EV Basics II – An Electric Vehicle Primer

Important Acronyms:

BEV – Battery electric vehicle, a vehicle which uses only batteries and one or more motors to provide the force that makes it go.

EV – Electric vehicle, any vehicle that uses electric power to provide some or all of its propulsive force.

FCEV – Fuel cell electric vehicle, an electric vehicle which uses a hydrogen fuel cell as its source of electric power.

HEV – Hybrid electric vehicle, a car or truck that uses both an ICE and an electric motor.

ICE – Internal combustion engine, the powerplant of choice for the dirty, inefficient vehicles of the 20th Century.

PHEV – Plug-in hybrid vehicle, a hybrid vehicle with a battery pack that can be charged from a wall socket.

Have you just developed an interest in electric vehicles? Are you looking to learn some EV fundamentals? You’ve come to the right place! Read on, and you will start your education on the wonders of EVs. In this article, I will introduce readers to some of the various different types of EVs and explaing some of the advantages and issues associated with each type. Note that this article is only an introduction. I will go into more depth on different aspects of the subject matter in future installments of the “EV Basics” series.

There are several different power trains available which use electric motors. The simplest of these vehicles is the battery electric vehicle or BEV. This is a pure electric vehicle which uses only a battery pack and an electric motor to store energy and create the power necessary to make the car or truck move. BEVs have been around for a long time. In 1835, Thomas Davenport built a railway operated by a small electric motor. In the early years of the 20th Century, BEVs competed quite successfully with ICE-powered vehicles. It was not until Henry Ford started building the Model T that gasoline-powered cars that BEVs faded from public view.

In the 1960s, BEVs began to make a comeback. Interest in electric vehicles has grown steadily since then as concerns about pollution and dependence on foreign oil have permeated mainstream consciousness. Currently, BEVs are being designed and built in a wide variety of styles and layouts, from electric scooters, to low-speed electric cars such as those produced by Zenn Motor Company, to high-power freeway burners such as the two-seat Tesla Roadster or the family-friendly, five-passenger eBox by AC Propulsion.

BEVs must face a few hurdles if they are to replace ICE-only cars as our primary method of transportation. Historically, they have had limited driving range, significantly less than the range of a gasoline-powered car. Additionally, BEV have generally taken several hours to recharge the battery pack. In a world in which people have gotten used to instant gratification, this poses a real problem. The good news is that many people are working on these issues, and dramatic improvements are being made in both range and recharging time. Current EV designs have achieved ranges of more than 300 miles and charging times have been brought down to two hours or less in some models charged with high-powered “smart” chargers.

In the 1990s, Honda and Toyota introduced the American driving public to the hybrid electric vehicle or HEV. These vehicles use both an ICE and an electric motor. There are different types of HEVs which layout the engine and the motor in either a parallel or a series configuration. In a series configuration, the ICE acts only as an electrical generator. In a parallel configuration the ICE again acts as a generator, but it also drives the vehicle’s wheels just as the engine would do in an ICE-only vehicle.

HEVs provide significant benefits over ICE-only cars in two distinct areas. Firstly, the electric motor allows engineers to operate the ICE more efficiently because an HEV can rely heavily on the electric motor at points in which the ICE would be operating very inefficiently. Secondly, the battery pack in an HEV can be used to recapture the energy used while braking. To accomplish this, engineers create regenerative braking systems which used the electrical resistance of a generator to slow the car down long before they mechanical brakes come into play. The energy from the generator is then stored in the battery pack for future use. In a car without regenerative braking, all this energy is wasted by creating heat and wearing down the brake pads.

HEVs also have some problems. Unlike BEVs, they require some gasoline or other liquid fuel to operate. Also, they are more complicated then either a BEV or an ICE-only vehicle because they require both types of drivetrain components under one hood. However, they eliminate the range and recharging issues associated with BEVs, so HEVs can be viewed as a good transition step to the vehicles of the future.

Recently, much attention has been paid to plug-in hybrids or PHEVs. In essence, a PHEV is an HEV with a larger battery pack, a plug which allows the battery pack to be charged from a wall socket, and a control system which allows the vehicle to be operated in electric-only mode. The wall-charging feature allows a PHEV to get some of its power from the utility grid (or from a local power source such as a photovoltaic array or wind turbine) and some of its power from gasoline. Recently, several companies and individuals have been working on creating plug-in versions of the Toyota Prius. These conversions allow the Prius to run in all-electric mode until it reaches roughly 35mph. They give varying traveling ranges in all-electric mode, depending on which type of batteries are used and how many extra batteries are installed.

