1. Electric vehicle technology
1.1. Do lithium batteries suffer from self-discharge?
All types of battery self-discharge, and lithium batteries are no exception. The level of self-discharge in a lithium battery is however so small that in practice it goes unnoticed. If you leave your car unused for twelve months or more, it is a good idea to charge the battery before driving.
1.2. Can lithium batteries cope with sub-zero temperatures?
Lithium batteries enjoy cold conditions, but not arctic temperatures. Unprotected, their operating temperature range is from -25 C to 65 C. Batteries are however encapsulated so that temperatures as low as -40 C are not a problem. An electric car equipped with lithium batteries is guaranteed to operate in winter conditions!
1.3. Is battery capacity weakened by charging cycles or by aging?
By both, but the main source of stress comes from charging cycles. The technology is still so new that an exhaustive answer to this question cannot yet be given. In environments where the temperature rises above 40 C, capacity reduction through aging is of greater significance than in milder conditions. Tests indicate that driving at least 200,000 kilometres on a set of lithium batteries should be possible.
1.4. How soon does the capacity of a lithium battery start to decline?
During its first year of use (500 cycles), the capcity of a lithium battery falls by some 10%. After this, the decline in capacity is slower. Users will not notice this, as the battery control system compensates for the decline in capacity. Specifications for electric cars normally state the capacity after the first year of use, so the actual capacity of a brand-new battery will be higher than its specification.
1.5. Do lithium batteries suffer if they are charged to full capacity when only half full, or from empty to only half full?
Should lithium batteries be discharged completely from time to time?
Lithium batteries do not suffer if they are charged from a half-full state to full or from empty to haf full. Also, there is no need for them to be completely discharged. You can think of them as a petrol tank, but in electrical form. The active electronics supplied with the battery take care of all these aspects.
1.6. How should used lithium batteries be disposed of? Are they regarded as problem waste?
When the capacity of your lithium batteries has fallen below an amount that you wish to use in your car, they can continue to be used for storing wind-generated electricity, in your boat, or in any other location which has an adequate amount of space.
Lithium batteries are not problem waste. Lithium is still so cheap that it is not recycled. In Finland, there is a company called Akkuser (http://www.akkuser.fi/) which recycles lithium batteries using high technology methods. The primary material being recycled is cobalt oxide.
In the future, recycling litium-ion batteries will make good sense because doing so makes it easy to obtain new operational units. This is also the most sustainable alternative from an environmental viewpoint.
1.7. Will it be possible to increase the battery capacity of electric cars that feature in this project?
It all depends on the model of car that is selected. The motor compartment can hold both the electric motor and batteries that provide a range of 150 kilometres. In principle, the car can be constructed so that range options of, for example, 50 km, 100 km and 150 km are available. In addition, increasing capacity requires nothing more than the installation of an extra battery.
We are investigating the possibility that an extra floor to hold additional batteries could be added beneath the rear section of an estate car. This would allow the vehicle’s range to be extended to more than 300 kilometres.
New battery technology is continuously being investigated and modular production means that upgrading will also be possible. The intention is also to make rapid battery changes possible, as has been proposed in Project Better Place.
1.8. Are lithium battreries a fire hazard?
From the viewpoint of fire safety, a car equipped with lithium batteries is one class better that a vehicle using petrol, diesel or ethanol fuel, and two classes better than a vehicle using natural gas or a hydrogen-powered fuel cell.
There have been cases in which the lithium batteries in mobile phones have begun to burn. The frequency of this occurrence is only 0.00002%. Billions of lithium batteries have been manufactured and only a few hundred cases of fires have been reported in the whole of the technology’s history. The majority of these events have resulted from incorrect packaging or handling. For example, the metal forks of a fork-lift truck penetrated a packaging case leading to short circuits and ignition of the packing material. There is no risk of a major fire or explosion.
1.9. How long does charging the batteries take?
The charging of a 150-kilometre battery pack from empty to full takes about eight hours using a normal 16-amp domestic supply. Although a standalone rapid charger can charge the battery to 80% of its full capacity in about 30 minutes, it is not recommended that this is done repeatedly. Rapid chargers will become available to all as the project progresses.
1.10. What are the top speed and acceleration of a family car powered by an electric motor?
The top speed and acceleration of an electric car can easily be set higher than those of an equivalent petrol-powered model. A 3-litre petrol engine uses significantly more fuel than a 1.5-litre engine, even when driven at a low and steady speed. On the other hand, an electric car equipped with a 50 kW motor uses no more energy than an electric car equipped with a 25 kW motor when driven at a low and steady speed.
