From our Manufacturing.Support session 9 December 2021
Planning ahead is crucial to ensure projects run smoothly, but when going on a long drive in an electric vehicle, it’s equally sensible. We looked at transport systems and what we could suggest to improve the viability.
Music to Environmental Ears?
What if the world of EVs was reviewed like music?
“Range Anxiety” by Lo Battry
“A fairly recent entrant into the Stress Charts. Quickly developing a smooth and solid performance which maintains a melodic sound and regular rhythm for the first half of the track, but then becomes discordant with electronic overtones, repetitive vocals a slowing beat, and resulting in an abrupt end with silence. Does not stand out initially but can develop a substantial following in the closing stages of the track. Better for listening at home than the wild countryside.”
OK a tongue-in-cheek approach to electric vehicles but it is a fact of life that when you run an EV, you need to plan your journeys with more precision than you would do with an internal combustion engine. Our panel discussed a range of issues around EV technology and how it might impact on our lives at present.
Because the battery is a significant proportion of the vehicle, the weight of an EV compared with a similarly sized ICE vehicle can be up to 1000kg greater. That’s a huge lump to have to cart around. Given the response performance of EVs, imagine what it would be like if that weight were seriously reduced!
EVs require a power source to recharge. Whilst the majority of journeys can start or finish at home, and therefore can use the power source there, the opportunities for charging when on a journey are still limited and often non-standard. The availability of public charging points is not keeping pace with the uptake of EVs, so this places a pressure on being able to find one that is suitable and available.
To refuel an ICE requires a liquid to be pumped at high flow rates into an on-board storage tank. Whilst potentially hazardous, this is a fairly short-term operation, and we know there are a large number of fuel stations around. Where there are few, we know about this and need to plan accordingly (Iceland, for example, recommends refuelling when the tank reaches 50%, because of the lack of availability across the middle of the country).
Refuelling an EV takes time and power capacity (in fact the greater the capacity, the shorter the time) and the infrastructure can only provide so much. Unlike a filling station, where additional fuel can be delivered in bulk, the power supply is limited by the bits of wire connected to it, and if you have no choice but to refuel your EV, you may have a long wait for one to be available.
Battery materials and sustainability
EV batteries are based on a fairly stable technology – mainly using Lithium. The availability of Lithium is limited around the world, and so far, the solution to disposal, rework or reuse of the used cells, once they no longer perform, is a work in progress. It is said that there is not enough Lithium globally to service just the UK market.
However, if recharging batteries using a liquid were possible, then we’d be back to a liquid infrastructure that we’re all familiar with but using electrical technology – which sounds like a more sustainable long-term solution
Not a Cool Look
It’s not actually cool to be cool. In fact, it could end your journey – physically. As temperatures drop, the energy storage in batteries becomes less efficient, and that means less range for your charge. Just being parked in an exposed area could wipe 30 miles off the remaining range, and then you could be stranded.
If it Looks Like a Car…
Ever since personal transport became normal, the vehicles haven’t changed by a great deal. Each one is generally a carriage with a wheel in each corner with braking system, drive and steering.
With the advent of EVs becoming more available (we hesitate to use the term “affordable”) they are very much based on their predecessor, the ICE-driven car in shape and function.
But why? The engine, gearbox, transmission, braking systems, cooling systems, fuel systems are all mechanical components of the ICE and have navigated the design of road vehicles ever since. The familiarity and standardisation of the shape and function of our cars means that it would be difficult to come up with something that performs the same function, but looks completely different, and be acceptable. Besides, our roads infrastructure is geared up to the shape and size of a typical car, so maybe something new wouldn’t fit into our current world.
And apologies for the motoring puns.
Where Shall we go Next?
We concluded that whilst EVs are a really useful option for shorter more local journeys, with a robust power infrastructure, their usefulness in more remote rural areas and long-distance travel is going to be hampered by the anxieties of recharging. Maybe EVs are a good interim solution, but a longer, more sustainable option for personalised transport is still in its infancy with the trialling of hydrogen as a valid fuel. The question of whether hydrogen generations is “blue” or “green” should not be the overriding factor to overcome; let’s prove the technology first!
Meanwhile, urban areas also benefit from a fairly robust mass transit system, in the form of public transport. Because of the multitude of routes and options, this makes it even easier for people to move from place to place without inconveniencing themselves much, or the need to plan in detail. In short, metropolitan areas offer multiple modes, whereas remote rural areas may be limited to just one.
If the transport systems were more integrated, then it could be possible to combine the convenience of personal transport with the advantages of mass transit.
Up, up and Away
We can’t talk about future transport without mentioning air travel. Internal flights between cities compete with long distance rail travel, but the headline prices can quite often be cheaper, and it takes less time, so it must be more convenient, isn’t it?
Well factor in a few other conditions, such as travel to/from start and end to airports, limitations on what you can take, less frequent service, mandatory times whilst at the airports and the ability to move around, and the costs and convenience don’t look so different. Bring along the environmental awareness that emissions from air transport are more polluting than rail transport and that brings in another whole debate, which is raging now!