Motor Vehicle Superpowers: Transforming Humans.

Continue reading “Motor Vehicle Superpowers: Transforming Humans.”

EV Batteries Reference: Benefits & Technologies.

F150 Lightning – 2022 Price competitive pickup?

Batteries for EVs have progressed being expensive and while delivering impractical range, to less expensive and with just acceptable range, but only now showing signs they can soon enable price completive EVs with range that inspires confidence.

Introduction.

What do I mean ‘Battery’?

I use the term battery to mean something acts as storage of electrical energy, and although I rarely state ‘rechargeable battery’ I when I use the term ‘battery’, it can be taken to mean ‘rechargeable battery’.

The term ‘battery’ has evolved over time, and my interpretation is that mobile phones and electric vehicles have made rechargeable batteries so common that we no longer need bother saying ‘rechargeable’ depending on the context.

The original electric batteries were called ‘batteries’ because they had a ‘number of similar articles’ where each article was an electrical cell. But now we even have single cell batteries, which given that ‘battery’ originally meant ‘a number of similar articles‘, is a little contradictory. Meanings change, and the meaning of ‘battery’ is still evolving. The word ‘battery’ still can be used for a ‘battery of guns’ or a ‘battery of tests’ or batteries of other things, but without the ‘of something’ we now take ‘battery’ to mean storage of electricity.

Some people feel it is only a battery if the energy is stored internally as one or more chemical ‘cells’, but I would argue that it does not matter how the electrical energy is stored, to most people it is battery because of the function, not how it achieves that function. So in general use, anything that holds energy for later use as electricity, can be considered a battery. So even a capacitor can be considered a battery.

Single Use vs Rechargeable Batteries: For Vehicles, ‘battery’ means ‘rechargeable’.

Depending on context, the term ‘battery’ can be assumed to means ‘single use battery’ or ‘rechargeable battery’. If someone says “do you have AA batteries”, single use batteries are usually assumed unless it is specifically stated that the batteries are ‘rechargeable’. However, with mobile phones, automobiles and battery electric vehicles, battery is assumed to be ‘rechargeable’. We never say ‘rechargeable car battery’, or ‘rechargeable mobile phone battery’ because these batteries are always assumed to be ‘rechargeable’ batteries.

On this page, and all pages related to EVs, ‘battery’ is taken to mean ‘rechargeable battery’ unless specifically stated otherwise. In many ways, single use batteries have more in common with gasoline as as source of energy than with rechargeable batteries. With both gasoline and single use batteries, energy supplies are replenished by adding a new supply of the original chemicals. With (rechargeable) batteries, the battery is restored to the original state by putting energy back into the battery, and no new ingredients are required. The battery itself is ‘renewable’ rather than replaceable.

Batteries and the Price of Electric Vehicles.

There was a time when computers less powerful than what is today a low priced home computer filled rooms, cost millions of dollars and were something normal people imagined having at home. There was a time in the 1980s and early 1990s when mobile phones could cost $4,000 or $5,000 and normal people did not imagine ever owning one.

The bad news is electric vehicles are not about to go through that type of price crash. Just the batteries, which in a 2021 EV is around 50% of the price.

The power for all current engines always comes from chemical energy.

All current vehicles are powered by chemical reactions. Internal combustion engines are powered by the heat from a chemical reaction between gasoline/petrol or diesel or hydrogen with oxygen, and electric vehicles are powered by electricity generated by a reaction between the chemicals inside the battery, or for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity.

Rechargeable Gasoline, Refuellable Lithium: Both Technically Possible.

In a gasoline engine, the main chemical reaction is:

gasoline + oxygen -> CO2 + Water + energy(heat)

While there are some ‘burnt impurities’, and the heat is so intense that some nitrogen is also burnt, the components listed above are those that are needed for the engine to work.

In theory, if the tailpipe emissions of CO2 and water were retained, then instead of refuelling it would possible to run add heat back into the ingredients, and thus run the equation in reverse:

CO2 + Water + energy -> gasoline + oxygen

This would result in a sustainable internal combustion engine vehicle. Of course, there are some problems. This is not an easy reaction to run in reverse, and as internal combustion engines are so inefficient there is a lot of energy needed to reverse that reaction. But if we could add a ‘recharger’ that took the emissions from an internal combustion engine, and a source of heat from a recharging station, we would mimic many of the important qualities of an electric vehicle. Also, instead of needing the exact right fuel, the heat could be generated however we want, as heat is always heat.

Similarly, a lithium iron battery also runs a chemical reaction, only this is two half reactions at each side of the battery:

1)  LiCoO2 -> CoO2 + Li+ + e-(electrical energy)
2)  Li+ + 6C + e- -> LiC6

Where the Li+ electrolyte is in a solvent that can flow between cathode and anode. You will often see these formulas with a bi-directional arrow, because taking the electrical energy out makes the reaction go one way (discharge), but adding the electricity back makes the reaction goes the other way (recharge). At ‘recharge time’, instead of putting electrical energy back, it is technically possible to simply take out the CoO2 (Cobalt dioxide) and LiC6 (lithium graphite) as exhaust, refresh the electrolyte, and put in new LiCo2 (lithium cobalt dioxide) and C (graphite), replacing the chemicals as we are doing when refuelling a gasoline car. By replacing the chemicals, the car would be ready to go again without the time delay of recharging.

The problem with this is that for every battery chemistry, there are different chemicals, which would mean there would need to be range of ‘fuels’ even more diverse than the different octane ratings we have for gasoline/petrol. Plus, not everything is in the convenient liquid form.

In the end, there are good reasons why no one is going to actually recharge a gasoline fuelled vehicle with heat, and nor is anyone going to refill the chemicals for a battery vehicle, but contemplating what would be needed highlights the differences between the nature of the systems.

The approach with gasoline is to continually run chemical reactions with chemicals that are preloaded with energy (gasoline and oxygen), runs the reaction once and then discard results of the reaction as exhaust. The entire system was conceived at a time when the very concept of ‘renewable’ appeared unnecessary. The inputs are the specific chemicals required by the reaction.

The battery approach keeps the outputs of the reaction, and allows resetting everything back to the original conditions through the use of energy that itself can be renewable. For the life of the battery, the only input is energy.