The bottleneck is the petrol car’s powertrain, all the components of which are not strong enough to withstand the torque that an electric motor can generate. At the time of writing, the power rating of the motor to be used in conversions has not been fixed, nor has the maximum torque or top speed. The most likely solution at this time is that the top speed will be a little less than a petrol model, but acceleration will be slightly better.
NOTE: The operating range stated for a single charge has been calculated using a speed of 100 km/h. Higher speeds will reduce the possible range because the energy required to overcome air resistance increases as the square of the vehicle’s speed. Correspondingly, speeds of less than 100 km/h will result in an increase in the driving range.
1.11. How will the driving control systems (ABS, ESP) used in modern vehicles operate when the original fossil-fuel engine is rpelaced by an electric motor?
Even with their fine titles and complicated calculations, driving control systems only generate commands that either speed up or slow down the vehicle’s engine. These can be measured and adapted to suit electric motors. In most cases, these transducers and computers asssociated with driving safely are located in separate units located around the vehicle. Interfering with these during the conversion process is not the intention. The upgrade system is connected to the vehicle network and distributes information in the same way as in the fossil-fuel arrangement.
1.12. What is rapid charging?
Rapid charging uses more power than is available from normal domestic electricity supplies. A higher current supply and a separate rapid charging unit are therefore required. The price of this type of equipment has fallen considerably, and it will be appearing in the future in all service stations and supermarket parking facilities. Payment for usage will be made to the owner or keeper of the machine, just like a parking meter – probably by swiping a bonus card.
1.13. How is an electric car heated?
Using electricity. In winter conditions, using the heater will reduce the vehilcle’s operating range by 15-20%. Use of air-conditioning systems will have the same effect in summer. It will be possible to use the charging current to start heating the car before driving actually begins. The reduction in operating range will then be less.
1.14. What components in the fossil-fuelled vehicle will be removed when it is converted to an alectric car?
The engine, starter motor, alternator, mechanical pumps and belts, the exhaust pipe, fuel tank, pipes and the lead-acid battery.
1.15. Which components will be added during the conversion to an electric car?
The battery pack, motor, motor controller, charger, DC/DC converter, enclosure, heater, vacuum pump, pump for power-assisted steering (if this is not electrically-driven).
1.16. Which service and repair operations will be unnecessary in an electric car?
All the normal service operations associated with a fossil-fuel-powered engine (oil changes, spark plugs, heater plugs, belts etc.)
1.17. What new service and repair operations will be required with an electric car?
Distance (i.e. remote) servicing from the sofa in your living room. The only additional operations could be the changing of fuses etc. Nothing else.
1.18. What types of gearbox do electric cars have?
Electric cars can be equipped with gearbox-free transmission, automatic or an existing manual gearbox. Each solution has its good and not-so-good sides. No decision has yet been made on the gearbox that will be used in the project’s electric cars.
1.19. How will electric cars be serviced?
At this stage in the project, the arrangements for servicing electric cars have not yet been made. More information on this will be provided when the cars are actually available. The servicing of electric cars is not in itself a problem, as the amount of work involved is about one-third of that required for a fossil-fuel-powered vehicle, and the cost is about one quarter. These “about” figures are not statistics, they are based on information provided by the drivers of electric cars.
A few hundred Elcat electric cars have been in use in Finland, and the service network covers the whole country. As the vehicle that will be used in the project is a normal car, its mechanical and other components will be serviceable by any professional working in the auto service sector. Dedicated and expensive diagnostic equipment will not be needed.
Distance diagnostics will be arranged for the electrical technology in the car. In this way, problems and causes of problems will be known before service decisions are made. In principle, the simplest way to operate will be to replace a possibly-faulty module and return the suspect one for servicing. Guarantees will be the responsibility of each component manufacturer.
As it will also be possible to execute diagnostic operations via the car’s own operating system, some users may wish to work this way. It will be possible to order spare parts with the click of a mouse button.
1.20. Will the electric car have a regenerative braking system?
It will. So-called “Regen” brakes are standard on all modern motor systems. The electric motor can also easily be used as a generator. The operating logic that will be employed is still being considered:_- Should Regen be activated automatically when pressure on the accelerator pedal is released? (the French model)_- Only activated when the brake pedal is depressed? (the Elcat model)_- Or should the gearstick be replaced by a small spring-loaded joystick which allows the braking force to be adjusted? (the MME model)
NOTE: Regen brakes mean that the energy used by an electric car is reduced in urban conditions and increases on highways, exactly the opposite of the situation with fossil-fuel-powered vehicles.
2. The Electric Cars – Now project
2.1. What is special about this project?
In 2008, nowhere in the world is it yet possible for consumers to freely purchase a modern, full-specification, fully-electric family car at a reasonable price. This is a situation we intend to correct.
