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Are electric cars the way of the future?


May 28, 2009
By Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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The success of electric transportation depends on battery technology. That was the message panelists shared with attendees during the Electrification of the Vehicle session at the APMA-AUTO21 conference.

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Electric vehicles are not new, explained Ted Robertson, executive vice-president of new product creation at Magna International. They first came about in the 1830s, but, he added, limitations of the battery power were a major reason the technology dropped in popularity and internal combustion engines emerged as the consumer choice.

Current trends, including a desire for better fuel economy, the reduction of oil dependency and costs, climate change and an increase in energy efficiency, are driving the resurgence of the electric car.

“That is why all automotive manufacturers and suppliers are getting on the alternative fuel bandwagon,” he said, “and they’re all actively developing hybrid and electric vehicles.”

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Manufacturers are also developing technologies to deal with the challenges associated with electric vehicles, namely the battery technology.

Ian Clifford, the founder and CEO of Zenn Motor Company, a Toronto-based electric vehicle and solutions company, shared his commitment to the mass commercialization of electric vehicles with attendees. His company has produced an electric car, which is currently for sale, and is also focused on advanced energy storage technology.

“It really is all about the battery and energy storage,” he said.

Most advanced Lithium ion batteries today have limitations, he explained, including temperature sensitivity, short lifespan, high cost, heavy weight, large size and they are toxic and corrosive. But, he added, we are on the threshold of some significant breakthroughs.

Clifford discussed a partnership that Zenn has with EEStor, a company based in Austin, Texas, that is developing a technology that he called “game changing” for energy storage on a global level. The ultra capacitor-based battery, he said, can store more energy and is a fraction of the weight and size of chemical batteries, is less expensive, non-toxic and performs under extreme energy conditions.

EEStor is active in the commercialization of their technology, and Clifford is optimistic that he’ll see an actual commercial product from them “very shortly.”

Sankar Das Gupta, CEO of Electrovaya, was also a panelist at the session. His company has developed Lithium Ion battery technology.

“Energy storage is defining transportation,” he said, adding that university researchers and industry should be taking a collaborative approach to developing these types of technologies.

The pressure, he said, is to develop higher energy density, smaller and lighter technologies.

Peter Gresch, executive vice-president of the engineering and electronics business unit at Brose Gmbh & Co., rounded out the panel by discussing trends in the European auto industry. This, he said, includes the electrification of the vehicle – a trend that will increase significantly until 2020.

German manufacturers are getting a stake in the technology, he said. But in order to really drive the technology, in any geographic area, government funding is needed, he added. Tax deductions will boost demand because the majority of customers are not willing to pay more for the technology.

For more information, visit AUTO21 at www.auto21.ca or the APMA at www.apma.ca.