The Benefits of Batteries.

Electric vs Chemical Input: Ultimate Flexibility.

Chemical (e.g. gasoline) Refuelling is inherently inflexible.

An combustion engine without a ‘recharging system’ which can return the ingredients to their original state, requires an exact ingredients the engine is designed around. Fortunately, of the two ingredients of a gasoline engine, the oxygen is readily available from the air. However gasoline (or diesel), must be mined and then refined to quite precise formulation required by the engine. Without gasoline, which is only available by way of one specific supply system, the engine cannot be used.

A battery vehicle can use any source for the energy. Not only is the mains electrical system that is normally used as the source of energy available at almost every dwelling in the developed world, it is also possible to provide energy from solar or wind. Even in the most remote location, it is possible to generate electricity from natural sources without any need to locate specific chemicals. With enough time people could even hand crank a small amount of electricity. This allows for vehicles such as the Aptera, or the Lightyear One, that can travel normal commuter distances each day on a days solar energy alone.

Since batteries are recharged by energy, rather than the chemicals inside the battery that react to produce the energy when it is needed, how the battery stores energy can change, with no impact on refuelling. The reactions above are for ‘conventional’ lithium-cobalt-graphite batteries that have been used in most mobile phones and electric vehicles so far, but already different battery chemistries are being introduced, with phosphorous having already replaced cobalt in BYD batteries, and also being introduced by Panasonic.

Supply Security and Sovereignty.

Moving from requiring one specific chemical formulation for fuel, to requiring electrical energy, is moving to almost total fexibilty.

While a specific chemical formulation can only be satisfied by obtaining that exact fuel, any form of energy can be converted into electrical energy.

You can source electrical energy from solar, or wind, or tidal forces, from hydro or from waves, as well as from any fossil fuel. Any of these sources and more can be used to produce electricity. If you have energy, you can produce electricity, while the gasoline or diesel required by an internal combustion engine can only be produced by an oil refinery, which in turn requires a specific resource which is far from universal and requires complex equipment to extract when it is found.

If society is without electricity, the ability to power vehicles is not the most immediate problem, and of this reason, solutions to problems in electricity supply are numerous and well tested. Any supply problems are will almost always be local, and with an EV, the vehicle may even be able to out and get more power and bring it home. With electricity, there is no need to be at the mercy of foreign states able to impact supply.

Upcoming Products.

Under battery technologies below, there are several new products and their proposed timelines. However, this is not car companies announcing products. Those will appear here:

Tesla 4680 Battery.

Battery Theory.

Terminology: Cathode, Anode, Electrode etc..

A note on terminology as it can be confusing, particularly the terms ‘cathode’ and ‘anode’ when discussing rechargeable batteries. The cathode is the terminal from which current flows, and the anode is where the current arrives. Since currents flow in the opposite direction during use of battery power or ‘discharge’ than current flows during ‘recharge’, each physical part of a rechargeable battery swaps roles. So the cathode during use, becomes the anode during recharge. This causes much confusion, and I have seen several videos and sites that get confused by this and think one side of the battery is the ‘cathode’ and the other is the ‘anode’ at all times, not realising this changes. Also note to make things even more confusing, electrons flow in the opposite direction to current. For these reasons, I will stick to a simpler ‘positive electrode’ and ‘negative electrode’ in any explanations.

Charge Time.

Chemical batteries are limited in the speed they can absorb charge, but recharge points are also limited in the speed they can supply charge. Fuel tanks for gasoline and diesel vehicles can absorb fuel ‘instantly’, but it still takes some time to refuel. This is because pumps only pump fuel at a finite speed. The flow.

For comparison consider diesel vehicles. There are special ‘high flow’ pumps for large trucks that can deliver fuel so fast that the fuel will go everywhere instead on just into the tank if these ‘high flow’ pumps are used with vehicles not specially designed. The tank can take fuel ‘instantly’, but the hose from the fuel filler to the tank can only manage a certain speed. Trucks can use a really big hose to handle a higher speed, but that is also limited by the maxium rate the fuel pump hose can handle. So there are three contraints:

  1. Gas/diesel pump speed.
  2. Hose from fuel filler point on car/truck to tank.
  3. Tank maximum fill speed (no problem with gasoline or diesel tanks)

With electrical vehicles, chemical batteries normally do have an effective limit on how fast ‘the tank can be filled’, but the other two limitations also apply:

  1. Charging Station maximum power rating.
  2. Car/truck connector and cabling to battery maximum power rating.
  3. Battery maximum ‘fill’ (recharge) speed.

This means that even with future battery technologies that do not limit battery recharge speed, refilling will still not be instant, just as refilling a large truck today is not instant. Currently the fastest chargers have a maximum power rating 350kw, so a 100kw/hr battery would need 100/350 hours or 17 minutes to recharge. The Hyundai Ioniq 5, one of the fastest charging vehicles of 2021, can recharge 75% of an 53kw/hr battery in 18 minutues, so just under half the maximum possible.

Battery charging could in future rival times for filling liquid fuelled vehicles, but they still wont be instant and it doesn’t just depend on the vehicle.

Battery Life.

Batteries can be replaced, as shown on this video. While the battery structure with dedicated EVs is often currently integrated into the vehicle, and the replacement is specific to the vehicle, the process is simpler than replacing an engine in an internal combustion engine vehicle, and making 3rd party replacements should be easier.

One one hand, batteries are improving so rapidly including lifespan, that already we are seeing batteries that may outlast the normal life of a motor vehicle, but on the other hand, batteries are improving so rapidly that batteries also become obsolete before they will fail.

And as I said before, with batteries, it looks they’re going to start lasting way longer than the vehicles, which means you can amortize the cost of the battery over three vehicle lifetimes right, so where there were its going to land on batteries right now like no one has any idea. It’s really a strange time to be in this industry. And with the mineral resource issues and mining stories coming out about lithium extraction, your going to see more attention being put to battery technology. I think were going to see some interesting alternatives coming out here pretty quickly. Especially on the solid state side of things, you’re going to see some interesting breakthroughs.

Aptera CTO Nathan Armstrong.