General Motors’ EV1 could not be purchased, it was only available via a leasing agreement which required the car to be taken off the road when the lease ended. - Mexico City is converting 1000 electric cars, but they use lead-acid batteries and are only available to city employees. – The eBox is available, but it costs USD 50,000. – Right now, the only fully-electric cars being sold are either converted mopeds or unreasonably expensive.
2.2. Who is behind the Electric Cars – Now! project?
Long-time users of electric cars and experts in battery technology are involved, but the majority are average citizens who are fed up with waiting for the major car companies to start offering electric cars. Development work at Finnish Electric Vehicle Technologies (FEVT), a company at the centre of the project, provided the stimulus to get work going. FEVT is currently the obvious supplier of battery technology, but is not the only alternative.
2.3. Who is funding the Electric Cars – Now! project?
So far, the project has not been funded in any way and has been supported by volunteers. Electric Cars – Now! is a not-for-profit project. The purchasing of cars and the individual conversion of vehicles is outsourced to companies already working in the sector. In this way, the amount of work and investment required can be minimised.
The only major sum of money is that required to build prototype vehicles. In ths activity, quantity discounts for components are not available, in fact they cost many times more than they would when purchased in large numbers. These cars are operating as the project’s prototypes. Companies that are considering partnerships can fund additional prototypes and help with other costs.
We are in daily negotiations with equipment suppliers to ensure that prototype costs are reasonable. The buyers of the first cars have already agreed to pay extra for their vehicles. Purchasing of these first cars has already begun.
2.4. How do I know that you won’t just take my money and run?
The Electric Cars – Now! project does not handle your money in any way. We do not have an official organisation, bank account or even office staff. The idea of the project is to create a working prototype electric car from electrical components and a car body. Our intention is also to create an operating model which enables private individuals to purchase a car based on this design as easily and cheaply as possible.
The car purchaser will pay money to the company that purchases the fossil-fuel-powered vehicle, to the companies that manufacture the battery and the electric motor, and to the service station that carries out the conversion work. Some of these players will request money in advance, some will invoice the work after it has been completed. Electric Cars – Now! is attempting to build an operating model which is the same for all purchasers. This will prevent differences of opinion and allow discussions with suppliers to take place on the basis of mass purchasing power.
2.5. What is the relationship between Electric Cars – Now! and the Electric Vehicle Drivers’ Association (SAY)?
The Electric Vehicle Drivers’ Association (SAY) is the original Finnish association for electric vehicle enthusiasts. The Electric Cars – Now! project was born in the summer of 2007, essentially outside SAY, but cooperation between the two organisations is steadily increasing. In simple terms, everything that promotes electrical transportation falls within SAY’s remit, while Elestric Cars – Now! is focusing on a concrete attempt to introduce converted electric vehicles into the marketplace.
2.6. Where can convertable cars be purchased?
Right now, the cheapest alternative appears to be purchasing a used vehicle from Germany. Assistance with doing this is available from companies that specialise in the importation of cars.
2.7. Can I ask for my own car to be converted?
If your car turns out to be the make and model that the project decides is the one to convert, yes. You will then only have to pay for the conversion package and the conversion work. If you wish, you can do the conversion work yourself.
If your car is a different make or model, you will be able to purchase the battery and motor just as cheaply as everyone else, but you will have to carry out the design work and installation yourself. But you will not be alone – there will be at least 100 people elsewhere in the world who want to convert the same car as you. Network and share the conversion phases, and the job will be completed quickly and painlessly.
2.8. When will electric cars be available?
The intention is to deliver the first converted cars to their purchasers by the end of 2008.
2.9. Is the project one of a kind, or will it be a continuing business?
At this stage, the project is only aiming for a production series of 500+. If demand is adequate, the existing operating model will be easy to continue and extend to several makes and models of car. Electric Cars – Now! is not trying to make a profit, just to provide functional, reasonably-priced electric cars to everyone who wants one.
2.10. What are the elements in the price of a converted electric car?
In broad terms:_Body EUR 10,000 + battery EUR 12,000 + motor and controller EUR 3000 + other electrical components EUR 1500 + work EUR 1500 – income from sales of parts no longer needed EUR 500 = EUR 27,500.
These figures are not exact, the intention is only to give an idea of their relative scale. The final price will depend on the age of the car body, negotiations with battery and motor suppliers, repairs required to the body (including rust protection) and the price of labour.
3. Electric vehicles and the authorities
3.1. How much bureaucracy is involved in owning and running an electric car?
A passenger car converted to run on electricity has to undergo a change of motive power inspection at an official vehicle inspection facility. This costs less than EUR 100. Currently (in Finland), electric cars are also subject to an annual motive-power tax (the so-called “diesel tax”). Provisional information indicates that this tax will be removed in the next few years.
