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Posted on March 18, 2016 by Dr Peter Harrop

Energy independent electric vehicles: here come the benefits!

Energy independent electric vehicles (EIVs) vary from the new Inergy boat entirely driven by a 70kW vertical wind turbine to the autonomous solar aircraft flying at 60,000 feet for five years on sunshine alone. Investment in the aircraft is already at the $100 million level thanks to Facebook, the US Department of Defense, Boeing and others. As that reaches billions of dollars we shall have a substantial new business sector, but similar or larger benefits will come from the technologies spun-off to general use, as with Formula One racing which is a $15bn business.
Indeed, recently, it has started to become clear what EIVs will spin-off, benefitting a much wider community. For example, Melbourne based start-up EVX plans to make self-sufficient vehicles the future of transportation. It works in collaboration with the electric vehicle R&D group at Swinburne University of Technology and local solar racer engineers to commercialise the world's first road-legal solar-electric sports car, the Immortus. From the outset, like Formula One, it will develop and spin-off associated technologies.
CEO Barry Nguyen states that, in the last year, "We have consolidated our path to commercialization. We have also developed useful contacts with individuals who are willing to help us pilot some spin-off technologies from solar car platform to large corporations associated with transportation in North America. The Immortus is a world first in this category. Inspired by the world portrayed in post­apocalyptic movies, the Immortus is designed to exhibit a toughness that no other car has: endurance."
Whilst designing the Immortus as a limited edition sports car powered by the sun, EVX has identified several potential commercializable spin­off technologies. These include:
  • Integrated upright system - also known as the 'hybrid retrofit kit' - enabling current petrol cars, light trucks and fleet vehicles to be converted from being petrol powered to plug­in hybrid. In addition, the kit can increase acceleration after braking and turn two-wheel drive vehicles into all-wheel drive.
  • Lightweight air-cooled battery box with multi­industry applications.
  • Regenerative shock absorber technology - recharging batteries from absorbing the bumps on the road, with also multi­industry applications.
They are not first with some generic types. For example, Intertronic Gresser and others are developing regenerative shock absorbers and Intertronic Gresser gives the latest on them in the IDTechEx, Electric Vehicles: Everything is Changing External Link conference in Berlin 27-28 April. Doubtless Immortus staff believe they have improvements. Also at the event there are presentations External Link on the Nuon Solar Team, polycarbonate glazing as a lightweighting option and one on load-bearing structural photovoltaics based on carbon fiber honeycomb for EIV aircraft (UAVs) etc. Such pioneering work interests more than EIV people.
Meanwhile, the Stella Lux 4 person solar car in the Netherlands actually donates electricity to the grid and it claims a unique in its traction motor. Most electric motors run at about 80% energy efficiency. A really good one might top 85%, or approach 90% like that in the Tesla. Stella Lux claims a 97% efficient PM motor albeit for an undemanding duty cycle.
On the other hand, in China the NFH-H Model NANO-SEGC-001 tourist minibus by Nonowinn Technologies has proved new photovoltaics suitable for other vehicle uses. United Nations Global Blue Sky Award Winning NanoWin thin film solar modules comprise five 96W panels made of copper indium gallium diselenide. During daylight they provide power for the motor at a driving speed of 5-12 km/h without needing batteries. The modules have both high rated-power and power conversion efficiency; thus easily generating power with visible light. Clearly this can be useful beyond EIVs.
Finally, the Resolution solar racer of Cambridge University tracks the sun using GaAs solar panels. It is using spacecraft-specification gallium arsenide cells in a mere three square meters of panels. Gallium arsenide cells are both lighter and more efficient than silicon-based variants.
The 4.5m-long, teardrop-shaped car produces 1.5kW of power - the same as a hair dryer - but is capable of a top speed of about 85mph. Again, a useful proof of a technology relatively new in land vehicles and with wide implications. It uses low rolling resistance tyres that are designed specifically for solar powered cars but may spin off other uses too. The wider benefits of EIV technology are coming thick and fast.
For more information and market forecasts see the IDTechEx Research report Energy Independent Electric Vehicle Technology Roadmap 2016-2036 External Link.
Top images:
1. Solar Car Tokai Challenger. Source: H. Kimura, K. Sagawa, Wikipedia
2. Untersee-RA66 Helio. Source: Wattewyl, Wikipedia.
Learn more at the next leading event on the topic: Energy Independent Electric Vehicles 2017 External Link on 27 - 28 Sep 2017 in TU Delft, Delft, Netherlands hosted by IDTechEx.