While these plug-in Priuses are a good start, PHEVs as a genre have even more potential. General Motors recently introduced the Chevrolet Volt E-Flex concept car, a PHEV which can travel up to 40 miles in electric only mode. It has a large electric motor and a one liter, three cylinder ICE. PHEVs of the future could follow this trend even further, maximizing the electric elements of the drivetrain while reducing the ICE to a tiny power plant which gets used only as a last resort.

In the last few years, fuel cell electric vehicles or FCEVs have grabbed many headlines. These are electric vehicles which use a hydrogen fuel cell to provide power, eliminating the need for a battery pack. Proponents point out that hydrogen is the most abundant of the chemical elements and that the only gas emitted from an FCEV is steam made from pure water. Detractors point out that nearly all hydrogen currently available is made from natural gas, a petroleum product. Hydrogen is also difficult to store in quantities sufficient to give FCEVs adequate range and it can present safety hazards when pressurized in tanks. Finally, FCEVs currently require complex, bulky support systems which take up excessive space and result in power delivery systems which are far less efficient than those present in BEVs.

Fuel cells have some potential to become part of the overall energy scenario in the future. However, many feel that FCEVs have been used primarily as a distraction and a stalling device. Companies and politicians keep telling us, “We’ll have FCEVs in the near future, but until then keep driving your Hummers!” These tactics keep people from demanding BEVs as soon as possible. As one saying puts it, “Practical, viable fuel cells are ten to twenty years away, and they always will be.”

One other type of electric vehicle is the human-assist hybrid. The most common example of this vehicle type is the electric bicycle. These are commonly-available, inexpensive, and they give people the health benefits associated with exercise while providing an additional boost when needed. Legally, they must be limited to 20 mph in electric assist mode, and the electric-only range of electric bikes now available is almost always less than twenty miles.

However, readers should ponder the fact that a small, aerodynamic vehicle can cruise at 65 mph on a flat road while using only five horsepower. Imagine the roads covered with small, efficient vehicles that use tiny electric motors and human power to achieve freeway speeds without putting a significant burden on the utility grid. While no major corporations are working on vehicles like this, small groups of dedicated individuals are working to make this type of vehicle available to the general public. These low-power vehicles could become the ultimate transportation solution for an energy-conscious society.

So there you have it! You now have enough information to join EV-related conversations at your next social gathering. You can talk about the different types of EVs, letting people know what is available now and what is coming in the near future. If you are still curious for more details on the benefits of electric vehicles and the advances which are being made in the field, please see the other articles in this “EV Basics” series.

Electric Vehicle Range – The Role and Care of Your Batteries

With the right motor and batteries you will be surprised at the acceleration ability of your new electric vehicle. You will even out accelerate many gas vehicles if put to the test. We are not just building an oversized underpowered golf cart here. These vehicles are capable of doing 50 mph and have a range of up to 200 miles before they need to be charged up.

Depending on whether you have bought new batteries or found some second-hand industrial batteries you will have to decide how you are going to maximize their lifespan and the range you are going to get out of each charge. With second-hand batteries you may need to be more conservative with your speed and range. Most second-hand batteries can be restored to almost new condition with some care, with flooded batteries this would involve emptying the batteries of electrolyte and filling them up again with ionized water and then charging them for approximately 24 hours. When they have been charged like this they are emptied once more and the process is repeated, they should then be refilled with the correct electrolyte and charged once more.

This process should give them a totally new lease on life. With new batteries, they take time to reach full capacity, usually after a number of charges, and most batteries should not be run to fully discharged early on as this will reduce their lifespan. Because the batteries are the heart of your electric vehicle and determine how far you will be able to travel on a single charge, it is essential to take good care of them, whether they are second-hand batteries which you picked up cheaply or a new set of batteries which you paid good money for. If you have been able to buy a new set of batteries it is highly advisable to carefully read the instructions which would come with the set as these instructions will give you the best advice on how to best care for your new batteries, thereby ensuring you get the maximum usage out of the batteries.

As you get used to driving your electric vehicle, you will find ways of running without using the motor, such as when there are steep hills, you can often coast down the hills to save the batteries. This will significantly increase your range and remember that when you are doing this you are saving money and doing your bit to help the planet.

Electric Vehicle History

Electric vehicles have been around for many years, even though the general public think that electrically powered vehicles are a recent invention. This is because only in recent years these type of vehicles have become more widely known due to being considered as possible alternatives to vehicles powered by combustion engines in an effort to reduce emissions that contribute to Global warming.

