Electric vehicles have existed as a technology since the 1830s, but lost ground to internal combustion engine (ICE) models over a century ago. The technology in the 19th century (mainly heavy lead battery cells and sulphuric acid) wouldn’t scale and wasn’t suitable for mass production of vehicles at car plants such as Ford, etc.
E-vehicles are now making a comeback though thanks largely to advances in electronics, especially new battery cells, which are compact, lighter in weight and have ever-increasingly fast charging. We explore e mobility technology in this article and how it is gaining pace largely due to advances in technology.
Technology barriers facing e mobility breakthrough
We have previously spoken about a variety of barriers which are thwarting e mobility breakthrough. Technology is a powerful enabler of e mobility and technological advances will cause all of the following barriers either partially or fully to be removed:
- Batteries – particularly range, cost and use of precious materials
- Electricity availability – overcoming demands on global power supplies
- New e-vehicles cost too high – particularly due to limited production runs the cost of new e-vehicles is currently too high
- Lack of charging infrastructure – the need to develop this to replace traditional fuel stations
- Lack of charging speed – this is a real problem, particularly for larger e-vehicles such as trains, trucks and planes
Effectively batteries operate through chemical energy, so advances of battery technology are closely aligned with chemistry. A growing market and an ever-increasing demand for lower-cost batteries are driving invention after all “necessity is the Mother of invention”.
- Chemistry changes:
- Increased silicon in anodes – replacing graphite in anodes with silicon (a semiconductor material). Silicon bonds 25x more than graphite, which increases the battery density by 30%+, this leads to massive improvements with charging being capable in 5 minutes for 250 miles
- Overcome cobalt shortages – research is ongoing into using alternative cathode chemistries. By 2025, it is anticipated that chemistries such as NMC532, NMC622 and NMC811 and other alternatives too will be used, which are much less cobalt utilising
- Consumer electronics knowledge sharing – advances in battery technology are moving at pace in general consumer electronics. These advances are also benefitting electric-vehicle batteries, which can learn from these advancements
- Growing market size – there is a consensus that the growing market size for electric vehicle batteries will create innovation and reduce battery costs for both technological innovation reasons as well as ones related to economies of scale. For example, the first batteries in 2010 cost $1,000/kWh, whereas Tesla 3 batteries today cost $190/kWh, a reduction of over 80% in a decade. Further changes like this are predicted for the future
- Improvements to the range – most e-vehicles on the market currently have a range of less than 300 miles, which can be problematic for longer journeys – especially when combined with a lack of charging infrastructure. This looks set to change though, as many companies are seeking technologies to extended battery one range. One example is Swiss-based battery manufacturer, Innolith who claim that by 2024 they will launch a 1,000km (600 miles) range battery, which will revolutionise the range of e-vehicle batteries
- Increased investment – with manufacturers investing heavily in e mobility technologies this in itself will create breakthroughs and advances in related technology fields. Some of these advances have already been seen but many more are to come
- Matching battery size to travel needs – rather than a “one size fits all” philosophy, manufacturers are seeking to provide the right size of battery for the drivers needs. For example, taxis will need a larger battery than a run-around city car. Offering a variety of solutions is an innovative technological approach, which will help reduce costs to many
- Size of manufacturing plants – most battery manufacturing plants in operation now range up to 8 gigawatt-hours per year. Three plants currently have 30 GW/h per year capacity, with another five plants coming into operation by 2023.
The lack of charging infrastructure is a very real barrier to e mobility adoption. Some will still buy e-vehicles, but many consumers will wait until a viable infrastructure is in place. This includes at home, at work, in general locations as well as gradually replacing traditional fuel pumps at fuel stations. Technology is helping in the following ways:
- Emerging global standards – the emerging standards will homogenise electric vehicle charger manufacturers approach. This will mean that investment will be aligned to a narrower area of charger technology and knowledge gained can be increasingly widely shared amongst manufacturers
- Fast chargers – innovation is particularly required in fast chargers. This is particularly the case for mega-chargers, i.e. ones which can charge at 1 Megawatt (MW), which are primarily used in areas such as aviation, heavy trucks and shipping
- Heavy-duty applications – an increasing number of heavy-duty electric vehicles (buses, trucks, etc.) are now requiring fast charging capability. This in itself is creating a demand for innovation, which also benefits other areas of charger technology too
- Photovoltaic panels – some manufacturers are adding photovoltaic panels to the roof and bonnet of e-vehicles to help recharge e-vehicles. Although, the technology won’t recharge the e-vehicle enough to need no other form of charging, it’s a free contribution and every little helps, particularly on sunny days. The Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid Solar is one example, with Kia and Hyundai (amongst others also offering solutions)
- Wireless charging – also called induction charging, this technology is quite simple and also very rewarding. It’s not actively available yet but is seen as an exciting technological advancement for the future. The e-vehicle would drive directly over a charging pad, one stopped a wireless connection would begin to charge the electric battery. The technology is both safe and efficient and removes the need for cables, which are a particular problem in some settings (e.g. people who live in apartments). The technology may be some way off for private charging but is seen to have applications in particular on taxi ranks and similar places.
