Are EVs just conventional cars with batteries in place of IC engines?

This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

It’s easy to think of electric cars as conventional cars in which the ICE has been replaced by a battery-motor combination. In fact, you would not be technically incorrect if you think that way. EVs indeed are the torque version of the CC (cubic capacity) that are present for IC engine vehicles.

But in practice, electric vehicles are evolving into something that is far more than battery-motor instead of ICE. Many reasons for this evolution has more to do with trends outside the core transport ecosystem than anything with within it.

It’s about sustainable transportation, not electrification

One of the reasons electric vehicles are more than cars on batteries and motors is because of the context. EVs are dominating the news not just because they are more efficient than ICE vehicles (85% efficiency for battery vs. 35% efficiency for IC engines). EVs are in the news because sustainable transportation in the news. With climate change and global warming starting to gain a larger importance post COVID (some think COVID could be more like a small dress rehearsal compared to the havoc global warming can wreck), key stakeholders in industry and governments around the world are trying every effort to imbibe sustainability in all aspects of industry and business (and life). Transport is a dominant contributor to CO2 emissions (third in the list of total global GHG emissions). And electric vehicles are a key transport tool to reduce transport CO2 emissions.

Though it might be difficult for everyone to view electric vehicles as a climate adaptation tool, this is what could really drive EV adoption much faster than just pure technology or economics alone.

Use of low carbon energy sources

EVs are much better aligned to low carbon sources of power such as solar than are conventional vehicles. While conventional vehicles try to lower their carbon footprint by using less of the fuel through mileage efficiency, they can really do little about the carbon footprint of the fuel itself (gasoline or diesel). EVs, on the other hand, can go close to zero carbon footprint by also choosing to use solar power instead of power generated from coal or natural gas power plants.

Energy efficiency

An electric powertrain is in itself far more efficient than an ICE drivetrain. EVs, go a further mile towards sustainable energy, by using concepts such as regenerative braking to recover even more energy from the ecosystem. The most efficient combustion engines available on the market today have a fuel efficiency of 40 percent. That means they can convert only 40 percent of the fuel energy into movement whereas in an EV the total losses sum up to 35-38% and there will be a part of power gained from regenerative braking. this makes the energy efficiency of the EV 80 to 85 percent. In an ICE all the rest is lost in heat and friction – all the 60 percent left. In other words, for each $100 you spend filling the tank of a combustion-engined car, you literally burn the equivalent to $60 in the best-case scenario. This shows us that what you get is much less than that with most ICE vehicles. the most you can get from a car that only burns fuel is 33 mi – (with a Chevrolet Spark). If it is a hybrid, you can run 58 mi – (with a Hyundai Ioniq). That’s 46.7 percent of what Mazda and Honda E can achieve.

Sustainable materials & production

For another, EVs are not only about zero tailpipe emissions, they are also about sustainable materials – with a number of electric vehicles sporting interiors made from sustainable materials (recycled plastics, renewable polyurethane, etc.). Fisker Automotive for instance is using recycled materials and components derived from ocean plastics to develop its ‘Ocean’ vehicle.

Besides, to increase their energy efficiency even further, many companies are making efforts to incorporate as many lightweight materials in the EVs as possible.

As EVs are about sustainable transport, manufacturers are also giving an increasing thrust to making as many production aspects as possible to be sustainable.

  • One way is to integrate renewable energy into their production processes. Many large EV companies already purchase solar or wind power to power their manufacturing facilities. For instance, GM has partnered with a wind energy firm to power one of its PHEV and BEV manufacturing facilities in the US.
  • Beyond sustainable energy, companies are also making efforts towards more responsible sourcing. BMW for instance has adopted Blockchain to monitor the sources and legitimacy of its Lithium consumption. Daimler is working towards similar goals as well.

EVs as energy storage devices

Finally, with the growth of V2G technologies, electric vehicles need not just be looked at as transportation vehicles, they can also be viewed as energy storage systems.

EVs could also run on fuel cells

For one, EVs need not run on batteries. They can also run on fuel cells, so that takes the battery out of the picture.

EVs can also run as hybrids

Through the use of hybrid powertrains, hybrid electric vehicles can run on either oil or electricity, thus providing an easier transition technology to a pure electric future.

Lot less maintenance

An ICE has 2000 components, a battery and motor based powertrain has 20 components. There is a significant reduction in the number of moving parts. All these result in a vehicle that requires far less maintenance than conventional vehicles.

New designs and layouts

Many OEMs and designers are seeing the EV opportunity as one that they can use to redesign the car from scratch. This is resulting not only in some really cool exterior designs (see Canoo), but also fundamentally different designs of the powertrain – the concept of placing motors on wheels (close to where the motion is) being of these exciting new thinking domains.

Implications

That EVs are much more than normal cars on batteries and motors could make a significant difference to its adoption. Not only could it mean faster-than-expected adoption, but it could also make a significant difference to many satellite industries that provide products and solutions that make EVs more than just – EVs!

Download the free sample of EVI2 – EV Innovation Intelligence – 1000+ EV innovations for senior management, investors and innovators.


This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

Posts in the series

Tesla’s Valuation | EV’s in different countries | Purpose built EVs | Mainstream Fuel Cells | IT in Emobility EVs versus ICEs Advent of China in Emobility | Charging vs Swapping | Micromobility & EVs | Electric Aviation Li-ion alternatives | Million Mile Battery Battery Startups versus Giants Sales & Financing Models | Ultrafast Charging a Norm | Heavy Electric Vehicles | Material Sciences in Emobility | Lithium Scarcity | Solar Power in EV Ecosystem | EV Manufacturing Paradigm | Innovations in Motors EV Startups – a speciality Oil Companies’ Strategies EV Adoption Paths Covid-19 affect on the EV Industry |

Will China dominate EVs the way it did many other industries including solar power?

