With the adoption of battery technologies used in mobile phones for powering cars, there is a rapidly expanding interest in producing pure electric vehicles, with no internal combustion engine at all.
As noted in the latest Jamison Group Report electric vehicles, once a pipe-dream, are now a reality. They are part of the revolution to introduce a low-carbon economy and reduce motorists' reliance on oil. In the UK, the Government plans to roll out 1 million electric vehicles by 2020 using incentives such as free parking for electric vehicle owners.
For starters, it will mean a significant reduction in air pollution in cities as noxious tail pipe emissions like nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide are zero with an electric car. This is good news for our health.
Depending on the price of electricity it may also mean it may cost less to run your car. Maintenance costs are reportedly less thanks to simpler technology so electric vehicles may mean big saving to motorists.
It will also require charging points dotted throughout the city. In the UK, it is planned that no Londoner be more than a mile from a charging point by 2020, with payment likely to be in a "pay as you go" format - as for mobile phones.
Powering electric cars does mean shifting the carbon pollution to the source of electricity generation. However, if we use power sourced from renewables like wind and solar - it will mean a significant reduction in carbon emissions. The benefit of reduced air pollution in cities will also be significant for our health - particularly for reduced respiratory disease.
The range of electric vehicles is currently around 150 kilometres - and considering most motorists drive around 35km per day, the electric vehicle is definitely a viable option for most drivers. For those who travel longer distances, plans are afoot for quick charge stations and swap-and-go battery exchanges - with a trial planned in the ACT this year and for charge points with trials around Australia.
There are already a number of electric vehicles in production and use globally. For example, there are 1400 of Mitsubishi's i-MiEV's in use in Japanese municipalities. Nissan's Leaf will be available in Europe in early 2011 thanks to significant government incentives lowering the price. The Leaf should be available in Australia in 2012 and a limited number of i-MiEV are available to some companies and government fleets in Australia. Most vehicle manufacturers have plans to introduce EVs to the mass market in the near future. As the number grows, costs should come down.
British and European governments are competing to be the leaders in the electric car market with Britain and Germany aiming to have 1 million electric cars on the road by 2020. The French are aiming for 2 million.
To date, the UK Government has made the biggest financial commitment of £250m of consumer incentives to stimulate uptake of electric cars and development of the local production of the cars and related infrastructure - providing a boost to local jobs and expertise (Department for Transport UK).
In fact, Michael Hurwitz, the man tasked with making low emission vehicles in the UK a reality, was a key-note speaker at NRMA's recent Alternative Fuel and Technology summit.
Hybrid vehicles incorporate a petrol engine, and a smaller electric motor and battery pack. The vehicle starts on the electric motor and the petrol engine cuts in as speed or load rises. The operation of the two motors is controlled by a computer which chooses the most economical combination for the driving task. These vehicles typically use other fuel saving tricks such as low rolling resistance tyres, idle stop, low drag bodies and regenerative braking, where the braking energy is fed back to the battery pack.
Extended range electric vehicles are a combination of a petrol engine with an electric motor. The petrol engine does not drive the wheels directly and is designed to extend the range of the car by charging the battery when it gets low. These vehicles usually use the other fuel saving strategies as above. More information on hybrid cars.
Plug-in electric hybrids will soon be available and can be charged by plugging into the mains. They are essentially a hybrid vehicle that can be plugged into a power point to charge the battery directly.
Battery electric cars will be powered solely by an electric battery charged by plugging into the grid or into your home renewable electricity supply. The batteries are usually either lithium ion or nickel metal hydride technology enabling a greater amount of charge per unit weight than traditional lead-acid batteries.
Hydrogen fuel cells convert chemical energy in the form of hydrogen and oxygen into an electric current, with water and heat the by-products. There are various challenges with the ability to store hydrogen but a "hydrogen highway" exists in California. In fact Arnold Schwarzenegger has the first hydrogen fuelled Hummer and his former advisor Terry Tamminen was a key-note speaker at the recent NRMA Alternative Fuel and Technology Summit.
For more information see the Jamison Group's Fuelling future passenger vehicle use in Australia (PDF 3MB/133 pages) page 96.
So, expect electrifying developments soon.