The off the cuff remarks quoted above convey the contradiction that while batteries may now last longer than the car, they may be the first part of the car to be out of date. Fortunately, replacing the batteries can be practical, and as batteries improve, replacing them can result in a vehicle that becomes even better than when new. When batteries are replaced, the materials are valuable and recycling is possible.

Battery Technologies.

(this section still being updated)

The benefit of all batteries being charged by electricity and output electricity, is that how batteries work internally can be changed with no impact on the infrastructure to recharge. This means that what we have now is only a starting point, and there are many potential improvements to charging times, cost, lifespan, safety and environmental impact still to come.

If you had a million dollars to invest in a battery company, right like right now where would you put your money, right, like it’s changing so quickly and every six months there is a new technology it doesn’t quite make it to market but you know it threatens to kind of like you know change the whole industry again, um so battery technology is a really weird one, right, like we have these lithium cells so they’re pretty good um five years from now they’re going to be way better different chemistry 10 years from now something different again so we are trying to be king of battery agonistic.

Aptera CTO Nathan Armstrong.

Li Ion

Despite first being developed back 1970, mass manufacture of lithium ion batteries is relatively recent. The first commercial battery products did not appear until 1991. If you are old enough to recall older mobile phones had first nickel cadmium batteries (invented in 1899), and then nickel metal hydride batteries, with both of these older battery types having a ‘memory effect’.

Cobalt Lithium Ion: Since 1970

Electric vehicles so far have mostly used lithium ion cobalt oxide ion batteries (LiCoO2) as described here and first developed in the 1970s. Lithium is highly reactive which would make significant amounts of pure lithium dangerous, so cobalt is combined with lithium to form LiCoO2 as a container to hold the lithium more safely in a less chemically active form. Cobalt is not rare, but cobalt in the form that is lowest cost to extract is found almost exclusively in the Congo, creating a supply chain risks, and at times as much of 10% of that Cobalt being mined, has been mined using unsafe practices. In batteries with cobalt, the cobalt becomes the main factor in the cost of the battery.

Phosphorous: In passenger EVs since 2020.

Lithium ion phosphate batteries (LiFePO4), are an alternative to using cobalt that reduces battery cost and results in a safer battery.

Historically, despite being less expensive and longer life, lithium ion phosphate batteries (LiFePO4) have had lower energy density than cobalt based batteries, which limited their use to busses and larger vehicles. However, several companies now have solutions to the energy density, which allows a price, safety and lifespan breakthrough from lithium phosphate batteries such as the BYD blade battery.

Graphene: Future (September 2021?).

Although originally observed in electron microscopes in 1962 as occurring on suppotive metal surfaces, graphene isolated and fully analysed for the first time in 2004 by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester. This resulted in a Nobel Prize just 6 years later in 2010. Remember it took 16 years from Albert Einstein’s ‘miracle year’ of discoveries in 1905 to his Nobel prize in 1921, so it is clear this work was quickly recognised as a big deal.

Graphene based batteries hold promises of ‘instant charging’ combined with:

The rapid charging isn’t the only selling point. In the lab, NanoGraf says its graphene batteries show a 50 percent increase in run time compared to conventional lithium-ion ones, a 25 percent drop in carbon footprint, and half of weight needed to provide the same output.

Futurism.com

To date, graphene is the strongest mineral ever discovered, with 40 times the strength of diamond. It is more effective as a conductor of heat and electricity than graphite. … Graphene is capable of transferring electricity 140 times faster than lithium, while being 100 times lighter than aluminium. This means it could increase the power density of a standard Li-ion battery by 45%.

Mining Technology.

GAC, a subsidiary of Chinese state owned GAIC, has announcedThe batteries will be installed in the first vehicle from September[2021]”, which would be the 1 year anniversary of the joint venture project with GAC and .

Solid State Batteries: Future (VW plans for 2024-2025)

Solid state batteries promise far higher energy density than current electrolyte lithium ion batteries, almost instant recharging, lower costs, and can be extremely durable. Some project it will take 10 years for them to take over, but a joint venture between VW group and QuantumScape plans for volume production by 2024-2025, a similar time from to Solid Power. Independent engineering analysis by Cleanerwatt and Matt Ferrel (undecided) do believe these timeframes. CATL, Panasonic/Toyota BYD all have too much at risk and too much engineering not to also be there if solid state does reach market by that time.

QuantumScape is developing what many consider the Holy Grail of electric car batteries: a highly-efficient, long-lasting, long-range, fast-charging electric car battery cell.

The battery startup achieves this by replacing* the liquid electrolyte that regulates the flow of current with a solid electrolyte.

The polymer separator used in conventional lithium-ion batteries is substituted with a solid-state ceramic separator, QuantumScape says. As a result, the less-efficient carbon or carbon-silicon anode is replaced with an anode of pure metallic lithium.

Forbes: Feb 2021.

Aluminium ion and Graphene: Future (Coin cells 2021, Automotive 2024-2025).

Batteries do not have to use lithium as the electron donor metal. Lithium is the lightest metal, and with the smallest size atom, but lithium atoms only have a single outer shell electron per atom, and thus only allow a +1 charge. Aluminium, although a larger and heavier atom, has 3 outer shell electrons, not one, and this gives aluminium the potential for a +3 charge, which it turns out can result in even greater energy density than with lithium. Plus lithium is so reactive, the batteries are normally made from lithium compounds, rather than lithium metal.

There are a variety of projects to deliver aluminium batteries, eg:

Graphenemg: Aluminium/Graphene batteries which can charge 20 to 60 times faster than lithium ion batteries.

GMG plans to bring graphene aluminum-ion coin cells to market late this year or early next year, with automotive pouch cells planned to roll out in early 2024.

Based on breakthrough technology from the University of Queensland’s (UQ) Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, the battery cells use nanotechnology to insert aluminum atoms inside tiny perforations in graphene planes.

The GMG technology drops aluminum atoms into perforations in graphene.
The Graphene Manufacturing Group’s aluminum-ion technology can charge an iPhone in less than 10 … [+] GRAPHENE MANUFACTURING GROUP

Testing by peer-reviewed specialist publication Advanced Functional Materials publication concluded the cells had “outstanding high-rate performance (149 mAh g−1 at 5 A g−1), surpassing all previously reported AIB cathode materials”.