3.2. How do insurance companies view electric cars?
Just like any other car. Usually, of course, the insurance premium will be affected by the engine’s power rating or cubic capacity. The motors in electric cars are specified by their continuous power output, while fossil-fuel engines are specified according to their peak power output. The result is that a 100 bhp motor in an electric car will be regarded as having a rated power of 25 kW. Electrically-driven cars will therefore usually be placed in a lower payment class than a similar fossil-fuel-powered model.
3.3. Will it be possible to test drive an electric car in the normal way?
Before real production begins, prototypes will be built. These prototypes will be on display in different towns and cities whenever possible. Many of those who are interested will therefore have the opportunity to see an electric car, hear how little noise it makes, and feel its power under their hands (and in their backsides) before making a final decision to purchase.
If the car to be converted is imported from Germany via an importation company, the purchaser will not necessarily have an opportunity to check out the condition of the car body at close quarters. (The condition of the engine is not relevant, as it will anyway be removed.)
If you want to import a vehicle from Germany yourself or purchase a fossil-fuel-powered car for conversion in Finland, you will be able to check out everything down to the last millimetre for yourself. If you are already prepared to convert that model, you will also be able to confirm that the car body is in good condition.
The framework for the Electric Cars – Now! project does not, however, promise that you will be able to go to a car showroom, choose the electric car of your choice, test drive it and then purchase it. This heavy, traditional industrial model would put the price of the vehicle through the roof.
4.1. Do electric cars really offer such great benefits? Won’t yet another nuclear power station be needed to meet the resulting demand for energy?
The introduction of 500 electric cars will not have any noticeable national effect. Even though we hope that electric vehicles will replace fossil-fuel-powered vehicles as quickly as possible, it is not realistic to expect that such a change will happen immediately. This does however provide national electricity producers with an opportunity to adjust to this situation. It is also possible that in 5-10 years time, the cost of electrical energy used to charge electric cars could follow prices on the electricity exchanges in real time. This would allow purchases of electricity to be synchronised with periods when there is a surplus of production and the associated cost is low.
Old technology makes it possible, if we want, to burn oil in power stations and thus simply gain more driving kilometres than is possible by operating traditional fossil-fuel-powered vehicles. It should be noted that the majority of fossil-fuel-powered power stations produce both electrical power and heat, with the result that their operating efficiency rises to more than 80%.
In the USA, it has been calculated that if all of the country’s passenger cars were changed in an instant to electric drive, 84% of the electrical energy required would be available without any increase in generating capacity. This is a consequence of the fact that power stations located there run at much lower outputs during the night when demand is low. (Part of the energy would be obtained “for free”: fossil-fuel-powered generating sets always produce a surplus when demand is fluctuating if an adequate amount of regulation capacity is not available.)
In Finland, even though the situation is different because a considerable amount of hydro-electric generating capacity is employed, the fact that “night” electricity is cheaper than that supplied during the day offers a significant message about over- and under-production.
So far, there has not been a single case in which a consumer has not succeeded is changing their own electricity supply agreement to one that specifies electricity should come from CO2-free, renewable natural resources. By driving using this type of electricity, emissions of greenhouse gases are reduced to zero and growth in the demand for energy production from such sources will be unavoidable. (For further information about green electricity, visit vaihdavirtaa.net)
4.2. How can you claim that driving an electric car results in zero emissions? The production of windfarms has itself consumed energy.
Indeed it has… but where should the line actually be drawn? According to that way of thinking, the emissions resulting from drilling for oil, storing it, refining it and transporting it should be added to the CO2 emissions produced by a petrol-driven vehicle. And why not all the journeys that oil-producing personnel make to work? And the emissions that result from the production of their cars? And what about all the political decisions that bless the securing of such resources through the use of overwhelming force.
No. The only sensible way of comparing the emissions produced by electric and fossil-fuel-powered cars is to draw the same line. At the exhaust pipe. Judged this way, an electric car running on electricity produced by windpower is a zero-emission vehicle.
4.3. Aren’t the major car manufacturers soon going to introduce electric cars into the marketplace?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. They have promised to do so many times, and General Motors launched the EV1 back in 1995. Then they killed it off – watch the Who Killed The Electric Car? documentary. The archives of history contain plenty of material indicating that the “coming” of electric cars is always just around the corner. For the last 100 years.
4.4. Will the electric cars from your project be compatible with electric cars produced in the future?
Every electric car produced in Finland will be compatibel with a 110-220 volt electricity supply. In addition to this, rapid charging stations and battery exchange systems can be built. At present, there are no official standards for such items.
The mechanical compatibility of battery exchange systems cannot be guaranteed because nothing is being said about these future automotive industry projects. Car manufacturers are working away at their own designs and will expect users to simply accept them. Electric Cars – Now! is in an advantageous position – we could even create the standards.