EV Basics II – An Electric Vehicle Primer

Important Acronyms:

BEV – Battery electric vehicle, a vehicle which uses only batteries and one or more motors to provide the force that makes it go.

EV – Electric vehicle, any vehicle that uses electric power to provide some or all of its propulsive force.

FCEV – Fuel cell electric vehicle, an electric vehicle which uses a hydrogen fuel cell as its source of electric power.

HEV – Hybrid electric vehicle, a car or truck that uses both an ICE and an electric motor.

ICE – Internal combustion engine, the powerplant of choice for the dirty, inefficient vehicles of the 20th Century.

PHEV – Plug-in hybrid vehicle, a hybrid vehicle with a battery pack that can be charged from a wall socket.

Have you just developed an interest in electric vehicles? Are you looking to learn some EV fundamentals? You’ve come to the right place! Read on, and you will start your education on the wonders of EVs. In this article, I will introduce readers to some of the various different types of EVs and explaing some of the advantages and issues associated with each type. Note that this article is only an introduction. I will go into more depth on different aspects of the subject matter in future installments of the “EV Basics” series.

There are several different power trains available which use electric motors. The simplest of these vehicles is the battery electric vehicle or BEV. This is a pure electric vehicle which uses only a battery pack and an electric motor to store energy and create the power necessary to make the car or truck move. BEVs have been around for a long time. In 1835, Thomas Davenport built a railway operated by a small electric motor. In the early years of the 20th Century, BEVs competed quite successfully with ICE-powered vehicles. It was not until Henry Ford started building the Model T that gasoline-powered cars that BEVs faded from public view.

In the 1960s, BEVs began to make a comeback. Interest in electric vehicles has grown steadily since then as concerns about pollution and dependence on foreign oil have permeated mainstream consciousness. Currently, BEVs are being designed and built in a wide variety of styles and layouts, from electric scooters, to low-speed electric cars such as those produced by Zenn Motor Company, to high-power freeway burners such as the two-seat Tesla Roadster or the family-friendly, five-passenger eBox by AC Propulsion.

BEVs must face a few hurdles if they are to replace ICE-only cars as our primary method of transportation. Historically, they have had limited driving range, significantly less than the range of a gasoline-powered car. Additionally, BEV have generally taken several hours to recharge the battery pack. In a world in which people have gotten used to instant gratification, this poses a real problem. The good news is that many people are working on these issues, and dramatic improvements are being made in both range and recharging time. Current EV designs have achieved ranges of more than 300 miles and charging times have been brought down to two hours or less in some models charged with high-powered “smart” chargers.

In the 1990s, Honda and Toyota introduced the American driving public to the hybrid electric vehicle or HEV. These vehicles use both an ICE and an electric motor. There are different types of HEVs which layout the engine and the motor in either a parallel or a series configuration. In a series configuration, the ICE acts only as an electrical generator. In a parallel configuration the ICE again acts as a generator, but it also drives the vehicle’s wheels just as the engine would do in an ICE-only vehicle.

HEVs provide significant benefits over ICE-only cars in two distinct areas. Firstly, the electric motor allows engineers to operate the ICE more efficiently because an HEV can rely heavily on the electric motor at points in which the ICE would be operating very inefficiently. Secondly, the battery pack in an HEV can be used to recapture the energy used while braking. To accomplish this, engineers create regenerative braking systems which used the electrical resistance of a generator to slow the car down long before they mechanical brakes come into play. The energy from the generator is then stored in the battery pack for future use. In a car without regenerative braking, all this energy is wasted by creating heat and wearing down the brake pads.

HEVs also have some problems. Unlike BEVs, they require some gasoline or other liquid fuel to operate. Also, they are more complicated then either a BEV or an ICE-only vehicle because they require both types of drivetrain components under one hood. However, they eliminate the range and recharging issues associated with BEVs, so HEVs can be viewed as a good transition step to the vehicles of the future.

Recently, much attention has been paid to plug-in hybrids or PHEVs. In essence, a PHEV is an HEV with a larger battery pack, a plug which allows the battery pack to be charged from a wall socket, and a control system which allows the vehicle to be operated in electric-only mode. The wall-charging feature allows a PHEV to get some of its power from the utility grid (or from a local power source such as a photovoltaic array or wind turbine) and some of its power from gasoline. Recently, several companies and individuals have been working on creating plug-in versions of the Toyota Prius. These conversions allow the Prius to run in all-electric mode until it reaches roughly 35mph. They give varying traveling ranges in all-electric mode, depending on which type of batteries are used and how many extra batteries are installed.

While these plug-in Priuses are a good start, PHEVs as a genre have even more potential. General Motors recently introduced the Chevrolet Volt E-Flex concept car, a PHEV which can travel up to 40 miles in electric only mode. It has a large electric motor and a one liter, three cylinder ICE. PHEVs of the future could follow this trend even further, maximizing the electric elements of the drivetrain while reducing the ICE to a tiny power plant which gets used only as a last resort.