Forbes: 2021 May 15 (worth reading the article)

Supercapacitors and Ultracapacitors. (nothing scheduled to replace batteries).

Capacitors could also be used as the ultimate ‘solid state’ battery, simply storing a charge using electrostatic attraction. Although there is significant work on supercapacitors for use in EVs, and supercapacitors do function in some ways like a battery, the role they are currently ‘auditioning for’ is to augment the ability of a battery a battery to deliver extremely high currents instantly. If instead of feeding motors directly from a battery, the battery feeds a capacitor that in turn feeds power to the motor, then the system can deliver brief periods of peak current beyond what the battery can deliver. This role, not of being the primary battery, is what is being proposed at this time.

Companies involved include SkeletonTech.

Al Air. (Nothing scheduled to replace rechargeable batteries)

In addition to Aluminium ion batteries where aluminium replaces the lithium, there are also aluminium air batteries. However, these batteries are, so far, not rechargeable and thus not a contender in the same way as other batteries technologies discussed here.

Conclusion.

The battery journey is still at an early stage. Right now, the cost of batteries puts EVs at a cost disadvantage to conventional cars, but that disadvantage is evaporating rapidly as shown by the quite competitive F150 lightning recently announced. By 2025, there will be a cost competitive EV for almost all new vehicle market segments.

However, 2025 is not the end of the line. EVs will continue getting less expensive for years to come, just as PCs did for decades.


Articles found after posting.

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EV Charging Systems: Reference

The two charging systems: a Norwegian perspective.

I have been exploring electric cars. What is needed to make them affordable, and what it is like to live with them. When exploring charging, the charging systems became so complex that I have extracted what I found as its own exploration, which I will keep updated as a reference.

Continue reading “EV Charging Systems: Reference”

Electric Cars 2025: ‘adding up’ will create a revolution. Who wins, who loses? China?

BYD rival to Tesla S. 0-100km 3.5s, range >600km
BYD EA1: <$20,000 range of 310m/500km, 18 min recharge, 0-60mph in <5s in 2022

I recently explored how in 2021, the numbers for EVs don’t really add up yet. One of the key discoveries, was that many sensible people are projecting EVs will reach ‘price parity’ by 2024-5. If this happens consider the trend:

  • 2021: Numbers don’t add up
  • 2024-5: Price parity
  • 2026 & beyond: Price Leadership

Looking deeper, there is every reason those predictions look real, and this will completely turn the automobile industry on its head. On this data, while buying an EV does not add up for most people right now, it soon will. And for a huge percentage of people, the EV that finally does ‘add up’ may be built in China, and perhaps even be a Chinese brand.

Automobiles have played a role in how cities and homes are designed, and a significant role in the world economy. Around 50% of the world largest companies supply automobiles or their fuel. Automobiles have been the 1st or 2nd highest valued asset for most people, exceed only by their home, and while homes are not exported and imported, cars are. Less people own homes than own cars. The result is that international trade is heavily shaped by automobiles, and changing this market, will change the balance of world trade. For countries like China, the ability to reshape the world economy even further is a very clear focus, and for Germany, Japan and the economies reliant on fossil fuels, the world order will change. This level of disruption compels governments to action. As individuals, our lives will be changed both by the vehicles and the impact on the world order.

We a facing major disruption.

Continue reading “Electric Cars 2025: ‘adding up’ will create a revolution. Who wins, who loses? China?”

EV Range & Economy: Decoding the Numbers.

The key specification for EVs so far has been ‘range’. But how are the numbers measured, will range specific match reality, and can the number even be compared?

It turns out there are even 3 different standards for measuring range, and they give very different answers!

Further, why have we moved from ‘economy’ to ‘range’? Is there still even economy with EVs?

When you dig deeper, there is some really interesting revelations from numbers such as energy and power, that may be even more interesting than range. Surprises such are how little power cars normally use, and how huge amount of energy in the normal fuel tank is equivalent to around 600kWh, but will normally be used very inefficiently!

This is an exploration of the numbers behind EV specifications.

This is an explocan they be believed, and will twhat are they really saying? Range is the number of miles or kilometres an EV can travel on a single charge, and, like the the traditional counterpart like fuel economy rating for internal combustion cars, will vary significantly with speed, traffic and even temperature and road surface.

Continue reading “EV Range & Economy: Decoding the Numbers.”

Electric Cars: 2021, It Just Doesn’t add up (yet).

US$169,000 Lucid Air sedan.
Aspark Owl. US$3.2 Million EV Hypercar.

Right now, without subsidies, buying an electric car does not add up. Currently there is a price premium, and as a result the cars only appeal to those happy to pay a premium to indulge a passion. Buyers are prepared to pay a premium for the environment or the acceleration, but right now, buying is driven by passion and/or subsidies. Even worse, prices do not appear to have fallen as battery prices suggest they should. For everybody to be buying electric cars, at least one of these will apply:

  • Governments will be subsidising all car purchases.
  • Cars will cost the average person much more.
  • Prices of electric cars must fall substantially.

Yet governments have plans to progressively mandate electric vehicles to meet emission targets. This is an exploration of why people buy electric cars today, what needs fixing to make them affordable and viable for all, and not just an expense and/or inconvenience forced on people. Are prices really about to plummet?

Continue reading “Electric Cars: 2021, It Just Doesn’t add up (yet).”

Hybrid, Electric or Hydrogen?

There is now an updated page on hydrogen vs battery electric cars, and this page is being refocused to be more specific on the option of hybrids.

It seems most who believe in hydrogen cars do not actually understand the reality of the technology, and that hydrogen powered cars are a form of electric cars. This post looks at technologies changing the auto industry, the pros and cons of Hydrogen, Battery Electric, current Hybrids, and even Hydrogen Hybrids.

