The Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year went to John Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino for their work on the development of lithium-ion batteries. This is the only representative of the winds of change that have been flowing in the automotive sector for the past few years. With the emissions from internal combustion engines becoming an increasing concern for governments across the world, a number of efforts have been directed towards the production of clean energy and its utilisation.
The development of Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs), Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) and Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) is a major step in this direction. Amongst these three, the BEVs are the all-electric ones, those that are the cleanest and with zero direct emissions. Most electric vehicles use a concept known as Regenerative Braking, where lifting your foot off the accelerator pedal causes the electric motor to create resistance and braking, sending electric power to the battery, thereby improving efficiency and allowing the driver to drive the car without using the brakes for most of the journey.
Traditionally, the problem with all-electric vehicles has been the size of their batteries, high costs of implementation and the limited range that they used to offer. However, with the recent developments in battery tech and the incentives being offered for the use of BEVs, these limitations no longer seem to hold.
Even the low-end BEVs, such as the Nissan Leaf and Hyundai Ioniq tend to offer a range of about 300km these days on a single charge. And while the range can often cut down to half, over time and given the driving conditions (especially in cold weather), it’s still enough for those wanting to go about their daily commute in a BEV. The high-end ones such as the Tesla Model S, on the other hand, claim to offer a range of over 600km. Now isn’t that impressive?
Even though the battery engines are heavier than their internal combustion counterparts, use of lighter materials, both for the body and the battery (such as the lithium-ion ones referred to above) have allowed cars to match and even outdo the performances of the conventional internal combustion fast cars, the Pininfarina Battista and the Tesla Roadster being case and point. There’s also work being done currently on the development of body parts of the car that could double up as batteries.
As for the time needed for charging, it all depends on the kind of chargers being used. There are 3 levels of charging; Level 1 or Trickle Charging that refers to the standard wall outlet (120V) and cable to plug in your car, just as you charge other electronic devices in your home. These can allow you to charge your car to a range of about 50km overnight. The Level 2 or Home Charging includes the use of a heavier 240V circuit that allows you to charge your car to its entire potential range overnight.
Then, there are the DC Fast Chargers (Level 3), ranging from about 70kW to 150kW, mostly used by cars such as the Tesla models that can charge the car to about 80% of its total potential in under an hour. Given the number of charging stations being installed all over and the automakers slowly switching their production preferences to EVs, all-electric cars are expected to dominate the roads very soon in the future.