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Innovations in Energy for Transport

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Vehicles are responsible for roughly a quarter of CO2 emissions globally, with transport emitting more greenhouse gases than any other UK sector.

Luckily, electric vehicles are leading us to a greener future, and it is arriving sooner than you may think: the government has pledged to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, promising to spend £1.3 billion on EV charging infrastructure.

So, how are innovations in technology accelerating the transition to electric? 

Below are five developments that are shaping the energy landscape in the run up to 2030 and beyond:

1. Wireless Charging 

Wireless charging is offering an innovative new way of managing power that can resolve range-anxiety with fast supplemental charging.

An electromagnetic induction charges a vehicle by transferring a current from a ground charging pad to an embedded receiver on the bottom of a compatible EV, creating a quick and easy way to charge vehicles on the go.

In 2020, the Transport Secretary announced that £3.4 million will be invested in a wireless charging trial at Nottingham. Cooperated by Cenex, Nottingham City Council, Transport for London, and many other organisations, a taxi-rank will be fitted with wireless chargers for six months.

If it is successful, the trial may be extended or rolled out to the public, which would help to implement EVs in the future. Electrifying taxi fleets and other modes of public transport could help to significantly reduce emissions.

Pros 

  • It reduces cable clutter on the streets.
  • Time is spent more efficiently as it allows drivers to charge quickly on the go.
  • It is very convenient: it is as quick as plug-in-options and it does not require any physical contact.

Cons 

  • The high voltage charging system is very expensive.
  • The electrical grid does not have the capacity to power the wireless system, so new infrastructure is needed.

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2. Vehicle-To-Grid

Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G)  is a type of smart energy management that allows bi-directional transfer. It has big potential, with National Grid ESO predicting that by 2050, up to 45% of households will actively be involved in V2G services

It enables EV batteries to store energy and return it back to the electricity grid when it is most needed, such as during peak times when usage is at its highest.

This maximises the efficiency of the grid by minimising the strain on it, supporting the every-increasing demand for electricity.

Power Lines

EV owners also directly benefit from V2G as they can charge a fee to the electricity grid for using their excess energy, allowing them to gain a return in their EV investment. Additionally, this could help EVs become more affordable for the mass market.

To accelerate uptake of V2G amongst EV customers, EDF Energy is launching a new commercial V2G service in the UK by partnering up with Nissan.

The Nissan Leaf and The Nissan e-NV200 are currently the only vehicles that are compatible with EDF’s V2G charge points, but more car manufacturers are expected to support this in the future.

Pros 

  • It optimises the use of excess energy by supplementing power gaps from renewable energy sources.
  • It reduces grid overload by supporting it.
  • It lowers the cost of EV ownership by rewarding customers when they make their EV batteries available to V2G.

Cons 

  • It may not be commercially feasible if the technology is not profitable enough for energy companies and EV manufacturers.
  • New distribution standards are needed to ensure that V2G is compatible within the current energy infrastructure.

3. Ultrarapid charging

Impressively, ultrarapid chargers can top up 100 miles in 10 minutes or less. Usually found at motorway stations and on main routes, it is the fastest way to charge an EV - ideal for drivers who need to top up on power during a long journey and for those who cannot charge their EVs at home.

The number of ultrarapid chargers is set to increase, with fast charging being one of the most important factors in meeting the UK’s climate change targets. A two-year £300 million program will triple ultrarapid charging points at service stations and on key trunk roads. It will also fund an upgrade to electricity grids, which is vital in supporting the installation of more chargers.

There is already a significant rise in the use of ultrarapid chargers, with 16% of EV drivers using them in 2020 in comparison to just 3% in 2019. 

Electric vehicle charger

Ultrarapid charging is not technically a new technology though, with Tesla having  offered fast charging to their customers for many years, but the new ultra-rapid chargers are universally compatible.

Pros 

  • It offers a quick way to charge EVs, making charging more time efficient.
  • It reduces 'range anxiety,' which encourages mass uptake of EVs.

Cons 

  • It is the most expensive way to charge, which potentially makes it unaffordable for drivers to use frequently. 
  • It requires a lot of additional power cables to support the higher electricity demand, so a lot of supporting infrastructure is needed.

4. Battery swapping

Battery swapping is known for its quick turnaround, taking as little as 3 minutes to charge an EV.

In 2020, Chinese manufacturer Nio completed over 500,000 battery swaps, which was largely due to its successful battery rental scheme. The upfront cost of an EV can be reduced with a battery subscription like Nio's.

Additionally, battery-swapping saves a lot of space as batteries can be stored and charged in warehouses, which is far more spatially efficient than having vehicles plugged in at charging stations.

However, there are many impracticalities with this system. There would be many spare batteries that would not be in use, which would be a waste of money and resources. Trucks must also ferry batteries to various swapping stations, which is bad for the environment, and the AI used to fit and swap the batteries is drastically more expensive than charging plugs.

The biggest issue is that battery-swapping on a mass scale would require a universal battery standard - something which automakers are unlikely to support as their intellectual property can be worth billions.

Pros 

  • Battery subscriptions can lower the upfront cost of an electric vehicle.
  • It is spatially more efficient as batteries are stored in a warehouse.
  • Only batteries with a long lifespan are circulated in the battery swapping system, which maximises battery performance for drivers.

COns 

  • Charging times for plug-in chargers are ever improving, so a quick turnaround is no longer a unique selling point for battery swapping.
  • It is not as good for the environment compared to plug-in chargers, as it requires batteries to be transported around to various swapping stations.
  • It requires a standardised battery, which is unrealistic.

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5. BAttery Second Life Application 

Battery disposal is an issue that the manufacturing world is facing and the problem is only going to worsen as EV uptake increases.

Lithium-ion batteries are toxic and can easily explode if they are taken apart incorrectly, so it is easy to understand why recycling rates are so low - just 5% in the US and EU.

Scientists are exploring the idea of re-purposing EV batteries once they have reached their capacity, such as using them for solar energy storage and other backup power applications. There are many environmental benefits of this, with re-used batteries potentially contributing to a 56% reduction in carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels.

Solar panels

Additionally, China and the EU now require EV manufacturers to take back spent batteries from consumers, which is encouraging them to find ways to reuse and recycle the batteries.

For example, Nissan is using spent batteries in their automated guided vehicles and Volkswagen has recently set up their first recycling plant in Germany, with plans to recycle up to 3,600 battery systems annually during the pilot period.

Currently, lithium is not cost-effective for recyclers and is often not a suitable quality to be reused. But, recycled batteries could help to meet the EV industry’s future metal demand if recycling methods and government policies are improved. In fact, recycled batteries could meet 25% of the industry’s lithium demand and 35% of its cobalt needs by 2040.

Pros 

  • Second life application offers a sustainable solution in dealing with spent batteries.
  • Supplying recycled metal to EV manufacturers could reduce the amount of metal sourcing methods that are necessary.

Cons 

  • Lithium is currently hard to recycle. Recycling methods need to be developed to make it safer and more cost-effective.
  • More government guidance is needed to regulate battery recycling. Policies may include battery take-back programs and bans on landfilling.

Overview

Technological innovations in the EV industry are offering exciting new developments in smart power management, battery charging, power-grid support, and sustainability.

All five innovations have drawbacks surrounding cost, power sourcing, and infrastructure that must be overcome before EVs can become the dominant transport type. 

However, technology is advancing rapidly, so there is much to be hopeful for in the future of sustainable energy.

Want to find out more about electric vehicle innovation? Read our free ebook, Making EV Components with Sand Casting.

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