Contents:

  • Hydrogen
    • Background
    • The Case Against
    • The Case For
  • Battery Electric
    • The Case For Plug In Hybrids
    • The Case Against
    • On Balance
  • Plug In Hybrid
    • Non-plugin
    • The case for
    • The case against
  • Hydrogen Hybrid
    • what and why?
    • an answer to range anxiety?
      • long range, fast refuel
    • fuel costs/ fuel storage costs
    • refuelling stations: the elephant in the room
    • on balance
  • Conclusion

The Case For Hydrogen. – more on 0+h

Low Weight: The key benefit of hydrogen is that the stored energy is much lighter that any alternative. The video highlighiting the problems of using hydrogen, quotes the difference at over 200x the stored energy per kg compared to batteries. That is a huge difference, and results in hydrogen being a viable option where the difference in the weight of stored energy is suffiently important, the cost of electricty is extremely low, or a combination of these two factors. Clearly, for aeroplanes, that weight difference for the amount of energy required for a flight could easily the cost of the extra energy needed to extract and liquify hydrogen and other inefficiencies.

Fast Refueling. While conventially battery recharging can take hours and even over a day in some cases, refueling using hydrogen is similar in time to current refueling with petrolleum, diesel fuel or avgas.

On Balance: Hydrogen

The case for hydrogen requires extremely cost (and environmentally friendly) electricity supply, or an extremely high cost penalty for the weight of penalty of other methods of storing electricity, or a combination of both factors. It is not clear where these factors combine, but this is further examined in ‘hydrogen hybrid’ below, after considering the arguments for and against other alternatives.

Battery Electric

The Case For Battery Electric

Efficiency: Conventional batteries are highly efficient, and the entire pathway from energy supply to electric propulsion is the most efficient system available.

Charging at home: Convential batteries are simple to charge anywhere there is time and electricity. This allows for charging at home using the well established and efficient utility electicty grid. It has even been suggested ‘off peak’ charging of EVs cpould improve grid utilisation and potentially even lower electricty pricing per kw/h to homes.

Best Solution for Predominant use case: For many people, battery electric provides the optimum solution with lost cost and convenient refuelling for almost their entire use of a car, even with short range batteries. Longer range batteries are only needed by most people for very rare long road trips.

The Case Against Battery Electric.

Road Trips (Charging away from home): Charging when parked other than at home is a challenge, but one with a variety of solutions. The biggest challenge is charging during a journey. There are recharging stations, but the time to recharge means these stations would need an enourmouse number of bays to service the same number of vehicles currently serviced at petrol/diesel fuel pumps. Consider a current fuel stop with, for example, 8 busy pumps. If the same number of vehicles are to be refuelled, and it takes ten times as long per vehicle, then 80 ‘pumps’ would be required. Currently it can take over 20 times as long per vehicle, even with the fastest recharging, and distance per refuel is lower, so vehicles need ‘refuelling’ more often.

Range: With charging during a journey problematic, range becomes extremely important. But range comes at a cost in terms of weight. While fossil fuelled or hydrogen fuelled vehicles have carry capacity for long journeys, a large battery is heavy, and just as heavy even when not charged. A common car usage pattern would be 9 out of 10 days requiring only 50km range, and the maximum available range (for example for an electric vehicle say 400km) would only be needed less than 1 day in 30. Despite only being needed 1 day in 30, a vehicle will typically need to provide for that maximum range. This means the extra battery weight to provide the rarely needed extra 450km of range needed must be carried as ‘dead weight’ or ‘insurance’ 9 days out of 10. This ‘rarely needed’ range has a negative impact on efficiency.

Range Anxiety: Anxiety is where the worry or stress felt is beyond the level appropriate for a problem or possible problem. While balancing actual range against weight is a real problem, there is also ‘range anxiety’ is disproportionate fear of insufficient range. Imagine you had always only been able to charge your mobile phone once per week, and then were given typical new mobile, that requires charging at least every two days, and in practice most people charge every day. Switching to an Electric Vehicle is a similar change, as most people refuel internal combustion cars about once per week, so they need range for an entire week, which charging an Electric Vehicle at home is like charging a phone so enough range for two days would normally be adequate. We have been trained by past habits to need more range do to the refuelling process and the change can create anxiety. There is a real problem for infrequent long trips, and an imagined problem on normal days.

On Balance: Battery Electric

Perfect for every day use, but with question marks for the rarer days kilometres (or miles) travelled with exceed 2/3 of vehicle range- or around 250km (or 150 miles) for long range battery electric cars, and shorter trips for shorter range vehicles.

For a two car family, the case is very clear for one car to be electric. But for singles or one car families, there is a question over refuelling on those long trips.

Hybrids & Plug-In Hybrids

Non-plugin

Non plugin hybrids charge the battery using only enery from the fossil fuel Internal Combustion Engine(ICE). Ideally, the only energy used to charge the battery would otherwise be lost through braking. The ICE generates energy which is used to accelerate the car…and when then needs to slow down the car needs to ‘cancel’ that energy. This energy that must be ‘cancelled’ can be converted to heat by the brakes, or by using a generator as a brake, saved in a battery for reuse. Saving the energy which would otherwise be wasted, just makes sense and all cars will soon do this, so all cars will claim to be at least a ‘hybrid’ in this manner. All except electric vehicles, which also save unwanted energy this same way already. The gain in efficiency depends on how often the brakes might be applied and the generator used as a braking system. If a vehicle needs to frequently accelerates and then decelerates due to traffic, or red lights or other interruptions, then significant energy can be saved for reuse. On a good freeway, this potential ‘wastage’ should be minimal, but in a traffic jam, or with many traffic lights, the potential wastage is significant, so significant energy can be stored and used for future acceleration, reducing fossil fuel use.

But non-plugin hydbrids are still fully fossil fuel powered, with the electrical system simply improving efficiency. As such, this page is not really about these vehicles. They are a step to greater efficiency, but still the only energy source is fossil fuels, as all the electrical energy is generated by braking is recovering some of the energy generated from the fossil fuel by the internal combustion engine.

The case for Plug In Hybrids.

Internal Combustions to best cover long trips: The usage pattern discussed in ‘range’ under ‘the case against battery electric’. A 50km range needed for almost every day, but a much longer range required to cover the rare need for a longer range. The advantage of the plug in hybrid is capablity for the infrequent longer range trips could be 700 or even 1,000 kms, a range not possible with any battery EV as of 2019, where over 400km range is rare, and beyond 500 not available. A further advantage is that refuelling a plug in hybrind on those longer trips is using current well established and high availability refuelling.