This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

It’s early 2021. The way the rest of the world has been looking at China has changed dramatically in the last ten months. While there had been always been ideological conflicts between many western nations and China (even though what China follows is also capitalism, albeit without the constraints of democracy), the desire of many developed economies to reduce – if not completely eliminate – their reliance on China for their goods and products has significantly increased during this period.

Like they did in many other sectors, the Chinese government and bureaucracy had understood the importance of investing massively in e-mobility infrastructure earlier than those of many other countries. And throwing at the opportunity the same combination of speed and massive governmental support, the country had indeed gotten into a dominant position by 2020 – be it in the manufacturing of batteries and electric cars, or in massive transformation to electric bikes and buses in many cities.

So, will China continue and stretch its current dominance in the e-mobility space too?

There are many reasons why it could be different this time round

COVID impact

COVID 19 could be the real disruptor and game changer in this global competition. Whatever be the truth about the origins of the virus, the pandemic seems to have gotten many large countries (including mine, India) to wear self-sufficiency on their sleeves. The desire for countries to be self-sufficient is not new. But self-sufficiency does not come easy and most parts of the world were not in a position to make the sacrifices to make this happen. But all these countries know that the times of emergencies and deep uncertainties are the times when some of the sacrifices can be made, because these are the times when many other hard decisions are being made as well.

Non-Chinese battery leaders

Batteries, the key area of competition for EVs, is not exactly a new field like solar was in 2010. Li-ion batteries, the type of batteries used in EVs, have been used since the 1990s and many of the companies that are leaders in this field are Korean and Japanese (LG, Panasonic etc.). While China is indeed trying to massively scale LiB production through companies such as CATL, many leading LiB producers worldwide are still non-Chinese as of early 2021.

  • Tesla and Panasonic joint venture plant Giga factory 1 has been considered in 2018 as the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery plant after the plant reached a capacity of 22 GWh.
  • The world’s fifth-largest lithium-ion battery mega factory, according to Benchmark Minerals’ Lithium-ion Battery Mega factory Assessment was yet another new plant, LG Chem’s Poland facility which had a capacity of 15 GWh and seems to be in a state of perpetual expansion.
  • Panasonic is the fourth largest lithium battery company globally. The company ranks No.1 in Japan. Panasonic stands a good chance to gain in the battery market given its strong ties with Tesla.

Importance of software & digital

Software and IT are likely to play a dominant large role in EVs, much larger than they play in conventional vehicles. Software application development has not been a strong point for Chinese companies, especially when compared to countries such as India. Besides, Silicon Valley, where a significant portion of EV development is taking place thanks to Tesla, is the mecca of software innovation and this position is unlikely to change anytime soon.

  • China’s search engine giant Baidu Inc said it will set up a company to partner with carmaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group to make smart electric vehicles (EV), the latest move by a tech company in the fast-evolving sector. Baidu, which has been developing autonomous driving technology and Internet connectivity infrastructure, said the new EV company will count on Baidu’s intelligent driving capabilities and Geely’s car manufacturing expertise. Geely will also be a strategic investor in the new company, which will be an independent subsidiary of Baidu. The unit mainly supplies technology powered by artificial intelligence and works with automakers such as Geely, Volkswagen AG, Toyota Motor Corp, and Ford Motor Co.

Quality aspirations

Transport vehicles – be they cars, scooters or electric bikes – are too near and dear to their users. With electric cars being new, users perceive more safety and performance risks than they do in conventional vehicles, at least in the initial stages of e-mobility sector development. With this in their minds, many users may want to go for quality over costs.

Companies in the developed economies – Germany for instance – can use their positioning as high-quality manufacturing economies can hence score some heavy points over Chinese at least in the initial stages. (The business case for something like solar panels is not that high in this context, because at the end of the day, solar panels are used and touched every day by users even in the case of rooftop panels and in the case of ground mounted panels, the perceived risks are far lower to the investor/purchaser).

Innovation impact on China

China, for all its might, is still an adopter of technology – though a damned good one at that – than a pioneer. The DNA of China is discipline, hard work and a willingness to obey orders. Innovation requires an independent, sometimes rebellious streaks in character and also some other things additional in the DNA – imagination and a willingness to experiment. Europe and USA (and a few other regions such as Israel) have proven time and time again how they are far ahead of the rest when it comes to the Innovation Quotient.

Battery raw material challenge

While the above are the reasons why China’s impact on EVs could be different from its impact on many other industries, there are also reasons why China might have a stronger grip on this industry than it appears at first read. And one reason stands out among others – its hold over critical raw materials.

In the last few years, China has smartly built entry barriers to access to critical battery raw materials. Through investments in Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, China controls a large portion of the world’s Lithium processing facilities. China also owns a large portion of the cobalt resources in Congo, a politically volatile country. In 2019, China produced about 60% of the world’s graphite (used in Li-ion battery anode).

BNEF’s lithium-ion battery supply chain ranking provides a snapshot of a country’s position in 2020 and where it will place in 2025, based on its current development trajectory. It ranks countries across five key themes related to the supply chain – raw materials, cell and component manufacturing, environment, RII (regulations, innovation, and infrastructure), and end demand across EV and stationary storage. The report notes that China’s success has come as a result of its large domestic battery demand, 72 gigawatt-hours (GWh), alongside control over 80% of the world’s raw material refining, 77% of the world’s cell capacity, and 60% of the world’s component manufacturing.

One consolation: All these indeed make it appear that the country has a strong grip on raw materials, but then, what happens if fuel cells overtake batteries. Surely even China cannot control access to hydrogen!

