5 Innovations in Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Technology
By Bumblebee Batteries
Clean energy vehicles and the technology that makes them work is one of the fastest developing areas of human innovation today. While the Big Oil lobby is trying its hardest to keep denial alive, climate change and the dangers it poses to our future are clear. The demand for clean technology is stronger every year, and the innovations keep coming.
In looking to the future, we have picked out five innovations moving quickly into the mainstream as vehicles continue to evolve. While the combustion engine is not quite ready to retire into museums and collectors’ garages, its days are clearly numbered.
In the case of pure electric vehicles (EVs), meaning those that do not have a combustion engine, we are seeing rapid improvements leading to both lower prices and longer range. With the unveiling of the 2017 Bolt, General Motors envisions a fully electric vehicle capable of traveling 200 miles between charges, in contrast with most vehicles which travel fewer than a hundred miles for most plug-in cars today.
Industry watchers expect Bolt’s relatively low price will create serious competition for Tesla in the race to produce a practical and affordable EV for mainstream car buyers.
Musk’s response to the Bolt was to welcome the concept. “I don’t see it as a competitive threat,” he said, “because I think all cars will go electric.” In addition to Tesla, with its record breaking pre-order sales for their affordable Model 3 launch this year, nearly every major car manufacturer has announced new all-electric models in the coming years.
While fuel cell vehicles (FCV) are not yet taking over roadways, automakers continue to nudge the hydrogen energy technology toward pragmatism. (For some great examples of hydrogen power being applied: Fuel Cells Power Up: Three Surprising Places Where Hydrogen Energy Is Working).
Honda unveiled its latest fuel cell concept, a five-seat model that can refuel in three minutes when hydrogen is dispensed at the pressure typical for still hard-to-find filling stations and can travel up to 300 miles, compared with about 240 miles for Honda’s previous fuel cell model. The company plans to begin selling the car in Japan next year.
While there are reasons to doubt whether fuel cell vehicles will ever be truly viable, the innovations being developed are indeed amazing.
Aluminum Makes a Comeback
As we mentioned earlier we are seeing innovations in constructions and that includes using aluminum in key frame parts versus steel. Within the best-selling Ford F-150, this innovation shaved off approximately 700 pounds and gained 26 mpg for improved fuel consumption. While Ford says that aluminum won’t be taking over the production line anytime soon, the F-150 has been winning awards and raising eyebrows.
Ford’s president Joe Hinrichs said last week in a speech, “One of the big benefits you get from light weighting,” is that “you can tow more and haul more.” Truck buyers, he said, “will pay for more capability, while car buyers will pay for improved fuel economy.”
Tesla’s Model S features a body and chassis built almost entirely of aluminum, derived from bauxite ore. Due to its light weight, this helps extend the range of the battery further than other EV’s.
There are a few surprising advantages newer electric vehicles have over traditional combustion-powered cars. One of the biggest is extreme acceleration. The Tesla Model S, for example, can go from a standing stop to 60 mph in as little as 2.3 seconds, beating out cars with badges reading Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, and Porsche.
The research team set out to develop a battery that increases the amount of energy that is readily available at any given moment. Initial battery technologies focused far more on the amount of energy a battery can store.
To give an idea of how radical an innovation it is, scientists engineered their new battery to be as efficient as possible at the atomic level, constructing layers of crystalline tungsten oxide separated by atom-thin layers of water.
When this is compared with a battery that uses the same crystalline tungsten oxide without the water layers, the battery built with the hydrate will not only charge faster at short intervals but can also deliver its charge more rapidly.
While it’s anyone’s guess when this will be seen in production vehicles, it’s a safe bet we will be seeing some form of this technology in future vehicles.
Autonomous Vehicles and Features
While fully autonomous vehicles which share the promise of fewer accidents, less time lost to mindless traffic jams, and better fuel efficiency are still a few years away from legal approvals and mainstream availability, a number of auto makers have begun rolling out semi-autonomous features that foreshadow the coming driverless vehicle revolution.
In addition to the widely publicized AutoPilot feature in Tesla cars, General Motors plans to incorporate similar features in upcoming models such as automatic braking and steering to keep a vehicle within a lane.
Adaptive cruise control, an innovation on what was perhaps the earliest precursor to autonomous technology, is already increasingly available in many vehicle models.
Automatic parking is another feature available already in many high end models that will become more prevalent, undoubtedly a relief for those among us whose parallel parking skills are, shall we say… lacking.
So even while fully autonomous vehicles may still be a few years away yet, we should continue to see a number of these kinds of iterative features in a variety of forms in the coming years.