Automakers are taking multiple routes to green cars, including all electric vehicles and various flavors of hybrids and microhybrids. But none will become mainstream anytime soon, chiefly because for the foreseeable future batteries will remain too big, heavy, expensive and underpowered. There are also a handful of design challenges in power electronics on the horizon.
The number of hybrid cars on the road will nearly double from 870,000 today to 1.5 million in 2017, but the latter figure will represent only 1.6 percent of all cars worldwide, according to cleantech market watcher Pike Research.
By contrast, start-stop cars—a category that's gotten little attention in the United States—will zoom ahead. These microhybrids have no electric motor but use a more powerful starter/alternator/leadacid battery combo to shut off when in idle, then restart when drivers hit the gas. This year, Europeans will buy nearly 3 million of these cars, and Pike projects as many as 37 million will be sold worldwide in 2020.
Nonetheless, gas-only cars will still make up nearly 90 percent of all passenger vehicles in 2017, the market tracker estimates.
Carmakers are rolling out "a little bit of everything, [but] the plug-in hybrid is a good solution for meeting most stringent emission standards and fuel economy" demands, said Philip Gott, managing director for market researcher IHS Automotive.
"I think we will continue to have quite a bit of variety in hybrids; there are a lot of different needs, and it's hard to predict what people will want," said Rich Scholer, an electronic system engineer working on standards for hybrids and fuel cell cars at Ford Motor Co.
"Ford started with regular internal combustion engines, then offered versions of them with hybrid power trains and plugin hybrids as options," Scholer said. By contrast, the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf and Toyota Prius were designed from the ground up, he said. "But that’s a pretty expensive proposition because it’s more cost effective to build on a platform you have." Meanwhile, startup automakers like Coda and Tesla are preparing to roll out new cars, including all-electric fivepassenger sedans.
But "a mature market is at least three to five years out," said the Ford engineer.
The biggest headache is the battery pack, which adds at least $10,000 to a car's price tag, said Pike senior analyst John Gartner. Today's best technology— the lithium-ion car battery–runs as high as $1,000 per kilowatthour. The U.S. Department of Energy's goal is to reduce battery prices to $250/kWh.
That could take until 2020 or later, said IHS' Gott, who tracks at least four lithium-ion variants and several dozen other chemistries vying for a breakthrough.
"It’s too early to make a judgment [on which will win because] there are changes on an almost daily basis," Gott said. "I'm not counting anything out, not even lead-acid."
Not to make things any more complicated than they already are, but again, if the government is going to mandate fuel mileage increases, it really should look at actual savings rather than just a number that looks nice in the headlines.
Jumping the fleet average up that much will cost a lot of money to reach past the point of diminishing return. Since it's an average, it might not even do much to reduce the total fuel quantity used.
If the mandate were to put minimums based on the class of vehicle, most of the improvement could be focused on the low-mileage set, thus giving the greatest savings.
Mandate that the 1,700 gallon per year SUV become a 1,200 gallon per year SUV. That change could probably be made in software by doing little more than dropping horsepower by a few points. It could even be retrofitted into many currently-on-the-road vehicles at the dealership.
Each mileage range would get a successively smaller improvement mandate. Don't even worry about anything that already gets 40+. It's a waste of money and engineering resources with very little return.
Duane: you make rational arguments. What do you think about Obama's plan? "The Obama administration is considering requiring cars and light trucks to average 56.2 miles per gallon by 2025 — a move that could boost the cost of vehicles by $2,100 or more. Top federal regulators and White House aides disclosed their initial proposal — requiring 5 percent average annual increases in efficiency over an eight-year period — in separate, private meetings this week with Detroit’s Big Three automakers, four people briefed on the matter told The Detroit News."
When we're questioning the best approach between the different types of hybrid / electric drives, we might want to also question the type of vehicles we should be focusing on.
Let's say the average vehicle is driven 20,000 miles per year. A 12mpg truck or SUV will burn 1,670 gallons of fuel per year. If we increase the mileage, by just 4mpg to 16mpg, the vehicle will only burn 1,250 gallons, or about 400 gallons fewer.
(I picked the numbers because my 1995 truck was rated at 17/15mpg and typically gets about 16. Not long ago I looked at the new version of the same model and it was rated at 12mpg. If you can go down 4mpg in a decade, it shouldn't be tough to go back up)
Next, lets take a 25mpg passenger car. It will burn 800 gallons per year. We would have to double its mileage to 50mpg to reduce fuel consumption by the same 400 gallons.
Given the large number of trucks and SUVs on the road, it seems to me that it would be a lot less expensive to move the pickup and SUV mileage up by four mpg than it would to double the mileage of the 25mpg passenger car.
Probably depends a bit on where you live. Just recently saw that they are giving away electricity at night in the Pacific Northwest. Too much water in the reservoirs and forced to run through turbines generating electricity no one needs. Wind farms are complaining because they've been forced to shut down at times.
We drive three hybrid vehicles. The first was purchased more than ten years ago. We have used photovoltaic energy for 35 years. We live on an island with a very small, isolated grid, so we see grid related issues much earlier.
At present, electric-only cars degrade the environment as SELinz points out (especially here, where the utility has an EPA exemption to burn high sulphur fuel). Our hybrids have "super ultra low" emission engines, and are cleaner at generating energy than the utility.
The utility also has to keep a gas turbine running 24/7 to compensate for a new wind farm, to immediately provide energy during lulls in the wind.
Hybrid vehicles also represent a near ideal source of standby or off-grid power, with the addition of an inverter running from the high voltage battery. The gas engine only runs as needed to maintain the charge on the battery. This suggestion was made to Toyota more than a decade ago, then posted when there was no response (steverose dot com). Had this option been available, some small part of the misery of the quake and tsunami could have been alleviated.
Photovoltaic and wind sources that use the grid as if it were storage are a scam on government subsidies. With our small grid we have already experienced the limit that must be placed on this approach. It occurs well before alternate sources have a significant impact on pollution. The problem is storage, not generation. Storage can be central or local, although central incurs grid losses in both directions.
These are wonderful engineering challenges and opportunities for designing most accepted hybrids and PHEV vehicles. Major breakthorugh for battery technology or power and cotrol devices looks to be very close and soon we will have wonder EE vehicle.
No one expects electric cars to dominate the automotive fleet any time soon.
At moderate fractions, charging electric vehicles (at night) will not impact electric power generation capacity (peak demands are always summer daytime), and potentially may even REDUCE the cost of electricity slightly for many customers by improving the generation utilization capacity.
At the moment almost 3/4s of US electricity is generated by coal + nuclear power. Almost none is generated burning oil.
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