Electric for normal driving: The normal driving use case, that is almost every day for most consumers, can entirely be satisfied provided a plug-in hybrid is available with sufficient range for that use case. With vehicles now frequently having 50km range, and the ‘insurance’ of the ICE if the limit is reached, plug ins finally provide the possibility of practical every day electric motoring for many people.

The case against Plug in Hybrids

Limited ‘Pure Electrc Range’: To achieve the optimal result of electric power for days with regular distances travelled, the electric range must provide sufficient distance. In 2019, vehicles with pure electric range of 40-40kms are common, but previously distance were often inadequate. In fact, 50km range, while adequate for some, does not enable this to be viable electric travel for a significant number of others.

Poor ‘Pure Electric’ experience: In practice, the ideal mix of providing the normal trips as pure electric, and reserving the Internal Combustion Engine for long trips is often unattractive because the experience in pure electric mode is too compromised. Consider, for example, the Volvo XC60 T8. 235kW of gasoline power, and 65kW of electric power. Which engine is the priority? How good is the experience when driving in pure electric mode? A comparable pure electric vehicle, the Jaguar I-Pace, has more than 4.5 times the kW (295kW) and almost 3 times the torque of the T8 in pure electric mode. Despite a comparable price, only when the T8 is fully using both engines provide close to a similar experience.

Plug In Hybrid Identity Crisis: Is a plug in hybrid a part-time electric vehicle, or a performance boosted gasoline powered vehicle? Consider the Volvo XC60 T8. Underpowered in pure electric mode, but with sports car acceleration when using both gasoline and electric motors. While no SUV handles fully like a sports car, the cornering of the XC60 T8 is further compromised by the weight of the heavy battery. As a sports car, the T8 simply has a battery that is too large and too heavy for the role as a ‘sports SUV’, yet as a plug in hybrid, although the large battery provides the necessary range, the driving experience encourages use as primarily a gasoline powered car with extra power available from the electric power. The Volvo, and many other plug-in hybrids, are more comfortable as ‘sporty’ (or fast accelerating but heavy) gasoline powered vehicles with electric motors boost performance, rather than being suited to spending most regular commutes in ‘pure electric’ mode.

Poor Range: Given the great range available to conventional gasoline engines,

On Balance: Plug-In Hybrid

Not ranged extened electric vehicles. From online posts and reviews by owners, it is clear some consumers do buy plug in hybrids to use as electric vehicles in day to day usage, but most are not particularly fit for that purpose. Despite promoted electric only ranges, operation in electric only mode is most often disapointing and the engine data almost always reveals the gasoline engine is the primary power source for the vehicle. A complete internal combustion engine, gearbox, exhaust system, radiator and cooling system together with a fossil fuel tank is a lot of hardware to provide range extension.

Hydrogen Hybrid

Hydrogen hybrid, What and Why?

What? A plug in hybrid accepts two types of ‘fuel’, fluid (usually gasoline) and electricty. Now imagine instead a vehicle that accepts both hydrogen and electricity as fuels. Hydrogen requires a tank, much like gasoline, so from a fuel perspective this is similar to a plug in hybrid. However both hydrogen and battery electric cars use the same type of electric motor drive trains, so this vehicle would be a much simpler design. For the design, take a battery electric vehicle, reduce the size of the battery to provide only 50to 80km range, but then add a hydrogen fuel cell in place the larger orginal battery to add — perhaps another 800km of range. Total range of almost 900km (650 miles), yet it could still be lighter than a convential battery electric.

Why? The range could be mostly dictated by hydrogen for the fuel cell, providing the long range with low weight from hydrogen. The limited battery range, as with a plug in hybrid, is easily charged overnight by a home domestic powered charger and provides the range for a normal days drive. Unlike a plug in hybrid, in pure electric mode full power is available, and there is no internal combustion engine, radiator, grearbox and exhaust system acting as ‘dead weight’. The battery has been reduced to between 1/5 to 1/8 the battery size of the battery of a full battery electric car, so there is no super heavy battery capable of 400km range being carried around day after day, just to be ready for the rare day the extra range is needed. Most every days the range required will be 80km or 50km or less, and that is all the weight being carried, even though extended range can be ‘on tap’ through hydrogen. On almost every day this vehicle would be more efficient then either plug in hybrid or pure battery electric, and still have a potential range beyond either.

Hydrogen Hybrid: An answer to range anxiety?

Long Range: Remember that 200x the energy per unit weight! All ‘batteries’, including a fuel cell, are all about chemical reactions. The weight of the ingredients determines the weight of the battery. The ingredients for a hydrogen car are hydrogen and oxygen. In fact 8 parts (by weight) Oxygen and 1 part Hydrogen. So only 1/9 of the ingredients must be carried in the car, as the oxygen can be extracted from air. Plus, that 1/9 happens to be lightest element in the universe. So you can carry a huge range, at a very small weight penalty.

Fast Refuel: Unlike convential batteries where the ingredients are kept in the battery and the charge has to be applied to the battery as a reverse of discharge, filling with hydrogen like simply filling the battery with new ingredients. As fast and as simple as filling any fuel tank. So not only is the range long, the refuelling is fast.

Hydrogen hybrid: Fuel costs / Storage Cost

Fuel cost? Relative fuel cost is usually significant impacted by the fact that more electricity is required as a result of adding extracting and compressing/supercooling the hydrogen. But there are situations where renewal energy might otherwise go to waste, for example, in remote locations not connected to the electricity grid. Where supply is available from the grid, there will be a cost penalty. This cost penalty will be less significant when recharging ‘on trip’ where any charing station must collect revenues, so power will cost more than at home anyway. Plus, savings from not carrying the heavy battery all year should help offset the cost of any increasing in the premium electricity costs when on a long trip. After all, it still should be less expensive than gasoline.

Storage Cost? In any fuelling locations not connected to the grid, or with a connection unable to provide the current required for charging rapidly, electricity must be stored. The good news is hydrogen provides one of the lost possible costs for storing electricity. Every litre of hydrogen effectively is stored electricity, and all you need is tank to store it. Very attractive compared to a megabattery! If you have the ‘tank’ filled from solar or wind, the limit to what can be stored will often be determined by the size of storage.

