PROF M. Goosey
Over the last twenty years or so there has been a major transition in the technology used in secondary batteries. The once ubiquitous nickel-cadmium designs were first supplanted by nickel-metal hydride technology, only themselves to be replaced by cells employing lithium-ion chemistry. It is true to say that electric vehicles have really only become viable as a result of the improvements in energy density and reduced costs that have been possible in recent years with lithium-ion technology; the cost of lithium-ion batteries has dropped by almost an order of magnitude in the last twelve years. However, it is also true that, despite incremental improvements in recent years, battery technology and cost are still the key factors impacting the growth of the electric vehicle market. They are considered to be too expensive, as a proportion of an overall vehicle’s cost and they are not able to store sufficient energy within the ideal volume/mass. Current lithium-ion vehicle batteries store around 250 to 300 kW per kilogramme, but this really needs to double and, ideally, to be closer to 1,000 kW per kilogramme. In short, compared to conventional petrochemical based fuels, lithium-ion batteries still have some way to go!
PROF M. Goosey
In the last year or two, governments around the world have announced their commitments to ending the sale of petrol and diesel powered cars by setting deadlines for when all new vehicles will need to be, at least partly, electrically powered. We can thus now know with some certainty that the days of the purely internal combustion engine powered vehicle are limited, even if it is something like 20 years in the future.
However, there is another area of transport that is also receiving increasing interest from environmentalists and those keen to minimise its contribution to global warming. The area in question is air transport, which is another big user of hydrocarbon fuels. Jet engines are the main culprits and, although they have been made much more efficient in recent years, they are still a major cause of concern, especially as the number of aeroplanes in service continues to increase.
PROF M. GOOSEY
The drive to increase the numbers of electric vehicles on our roads has been given a boost in recent months with several governments announcing plans to limit or entirely ban the sale of new conventionally powered cars in the future. This is clearly needed if we are to solve the problems currently impacting major cities such as London, where there is acute air pollution from nitrogen dioxide emitted from vehicles. A key objective of the move to electric vehicles is to bring about an improvement in air quality in our cities.
However, at the moment, electric vehicles are relatively expensive compared to their fossil fuel powered analogues, costing typically up to twice the price. In order to make them more economically attractive to buyers and to encourage sales, many governments have chosen to offer subsidy schemes, including cash rebates on the purchase price and reduced levels of annual taxation. This has worked well in countries such as Norway where new electric car sales make up approaching 30% of the total. This has been achieved through a range of incentives; electric vehicle users do not have to pay import duties, they can drive in bus lanes and do not have to pay tolls. In the UK, the government has provided substantial subsidies of up to £5,000 for electric vehicle purchases, although this has now been reduced. It has been reported that, in the USA, it is possible to get as much as $15,000 in subsidies by combining federal, state, and local incentives. If one looks at the uptake of electric vehicles by country, there seems to be a correlation between the wealth of the country and the number of electric vehicles sold. In the case of Norway, the GDP per capita rate of €64,000 is around double the EU average. In the USA, 79% of the tax credits provided for electric car purchases went to people with annual incomes of more than $100,000 per year.
DR E. GOOSEY
Despite electric cars only just becoming popular, we are already seeing a movement to electrify other vehicles for commercial application. There are numerous projects and being undertaken to demonstrate the wider opportunities for battery propulsion. Current ideas and projects are presented here:
The use of battery operated vehicles in underground mining is beginning to take off. The benefits hailed by the use of electric vehicles include improved air quality for workers from zero emissions vehicles and tools, coupled with reduced air purification costs (ventilation and pumping fresh air in)
Trials are beginning through European Commission funded projects such as SIMS (http://www.simsmining.eu/)
BMW, TESLA and many other battery electric vehicles have invested in operations suited to boats. There are now options to power motor boats, sailing yachts and commercial marine like water taxis with batteries. The benefit of this is the reduction of pollution on the immediate environment, helping to keep busy waterways clean and minimise impacts on the local aquatic ecosystem, as well as minimising noise pollution. This market is expected to reach $20 Bn by 2027.
Further more the European Commission is providing grant funding to projects seeking to develop battery technology for large transport and cargo ships used in European waters. The current challenge is power and weight trade offs for these large vessels.
Dr E. Goosey
Cobalt is a conflict mineral that has been hitting the headlines recently over the rising value and the environmental impacts of mining the material. Cobalt has surged to a 10 year high of £60 per kg. This is a major material security issue for electric vehicle manufactures and the supply of batteries. Cobalt is primarily sourced from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (63%), where recent new mining codes have been drawn into the law. This law sees royalties from cobalt sales being paid on to the government. Not only are manufacturers worried about the rising price of batteries, but are being pressured to assure that the minerals the batteries are made from are sourced in an ethical and environmentally responsible manner. With the increase in price a rise in ‘artisanal mining’ is occurring. Where artisanal mining is primarily conducted by children and currently represents 16% of the Democratic Republic of the Congo supply.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been linked to prior issues such as child labour, conflict minerals and strip mining. Workers in the Congo were recently highlighted in the news for the poor working conditions they endure. Many working by hand (no automated tools), no personal protective equipment, and transport the materials by foot. The work is dangerous due to poor safety requirements, and limited risk assessments. The workforce can also be made up of children who are brought in to join their other family members. In addition to these hazards, the workers risk their health from environmental exposure to dust leading to toxic respiratory issues (lung cancer), plus exposure to natural high radioactivity levels from the mines (uranium resulting in lung cancers, malignant neoplasmers).