01.An Introduction To Electric & Hybrid Technology

Car Face On
Car Face On

We’ve been hearing how electric and hybrid technology will transform the car industry for some time. Not so long ago, you had a limited choice of cars if you wanted to buy one. Now the choice has increased with the improvement of modern technology, will car buyers take note?

The environmental
impact of cars

It’s no secret that driving a car isn’t great for our climate. Through their construction, use and disposal, cars impact the environment. In the UK, road transport is one of the biggest sources of pollution. Air pollution from cars includes nitrogen oxides, particles, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons – all of which can have a damaging impact on the environment and our own health.

Road transport also accounts for 22% of total UK emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), due to the fuels burnt as we drive. This gas is a major factor in climate change, because it contributes to the greenhouse effect. This occurs when heat is trapped by the atmosphere, causing the planet to warm at a greater rate. Global warming has resulted in the ice caps melting faster in the Arctic and Antarctic, rising sea levels, and changes to animal habitats.

Breakdown of C02 Emissions Produced Over a Car's Lifespan

Line Graph of Plug-In Car Registrations 2018

You might have seen the new colour-coded labels used in car showrooms. They indicate how much CO2 new models emit per kilometre.

With the rise in electric and hybrid cars, there’s the opportunity to make a real difference to how much our driving contributes to climate change.

Finding cleaner ways to travel is a huge part of reducing our impact on the living planet. To keep enjoying the benefits of driving – such as increased freedom, independence and convenience – we have to make efforts to futureproof the technology cars rely on.

How electric and hybrid technology works

With all the terminology out there, it can be difficult to understand what different cars offer, and how they differ to petrol and diesel engines.

Hybrid

Hybrid cars work by using a combination of electricity and fuel – typically petrol – to power the vehicle. The exact set-up will vary between cars, but most can charge their own batteries by using the engine. This might be the only reason the engine is there, or it might work alongside the electric power.

Examples: Toyota Prius Hybrid and Kia Niro

Plug-In Hybrid

Plug-in hybrids can be connected to the National Grid to charge their batteries, as you would with an electric car. This gives the car electric-only range and reduces its reliance on the fuel engine.

Examples: VW Golf GTE and Audi Q7 E-Tron

Electric

Electric cars run on electric power only. It’s stored in batteries before being used by the motor to drive the car forward. Electric vehicles need to be charged up to work – this can be done with an ordinary 3-prong plug, but most EV owners install a specialised plug at home.

Examples: Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe

Fuel Cell

Fuel cell cars combine hydrogen fuel with oxygen to produce electricity, which powers the vehicle. The only emission produced by driving the car is water. Currently, hydrogen comes from natural gas and a fair amount of energy is needed to produce the fuel.

Examples: Hyundai ix35 and Toyota Mirai

Key developments

Did you know that back in the early 1900s, most cars were powered by electric batteries or steam? It didn’t take long for the internal-combustion engine to take over, however, and by around 1935, electric cars were few and far between.

Interest didn’t grow again until the 60s and 70s, largely due to concerns over pollution. For example, BMW’s 1602 E was showcased at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. With 12 batteries, it had a top speed of 62 mph and a range of 37 miles.

In the US, Sebring-Vanguard were producing popular small commuter cars, called Citicars. With a normal cruise speed of 38 mph, and a range of 50 to 60 miles, the car (and models which followed it) was the most-produced American electric car until 2011. It’ll be no surprise to many that the Tesla Roadster was the one to surpass it.

Photo By BMW

In the US, Sebring-Vanguard were producing popular small commuter cars, called Citicars. With a normal cruise speed of 38 mph, and a range of 50 to 60 miles, the car (and models which followed it) was the most-produced American electric car until 2011. It’ll be no surprise to many that the Tesla Roadster was the one to surpass it.

Citicar
Photo By Citicar

Other notable developments in electric and hybrid
technology include:

Photo by RightBrainPhotography (Rick Rowen)

The GM EV1.

The EV1 was the first electric car to be mass-produced in the modern era by one of the major car makers. It’s likely this move was in some part inspired by requirements from the California Air Resources Board (CARB). They wanted manufacturers to develop zero-emission vehicles to continue marketing in the state.

Photo by OSX (Wikipedia)

The Toyota Prius.

It’s largely agreed that the Prius, as one of the first mass-produced hybrid-electric cars, is a bit of a statement. It’s the car you buy if you want to make an environmental statement – credentials which have been sharpened over the years. Since being available worldwide in 2000, Toyota has sold more than 6 million Prius cars.

Photo by Jp Valery

The Tesla Roadster.

It was back in 2006 when news of Tesla’s plans for a battery-powered car with a 200-mile range first hit. Fast forward to 2011, and the Roadster could do 240 miles per charge.

Photo by Sergii Chernov

Reducing cost of batteries.

According to a McKinsey report, battery costs have fallen from approximately 1,000 per kWh in 2010 to an estimated $227 per kWh in 2016. Prices are predicted to fall further too, which will help bring down the costs of electric cars and make them accessible to more people.

Photo by Science Photo

Battery developments.

It’s not just the price that’s changing, it’s the performance. Batteries are getting increasingly efficient, and the best is yet to come. In a 2018 paper, chemists from the University of Glasgow explained how they’ve developed a way of utilising nano-molecules in batteries to store either electric power or hydrogen gas, and release it on demand. Electric cars could be recharged in seconds.

Photo by Estations

Electric charging infrastructure.

With the growing demand for electric cars, there’s a pressure to have places to charge up. As of July 2018, there were around 17,400 public charging points in the UK. To keep up with demand, the 2017 budget included another £400m of funding for charging points.

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