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Article 14





The on-line presence of
Peter Bell


No one killed the electric car...it was merely resting - Peter Bell - October 2007

"Who Killed the Electric Car?" the movie by filmmaker Chris Paine asks the question why it has taken so long for the Electric Car to emerge in the private transportation market.

The reality is that electrical energy storage technology (like batteries and capacitors) available in the 1990's did not have an energy density performance that was anywhere near parity with that provided by liquid fuels like gasoline.

Therefore the electric car was stuck on the golf course waiting for the energy density performance of batteries to catch up with that of gasoline.

This energy density tipping point is now close

The proof that the energy density tipping point is now close to being crossed is evident  by a recently brought to market electric powered dirt bike, the Zero Motor Cycle

The Zero is a battery powered dirt bike that has a 40 mile range with the equivalent performance to a gasoline powered, two stroke dirt bike. The bike has amazing acceleration with a 0-30mph time of under 2 seconds, now that's Zero to Hero performance compared to a 2007 Porsche Cayman 3.4 L 6 speed manual S's 0-60 performance of 4.8.

The amazing thing about this electric dirt bike is that the gasoline powered dirt bike has had billions of development dollars spent on it that has resulted in a highly developed machine, yet it's electric equivalent is now on the market in 2007.

Click the links below to watch a couple of videos of my business partner, Peterson Conway riding the electric motor cycle around a car park and down a street:

Video 1 - Electric Dirt Bike down the street (3MB)

The only noise you hear on the bike going down the street is the squeal on the brakes as Peterson locks up the back wheel.

Video 2 - Electric Dirt Bike around the car park (10MB)

The interesting thing about the video of the electric bike going around the car park is that the only noise you hear the bike making is from the drive chain running on its sprocket. Check out Neil in Jay Leno's garage:


Gasoline vs. Electric parity will occur in 2008

The Electric Dirt bike shows the way that in 2008, the Electric Car will start to emerge from its hibernation and prove that no one killed it. The Electric Car was just bidding its time waiting the the tipping point to occur where the energy density performance of electricity storage exceeded that of liquid fuels. 

By my estimation, the tipping point where energy storage capacity achieves parity with gasoline will occur in 2008...here is why...

The increasing energy density performance for the chemical energy storage device (the battery) is not under the same year by year performance enhancement curve as "Moore's Law" articulates occurred over the last 20 years to computing capacity performance.  Having siad that, the pace of battery performance development is following a trajectory that has seen battery performance radically improve and the key price point of the storage start to fall rapidly.

Where do we stand on this development curve today?

Lithium batteries on the market today see energy densities in the order of 250 Wh/kg. In comparison, a gallon of gasoline has the energy density of 12,200 Wh/kg and in practice this gives an approximate usable energy density of 3,000 Wh/kg.

This back of the envelope calculation indicates that gasoline currently has an approximate 12 fold energy storage efficiency performance lead over battery storage.   

Development in battery performance is heading towards the theoretical specific energy capacity ceiling of 3,300 Wh/kg. This theoretical capacity is possible using a Lithium / Sulfur couple and if achieved, that energy density performance would be closely comparable with liquid fuels like gasoline at 3,000 Wh/kg.

This means that in 5 years time, the 20 gallon gas tank in your car could be replaced by a battery of equivalent weight, size and performance.

Energy Density parity is a long way off...so what is the big deal with this electric bike?

....in 5 years time, i.e. by 2012, the battery powered vehicle might start to approcah the energy density parity with gasoline...that is a long time to wait...

This level of energy density only achieves parity with today's gasoline performance and presumes the unlikely scenario that Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) performance will stand still over the coming 5 years.

The "ah ha" moment

The overall energy conversion efficiency of an electrically powered machine compared to that of a gasoline fueled machine makes a huge difference to this calculation.

Only 10% to 15% of the energy in your vehicle's gas tank ends up at the wheels in today's Internal Combustion Engine powered vehicles (see diagram below care of DOE) ... compare this to the 80% to 90% energy conversion efficiency of the electric drive system and you have an "ah ha" moment...