Hydrogen Hybrid: Refuelling is the elephant in the room

The reason hydrogen power cars in any form are rare is the lack of hydrogen refueling. There are steps planned to address this, and if these plans succeed then the technology should be a winner: at least as a hybrid with battery electric. However, there will still be questions on cost, and there is a need for hydrogen to gain uptake in areas like aviation for any certainty over a refuel network. Weight of fuel is even more important in aviation industry, and if that did take up, aeroports and airstrips alone as refuelling would be sufficient for hybrid hydrogen.

On balance: Hydrogen Hybrid

Note, I am not aware of any hydrogen hybrid and invented the terminolgy myself. Clearly the big question is around Hydrogen is whether a fuelling network can be created. If you can obtain the hydrogen, this is the ultimate. A hydrogen hybrid is more cost effective than hydrogen alone, and would on require a smaller network of refuelling. With battery range covering the vast bulk of kilometres covered by the vehicles at a lower cost than possible with hydrogen, the impact of any price increase over battery is small, only applicable on long trips, and more than offsett by range and lower running costs when running on battery due to the smaller battery. If hydrogen does become available, then this is the best option of those currently being proposed.

Conclusion

Right now, to run electric the best choic pure battery electric vehicle. Plug-in hybrid currently available are lost in an identity crisis, and offer a sub optimal experience unless you plan to use fossil fuel as the main power source. Certainly all hybrids offer fuel savings compared to having the same performance without the hybrid, but the still run on fossil fuel.

Hydrogen could be used together with battery electric in future, given the established recharging network it is going to require a big step. Perhaps there is hydrogen in the future, but it does happen, it will still not make battery electric redundant.

Lidar/Radar & Maps: Fools-gold for Autonomous Cars

self-driving-cars-when-we-will-have-them

My mental Image of a driverless cars is a Google car with a very prominent LIDAR device on the roof.

But on further reflection, it occurred to me that LIDAR is completely unnecessary.  In fact LIDAR and RADAR can both be short cuts that enable getting a close imitation of driverless technology without the intelligence required to sound driverless technology.  But it you have the necessary artificial intelligence,  LIDAR and even RADAR are not longer required.  Currently LIDAR is only present when the system definitely lacks the required AI and even RADAR can mask system inadequacies.

TLDR; Read the headings 🙂

Consider the following:

  • Background:
    • What Are the Problems to be Solved? What are the goals?
    • Fixing the Problems: Are humans just not equipped for driving? (Answer: humans are equipped).
  • What is needed to emulate a well trained, fully attentive human driver?
    • Eyesight, Hearing, Intelligence.
  • Lidar/Radar cannot substitute for Intelligence.
  • Detailed Mapping Is not the holly grail!
  • Better Sensors Work Well as Assistance, but not for Autonomous Driving on road shared with human drivers.
  • Current Driver displays are inadequate for progressing to autonomous driving.
  • Conclusion: The Current experience looks close to autonomous, but is fragile and unreliable

Background.

What Problems Can Be Solved? What are the Goals?

Why are we bothering to have automated vehicles?  Answer: Because there are two problems with humans driving cars:

  • If cars can drive themselves, costs will be reduced and time spent driving can be saved.
  • We may be able to eliminate human driver errors that result in accidents, which can result in injuries and even fatalities.

 Saving the time and costs.

This objective is simply economic. Can we produce the technology at an viable price. Some may be concerned that replacing commercial drivers will reduce unemployment, or that non-commercial driving can actually be pleasurable.  These are complex moral and subjective arguments, and outside the discussion of this page today. From a point of view of solving the ‘problem’ the concept is easy: same a human being needed to do the driving.

Reduce Vehicle Accidents through human error.

Road Accidents constitute a serious issue.  Some stats association from safe international road travel (more on the site):

  • Nearly 1.3 million people die in road crashes each year, on average 3,287 deaths a day.
  • An additional 20-50 million are injured or disabled annually.
  • Road crashes are the leading cause of death among young people ages 15-29, and the second leading cause of death worldwide among young people ages 5-14.
  • Each year nearly 400,000 people under 25 die on the world’s roads, on average over 1,000 a day.
  • Road crashes cost USD $518 billion globally, costing individual countries from 1-2% of their annual GDP.

Ok, the problems are serious, but what is actually the cause?  Are humans just not equipped for driving?

Answer: Humans are fully capable of being good drivers, they are just not reliably applied to the task, or trained for all situations.

Humans are capable of driving, the causes of accidents are humans not fully utilising their capability through:

  • inattention
  • driver impairment (tired, alcohol, drugs etc.)
  • risk taking

Some road statistics can be found here. While searching for stats I found lots of opinions rather than stats, and most of these are distorted, but each category always breaks down into one of the three above.  (I will post more detailed analysis of this another time).

An alternative answer of ‘it was beyond my ability to be driving safely’ can be true for conditions with snow and ice…. but has to be combined with ‘and I was unable to determine that it was unsafe’ otherwise this can also be reduced to ‘risk taking’.

Imagine a leading racing car driver paying full attention to the task driving you around all day – and not racing, but driving to with a margin of safety and the goal of avoiding the risk of accidents! I suggest if every car could be driven to that level all of the time, and the driver never distracted or impaired, the goals would be realised.

The problem is not that humans lack the capability to drive safely, it is that the do not always use their abilities to drive safely.

What is needed for cars to drive like a well trained human driver?

The Requirements: Matching a fully attentive human.

Humans use:

  • Eyesight: visual sensors and image processing.
  • Hearing: audio sensors and auditory processing.
  • Intelligence: Object recognition and behaviour prediction.

The main sensor for human driving are eyes that can (with the aid of mirrors) detect an image from almost any direction around the vehicle.

Auditory sensing and processing are used to detect events not able to be seen at the time, such as an approaching emergency vehicle or an unusual event such as an accident.

Intelligence uses the information from the sensors to build mental model of all in the surrounding environment:

  • each vehicle and the expected behaviour of that vehicle.
  • the road, and road surface and any obstacles.
  • traffic signals, intersections, and hazards.

Potential Improvements: Reliability and Focus and Multitasking.

