At this point in time, the world witnesses discussions on transport emissions at a scale that it has never seen before. Electric vehicles (EV), albeit a tiny percentage on the roads, is showing stupendous growth this decade with a 45% increase in 2017 and inching towards making up 1% of all the vehicles on the road to run on battery.
The two biggest caveats to EV adoption though are the significantly long charging times and the exorbitant sticker showroom pricing. At the Future of Transportation World Conference in Germany this week, ZapGo a U.K. company highlighted its solution that addresses both the issues by realizing a more affordable and fast-charging battery technology.
“The idea is to use an advanced form of carbon to replace the lithium in the battery. The advantage is that we can hit it with a lot of current and it won’t catch fire,” said Stephen Voller, CEO & founder of ZapGo. “It means that we can charge things very quickly. They aren’t supercapacitors, but they can hold on to the engine.”
Voller described the underlying reasons for battery run EV adoption being weak compared to a conventional internal combustion engine vehicle. While an ICE vehicle takes about five minutes to fuel up and run for about 400-500 miles, the electric vehicle would take hours at a stretch to recharge and yet cannot possibly match the range of an ICE on a single charge, making this its single largest pitfall.
Supercapacitors, a fairly recent entrant into the battery space can solve one part of the problem – charging to full capacity within seconds. But then again, the range for a supercapacitor is very low, with it only running between 20-50 miles on a single recharge.
Voller explained that their solution – the carbon ion (C-ion) battery – brought in the best of both worlds, by taking five minutes to recharge and run anywhere between 100-500 miles on a single recharge. He was hopeful that the higher end of the range bandwidth would be achieved by the C-ion battery in its Gen 5 or Gen 6 product stage.
Voller was convinced that the megatrends which can be seen in the OEM industry now would revolutionize the way transportation is looked at in the future. “The kids that are born today will probably never learn to drive, and will only be driven in a car that is a zero-emission vehicle. They would never know some of the experience that we have had to do in life,” he said. “And that will be just in 20 years time. Remember, it is only ten years ago that Apple introduced the smartphone.”
The futuristic electric cars like the BMW i3 come with a carbon fiber chassis, making it lightweight and spacious enough to double the energy stored in it. Voller explained that it was not just about the technology, but also about the price specifications. “Today if you go to a showroom and look at the sticker price of Volkswagen Golf diesel or gasoline and at the price of a Volkswagen Golf electric – they look the same but the electric costs 2-3 times more,” he said. “This has to do with the batteries and the way they are made.”
The Tesla Model S for instance, takes over 7000 Li batteries that are individually connected to make a battery pack. These batteries need to be isolated and fused for safety reasons, and provided with a cooling system and a crash structure around them. “So even if the batteries themselves were free, the cost of building this is so high that it still might make the vehicles too expensive,” said Voller. The idea is to make the sticker price of an EV to be comparable to that of an ICE vehicle, and achieving that would require a drastic reduction in the cost of the battery pack.
“The big elephant in the room is not the Li chemistry, but the packaging,” said Voller. “What the driver experiences today with the internal combustion engine is the perfect battery [solution]. You can charge [fuel] it in five minutes and can drive 500,000 km in that vehicle. But today, the experience with the battery electric vehicle is completely different.”
ZapGo’s C-ion batteries can now go up to 100,000 charge-discharge cycles today, but the company is working on making the charge-discharge cycles to last for a million cycles. This would essentially mean that the batteries would far outlive the life of the vehicle, while being safe all along the way during its service life and even during disposal – unlike Li-ion batteries which typically are high-maintenance and plagued with disposal issues.
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