Download the free sample of EVI2 – EV Innovation Intelligence – 1000+ EV innovations for senior management, investors and innovators.


This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

Posts in the series

Tesla’s Valuation | EV’s in different countries | Purpose built EVs | Mainstream Fuel Cells | IT in Emobility EVs versus ICEs Advent of China in Emobility | Charging vs Swapping | Micromobility & EVs | Electric Aviation Li-ion alternatives | Million Mile Battery Battery Startups versus Giants Sales & Financing Models | Ultrafast Charging a Norm | Heavy Electric Vehicles | Material Sciences in Emobility | Lithium Scarcity | Solar Power in EV Ecosystem | EV Manufacturing Paradigm | Innovations in Motors EV Startups – a speciality Oil Companies’ Strategies EV Adoption Paths Covid-19 affect on the EV Industry |

Between battery charging and swapping, which will become dominant by 2030?

This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

Some years back, when most of us thought electric vehicles were far into the future, a bright entrepreneur set up an ambitious idea in Israel called Better Place, which he felt could actually do away at least one key problem with electric vehicles  – their long charging times.

Shai Agassi pioneered the concept of battery swapping. He was possibly a bit ahead of his time and Better Place unfortunately did not succeed. But his ideas and efforts have inspired many companies worldwide venture into battery swapping.

The idea, as many of you already know, is quite simple: why bother to wait for hours to charge a battery when you can give your depleted battery and take a fully charged one? Battery swapping essentially rescheduled battery charging such that the user did not have to wait at all.

So, why has not battery swapping completely taken over battery charging? And if not today, is it likely to dominate over charging in the near future?

Well, one of the reasons battery swapping has not completely dominated charging is that it looks easy in concept, but not so easy when it comes to implementation.

Safety

The first part has to do with safety. EV batteries are heavy – even a bicycle battery can be as heavy as a Kg, as scooter battery as much as 10 Kg and a car battery (or batteries) as much as 100 Kg, not to speak of batteries for vans and trucks. It is thus easy to see that swapping is not just a matter of putting our hands in and out. In some case such as car battery swapping, you may need people with experience to remove depleted batteries and place new ones in their place. Even robots are being used for these operations.

Battery ownership

This is a critical aspect. If batteries are a core asset in an electric vehicle, vehicle owners might feel as much a sense of ownership for their batteries as they do for the vehicle themselves – if not in an emotional sense, at least purely from a quality and performance context. But in swapping, you are essentially giving up your battery and getting someone else’s battery. How safe is that battery? How efficient is it? These are questions that are likely to come up in a vehicle owner’s mind

Interoperability

Battery swapping will be successful only if there are many swapping points in every locality, just as there are many gas stations. Now, if there are dozens of OEMs sporting their own proprietary batteries, can each afford to have many, many swapping stations? Quite difficult. The only solution would be where I can swap any OEM’s battery at any swapping station (not unlike ATMs where I can draw cash from any bank’s ATM). But such interoperability does not exist now, and there are challenges before such seamless interoperability will exist.

Legal stuff

Then there’s the question of legal responsibility in case of accidents involving batteries. Who is responsible? Is the vehicle owner responsible? Even if it is well established that the fault was with the battery or in its use in the vehicle, is the swapping services provider responsible? Is the OEM responsible? Or the battery maker responsible?

Battery charging time

In early 2021, we are talking about an hour’s charging time at fast charging stations, and if you are lucky, perhaps 30 mins charging for 80% of capacity. That still looks fairly long if I am on my way to somewhere. But there are also experimentations with ultra-fast charging (10-15 minutes) and flash charging (3-5 minutes). At 3-5 minutes, I’m pretty much par with gas/petrol stations. But these flash charging cases are not yet mainstream. Even if they become commercial in a couple of years, not every battery can be charged this way – unless you want your battery to flunk with 6 months. And having these fast charging stations could require significant electrical and safety infrastructure in place, something even developed countries will need quite a bit of time to design, test and implement. Developing countries may have to wait quite a bit longer.

Battery Degradation

Battery performance degrades over time and as a result the range attainable with each charge. In a battery swap scenario, considering that all cars will be using the same battery pack format and power, we will find batteries with different energy storage capacities in the swapping station, mainly due to degradation. Logically, most people will opt for newer battery packs when swapping, as they give greater range and reduce the number of trips required to the swapping station. Lower capacity packs mean that range with EVs will not be the same as with new packs, so users will not be happy when their new battery pack is swapped with a lower performance pack, as they will get less mileage from their vehicle. This will result in batteries having shorter operating cycles, as in order to keep customers happy, battery packs with reduced performance would be replaced faster.

Battery swapping could make better use of solar power

How? Simply because I can charge swapped batteries anywhere I wish, and not necessarily at the charging stations. By removing the constraint of charging location, I can charge the batteries directly from solar panels at a large ground mounted solar power plant. One can have solar panels on charging stations too, but it is likely that these can supply only a limited portion of the total power required for charging the batteries at the station. (Of course, charging stations can purchase solar power from third parties, though this would not count as using electrons generated from solar).

Entry of big boys into battery swapping

As of 2021, no large company worldwide seems to have taken a strong stand towards battery swapping, though some companies have made investments in startups providing swapping solutions. Should some of the big boys (OEMs, battery makers, component makers) directly enter the scene with large investments, swapping could gain an upper hand

Swapping better aligned to leasing or rental models

In many regions worldwide electric vehicle leasing and rental models are picking up pace. Battery swapping could be better aligned to these models (as the user does not own the vehicle or battery anyway) and hence could be preferred by these service providers.

