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Electromobility and all its challenges (6/6)

In the last of our blogs looking at electromobility Mark Patrick, Mouser Electronics, considers what a future landscape could be like within the next ten years.

In this series of blogs, we’ve looked at some of the exciting technological advancements happening in the automotive space, as governments and industry seek to move away from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. When it comes to alternatives, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have the upper hand today, but hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) offer a usage experience closer to what people are used to with ICEs. What will the landscape look like in 2030?

Leaving aside factors such as drag and the weight of vehicle components not related to the electric drive systems, range improvements at the cheaper end of BEVs will primarily be achieved through developments in energy storage and energy-conversion technology.

Battery enhancements

Advancements in chemistry and materials will continue to improve batteries. Current Li-ion technology still has more to offer in terms of energy density. Next-generation batteries may move to lithium-sulphur (Li-S), but current designs cause the electrodes to degrade while in operation. The use of glutamate with the electrodes shows promise, but any successful solution will also require commercialisation. Overall, lithium-sulphur, solid-state with a lithium anode, and lithium-air (Li-O2) technologies should all be capable of doubling energy density over today's batteries. But given the time required to get new technology ready for commercial production, it’s unlikely the automotive industry will have moved beyond Li-ion ten years from now.

SiC enhancements

The reliability and performance of new wide bandgap materials such as silicon carbide (SiC) has improved significantly over the past decade. Automotive-qualified versions of this technology, coupled with continuing advancements in packaging, will see the IGBTs in inverters mostly replaced by SiC MOSFETs. This will enable designers to use higher switching frequencies. In turn, reduced heat dissipation needs should deliver some weight saving, resulting in a minor improvement to BEV ranges.

While there are high-end BEVs capable of 600km ranges today, SiC advancements alone are unlikely to put these sorts of ranges within financial reach of the mass market. A simulation undertaken by ROHM Semiconductor showed that changing from an IGBT to an SiC inverter with a 100 kWh motor increased range from 159 to 177km. This would boost the range of the most affordable BEVs in 2030 by just 10% compared to today’s estimates.

Driving down weight

Reducing the weight of the electric drive system components can also increase range, but we don’t foresee any advancements that will have a significant impact in this regard. With batteries unlikely to deliver substantial energy density improvements over the next decade, weight-savings will need to come from other heavy components, such as the drivetrain. Many of today’s automakers use classical motor-transmission blocks, weighing around 90kg. In comparison, a pair of Protean Electric’s Pd18 80 kW wheel hub motors weighs 72kg. This means a 20% weight reduction and, compared to most current entry-level EVs, superior power output. Ten years from now, further advancements in the electrical drives of wheel hub motors could make this technology more popular.

What about hydrogen?

In the meantime, hydrogen-fuelled FCEVs will likely reach sales volumes that bring prices down. With ranges and refuelling experiences similar to today’s fossil-fuel cars, they show a lot of potential. With hydrogen fuelling infrastructure investments being made, these types of vehicles will become increasingly attractive to motorists.

Changing expectations of personal vehicles

Our perception of car ownership will likely change too. As we noted in a previous article, most of us drive an average of between 40 and 80km per day. If sufficient improvements are made to charging infrastructure – particularly the number of charge points available – it’s possible drivers will be happy to change their range and usage expectations of private vehicles.

Small and compact BEV models will be ideally suited to the short-range driving needs of the average motorist on an average day. The purchase of such vehicles could be coupled with existing car-sharing and rental models, to include access to FCEVs or hybrid-electric vehicles for occasional longer journeys. This could be rolled into the monthly battery lease payments that some BEV owners make.

Commercial vehicles

Perhaps the biggest advancements will be noticed in the area of commercial vehicles. Buses, trucks and lorries all offer significantly more space for batteries than smaller vehicles. That said, the operational usage patterns of many commercial vehicles mean long periods of charging would be unattractive to managers of certain fleets. Overnight charging, provided it is fast enough, will be an option in some cases. Catenary-based charging is another potential solution, though it carries a hefty price tag.

Hydrogen fuel cells are another possibility, given the extra onboard space to locate them. Indeed, hydrogen-powered buses are already appearing on our streets, with London due to roll out what it says will be the world’s first hydrogen double-deckers this year5.

A period of steady progress

While ten years seems like a period in which a lot can happen, the safety, quality and reliability requirements of the automotive industry mean steady progress, rather than giant leaps forward, will keep the masses mobile. As combustion engine technology takes a back seat, improvements in electronics, electrical systems and chemistry will move the industry forward.

  • To read the previous blogs in this series follow the links below.

Mark Patrick, Mouser Electronics

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