel cell electric vehicles also have regenerative braking systems. These capture the energy lost during braking and store it in a battery.
The Hyundai Nexo hydrogen-powered SUV.
Higher Weight – a Benefit for Towing
Lighter and more energy-compact batteries are evolving. Without a truly major change in battery technology, however, vehicles suitable for caravan towing are likely to be heavier than now (late 2020). This weight, however, is a bonus. For towing stability, the tow vehicle needs to outweigh the caravan.
The secondary source of electrical energy for RV and domestic use may well be via fuel cells, of which there is significant and ongoing international development.
Electric motor drive is ideal for caravan towing
Fossil-fuelled vehicle engines only develop their maximum torque (i.e. turning power) at relatively high engine speed. The types of electric motor used in electric and hybrids, however, develop maximum torque at zero and low speed. This characteristic is ideal for caravan towing.
Electrical and hybrid vehicles suitable for caravan towing
Many hybrid SUVs and serious off-road 4WDs are available in Australia. These include the Land Rover and Range Rover, Lexus NX and R.X, the Mercedes GLE, the Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Pathfinder, Porsche Cayenne and Volvo X160 and X190.
For truly serious off-road going the Rivian XIT and RIS are worth considering. Scheduled for sale in 2022, each has four electric motors (totalling 750 hp). The claimed range is over 640 km (400 miles). Why anyone needs such power, however, is unclear. One U.S. magazine suggests the Rivian ‘looks like a Ford F-150 on a gym-and-yoga regime’.
The Toyota Land Cruiser is already being converted to all-electric drive (for mining applications) by the Dutch company Tembo. The Hilux too, may follow. A local company is also planning to sell electric-only LandCruisers for normal use. Toyota may offer a petrol/electric hybrid Land Cruiser in Australia. The company launched one in the USA. Sales, however, did not exceed 8000 or so.
The iconic Jeep Wrangler is to be sold in a hybrid form – probably by 2022. Full details have not yet been released.
The prospects for caravanners are generally good. There is seemingly no downsides apart (and initially) a need to ensure charging facilities are available in remote areas. That, however, is cheaper and simpler than for petrol or diesel. It also offers opportunities for landowners to build solar arrays and install rapid chargers
Feasible from solar
For those with ample home or business solar, it is readily feasible to charge the battery (or fuel cells) from solar. Such charging of electric and hybrid vehicles can even be done overnight by selling daytime solar energy to a grid supplier and repurchasing it (often at low agreed off-peak rates) at night. Or, to have ample solar energy where the car is during the day.
Electric vehicle charging stations
In the Australian government’s Infrastructure Priority List 2020 (a guide to the investments required to ‘secure a sustainable and prosperous future’) – the independent advisory body (Infrastructure Australia) identified the development of a fast-charging network for electric cars as one of Australia’s highest national priorities over the next five years. Infrastructure Australia, however cited a lack of access to charging stations as a major hindrance to the uptake of electric cars.
Furthermore, data from the Electric Vehicle Council of Australia (EVC) states that Australia currently has less than 2000 public charging stations and only 250 of those are fast charging stations. The EVC likewise cites lack of charging stations in Australia as hindering the uptake of electric vehicles. Moreover, data shows that two-thirds of drivers regard access to charging stations as a major barrier to buying an electric vehicle.
(Those currently existing in late 2020 are listed at https://myelectriccar.com.au/charge-stations-in-australia/red)
Infrastructure Australia has called for the Australian government to, over the next five years, ‘develop a network of fast-charging stations on, or in proximity to, the national highway network to provide national connectivity’: and ‘developing policies and regulation to support charging technology adoption’.