It could be vehicle dependent

There is this example in north India where electric rickshaws already operate on a battery swapping model. For these low-end vehicles with small batteries (some of them in fact lead acid batteries), swapping is a highly feasible avenue and as the vehicle owner does not need to buy the battery, it makes sense economically as well. For these types of segments, battery swapping could see fast adoptions.

Similarly, and interestingly, battery swapping could also find favour at the other end of the vehicle spectrum – truck fleets. When trucks get electrified, large fleet owners with multiple electric trucks could use swapping as a simple way to overcome charging times. As these companies own facilities all along the truck routes, trucks can simply stop at one of their facilities, get their depleted batteries swapped and move along.

So, what would it be: Charging or swapping?

Considering all aspects, it would be safe to infer that at least for the 2020-2030 period, both battery charging and battery swapping would co-exist around the world. What happens beyond 2030 is difficult to predict, and even the question might be irrelevant should fuel cells overtake batteries as the energy storage medium of choice!

Download the free sample of EVI2 – EV Innovation Intelligence – 1000+ EV innovations for senior management, investors and innovators.


This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

Posts in the series

Tesla’s Valuation | EV’s in different countries | Purpose built EVs | Mainstream Fuel Cells | IT in Emobility EVs versus ICEs Advent of China in Emobility | Charging vs Swapping | Micromobility & EVs | Electric Aviation Li-ion alternatives | Million Mile Battery Battery Startups versus Giants Sales & Financing Models | Ultrafast Charging a Norm | Heavy Electric Vehicles | Material Sciences in Emobility | Lithium Scarcity | Solar Power in EV Ecosystem | EV Manufacturing Paradigm | Innovations in Motors EV Startups – a speciality Oil Companies’ Strategies EV Adoption Paths Covid-19 affect on the EV Industry |

Is micromobility a big deal for EVs?

This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

Micro-mobility refers to very short distance transportation – of the kind almost every one of us to many times a week. It could be running to a grocery store nearby or just taking your bicycle out for a 3 Km fun ride. For a business, it could be the mobility of goods and services at a hyper-local level, within short neighborhoods.

Sounds like a rather trivial portion of the entire transportation ecosystem, doesn’t it? Except that it is not.

We cover a lot more micro-miles than we think, and as a result, micro-mobility is a bigger business that we tend to think as well.

And electric vehicles are ideally suited for this market. Here’s why:

Small vehicles

Most vehicles used in micro-mobility are small – bikes, scooters, LCVs…ideally suited for electrification at this stage of e-mobility evolution

Speed, motor power

Micro-mobility does not require large, high-speed vehicles. Small electric vehicles with low-powered motors will just do. For instance, micro-mobility fleets like Lime use 500W geared hub-motors at 36V in their fleets. Whereas a small EV car like the Peugeot e-208 uses a 100 kW and 260 Nm electric motor.

No charging and range concerns

With short distances and a possibility for flexible charging schedules, the micro-mobility market does not face the same challenges traditional end-user EV markets face in terms of long charging times and range anxiety.

No concerns due to gas station access

Not having to run to a petrol station but can charge at home is aligned to this segment – Many micromobile segments would rather “fuel” their vehicles right on their premises or close to that than run to a gas station every time. Electric vehicles are well aligned to this need as well.

Noiseless

Some uses of micro-mobility for instance, in parks, in airports etc. benefit from the noiseless nature of electric vehicles.

For many eco-sensitive locations, aligned to sustainability (airports, railways stations, parks, industrial complexes…) – for eco-sensitive locations such as parks, beaches and eco-travel and eco-tourism locations, electric vehicles are more aligned to their sustainability aspirations

Hybrid electric bikes can be a good fit for exercise lovers

And then there are niche micro mobile markets such as those of bicycling enthusiasts. Hybrid electric bicycles are an attractive offering to this market – riders can use the motor when tired and pedal when they feel the need for exercise.  E-Bike can increase your fitness by using the different modes to increase and decrease the level of assistance. On a climb, reduce the assistance down to the ECO mode (found on the Bosch system) to create a training zone that puts your heart rate up and into an anaerobic threshold. This has many benefits for your fitness, including increasing your Vo2 max and the length at which you can sustain your maximum output. This will help when you’re sprinting to the end of a sprint, or simply getting up over that last bit of your climb on the hardest part of your newest challenge. Then you can increase the E-bike assistance and drop back down into the aerobic.

  •  Italian designed by Enzo and built for the great outdoors. Enzo folding eBikes are the lightest, most durable folding eBikes on the market. Marine ready, lightweight, and compact, these bikes fit easily in the trunk of your car, camper, boat, aircraft, home or office.

Off-road vehicles such as tractors

Many off-road segments such as the use of vehicles (tractors) for farming can also be considered micro-mobility markets, and these could also present attractive business opportunities for electric vehicles.

  • Sonalika has launched Tiger Electric, India’s first field-ready electric tractor, at an introductory price of Rs 5.99 lakh. The Sonalika Tiger Electric tractor is equipped with an Etrac motor that is claimed to offer high power density and high peak torque with zero RPM drop for optimal performance. The motor is paired with an IP67-compliant 25.5kW natural-cooling compact battery that can be juiced up to 100 percent using a regular home charging point in 10 hours. The new Tiger Electric tractor is equipped with the Sonalika transmission. It offers a top speed of 24.93kmph and a battery backup of 8 hours while operating with a 2-tonne trolley.
  • YDX Moro, the Yamaha Motor Corporation USA launched their first complete full-suspension eMTB (Electric MountainBikes) . The Yamaha PWX-2 motor, a 500 Wh battery, 160 mm travel, and 27.5″ wheels. The Yamaha YDX Moro and the Yamaha YDX Moro Pro, the company has now presented two models intended to stir up the performance market. The Yamaha YDX Moro models are US category 1 e-bikes, which means they offer to support up to 20 miles per hour with the help of the current Yamaha PW-X2 motor.
  • The G6, a full-suspension mountain bike with 150mm of travel. It’s carbon-framed, available in three versions (6.1, 6.2, and, yes, 6.3) costing from 6,499-7,499 euros (roughly £6-7,000 in the UK), and has a more comprehensive dashboard than your average car. Powered by a 12kW electric motor, it was capable of 40mph with a claimed 75-mile maximum range from its 1.3kWh battery.

