28 Nov 2012 | Belgium
Further lessons from the European Electric Vehicle Congress, Brussels
It sounds crazy to have a conference with 200 speakers and 160 delegates but this one worked very well. It helped that organiser Frédéric Vergels had an uncanny ability to know everyone and be everywhere at the same time. A number of delegates found the initial presentations by European Commission and leading car manufacturers as excessively self-congratulatory and smug, but what came afterwards was considered to be much more balanced and useful. IDTechEx presented on the fragility of the e-car sector and the strength of the other sectors, most of which need no financial support. The futility of major European automotive companies continuing to launch cars with only 160 km (100 mile) range when the global state of the art for affordable on-road vehicles is already 240 km (150 miles) range was noted. Indeed, BYD presented on Chinese buses that currently achieve this.
Figure 1. IDTechEx forecasts for the global electric vehicle market; hybrid and pure electric on land, water and air (US$ Billions)
Source: IDTechEx report Electric Vehicles 2012-2022 - for full detailed forecasts please purchase the report
Useful information was transmitted in the short time available because the quality of the speakers was generally high. Of course, with three parallel sessions over most of the three days, it is impossible to give a fully representative report but here are some impressions. The main automotive companies in Europe came over as technophobic, notably in the view of others in the value chain, apart from a considerable interest in fuel cells. Breath-taking statements such as "The cars are fine: the customers need fixing" were commonly made.
Innovation in Europe is as good as any in the world but the many range extenders for next generation series hybrids are finding it tough to attract orders or investment, one getting funding from India's largest motor manufacturer and another being bought by the Americans. The most advanced wave of range extenders inherently produce electricity. They are called "fuel generators" and fuel cells (a popular session at the event) are an example, where one fuel cell manufacturer has formed a joint venture with a Japanese company to commercialise them in motor scooters in Japan. Daimler plans major rollout of fuel cell vehicles in 2015 or thereabouts.
We heard of latest progress at the German Aerospace Agency (DLR) on free piston engines that inherently produce electricity. Let us hope that these range extenders are enthusiastically commercialised in Europe, unlike what went before.
Figure 2. One of the two opposing sections of the DLR free piston range extender with combustion chamber on left and gas spring on right.
The current plan is to put them in cars and to use them as portable electricity generators in remote houses in Scandinavia. An interesting, recurring theme at this event was making vehicle range extenders part of the heating system of a vehicle. Oliver Zirn of the Technical University Claustal Germany presented on this. Indeed merging of functions and assemblies in an electric vehicle was a general trend revealed here.
Airbus does not appear to be commercialising the DLR system that makes an airliner an electric vehicle when on the ground, thanks to an electric nosewheel.
The most important electric motor for electric vehicles that is not yet in high volume production is the switched reluctance motor because it has the lowest hardware cost and other advantages. Europe has the global leadership in these. SR Motors in the UK, now owned by Nidec of Japan, has had difficulty selling them to vehicle manufacturers in Europe but they are in the latest John Deere agricultural vehicles in the USA. It was therefore interesting to hear the presentation by Punch Powertrain of Belgium. Saphir Faid explained that neodymium, dysprosium and other rare earths will continue to be supply limited and ever more expensive for magnets. Alternative SmCo still creates a supply problem and AlNiCo and Ferrite give poor magnets vulnerable to heat. He noted that the costs of permanent magnet motors will never be low enough to permit mass adoption of electric vehicles. For more see the IDTechEx report, Electric Motors for Electric Vehicles 2012-2022 .
Magnet-free traction motors in the form of asynchronous (AC induction) versions are successful in certain applications where somewhat lower efficiency and larger size is tolerable. Punch Powertrain has proof of concept in 40 Ford transit vehicles in Flanders with its switched reluctance alternative. It has also demonstrated its motor as a belt starter generator auxiliary in a PHEV. Efficiency, power density (2.4-2.5 kW/kg) and safety are comparable to the more expensive permanent magnet motors used on most electric vehicles today and nothing can de-magnetise when temperature rises.
Unfortunately, many electric vehicle sectors where Europe has leadership were not exposed at this event. They include electric aircraft, such as the first pure electric helicopters, and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs). For more see the IDTechEx reports, Electric Aircraft 2012-2022 and Marine Electric Vehicles 2012-2022 .
Instead, we heard a great deal about how light electric vehicles (LEVs) are now viable in Europe, as in the rest of the world, which first adopted them in volume. It is encouraging that over one million electric bikes and two wheel scooters were sold in Europe last year and micro-cars registered as motorcycles are coming in fast. Annick Roetynck of the European Two-Wheel Retailers' Association gave a particularly lucid presentation. The viability of LEVs is no surprise because pure electric golf cars have long had lower cost of ownership than internal combustion versions. All the European e-bikes have lithium-ion batteries and most are made by small companies that are not technophobic. It is good to see how the European Union is assisting these small innovative vehicle makers as well as the component and system developers. Although China buys over 30 times as many e-bikes every year, they have lead-acid batteries.
We saw how Europe is up with the best in development and use of many new components and systems for electric vehicles including GaN and SiC power devices to replace silicon, for instance where higher frequencies and temperatures are encountered. However there is too little development and manufacture of the newly important supercapacitors, a serious matter since they increasingly replace batteries or reduce the size of battery needed. For example, the MAN Lion hybrid urban bus for Germany is world class: it uses supercapacitors instead of a battery. A good presentation was given by Alain Bouscayrol of the University of Lille who addressed choice of supercapacitors, batteries or both in electric vehicle powertrains, among other things. European cars are backward, not the buses or the niche vehicles. Bus maker Solaris of Poland presented impressively.
Europeans seem to be in denial about how they are late followers in mass-produced traction batteries: their efforts on these are too little too late. European joint companies with Korean and US leaders have dissolved, leaving the Europeans in the soup. One of the best presentations in the whole event was on "HEV, P-HEV, and EV market 2011-2025: Battery is the key" by Christophe Pillot of analysts Avicenne Energy in France. He sees lead-acid rechargeable batteries still dominant in 2020, partly because they will dominate stop-start of conventional vehicles in his opinion and he sees these being very widely adopted, eventually selling in tens of millions yearly. Avicenne sees only 0.5 million plug in hybrid cars sold in 2020, mainly in the USA and only one million pure electric cars. Only hybrids will succeed, with around 4.4 million such cars sold in 2020, still a modest figure given that 1.5 million are being sold in 2012, Toyota being responsible for just over 1.2 million of these. Given Toyota's inexorable progress towards having a hybrid version of every model, we wonder if the Avicenne projection is a bit low but the track record of Avicenne forecasting is very good so far. Christophe illustrated how the Japanese and Koreans are massively out-investing everyone else in manufacturing facilities for lithium-ion batteries. The same is doubtless true for development.
At the event, Europe was shown to be a leader in the application of information technology to electric vehicles and their infrastructure. From Portugal to Slovenia and the Netherlands, the Europeans have developed in-wheel motors and the more advanced complete corner units but with very little sold as a consequence. This is not so much due to technophobia on the part of the vehicle manufacturers as to the problem that such systems usually call for a "born electric" platform involving large capital costs, something that even Mitsubishi jibbed at with its MiEV even after developing the necessary in-wheel technology. Indeed, although in-wheel and near wheel units provide savings and improved performance, there is still an upfront extra cost of buying several motors instead of one. As we forecast in our report, Electric Motors for Electric Vehicles 2012-2022 these units will succeed but progress will be slow.
Smart grid, inductive charging, charging infrastructure, standardisation, carbon footprint and environmental issues with component failures were among other topics briefly covered at this very useful event.
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