An electrically powered small scale model car invented in 1828 in Hungary is considered by many as being the first invented electric vehicle. Others consider an electric powered carriage invented in the 1830’s in Scotland by Robert Anderson as the first electrical powered vehicle. Another small scale electric car was designed by Professor Stratingh and built by Christopher Becker, his assistant, in Holland in 1835. Thomas Davenport also built a small electric car in 1835. He also invented the first DC motor built in the US.

Unfortunately battery technology was not advanced enough to justify further development of these type of vehicles back then. It was not until the late 1890’s that the first true passenger electric vehicle was built by William Morrison in the US. In fact in the years 1899 and 1900 more electric vehicles were sold than other types of vehicles like gasoline and steam powered vehicles in the US.

In the 1900’s electric powered vehicles had many advantages as compared to their competitors. They didn’t have the smell, vibration as well as noise as did the gasoline vehicles. Also, changing gears on gasoline vehicles was the most complicated part of driving, while electrical automobiles did not require gear changes. Steam-powered cars additionally had no gear shifting, but they suffered from long start-up times of up to 45 minutes on cold early mornings.

Steam vehicles had less range before requiring water than an electric vehicle’s range on a single charge. The best roads of the period were in town, restricting most travel to local commuting, which was well suitable for electric vehicles, since their range was limited. The electric car was the preferred alternative of many because it did not require to manually turn the hand crank to start the engine as the gasoline vehicles needed and there was no wrestling with a gear shifter to change gears.

During World War I, the cost of petrol went through the roof contributing to the popularity of electric cars. This lead to the development of the Detroit Electric which started production in 1907. The car’s range between battery recharging was about 130km (80 miles). The range depended on exactly what type of battery came with the vehicle. The typical Detroit Electric was actually powered by a rechargeable lead acid battery, which did exceptionally well in cold weather.

But the popularity of the electric car quickly came to an end. With better roads being built not only within cities, but also connecting them, the need for longer range vehicles grew. This made the electric car an impractical means of transportation. Also the newly discovered oil in the state of Texas in the US which brought the price of gas down considerably, along with the electric starter invention in 1912 which eliminated the need for a hand crank, made the gasoline vehicle the vehicle of choice. And with Henry Ford making them extremely affordable to the general public by mass producing them, the fate of the electric vehicle was sealed for many years.

It wasn’t until the 1990’s that electric vehicles started resurfacing. With the Global warming issue, the exorbitant prices of imported crude oil and legislation for smog reduction in cities, electric vehicles not only resurfaced but this time are here to stay. One of the main reasons contributing to the re-birth of the electric car is the advance in battery technology. The lithium-ion battery packs and the nickel metal hybrid battery packs are much lighter than previous batteries and can hold enough charge to power a vehicle for 100’s of Miles at high speeds between charges making electrical vehicles efficient and practical.

Size Does Matter-Electric Vehicle Battery Sizes

Everyone of us have used batteries in the course of our everyday lives, whether consciously or unconsciously. With the recent trend of miniaturization, we often completely forget that batteries are everywhere. Until they stop working, that is! It’s a little different with larger high-powered batteries. They are used and recharged and require maintenance. With the coming of the electric vehicle as a viable driving alternative, the conversation must soon turn to the realities of the electric vehicle battery. Of immediate concern are capacity, size and weight.

Now this article has as its focus the size of electric vehicle batteries. For example, a standard vehicle battery is measured in inches (9 x 12 x 7). The car battery market is well established and at the present time, size is inextricably tied to capacity. A real issue is power for acceleration and maintaining speeds above 10-15 mph which require lots of amperage (Amps). So, in the case of electric cars, more capacity means more amps and more amps require more electric vehicle batteries. This is where size plays a part; it’s about the space required for sufficient battery storage.

However, size is not the only challenge with the use of electric vehicle batteries. With our existing technology, with size comes weight and this further complicates electric vehicle efficiency. Starting with a car full of batteries leaves little room for people, additional payloads and everyday shopping items. We’re already used to golf carts; now we’re seeing the two seater electric vehicles coming into our cities. We haven’t solved all the challenges yet, but the process has finally begun – people are now considering driving electric vehicles, battery issues aside. Alternative lifestyle isn’t just for hippies anymore.

The opinions of people are now changing, with growing concern about environmental impact, economic sustainability and the rising cost of dependence on oil-based fuels. All these factors are playing their part in what could become a great national transformation. Hybrids are bridging the gap while an old industry reinvents itself. Eventually the electric vehicle battery issues will resolve themselves. Meanwhile, go for a nice quiet stroll and think about what a quiet, peaceful ride in the fresh air would be like. You never know, we might even enjoy slowing down to stop and smell the roses.