Related resources:

Making micro-mobility work for citizens, cities, and service providers

The future of mobility is at our doorstep

Will the micro-mobility market boom or bust?

Download the free sample of EVI2 – EV Innovation Intelligence – 1000+ EV innovations for senior management, investors and innovators.


This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

Posts in the series

Tesla’s Valuation | EV’s in different countries | Purpose built EVs | Mainstream Fuel Cells | IT in Emobility EVs versus ICEs Advent of China in Emobility | Charging vs Swapping | Micromobility & EVs | Electric Aviation Li-ion alternatives | Million Mile Battery Battery Startups versus Giants Sales & Financing Models | Ultrafast Charging a Norm | Heavy Electric Vehicles | Material Sciences in Emobility | Lithium Scarcity | Solar Power in EV Ecosystem | EV Manufacturing Paradigm | Innovations in Motors EV Startups – a speciality Oil Companies’ Strategies EV Adoption Paths Covid-19 affect on the EV Industry |

Why is there a buzz around electric aviation?

This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

In 2011, I was at a conference on biofuels at Orlando, Florida.

During one of the breaks, I caught up with a senior Boeing executive. We got chatting, and out of curiosity, I asked him what Boeing thought about use of biofuels in aviation. He said they were quite conservative about its prospects in the short and medium-term and said he would estimate that even by 2025, biofuels would not account for much more than 1% of the total fuels used for aviation.

That kind of squared with my views too. Then, without really thinking about it, I asked him what he thought were the prospects of electric airplanes. He just laughed.

There’s a reason why he did that.

Electrifying aviation will indeed be wonderful as the aviation industry is responsible for about 3% of total global GHG emissions, but it is no mean task. Batteries simply cannot compete with aviation fuel used currently – the latter have energy densities 30 times that of batteries. Imagine a large aircraft having to carry 30 times the current weight of fuel – it would never fly, and I mean not just metaphorically! (About 80% of the aviation industry’s emissions come from passenger flights longer than 1,500 Kms. – a distance not even electric airliners could hope to fly today, leave alone the Jumbos)

 

As Paul Eremenko, United Technologies chief technology officer said recently, “Unless there is some radical, yet-to-be-invented paradigm shift in energy storage, we are going to rely on hydrocarbon fuels for the foreseeable future”.

 

But yet, there is a buzz around electric aviation with a number of startups (and even some companies such as Hyundai) showing a keen interest in this. Why?

Hydrogen based electric aviation

One of the reasons could be that ten years from now, hydrogen fuel cell-based aviation could have become a reality. That quite changes everything, because hydrogen has three times as much energy density as fossil liquid fuels!

  •  ZeroAvia, a US and UK-based company developing hydrogen-electric engines. Using liquid hydrogen to feed fuel cells, the technology eliminates carbon emissions during the flight. With funding from UK government-backed bodies including the Aerospace Technology Institute and Innovate UK, ZeroAvia wants to plug the gap as aviation technology develops, and provide a sustainable solution for short and medium-haul flights. ZeroAvia claims that they will have hydrogen-powered commercial planes taking to the sky in just three years.

Battery energy density

Battery energy density in itself has been increasing, though I do not foresee how any type of battery can give a 30 fold jump in energy density in the foreseeable future. However, a 2x-4x increase in energy density might make batteries a feasible energy source for small airplanes servicing short distances, for instance for emergency trips across a city

  • SVOLT, based in Changzhou, China, has announced that it has manufactured cobalt-free batteries designed for the EV market. Aside from reducing the rare earth metals, the company is claiming that they have a higher energy density, which could result in ranges of up to 800km (500 miles) for electric cars, while also lengthening the life of the battery and increasing the safety. Exactly where we’ll see these batteries we don’t know, but the company has confirmed that it’s working with a large European manufacturer.
  • Li-S battery uses very light active materials: sulfur in the positive electrode and metallic lithium as the negative electrode. This is why its theoretical energy density is extraordinarily high: four times greater than that of Li-ion. That makes it a good fit for the aviation and space industries. Saft has selected and favored the most promising Li-S technology based on solid-state electrolytes. This technical path brings very high energy density, long life and overcomes the main drawbacks of the liquid-based Li-S (limited life, high self-discharge, …). Furthermore, this technology is supplementary to solid-state Li-ion thanks to its superior gravimetric energy density (+30% at stake in Wh/kg).

