Electric vehicles: benefits, technology, obstacles

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Vehicles (cars and trucks) can be powered partially or wholly by electricity. “All-electric vehicles (EVs) have an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine. The vehicle uses a large traction battery pack to power the electric motor and must be plugged in to a charging station or wall outlet to charge. Because it runs on electricity, the vehicle emits no exhaust from a tailpipe and does not contain the typical liquid fuel components, such as a fuel pump, fuel line, or fuel tank” (see more information; Alternative Fuels Data Center).

Partial or all-electric vehicles can bring great benefits environmentally and economically, but adoption and availabililty is tied to issues of technology and infrastructure; in the US, especially, our fueling infrastructure is built for cars and trucks using gasoline-powered internal combustion engines. Building enough readily-available charging stations for all-electric vehicles is a considerable challenge–though charging stations are now much more common than they once were. Politics, as in many areas of life in the US and elsewhere, also plays a role helping or hindering depending on the political party in the majority.

Quick bibliography: articles about electric vehicles and the issues surrounding them.

Background information —

*Lowry, J., & Larminie, J. (2012). Electric vehicle technology explained (2nd ed.). Wiley.

“A complete guide to the principles, design and applications of electric vehicle technology. Including all the latest advances, it presents clear and comprehensive coverage of the major aspects of electric vehicle development and offers an engineering-based evaluation of electric motor scooters, cars, buses and trains. This new edition includes: important new chapters on types of electric vehicles, including pickup and linear motors, overall efficiencies and energy consumption, and power generation, particularly for zero carbon emissions, and expanded chapters updating the latest types of EV, types of batteries, battery technology and other rechargeable devices, fuel cells, hydrogen supply, controllers, EV modeling, ancillary system design, and EV and the environment.”

Featured articles —

*Feng, S., & Magee, C. L. (2020). Technological development of key domains in electric vehicles: Improvement rates, technology trajectories and key assignees. Applied Energy, 260,114264. [Cited by]

“Technology innovation in electric vehicles is of significant interest to researchers, companies and policy-makers of many countries. Electric vehicles integrate various kinds of distinct technologies and decomposing the overall electric vehicle field into several key domains allows determination of more detailed, valuable information. To provide both broader and more detailed information about technology development in the EV field, unlike most previous studies on electric vehicle innovation which analyzed this field as a whole, this research decomposed the electric vehicle field into domains, which are power electronics, battery, electric motor as well as charging and discharging subdomains and then further extracted the subdomains. Furthermore, In addition, the improvement rates, technology trajectories and major patent assignees in these domains and key subdomains are determined using patents extracted for each domain from the US patent system. The main findings are: (1) The estimated rates of performance improvement per year are 18.3% for power electronics, 7.7% for electric motors, 23.8% for charging and discharging and 11.7% for batteries. The relatively lower improvement rate for electric motors and batteries suggests their potential to hinder the popularization of electric vehicles. Besides, as for the subdomains, the relatively higher technology improvement rate of lithium-ion battery or permanent magnet motor in its domain supports the current trend of battery or motor type quantitively from a patent analysis view. A possible implication for the policy makers encouraging EV development is to issue more incentive plans for innovations in the battery and electric motor domains, especially for lithium-ion battery and permanent magnet motor. (2) The technology trajectories depict the development of four critical subdomains over time, which quantitively proves the focuses and emerging topics of the subdomains and thereby provide guidance to research topic selection. For example, the silicon negative electrode is a promising topic in the subdomain of lithium-ion battery. (3) The key players in the four critical subdomains appear to be Toyota and Honda in hybrid power electronics, E-One Moli Energy Corp in lithium-ion batteries, Panasonic in Permanent Magnet motors and Toyota in discharging. The key players found by the main path method from the view of innovation are also important players in EV from the market view. Other market participants should pay more attention to the adjustment of business strategy of these companies to monitor the market, and make effort to invent important EV related technologies.”

*Harper, G., Sommerville, R., Kendrick, E., Driscoll, L., Slater, P., Stolkin, R., . . . Anderson, P. (2019). Recycling lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles. Nature, 575(7781), 75-86. [Cited by]

Rapid growth in the market for electric vehicles is imperative, to meet global targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to improve air quality in urban centres and to meet the needs of consumers, with whom electric vehicles are increasingly popular. However, growing numbers of electric vehicles present a serious waste-management challenge for recyclers at end-of-life. Nevertheless, spent batteries may also present an opportunity as manufacturers require access to strategic elements and critical materials for key components in electric-vehicle manufacture: recycled lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles could provide a valuable secondary source of materials. Here we outline and evaluate the current range of approaches to electric-vehicle lithium-ion battery recycling and re-use, and highlight areas for future progress.”

*Song, R., & Potoglou, D. (2020). Are existing battery electric vehicles adoption studies able to inform policy? A review for policymakers. Sustainability, 12(16), 6494. [PDF] [Cited by]

Accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles provides a rare historic opportunity for reducing the dependence on fossil fuel and decarbonising road networks in the field of transport. Many countries have introduced various policy packages on both national and local levels to encourage electric vehicle adoption, but their market shares remain low. For better understanding the reasons behind this evidence, exploring the determinants that influence consumers’ adoption intentions is significant. Previous literature reviews have made clear and elaborated syntheses of influential factors; however, a summary of how evidence can be translated into policy through these factors is lacking. In response, this paper synthesises the main policies of various countries, summarises the previous research results, and forms corresponding policy tools, which can provide a reference to policymakers and guide the policy-making process.”

*Sun, X., Li, Z., Wang, X., & Li, C. (2020). Technology development of electric vehicles: A review. Energies, 13(1), 90. [PDF] [Cited by]

“To reduce the dependence on oil and environmental pollution, the development of electric vehicles has been accelerated in many countries. The implementation of EVs, especially battery electric vehicles, is considered a solution to the energy crisis and environmental issues. This paper provides a comprehensive review of the technical development of EVs and emerging technologies for their future application. Key technologies regarding batteries, charging technology, electric motors and control, and charging infrastructure of EVs are summarized. This paper also highlights the technical challenges and emerging technologies for the improvement of efficiency, reliability, and safety of EVs in the coming stages as another contribution.”

*Yao, J., Xiong, S., & Ma, X. (2020). Comparative analysis of national policies for electric vehicle uptake using econometric models. Energies, 13(14), 3604. [PDF] [Cited by]

As electric vehicles (EVs) have been widely discussed as a promising way to mitigate the effect of climate change, various policies have been implemented across the world to promote the uptake of EVs. Policymakers also paid attention to the density of public charging points. In this paper, we examined the impact of policies on EV markets in the post subsidy era with multiple linear regression analysis using panel data on 13 countries from 2015 to 2018. Five of the independent variables showed significantly positive effects on the 1% level in different regression models: fast/slow charger density, mandate, purchasing restriction and waiver. Subsidies showed significance only on 5% level for battery electric vehicles (BEVs). Financial stimulates have experienced a declining marginal effect, whereas a high density of fast chargers has the most significantly positive effect on EV uptake. This paper suggests policymakers can invest more in completing the public infrastructures of EVs, especially on fast charging points.”

Questions? Please let me know (engelk@grinnell.edu).

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