In the last few years, fuel cell electric vehicles or FCEVs have grabbed many headlines. These are electric vehicles which use a hydrogen fuel cell to provide power, eliminating the need for a battery pack. Proponents point out that hydrogen is the most abundant of the chemical elements and that the only gas emitted from an FCEV is steam made from pure water. Detractors point out that nearly all hydrogen currently available is made from natural gas, a petroleum product. Hydrogen is also difficult to store in quantities sufficient to give FCEVs adequate range and it can present safety hazards when pressurized in tanks. Finally, FCEVs currently require complex, bulky support systems which take up excessive space and result in power delivery systems which are far less efficient than those present in BEVs.

Fuel cells have some potential to become part of the overall energy scenario in the future. However, many feel that FCEVs have been used primarily as a distraction and a stalling device. Companies and politicians keep telling us, “We’ll have FCEVs in the near future, but until then keep driving your Hummers!” These tactics keep people from demanding BEVs as soon as possible. As one saying puts it, “Practical, viable fuel cells are ten to twenty years away, and they always will be.”

One other type of electric vehicle is the human-assist hybrid. The most common example of this vehicle type is the electric bicycle. These are commonly-available, inexpensive, and they give people the health benefits associated with exercise while providing an additional boost when needed. Legally, they must be limited to 20 mph in electric assist mode, and the electric-only range of electric bikes now available is almost always less than twenty miles.

However, readers should ponder the fact that a small, aerodynamic vehicle can cruise at 65 mph on a flat road while using only five horsepower. Imagine the roads covered with small, efficient vehicles that use tiny electric motors and human power to achieve freeway speeds without putting a significant burden on the utility grid. While no major corporations are working on vehicles like this, small groups of dedicated individuals are working to make this type of vehicle available to the general public. These low-power vehicles could become the ultimate transportation solution for an energy-conscious society.

So there you have it! You now have enough information to join EV-related conversations at your next social gathering. You can talk about the different types of EVs, letting people know what is available now and what is coming in the near future. If you are still curious for more details on the benefits of electric vehicles and the advances which are being made in the field, please see the other articles in this “EV Basics” series.

The Pros And Cons Of Electric Vehicles

We have all at some time seen (and probably travelled in) trains, trams, buses and boats that are powered by electricity. What is perhaps less well known is that the first battery powered vehicles were on the market in the early 1900’s. These electrified carriages had a top speed of around 14 miles per hour and a range of about 18 miles. These automobiles remained popular until the development of the internal combustion engine, which made possible vehicles of greater power, speed and range.

The issue of global warming due to pollution has become a hot issue. Oil prices have been escalating like never before. These factors, together with the realization that the earth’s reserves of oil will run out within the next few decades, have led to renewed interest and research into electric vehicles. These vehicles have several major advantages over gasoline powered vehicles.

The motors that power these vehicles emit no noxious exhaust gases. This is good news for the environment which currently absorbs millions of tons of exhaust fumes daily. These carbon dioxide emissions are seen as contributing significantly to global warming, while other exhaust gases increasingly pollute our air.

Electricity is cheaper than gasoline, so battery powered cars are cheaper to run. They will become more economically viable as the price of crude oil continues to escalate. It has been estimated that the energy required to run an electric car is approximately one fifth that required to run a gasoline powered car. This gap will widen as the oil price continues to rise.

Battery powered cars require less maintenance. They do not need regular oil changes and are not subject to the same wear and tear as internal combustion engines. In addition they have far fewer moving parts that need to be maintained.

The major disadvantage at this stage is the limited range made possible by current battery technology. Battery powered cars typically have a range of around one or two hundred miles before needing to be recharged, and a typical charge takes several hours. As with any rechargeable battery, the car’s batteries have a finite number of charge/discharge cycles and in time will need replacement.

Electric cars are still very expensive, due mainly to the high cost of batteries. Surveys have revealed that US and English consumers are not willing to pay more for an electric car with limited range, and this inhibits the mass transition from gasoline to battery powered cars. However, as battery technology improves we can expect to see more battery powered vehicles on the road. Mass production will result in lower prices.

Both gasoline and electric cars have advantages and disadvantages. It is, however, becoming very clear that our current rate of oil consumption is not sustainable (in terms of cost, availability and pollution) and that sooner rather than later we will have to find a viable alternative. Right now, electrically powered vehicles offer the only alternative.

The History of Battery Electric Vehicles

Battery Electric Vehicles or BEVs, predated the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles. It was between 1832-1839 that Robert Anderson, a Scottish businessman, invented the first electric carriage and Professor Sibrandus Stratingh from the Netherlands designed the first small-scale electric car which was built by his assistant Christopher Becker in 1835.

The storage battery improved, firstly by Gaston Planté, a French physicist who invented the lead acid cell in 1859 and the first rechargeable battery. Then, in 1881, Camille Faure developed a more efficient and reliable battery which became so successful in the early electric cars. This discovery caused battery electric vehicles to flourish, with France and Great Britain being the first nations to support widespread development of electric vehicles.