VTOL, flying taxis

Almost overnight, what we thought belonged to science fiction is becoming a reality. Flying taxis. Yes. Called VTOL taxis (vertical takeoff and landing taxis), these take off like a helicopter and carry the rich and wealthy across the city over traffic jams and land them ten miles away in no time. Small vehicles, short distances, once again these are feasible with batteries. (Taking this to the extreme, I recently even read about an electric flying suit – yes, you look like an electric-powered superman, but I suspect it is just fantasy, but who knows, that was what I thought about flying taxis too a couple of years back)

  • Lilium, the five-year-old venture-backed startup from Munich,aims to have passengers taking regional trips in its electric five-seater aircraft starting in 2025. The Jet is not your typical aircraft: there is no tail, rudder, propellers, or gearbox. It has an egg-shaped cabin perched on landing gear with a pair of parallel tilt-rotor wings. The wings were fitted with a total of 36 electric jet engines that tilt up for vertical takeoff and then shift forward for horizontal flight. In final form, the Lilium Jet will have a range of 300 kilometers (186 miles) and a top speed of 300 km/h (186 mph).
  • Volocopter is a leader in the urban air mobility space. As the first and only electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) company to receive Design Organisation Approval (DOA) by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Volocopter expects its first commercial air taxi routes to be opened within the next two years. The velocity will become the first commercially licensed Volocopter, developed according to the high standards and requirements of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) with a range of 35 km, max airspeed of 110km/h, and utilizes battery swapping technology.

Could fit specific types of aircraft

Flying taxis and similar vehicles such as small aircraft for emergencies could have a good business case to go electric, as it provides them independence from the need to access liquid fuel at short notice – it is far easier to get access to electricity, and with battery swapping, their concerns about dependence could be significantly reduced.

Drones & UAVs

Drones aren’t exactly aircraft, but they surely are airborne. Drones almost always use batteries for their power.

Same is the case with UAVs. UAVs once again have been prevalent for sometime, and UAVs use batteries as well

What do the big boys of aviation think?

As of yet, none of the aviation Big Boys – Boeing, Airbus, EASA, NASA, Bombardier, Embraer… – have said much about electric aircraft. It appears at the moment it is in amateur space. But who knows!

The aviation industry’s global climate action framework aims to reduce net CO2 emissions by 2050 by 50%. It surely is not betting on electric aviation to do this. The industry continues to take other measures to reduce its CO2 output.

    • Development of sustainable aviation fuels made from waste and non-food feedstocks. These can be mixed with conventional aviation fuels and used in existing aircraft and airport fuel systems, without any technical modifications. It’s predicted that these fuels could reduce aviation CO2 emissions by as much as 80%.
    • The aviation industry is also working hard on energy efficiency, by making the next generation of aircraft leaner, lighter and more aerodynamic so they burn less fuel and emit less CO2. Advances in air traffic control and new satellite technology mean shorter journey times and more efficient take-offs and landings, again cutting fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. On the ground, airports are introducing electric vehicles and terminals are being powered by renewable energy, making them much more energy efficient.

Factoids and updates from around the world on electric aviation:

  • When electrified, small aircrafts (say, a turbo-prop Cessna), could be a lot cheaper to operate compared to these aircraft running on liquid fuel and traditional engines.
  • Rolls-Royce, Airbus and Siemens are working on the E-Fan X programme, which will have a two megawatt (2MW) electric motor mounted on a BAE 146 jet. It is set to fly in 2021.
  • For $140,000, you can fly your own electric airplane. The Slovenian company Pipistrel sells the Alpha Electro, the first electric aircraft certified as airworthy by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2018. It’s a welterweight at just 811 pounds (368 kilograms), powered by a 21 kWh battery pack—about one-fifth the power of what you’d find in a Tesla Model S. For about 90 minutes, the pilot training plane will keep you and a companion aloft without burning a drop of fossil fuel.

Download the free sample of EVI2 – EV Innovation Intelligence – 1000+ EV innovations for senior management, investors and innovators.


This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

Posts in the series

Tesla’s Valuation | EV’s in different countries | Purpose built EVs | Mainstream Fuel Cells | IT in Emobility EVs versus ICEs Advent of China in Emobility | Charging vs Swapping | Micromobility & EVs | Electric Aviation Li-ion alternatives | Million Mile Battery Battery Startups versus Giants Sales & Financing Models | Ultrafast Charging a Norm | Heavy Electric Vehicles | Material Sciences in Emobility | Lithium Scarcity | Solar Power in EV Ecosystem | EV Manufacturing Paradigm | Innovations in Motors EV Startups – a speciality Oil Companies’ Strategies EV Adoption Paths Covid-19 affect on the EV Industry |

Can entirely new battery chemistries overtake Li-ion chemistry?

This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

Li-ion is the dominant standard for batteries for the e-mobility industry. And most industry experts think that Li-ion chemistry has established a strong foundation that will last at least for a couple of decades.

Or will it?

While some battery chemistries or battery types such as flow batteries could be more suited for stationary storage, there indeed are half a dozen new chemistries vying for a place – and possibly the top place – on the podium.

Solid-state batteries

The candidate most spoken about as having the potential to overtake LiB is the solid-state battery chemistry. Until a couple of years back, it looked as if this will take over a decade to get anywhere near commercial, it now looks that it could be faster.

Technically, solid-state batteries are Li batteries too. The cell architecture and the electrolyte changes. The solid electrolyte allows faster transfer of li-ions between the cathode and Anode, therefore faster charging and strong discharging. Moreover, the solid-state implies less space is taken up. So a solid-state battery cell probably has a smaller size. Therefore SSB has more volumetric energy density than normal Li-ion batteries.

Flow batteries

Flow batteries present interesting possibilities too, and they are already being commercialized, but these are far more suited to stationary storage systems than mobile.

Ultra-capacitors & super-capacitors

There has been a spate of announcements the last few years on startups working around capacitors. Capacitors get charged really fast, though they cannot hold a lot of energy. Many startups are hence working on a hybrid of capacitor/battery combination to leverage the strengths of capacitors and batteries.

Different Li chemistry batteries

Within Li-ion batteries, efforts are ongoing to use a number of different chemistries both at the anode and cathode, though these would technically come under the Li-ion chemistry.