The diagram above demonstrates how the average gasoline motors operates at about a 25% energy conversion efficiency, with the average diesel Internal Combustion Engine doing a little better, achieving about a 30% energy conversion efficiency.

  • Electric motors are 4 times more efficient than the Internal Combustion Engine in converting stored energy into useful work.
  • In addition to this 4 fold gain in direct efficiency, the electric motor requires no transmission, so it does not suffer any transmission efficiency losses. 

Overall, this means that the electric drive system is roughly 8 times more efficient at converting the energy in its storage device (the battery) when compared to the Internal Combustion Engine and its (the fuel tank) storage device.

Electric Drive is 8 times more efficient than the Internal Combustion Engine

The efficiency advantage of electricity over ICE sees performance parity between the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) system and the Electric Drive system achieved for the first time in 2008, when battery performance density reaches 500 Wh/g.

Now for the "ah ha" moment...

...in 2012 or 5 years from now, when battery energy density achieves 3,000 Wh/g and parity with that of gasoline, the Electric Drive system will have an 8 fold performance advantage over that of the Internal Combustion Engine system...

...achieving energy density parity between gasoline and the battery means that an average electric car will be able to go 8 times further on a single refill than a gasoline powered vehicle....or have 8 times the performance capability than its equivalent Internal Combustion Powered vehicle...  

Your average run-about 4 door sedan can then go 0-60 in a mind blowing 4 seconds...just like a Ferrari today...or just like PM Flight Link's 640 HP, 150 mph, all wheel drive, Electric Hybrid Drive Mini Cooper does today.

The New Era Dawns

The evidence of this performance advantage is just starting to appear with hybrid drive systems being installed on some racing cars and taking the checkered flag over their non-electrically enhance competitors.

On July 18th 2007 the new era dawned when Toyota made history by winning the Tokashi 24-Hour Race with its Supra HV-R hybrid race car as it became the first time that a hybrid race car has won a major motor racing competition in the modern era.

2008 Electric Drive overtakes Internal Combustion Engine performance

Battery technology is on track for achieving an energy density of 500 Wh/g by 2008. By my estimation that the performance of electric drive technology will overtake the Internal Combustion Engine system performance by the end of 2008.

Clearly advanced battery technology has a number of life cycle as well as calendar life issues to overcome. There is also the thorny problem of cost. Battery technology needs to cost around $250 per kwh to compete in the transportation sector and advanced cells can be made for these price levels. However, the market is paying $4,000 a kwh for these advanced cells to go into all the electronic applications and the incumbent cell manufacturers are unlikely to cannibalize their high value markets to bring us low cost cells for transportation.     

But the pace of battery development continues and this means that Electric Drive performance will overtake Internal Combustion Engine performance. We will then be able to start down the path toward liquid fossil fuel obsolescence in our transportation system and crude oil taking an ever diminishing role in human affairs, the same way as whale oil faded into insignificance back in the 18th century.

Transportation sold via the Internet just like Dell Computers. 

The advantages of high density electricity storage when compared to the energy storage capability of liquid fuels are dramatic and they usher in the opportunity for radically different business models for the sale of transportation products.

For example, the Electric Bike is a product is that could be sold via the internet thereby cutting out the traditional dealership support channel. Because the bike parts are so light and simple, the average handy man can replace most parts on the electric bike. The electric bike company does not need to develop a dealership network to service its bikes as any replacement parts can be shipped by a carrier like FedEx as they are so light weight.

The Pace of Development

This situation is changing rapidly with developments in battery, capacitor and electric motors evolving at such a pace, the real question of electric vehicle adotption will come down to the price of storage or our ability to wireless charge on the go. If we continue at the current pace of innovation, it would not be out of the question to envision a situation where the majority of new cars, boats, scooters etc. were powered by electric motors by the year 2020.

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