Prior to 1900, battery electric vehicles held many speed and distance records, the most notable of which, was the breaking of the 100 km/h (60 mph) speed barrier. It was by Camille Jenatzy on April 29, 1899 in a rocket-shaped vehicle named Jamais Contente (Never Happy) which reached a top speed of 105.88 km/h (65.79 mph).

During the early 20th Century, battery electric vehicles outsold gasoline powered vehicles and were successfully sold as town cars to upper-class customers. Because of technological limitations, these cars were limited to a top speed of about 32 km/h (20 mph). The cars were marketed as “suitable vehicles for women drivers”. Electric vehicles did not need hand-cranking to start.

One of the downfalls of the battery electric vehicle was the introduction of the electric starter in 1913. It simplified the task of starting an internal combustion engine which was previously difficult and dangerous to start with the crank handle. Another was the mass-produced and relatively cheap Ford Model-T. Finally, the loss of Edisons direct current electric power transmission system. He was battling with George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla over their desire to introduce alternating current as the principal electricity distribution. Edison’s direct current was the load for electric motors.

Battery electric vehicles were limited to niche applications. Forklift trucks were battery electric vehicles when introduced in 1923. BEV golf carts which were used as neighborhood electric vehicles and were partially “street legal”. By the late 1930s, the electric automobile industry had disappeared until the invention of the point contact transistor in 1947 which started a new era of electric vehicle.

In 1959 the Henney Kilowatt was introduced and was the world’s first modern transistor-regulated electric car and the predecessor to the more recent battery electric vehicles such as General Motors EV1. Only 47 Henney Kilowatts were produced, 24 being sold as 1959 models and 8 as 1960 models. It is not clear what happened to the other 15 built but it could be possible that they were sold as 1961 or 1962 models. None of the 8 1960 models were sold to the public because of the high manufacturing costs, but were sold to the electric cooperatives who funded the project.

It is estimated that there are between four and eight Henney Kilowatt battery electric vehicles still in existence with at least two of the survivors still driven periodically.

Battery electric vehicles have had issues with high battery costs, with limited travel distances, with charging time and the lifespan of the battery, although advancements in battery technology has addressed many of those problems.

At the present time, controversy reigns over battery electric vehicles. Campaigners, (et al) for BEV’s are accusing three major US automobile manufacturers of deliberately sabotaging BEV efforts through several methods, for instance, failing to market, failing to produce appropriate vehicles, by failing to satisfy demand and using lease-only programs with prohibitions against end of lease purchase.

In their defense, the three major manufacturers they have responded that they only make what the public want and the current trend is that the public doesn’t want battery electric vehicles.

Although we have the technology to manufacture and provide BEVs, one of the biggest downfalls for the prolific production of BEVs is the extortionate cost of replacement batteries. In some cases the cost of replacement batteries can be more than the price of the whole vehicle, especially when buying used battery electric vehicles.

Batteries – The Heart of the Electric Vehicle Conversion

The batteries are truly the heart of the EV conversion! Getting the right batteries for your ev conversion is essential and will ensure that you have many years of service from your converted vehicle. Deep cycle lead acid batteries, which can be further divided into flooded and sealed batteries, are used the most in electric vehicle conversions for the following reasons:

1. Deep cycle lead acid batteries are able to withstand repeated heavy discharging up to 30% of their capacity. They are able to withstand discharging to deeper levels for short periods of time, although this will affect their lifespan adversely.

2. Flooded Deep Cycle lead acid batteries are comparatively cheap, compared with other types of batteries and will last for quite a long time if you take care of them and do not discharge them beyond 30% of capacity and recharge them well when they are discharged.

3. Sealed Deep Cycle lead acid batteries are lighter than flooded batteries, which is beneficial when doing conversions with small vehicles and possibly some higher performance vehicles. They also do not need to only be placed upright and can therefore be placed into positions which are not possible with flooded lead acid batteries.

When considering which batteries to purchase for your electric vehicle conversion other factors which you should consider are:

1. The Life Cycle Cost
This is the initial cost of the batteries over the lifespan of the batteries, and can be a significant factor in determining which battery to use

2. Initial Cost Range
This is the initial cost of the batteries over the anticipated range, which can be used in conjunction with the life cycle cost in deciding which battery to use.

3. The Energy Density
This is amount of energy contained in a specific amount of the fuel source, that is the battery. Measured in watt-hours per pound, or watt-hours per kilogram it is a good way of determining which battery will best suit your conversion.

4. The amount of maintenance required.
Servicing an electric vehicle is not nearly as demanding as servicing a regular gas vehicle, however it is necessary to pay careful attention to the batteries in your electric vehicle as properly maintained batteries will last longer and therefore be cheaper per mile travelled.

As the batteries represent a considerable cost factor in your ev conversion you should carefully consider all these facts before choosing the batteries for your electric vehicle. And when you have made the decision and bought your battery set for your electric vehicle, be sure to take good care of them and then you will enjoy many miles of carefree and low cost traveling with your new electric vehicle. Enjoy the EV Grin!