There could be changes at the anodes as well. Graphite has been long used as the primary anode material. Silicon recently has shown the potential to replace graphite while being more efficient in losing electrons and taking in ions. Also, Silicon is the earth’s second most abundant material. And that helps.

  • LTO is one of the safest lithium-ion chemistries and does not involve thermal rundowns. The high current flow implies faster charging of the battery than other Li-ion batteries. A disadvantage of lithium-titanate batteries is that they have a lower inherent voltage (2.4 V), which leads to lower specific energy (about 30–110 Wh/kg) than conventional lithium-ion battery technologies, which have an inherent voltage of 3.7 V, although some lithium-titanate batteries are reported to have an energy density of up to 177 Wh/L.
  • Lithium-sulfur batteries are a little different from normal LiBs, where lithium is used in the anode and sulfur in the cathode. Lithium-sulfur batteries may succeed lithium-ion cells because of their higher energy density and reduced cost due to the use of sulfur] Some Li–S batteries offer specific energies on the order of 500 Wh/kg, significantly better than most lithium-ion batteries. Though Li-S has been around since the 1960s, it is not yet commercialized owing to sulfur as a weak cathode. The sulfur content decreases in time rendering the battery useless in 3-4 years. However, the academic versions of Li-S have been showing promise. One start-up has achieved 470 Wh/kg of specific energy density and is aiming to increase it to 500 Wh/kg while guarding the sulfur.

Metal air batteries

Metal air batteries typically cannot be recharged, though they have higher energy densities than Li-ion batteries. The trick is to figure out how to overcome the no-recharge problem.

In these batteries, the anode metal would have to replace, but these can be recycled and reused. Most metal-air batteries are Zinc and Aluminium which are near infinitely recyclable.

In use cases, Al-air batteries have been shown to attain a range of 1600kms on a single sheet of aluminum. Then the sheet would have to be replaced.

  • Aluminum-air flow batteries for EVs outperform the existing lithium-ion batteries in terms of higher energy density, lower cost, longer cycle life, and higher safety. Aluminum-air flow batteries are primary cells, which means that they cannot be recharged via conventional means. In EVs, they produce electricity by replacing the aluminum plate and electrolyte. Considering the actual energy density of gasoline and aluminum of the same weight, aluminum is superior.

Over the past several years, over 100 villages in Africa and Asia have received power from batteries that use zinc and oxygen, the basis of an energy storage system developed by Arizona-based NantEnergy. Zinc’s abundant supply, fundamental stability, and low cost make it an attractive alternative to lithium, but efforts to make it commercially viable at scale have been few and far between. NantEnergy’s zinc-air battery system replaces a second electrode with one that “breathes air”, using oxygen from the atmosphere to extract power from zinc.

Lead-acid batteries

Lead-acid batteries are not yet dead, even in electric vehicles. While their chances of being in electric vehicles in the future are low, lead-acid batteries are the workhorse of the stationary storage systems and they could find use in parallel with other battery types to compete against Li-ion batteries in stationary storage.

Sodium sulfur batteries

These are molten-salt batteries constructed from liquid sodium and sulfur). Sporting high energy density, these also have high efficiency for charging & discharging, and long cycle life. An added advantage is of course that these are fabricated from inexpensive materials.

So far, however, these batteries have seen to be more suitable for stationary energy storage applications where they are seeing increasing traction.

For instance, in February 2019, Abu Dhabi installed the world’s largest storage battery which makes use of sodium-sulfur battery cells. It is five times larger than the second-largest storage battery at 108 megawatts (MW)/ 648 megawatt-hours (MWh).

Some challenges are present with these batteries, though. There are risks involved with handling both sodium and sulfur due to the volatile nature of both reactants. Liquid sodium coming into contact with water in the atmosphere poses a significant risk due to the highly exothermic reaction, which could become explosive when working at scale.

Graphene-based batteries

Using graphene coatings in Li-ion batteries could increase their energy efficiency and significantly decrease the time to charge. These are expected to have a big future, but the future doesn’t seem to have arrived as of early 2021.

Fluoride batteries

Fluoride batteries have the potential to last eight times longer than lithium batteries, but that’s easier said than done. That’s because fluoride is an anion, or a negatively charged ion, which is the magic behind its high energy density but is also the reason it’s reactive and hard to stabilize. In December 2018, a research team announced that they had hit upon a liquid electrolyte that could stabilize the element and make it usable at room temperature, so things are starting to look good for fluoride batteries.

What are the key drawbacks of the current LiB battery chemistries and how are the emerging battery chem trying to overcome these?

Drawbacks of the current LiB battery chemistries:

  • Requires protection circuit to maintain voltage and current within safe limits
  • Subject to aging, even if not in use – storage in a cool place at 40% charge reduces the aging effect.
  • Transportation restrictions – shipment of larger quantities may be subject to regulatory control. (This restriction does not apply to personal carry-on batteries.)
  • Expensive to manufacture – about 40 percent higher in cost than nickel-cadmium.
  • Not fully mature – metals and chemicals are changing on a continuing basis.

It is estimated that there is a new development in battery chemistry almost every 6 months as more OEMs are particular about the technology they require for their vehicles and newer regulations coming into place from different geographies.  Innovation and performance characteristics in batteries aren’t limited to their electrode chemistries alone. Other factors such as coating materials, state of electrolyte, and their structural arrangement in a cell also contribute to the battery’s overall performance.