All statistics support that humans are perfectly (or almost perfectly) capable of driving a car, with in the current defined limits, when fully focused on the task and not impaired in some way, or taking risks outside prescribed boundaries.

The problem is reliability, not ability. If a car could self drive as well as well trained and attentive driver who is not impaired or distracted, the car could avoid almost all accidents.

So how do humans drive?

The key ability is the AI to determine what is in the image, how objects in the image are moving and will move in the near future.

To replicate unimpaired, non risk taking human drivers, we need simple sensors combined with advanced AI.

The current limitation is that we have enhanced sensors combined with extremely primitive AI.

Autonomous driving requires the same level of ability as a human to drive safely, but always with full attention, without impairment or risk taking.

Lidar/Radar are limited as substitutes for Intelligence.

I have never seen any accident analysis that concluded: ‘If the driver only had radar in addition to his eyesight, the accident never would have happened.’

The main difference between human eyes, LIDAR and RADAR, is the visual information from human eyes requires far more processing to extract the necessary information. To accurately determine distance, data from human eyes must be fully mapped into a complete picture of the environment. RADAR and LIDAR both provide distance information without the need to form a complete picture of the environment. The resulting trap is that working without that incomplete map of the environment means the ‘driverless car’ will normally be working with a less complete picture of the environment than cars with with human drivers. An accurate vision system can determine all that is needed without the addition of RADAR or LIDAR, although the addition of RADAR can be very helpful to deal with poor visibility such are fog.

Using LIDAR:

There is an object of approximately XZY shape moving at precisely speed A and direction B.

Human Eyesight (processed by human brain):

There is a guy in a badly maintained 2012 Chevrolet in the next lane and he is looking for an opportunity to change into my lane.

Which sensor is detecting the most useful information?

Certainly the LIDAR sensor requires far less intelligence to produce somewhat useful information than is required to process the two visual images reaching each human eyes, but the reward for deep image processing is significant, and is exactly what is often lacking in current autonomous mode systems.

Detailed Mapping Is not the holly grail.

One suggestion is that some levels of autonomous driving will be able to operate only within specific pre-mapped environments. The concept is that using exact vehicle GPS position data, the vehicle will be able to construct a complete picture of the environment from the data already on file. Of course, this also requires that all dynamic objects such as vehicles are reporting their position live to the system, so that they appear on the ‘map’.

Now just imagine what happens when there is an accident that leaves a damaged vehicle on the road that is too damaged to report its position? Or a fallen tree that does not report its position?

Level 4 autonomy provides for operation within a Geofenced area. However, in practice, this can only work if the car is able to detect any mismatch between the conditions that allowed the area to meet the geofence criteria, and current conditions. For example, a road could be included in the geofenced area because the lane markings all meet the criteria for driverless cars to be able to detect the marking. However, a car self driving under such conditions needs to be able to detect absence of lane markings, and required driver intervention until such markings are again present.

Better Sensors Work Well as Assistance, but not for Autonomous Driving on road shared with human drivers.

RADAR and LIDAR are narrow focused sensors as the accurately determine very specific information about the environment.  Human eyesight is a far more general purpose sense, and determining even object size and distance from vision requires complex computation of many factors of the environment combined with a reference database of previous calculations and object pattern recognition learning, but the result is simply a far wider spectrum of data.

Humans make use of that far wider spectrum of data. While RADAR can perfectly accurately track the vehicle in front and is never distracted from that task, RADAR alone is poor data for predicting the vehicle in front is about the turn off, and thus is not breaking for an obstacle ahead of that car in front. Once the car in front has made the exit, the driverless system then has to deal with what is then revealed without planning in advance, and as a result the driverless car could then be on a collision course with whatever was previously in the RADAR ‘shadow’ and because of the vehicle that was until recently in front.

I have a car equipped with RADAR cruise. The system detects other vehicles not because it recognises the RADAR pattern of a vehicle, but because it detects movement of an object consistent with movement of a vehicle.  The system tends to track very few vehicles at any one time (it has the appearance of only tracking one vehicle), has very little data on what is being tracked and generally fails to recognise stationary vehicles. The system would crash into a vehicle if that vehicle has not be observed moving and I did not intervene.

Generally this system is a useful addition providing assistance, but is best used when the driver is fully aware of what the driver assistance ‘sees’, and more importantly will not ‘see’, so the driver knows what can be delegated, and what they as driver must assume is their role. The system is clearly not capable of stand alone operation.  The system does not pretend to be capable of such operation so this is no problem and can be used as a driving aid,  but a completely different approach with greater reliance on data derived from intelligent image processing is required to progress to stand alone operation.

Our regulations and entire road system is designed around humans. Extra capabilities such as RADAR can help with some tasks, but the system was not designed around these additional capabilities, it was designed around the combination of eyesight and ability to build a 3D picture of the environment that a human can build. Without a similar level of abilities, autonomous cars are not equipped to share that same system.

but without all of the information

Current Driver Displays are inadequate for progression to Autonomous.

Mercedes-Benz Distronic Plus

I have a display that shows only one other vehicle.  Hopefully internally, a full system would work with a map of all surrounding cars in a 360 degree view and be tracking what every other vehicle is doing.  Also, in a reproduction of what a driver would do, a system can also detect the stream of traffic ahead of the vehicle in front.  The current system I have displays none of this to me, but from what I have seen, neither does a tesla display.  If the system does have this other data, more should be displayed as we move on the journey to when drivers can be confident in their cars to drive autonomously.

tesla20autopilot201
Where is the display of all surrounding traffic including the line of cars ahead?

Driver Assist Technologies.

Conclusion: The current experience looks close to autonomous driving, but is fragile and unreliable.

A classic case of not realising what we do not know?  Current systems simply work with too little data. They need to apply far more AI, and despite adding radars and perhaps even lidars, are so far unable to reproduce what an attentive human driver can achieve using only their eyes and mirrors for sensors.

Taking a short cut to the ‘low hanging fruit’ of simplified data gets close, but is ultimately still provides less safely than attentive, focused human driver.   If there is the will, the technology can get there, but viewing all vehicles as identical and not bothering to build a full model of all surrounding vehicles and interpret their intentions can only fall short of a human driver.

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