James Robertson points to a very interesting detail related to electro-mobility that I haven’t thought of before:
… it can take as long as 20 hours to charge up the car using a standard 120-volt circuit. If you hook up to a 240-volt Level 2 charging station — which can be installed in your home for the estimated cost of $2,200 — you can cut that time down to eight hours or so for a full charge.
So living in the states where the outlets have 120 Volts rather than 220-240 means charging you car takes double the time or you have to invest a siginifcant amount of money just for reducing charging times.
This will of course put high obstacles into the way of electric mobiliy in one of the biggest market for cars – one that I’ve never thought of before.
But, to be honest, I am quite convinced that the whole battery pack idea is wrong, both from a practical and ecological / economical standpoint. As long as the electricity for our cars comes from nuclear or coal plants, and as long as we have highly-toxic battery packs in our vehicles, there is not very much ecological sense in all this.
If it takes many hours to charge a car, it’s impractical or inconvenient for many people. That’s not the way to convince the masses of a new technology.
I also see issues with replaceable battery packs. Sounds expensive, time consuming and also incenvenient to me, not to speak of the problem of how many stations I will be able to find where they can replace my battery pack.
There is an interesting sounding alternative to battery packs: it is called flow batteries or Redox-Flow-Batteries. The idea is that there is an electrolyte that flows through a power genarator. The base principle is easy: you have two fuel tanks in your car: one for the loaded electrolyte and one for the used, “empty” electrolyte.
Why do I think that sounds better than battery packs?
First of all, recharging your car means removing the used electrolyte and refilling the tank for new electrolyte. So the charging of the electrolyte happens outside of the car, at any time or place. Even if tanking/untanking would take 3 or 5 minutes, it would be very similar to how we tank our cars today. And it still would be cheaper and faster than most battery pack replacement concepts around. Sounds very nice to me, I guess this could be adopted by the masses pretty easily.
So uncoupling the charging process from the car brings many advantages:
- No need for an outlet at my parking spot
- Unlimited mileage by tanking new electrolyte, just like fuel today
- Reuse of existing distribution channels, like gas stations
- No hassles with broken batteries. If the electrylote is “empty”, tank new
- Better chance for ecologically friendly power production
Let’s assume we want electric cars because we want to do something good for the environment (I know, that’s naive, we want them because electricity promises to be cheaper, but….). What could this technology do for us?
The electrolyte would be charged at the gas station or even better in big plants. Imagine somebody setting up a huge solar plant in some sunny region, like some desert and using existing infrastructure like ships and tank lorries to transport electrolyte instead of oil. Or water power plants, or whatever ecologically sensible way of producing electricity we might think of. We could ship the loaded electrolyte around, just like we do with oil today. And we could do it by using flow batteries in the lorries or tankers (not sure if that’s practical).
If we wanted, this could be good in many ways:
- We could help poor but sunny countries to make money by delivering our electricity
- The today rich oil producing and sunny countries could invest in such solar plants to earn lots of money even if they run out of oil
- The petrol companies could provide their infrastructure (tankers, lorries, gas stations, ports etc.) to distribute electrolyte instead of gas
- We would not have to build up extremely expensive power networks to transport the electricity
- We could use solar energy for our cars rather than conventionally produced electricity (which is just making the pollution invisible for the individual driver but solves no problems as long it is not produced in an ecologically friendly way)
- We could probably really do something to reduce CO2 emissions
So in all, I wonder why no big player tries to invest in this technology for electric vehicles rather than expensive and fragile battery packs.
Interestingly, the approach by the Fraunhofer institute seems to promise that you can reach up to 100 km with one tank – theoretically. I guess with a few million bucks in Research, there will be more progress.