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Electric Vehicles- Where Are We Now?

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For a long time, the transportation sector has been taking blames for greenhouse gas emissions. Recently, the world is fastening its pace to achieve a zero-emission reality. Policymakers are pushing the transformation of the automotive industry with increasingly stringent regulations. California has just announced its plan to phase out internal combustion engines (ICE) by 2035. Whereas the “Green New Deal” proposed by Los Angeles (LA) has the same goal but on a smaller scale. Likewise, the United Kingdom is expected to accelerate the ban on new fossil fuel vehicles from 2040 to 2030. Similar bans will be rolling out in other European cities such as Amsterdam and France. Finally, the electric vehicles are no longer on the sidelines now.

Electric Vehicles – The Umbrella Term

Electric vehicles are either partially or fully powered by electricity instead of ICE. This includes, but not limited to, cars, vans, transit buses, trucks, trailers, and so forth. Other than electric cars, we will start seeing more variety of electric vehicles on the road. In Jan 2020, LA Sanitation became the first municipality to electrify its entire garbage truck fleet by 2035. A month later, LA Fire Department announced that they will be getting their first electric hybrid fire engine by 2021.

Electric charging lane in the UK.

Not all the electric vehicles work in the same way

There are different types of electric vehicles. And for some of us, this is rather confusing.

All-Electric Vehicles (EVs)

EVs run fully on electricity. They do not have ICEs. Neither do they have typical components of gasoline cars such as fuel pump, fuel line, or fuel tank. They rely on traction battery packs to power their electric motor. Hence, charging stations or wall outlets are necessary for EVs.

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs)

As the name suggests, HEVs are a combination of an ICE and an electric motor. Drivers can choose to run on EV mode or switch to fuel engines. They can also select both modes for acceleration. When the batteries run out, ICE or regenerative braking will be the charging options. The plug-in charging mode is not applicable for HEVs. The electric motor can thus provide more power, resulting in a potentially smaller engine. Besides powering auxiliary loads, the battery has the advantage of minimizing engine idling when the vehicle is stationary. Subsequently, this can avoid trade-offs between fuel economy and performance.

Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)

PHEVs are similar to HEVs. But PHEVs use IEC as a backup plan when the electric motor runs out of battery. Another difference is that PHEVs can be charged using a wall outlet or charging station.

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEVs)

FCEVs run on electric motors, just like other electric vehicles. The only difference is that they produce energy using a fuel cell instead of a battery. This happens when the hydrogen reacts with oxygen in a process called reverse electrolysis. Electricity, heat, and water are the only end products.  The fuel cell can be refuelled at a hydrogen filling station as fast as ordinary gasoline vehicles.

Technology Evolution

Electric vehicle technology is constantly evolving, particularly batteries. Mercedes-Benz had recently excited the world with its new electric bus using solid-state batteries. Mercedes-Benz claimed these batteries to have 25% more energy density than current lithium-ion batteries. With that, the vehicle will be at least 25% lighter, making it more fuel economic.  Furthermore, solid-state batteries do not have cooling issues compared to their lithium-ion counterparts. Another key point is that solid-state batteries are cobalt-free. Besides the high cost, cobalt mining has been controversial due to its environmental impacts and human rights violations. Other EV industry leaders are also working on this cobalt-free technology. For example, Tesla had unveiled its manufacturing plan of cobalt-free batteries on Tesla’s Battery Day.

Mercedes-Benz eCitaro G electric bus with solid-state batteries.

Waves of the future

The tech race will continue, and there will be over 500 EV models globally two years down the road. Today, the sales of passenger electric vehicles are 1.7 million. BloombergNEF expects it to hit 54 million by 2040. Are these electric vehicles really the future of greener transportation? Yes and no. Electric vehicles produce zero direct emission, but how about the power generating process? And the manufacturing process of electric vehicles and their components as well? The electrification of the current automotive industry might be unavoidable, but are we ready to make this major switch? Perhaps technology will tell us that.

 

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Content Sources:

  1. California to ban new gas, diesel vehicle sales by 2035
  2. U.S. Department of Energy
  3. Mercedes-Benz offering world-first-solid-state batteries-in city bus
  4. Electric Vehicle Outlook 2020

 

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