What’s next to deal with range anxiety in EVs?

As we know it

One of the major concerns in customer acceptance of battery powered electric vehicles ( EVs) has been the need to recharge the battery after 100-150 miles. In comparison, a full gasoline tank on a family sedan is good for 300 miles or more. In addition, there are gas stations everywhere and refilling takes only a few minutes. Battery recharge stations are still very few and the recharge could take 4 to 12 hours. A survey conducted last year by the Consumer Electronics Association found that 71 percent of the respondents feared being stranded on the road in an EV, due to low battery charge.

Range anxiety with EV
Range anxiety with EV

The term "range anxiety" was coined by Richard Acello in an article on the GM EV1 in the San Diego Business Journal in September 1997. In July 2010, GM has sought to use this term as a trade mark "to promote public awareness of EV capabilities". Researchers worldwide are coming up with various solutions that could allay user fears and lead to faster acceptance of EVs for personal transport.

Need for change

For the EV to emerge as a true alternative to gasoline engine cars, the user needs to feel comfortable that when he takes the car on the road, he has the same level of confidence in completion of his trip as he has in his present car. One important step towards building that confidence is more information. Governments the world over are investing millions of dollars in battery recharge points on roads and highways. In addition, clear GPS based information to the EV driver on the distance he can travel on his battery and the location of nearest recharge point would help reduce his range anxiety.

What's next ?

1. Japanese 'Super- battery' for EVs

Super battery
Super battery

What's new?

The first logical application of battery vehicle technology should have been on city buses. Their driving route is preset and the range and access to recharge points is well defined. However, they have not become popular because the buses need to be immobilized for recharging for 4 to 12 hours, which takes too many vehicles off the roads. The solution could be in the development of a new Nickel Hydrogen battery. A team from the Nippon National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology working with Kawasaki Heavy Industries has developed this new battery that could recharge in 10 minutes. Trials have been conducted in buses carrying 47 passengers. These buses had a range of 30 km in stop-go traffic with air conditioning turned on and achieved top speeds of 76 kmph. The recharge was done at the start and end bus terminals.

What difference will it make?

The Nickel Hydrogen battery is twice as large and twice as heavy as the Lithium Ion battery that has been used in EVs. While this is acceptable for buses and other heavy equipments like cranes and fork lift trucks that Kawasaki is targeting, it may not be the solution for electric cars. The fast recharge time prevents the expensive equipment being idled for recharging. These batteries are expected to be commercially available in 2013. The batteries are said to be capable of over 1000 charge / recharge cycles which suggests a life expectancy of some 3 years. This would be too small for cars where manufacturers are already offering a 8 year or 100,000 miles warranty. On the plus side, the battery uses environment friendly materials.

2. Battery swapping system in Tokyo

Better place electric vehicle chargers
Better place electric vehicle chargers

What's new?

Better Place Inc., the Palo Alto based EV infrastructure company has opened a battery swapping station in Tokyo for trials. The battery swap station works like a mechanized tire change machine. The car is driven on to a platform where a mobile arm disengages the drained battery and replaces it with a fully charged battery. The battery swap has been timed to be completed in less then 60 seconds.

Better Place is working with Nihon Kotsu, the Tokyo's largest cab company that has modified three Nissan Dualis taxis into EVs for a 90 day stress test on the system. Better Place is working with EV and battery manufacturers to adopt a common location for EV batteries and their clamp devices so that the Better Place swap station can serve different models of EVs. The US company has already formed subsidiaries in various countries to promote its concept. Better Place also talks of working with electric utilities for economizing on power usage by recharging spent batteries at the low demand periods.

What difference will it make?

Battery swap is an excellent way to allay range anxiety once enough of these swap stations get functional. The EV owner could then just "lease" a charged battery from the battery swap franchise instead of paying some $10,000 for a new battery, and thereafter only pay for energy usage. This solution is ideal for city bound applications like taxis until the swap stations become more widely deployed. The major challenge would be to get the EV manufacturers to adopt a standard location for the battery to permit quick swap. If the EV manufacturers continue to follow different battery location and clamp designs, the Better Place business model will be difficult to apply.

3. El- Assist recharging concept

el assist recharging
el assist recharging

What's new

Conceived by Finnish designer Vladimir Abramov, the El-Assist recharges EVs by drawing power from the overhead power lines used by city trams or trolley buses. His design consists of a docking station that is carried on the overhead power line to which an EV connects by a pantograph on its roof. The power from the overhead line recharges the EV battery even as the car is being driven along the road. In an associated suggestion, Abramov has proposed that the EV should be required to take passengers waiting on the road side in exchange for the power being drawn from the line. This, he suggests, would increase the concept of shared cars and reduce the total car usage.

What difference will it make ?

The El-Assist solution could work in cities where there is already the infrastructure for trams or trolley buses and would need a particular design of EV to be used so that it could dock with the charging station. The main attraction of the idea is promotion of public transport (such as a taxi) as the EV drives some distance along tram or trolley tracks for charging and then can be driven off-track to deliver the passengers to their destination, pick up new passengers and come back on-track.

4. AAA Mobile EV Charging Trucks

Mobile EV Charging Trucks
Mobile EV Charging Trucks

What's new

The Automobile Association of America ( AAA) has announced that it will deploy EV recharge trucks for trials in six US states from August 2011. A stranded motorist can call AAA for assistance and the truck will provide a 10-15 minute recharge that will enable the EV to be driven some 15 miles to a charge station for full recharging. This AAA service is similar to the service they provide for small top-up of fuel for stranded gasoline vehicles. AAA also provides assistance through mobile trucks for other car breakdowns, including towing and wheel replacement.

The first EV recharge trucks will use a battery as the energy source. AAA has said that it will also examine renewable energy sources in future trucks.

What difference will it make ?

The AAA announcement follows an announcement by Nissan to deploy recharge trucks to support their Leaf electric cars. Similar trucks for assistance to stranded EVs are being implemented in Japan, Switzerland and Australia. These will help reduce some of the range anxiety for potential EV buyers.

5. Epyon's fast charging station

Terra fast charging station
Terra fast charging station

What's new?

Epyon BV has inaugurated the Terra fast charging station for EVs at Sandnes, Norway, in April 2011, and plans to roll out such stations in other cities in Europe. The Epyon station can provide a recharge to 80 percent of battery capacity in 15 to 30 minutes. The station is web connected to Epyon's Power Routing Network through which the battery charge management, billing, maintenance and co-ordination with the utility is done. The Terra station was installed on the premises of an existing gas station in just 2 hours demonstrating that the roll out to other locations can be quick.

What difference will it make?

The Epyon charge station is designed to comply with CHAdeMO, a set of standards that the Japanese car companies Nissan and Mitsubishi are promoting with their battery suppliers and the Tokyo Electric Company. Unless the fast charge standards that this organization sets up is accepted by other EV manufacturers, the Terra station could be limited to specific models of EVs. However, even with that limitation, it could help taxi and transport van companies switch to EVs.

© 2012, Automotto. Some rights reserved.