Foreign manufacturers of electric cars in China can own only minority shares and they must surrender intellectual property on at least one of what the government considers to be the three key enabling technologies for e-mobility. These are batteries, motors and control electronics. In exchange, foreigners gain access to a market they hope will be large enough to create cash flow that can be repatriated if the dominant partner approves. Unfortunately for them, electric bikes, and, at the other extreme, electric buses and trains consume one fifth of the energy per passenger kilometer of electric cars. Add to this the fact that China can never build enough roads, charging or parking places for cars and it is clear that the domestic car market in China must be treated with caution. That formidable country is actually creating, on the cheap, a huge export business in electromobility.
For those outside China, there is better news, however. Most countries have plenty of space for cars and there is reason to predict a robust business in all forms of electric vehicle, whether or not they are made in China. This is partially because the technology is changing very rapidly, giving an advantage to those doing major research and development. AC motors are often taking over from DC ones. The AC motor's electronic circuitry - a very different skill - is often replacing DC commutator metalwork. Electronic circuitry, including control electronics for EVs, is becoming laminated and even printed to save space, weight and cost and improve reliability. Batteries are going partly from inorganic to organic chemistry and back again in a very different form and here liquid handling giving way to printing and other deposition of solids. That addresses challenges such as improving safety and energy density (range) at the same time. Sion Energy and Planar Energy of the USA, Oxis Energy of the UK, and for key materials, The Dow Chemical Company of the USA are among the ones to watch here, as the West seeks to leapfrog the dominant East Asian Li-ion battery manufacturing.
There is more. A fourth key enabling technology has appeared. It is energy harvesting, converting ambient energy to electricity to charge the traction battery or at least run wireless sensors, lighting and actuators. This reduces weight to increase vehicle range and it increases space and improves safety. Previously, a photovoltaic roof on a car only provided 50 watts or so - certainly of no use in charging batteries. However, the small Asola Automotive Solar Deutschland GmbH silicon roof panel on the Fisker Karma hybrid sports car generates over 100 watts peak. The new bendable and sometimes flexible and conformal Dye Sensitised Solar Cells DSSC work well with low levels and angles of light and with polarised light off windows and water and even with infrared. Put them on the sides, undersides and even insides of electric vehicles and kilowatts are in prospect. New flexible copper indium gallium diselenide CIGS photovoltaics is already seen around complex shapes of aircraft and surface boats, such as those by Grove Boats and Kopf Solarschiff of Germany. The University of Michigan and the ENFICA-FC project in Italy funded by the European Commission are among those shaping solar panels onto unmanned electric aircraft.
Meanwhile, large and small electric vehicles on land and sea are showing the feasibility of electrodynamic energy harvesting generating up to a massive ten kilowatts or more. From the old bicycle dynamo we went to the now well understood technology of regenerative braking - motors of on-road vehicles working in reverse to grab back electricity during braking. Valence Technology of the USA with family yacht maker Beneteau of France has now moved on to do the equivalent thing with ocean going yachts. The propeller is dragged in reverse when the vessel is under sail, thus charging powerful lithium-ion batteries so they operate electrics silently when the craft is moored. Callender Designs of the UK has something similar in its superyachts combined with rigid solar sails.
Further, we now have superyachts scooping water into a hydro turbine when under sail to charge second generation, safer lithium-ion batteries. Indeed, the largest design of Paracas Yachts in Miami is a 48 meter superyacht that can produce enough stored electricity for its refrigeration, air conditioning and other "hotel facilities" for one week just by sailing for an afternoon. Hydro-Kinetic Designs in the USA is now moving such technology into working vessels. These and other craft innovate in many other ways thanks to electric drive systems. For example, the propellers are far more efficient because they are suspended in pods with their electric motors, there being no propeller shaft. Some ships and boats use electrodynamic harvesting in the form of computer controlled kites sweeping an optimal figure of eight to charge the traction batteries.
You can now buy an electric aircraft that soars as a glider to charge the batteries by reversing the propeller and a similar thing seems to be feasible with underwater electric vehicles. Some vehicles erect a wind turbine to charge the battery when they are stationary. However, the most widely applicable powerful energy harvesting is yet another electrodynamic option - the energy harvesting damper or shock absorber. A set on a bus or truck generates a very useful ten kilowatts. Leader here is Levant Power Corporation of the USA which also targets pure electric Autonomous Underwater Vehicles UAVs to benefit from their devices. Some AUVs already combine photovoltaics and wave harvesting. On the other hand, in its owner's 78 meter superyacht, Sauter Carbon Offset Design in Bali has a motion damping system that generates an incredible 100 kW. Here the lithium-ion battery is part of the damping pendulum employed. The humble bike dynamo has come a long way.
The closely linked energy storage is also rapidly evolving beyond batteries. While some concentrate on making third generation highest energy density batteries a safe reality, Elon Musk founder of Tesla Motors has expressed the opinion that supercapacitors (ultracapacitors) are key to future energy storage in electric vehicles, even replacing batteries. Indeed, it is already clear that, with them incorporated in electric bikes and buses to boost battery performance, there is more to come. Developers such as Nanotecture of the UK and OptiXtal of the USA are widening the repertoire to so- called asymmetric electrochemical supercapacitors (supercabatteries) combining the best of batteries and supercapacitors and OptiXtal describes wide area flexible ones that can form part of the skin of an electric vehicle and tiny microdot ones to incorporate in the plethora of wireless sensors and actuators in modern e-mobility. OptiXtal has pioneered the creation of low ESR, ultrathin, and flexible supercapacitors to optimally fill available space.
Multiple energy harvesting is now a key enabling technology for electric vehicles whether they travel on or off-road by land, on or under water or in the air. Just don't tell the Chinese.
All this and more will be aired at the unique electromobility event Electric Vehicles: Land, Sea & Air Europe 2011 in Stuttgart, Germany 28-29 June covering the whole subject for the first time. Most of the above companies will be presenting alongside a large number of other vehicle manufacturers, including Daimler AG, Tesla, Adam Opel and Tata Motors the largest automotive company in India in the form of Tata Motors Europe, and organisations leading the next wave of radically different electric vehicle technology, including start up CHE-EVC of the UK on a very different intelligent Li battery system and Mitsubishi Electric of Japan and Siemens AG of Germany on a totally new approach to charging systems.
Electric Vehicles: Land, Sea & Air Europe 2011 will include two full days of conference proceedings and an exhibition floor. In addition, there will be technical masterclasses, an awards dinner, and plenty of opportunities for networking. Never before has there been an opportunity in Europe for people in land, water and air electric vehicles and their components, infrastructure and test equipment to compare notes in one event. Delegates already signed up vary from Airbus, Hudson Power Sports and Hudson Yachts to Sony, the Bulgarian Electric Vehicle Association and Robert Bosch Venture Capital.
For full details on the event, please visit www.IDTechEx.com/evEurope.
For further information or to apply for a press pass, please contact Cara Harrington.
Electric Vehicles Land Sea & Air Europe 2011 ~ 28-29 June ~ Stuttgart, Germany ~ www.IDTechEx.com/evEurope.