  • Leclanché is working on a technology that uses lithium iron phosphate (LFP), which has an “olivine” structure, as the cathode, and lithium titanate oxide (LTO), which has a “spinel” structure, as the anode. These structures are better at handling the flow of lithium ions in and out of the material. These cells can be charged 100% in just 9 minutes.
  • Regarding the silicon anode problem – Sila Nano’s approach is to encase silicon atoms inside a nano-sized shell with lots of empty room inside. That way, the SEI is formed on the outside of the shell and the expansion of silicon atoms happens inside it without shattering the SEI after each charge-discharge cycle.
  • Regarding highly volatile electrolytes – Lithium batteries always use flammable liquids as the electrolyte.. One solution is to use solid electrolytes. But that means other compromises. A battery design can easily include a liquid electrolyte that’s in contact with every bit of the electrodes, making it able to efficiently transfer ions. It’s much harder with solids. Imagine dropping a pair of dice into a cup of water. Now imagine dropping those same dice into a cup of sand. Obviously, the water will touch far more surface area of the dice than the sand will.
  • Alternatives to lithium are quite far from batteries. It is difficult to find anodes for chemistries such as sodium-ion batteries. Employing nanosized or nanostructured forms of the active material has been demonstrated as an effective strategy to overcome this problem, yet it is questionable whether such methods are sufficiently cost-effective to be implemented on an industrial scale. Since the only advantages of SIBs are the low cost of sodium salts and the fact that low-cost Al current collectors can be used on the anode side (because Na, unlike Li, does not alloy with Al), many electrode materials developed to date for SIBs are unsuitable for the use in commercial cells considering the relatively high cost of their preparation.
  • Estimations show that by 2025, 75% of the world’s lithium consumption will be for batteries which still puts it at half of the world’s available lithium resources, so there is a motive that the electric vehicle industry will not be severely affected by lithium scarcity. Moreover, almost every major EV OEM is looking towards battery recycling(which in itself is at an advanced stage where 98% of total constituents can be recovered) to ensure the value chain is not depreciating.

Which are the top battery types other than lithium-ion batteries that have the potential for EVs? What is their current status of development/ commercialization?

  • Magnesium-ion batteries could serve as an alternative to lithium-ion batteries in electric cars and grid storage. Such batteries would use a cathode and an electrolyte similar to that of lithium-ion. However, the anode would be critically different. A typical Mg-ion battery would not make use of graphite, or any sort of intercalation anode, and would directly use magnesium metal.
    • On paper, magnesium-ion offers a tremendous potential energy boost over lithium-ion, possibly as much as two-to-one. In theory, such capabilities would enable automakers to use batteries that are half the size, while offering the same power. However, such advancements face several technical challenges and are still far from the prototype stage.
  • .Lithium–Sulphur – Magnesium-ion batteries could serve as an alternative to lithium-ion batteries in electric cars and grid storage. Such batteries would use a cathode and an electrolyte similar to that of lithium-ion. However, the anode would be critically different. A typical Mg-ion battery would not make use of graphite, or any sort of intercalation anode, and would directly use magnesium metal.
    • On paper, magnesium-ion offers a tremendous potential energy boost over lithium-ion—possibly as much as two-to-one. In theory, such capabilities would enable automakers to use batteries that are half the size, while offering the same power. However, such advancements face several technical challenges and are still far from the prototype stage.
  • Nickel-zinc batteries are cost-effective, safe, non-toxic, eco-friendly batteries that could compete with Li-ion batteries for energy storage. However, the main barrier for commercialization has been the low cycle life of nickel-zinc batteries.
    • Chinese researchers from the Dalian University of Technology have developed a breakthrough technique to improve the performance of Ni-Zn batteries by solving the issue of Zn electrode dissolution, dendrite formation, and performance.
  • Sodium-Metal – Stanford researchers released a paper claiming that their sodium batteries could compete with lithium-ion batteries. The Stanford battery uses sodium, a cheaper, more abundant material than lithium, and is still in the development stage.
    • The cathode of this battery is made up of sodium, and the anode is made from phosphorus, with the addition of a compound derived from rice bran or corn. According to researchers, this chemical combination yields efficiency rates comparable to that of lithium-ion batteries at a lower cost. The main advantage of the sodium battery lies in the fact that sodium is much more abundant than lithium, and it costs $150 per ton versus $15,000 for lithium.
  • Aluminum-ion and Lithium-ion batteries are very similar, except that the former has an aluminum anode. Aluminum-ion batteries provide increased safety and faster charging time at a lower cost than lithium-ion batteries; however, there are still issues with cyclability and life span. Stanford University is a leading developer of aluminum-ion batteries that incorporate a graphite cathode. The research holds the potential for making cheap, ultra-fast charging, and flexible batteries, with thousands of charge cycles, in addition to being a safe, non-flammable option with a high charge storage capacity.
    • Aluminum-air flow batteries for EVs outperform the existing lithium-ion batteries in terms of higher energy density, lower cost, longer cycle life, and higher safety. Aluminum-air flow batteries are primary cells, which means that they cannot be recharged via conventional means. In EVs, they produce electricity by replacing the aluminum plate and electrolyte. Considering the actual energy density of gasoline and aluminum of the same weight, aluminum is superior.

Download the free sample of EVI2 – EV Innovation Intelligence – 1000+ EV innovations for senior management, investors, and innovators.


This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

Posts in the series

Tesla’s Valuation | EV’s in different countries | Purpose built EVs | Mainstream Fuel Cells | IT in Emobility EVs versus ICEs Advent of China in Emobility | Charging vs Swapping | Micromobility & EVs | Electric Aviation Li-ion alternatives | Million Mile Battery Battery Startups versus Giants Sales & Financing Models | Ultrafast Charging a Norm | Heavy Electric Vehicles | Material Sciences in Emobility | Lithium Scarcity | Solar Power in EV Ecosystem | EV Manufacturing Paradigm | Innovations in Motors EV Startups – a speciality Oil Companies’ Strategies EV Adoption Paths Covid-19 affect on the EV Industry |