Modernisation of electric motors will help to reduce the price and improve the performance of electric motors. Here are areas where technology can help enhance electric motors:
- Battery foil cutting – foils are normally made with a high-conductive material (such as copper or aluminium). The foils are coated with a carbon-based material and lithium-based oxides are present on the cathodes. This means that foils are increasingly challenging to cut using traditional methods, but fiber lasers can help overcome the challenge
- Stator plates cutting – through the use of fiber lasers stator plates can be cut to very high levels of precision. This is all through a non-contact process, is 100% error-free and is highly repeatable – making this an ideal application within manufacturing processes
IoT and Big data integration
e-vehicles as well as ICE models will both benefit from integration with the IoT (Internet of Things) and big data integration. Examples of how this could benefit drivers include:
- Driver behaviour – systems may alert the driver to errors and dangerous driving, so that the behaviour can be reduced/eliminated and prevent future accidents
- IoT – this could mean that vehicles could communicate with each other on the road
- Manufacturer data – vehicle data could be drawn by manufacturers (and other interested parties) and fed into R&D and future enhancements of vehicles
- Route navigation – the driver is alerted to alternative routes due to congestion and accidents. This may extend to avoiding road tolls (where applicable)
Expect to see increased IoT (Internet of Things) integration in future e-vehicles
Smart power grids
Power grids around the world need to be modernised to become “smart power grids” to cope with the pressures of e mobility and other demands on electricity. These grids are required for a variety of purposes and not just for e mobility. Smart power grids will deliver electricity with improved efficiency, in the following ways:
- Energy storage – e-vehicles (in the future) will be able to store excess energy and release it to the grid in times of peak demand. This will be in the future when e-vehicles are coping with charging much easier than they currently are
- IP-based network – each e-vehicle will connect to the smart grid via an IP-based connection
- Network stability – balance fluctuations in demand through data interpretation
Ways in which SPI Fiber Laser technology can help
If you are looking for technology solutions which can help implement e mobility, then look no further than the fiber lasers range of SPI Lasers. Here is a quick summary of just some (but definitely not all) e mobility applications delivered through our fiber lasers:
- Ablation and cleaning – various applications including the laser cleaning of battery cells as well as surface preparation and the cleaning of surfaces at various stages of the manufacturing process. Other applications include the ablation of hairpins in electric motors as well as trimming of surfaces following other processes detailed below
- Additive manufacturing – fiber lasers can particularly be used in rapid prototyping (such as country variants, R&D exercises, short production runs and limited editions). AM is ideal for printing of parts, components and tools
- Cutting – various cutting applications are available including the cutting of battery coils, the cutting of various parts and components as well as in the cutting of stator plates in electric motors
- Drilling – just some examples include the drilling of cooling holes and absolute precision drilling of metal electrodes for batteries. Absolutely precise drilling can be used for various shapes, sizes and depths – a fiber laser drills to the exact specifications required
- Engraving and marking – a variety of applications including night and day marking of dashboard components and the marking of parts with various information (e.g. security information and serial numbers). In particular, the marking of the VIN (vehicle identification number) is a common application
- Welding – there are a large number of welding applications, including airbag initiators, various aspects of battery manufacture and welding of differentials. In addition, dissimilar metal welding is commonplace (particularly for welding copper to aluminium). The welding of hairpins in electric motors is a valuable process and welding is used throughout electric car manufacture including doors and roofs as just a couple of examples
SPI Lasers ship a laser from our laboratories, which can be set-up and configured to deliver all of the applications above. Our lasers are ideal for introduction to manufacturing assembly lines, where they can be used in a multitude of tasks.
For further more detailed information on this topic please visit https://www.spilasers.com/case-study-e mobility/how-fiber-lasers-support-the-breakthrough-of-e mobility/.
Discuss fiber lasers technology role within e mobility
We are sure you will agree that fiber lasers have an exciting role within e mobility. If you would like to explore this further, then why not contact one of our team today?
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