Gas2 Week in Review, July 17: The Habit of Experimentation
The move toward alternative transportation options requires significant new thinking and lots of failed experimentation. But all that experimentation does sometimes lead to monumental discoveries. This week on Gas2, our top stories focused on innovators who were trying out different routes to make green transportation more efficient.
First, there are the researchers at Drexel University who say they’ve come up with an experimentation method of achieving very high electronic conductivity with a two-dimensional material; if all goes as planned, it will produce much faster battery charging. Then there are the folks over at Sono Motors, whose experimentation has resulted in a car that adds 18 miles of range due to roof, hood, and rear hatch covered in in monocrystalline silicon solar cells.
A company called Continental is delving into experimentation that has the potential to reduce NOx emissions by 60% through a 48 volt electrical volt system. And, speaking of diesel, VW’s epiphanies about fossil fuels have led it to announce that, by 2025, at least one-quarter of the cars it sells will be electric, which will require a significant expansion of lithium-ion battery cell production.
The Hyperloop — that futuristic pod that travels through a tube in partial vacuum — was back in the news, after a successful test run at relatively low speeds. Here are those stories and more on this week’s edition of the “Gas2 Week in Review.”
A new highly conductive two-dimensional material may allow ordinary batteries to charge as fast as supercapacitors and, yet, have the energy storage potential of a conventional battery. The key is having more places to store electrons than today’s generation of electrodes, so that more electron storage would equal more electrical energy stored and transmitted. The researchers at Drexel say that, when ions actually reach their destination at fast charging rates, rapid charging “on the order of a few seconds or less” can result.
An Indiegogo crowd funding campaign last year raised over a half million dollars and made possible the Sono Motors Sion, a vehicle which has its hood, roof, and rear hatch covered with monocrystalline 21% efficient silicon cells. On a sunny day, the eight millimeter thick solar cells, which are embedded in a polycarbonate layer that is shatterproof, weather resistant, and light in weight, can generate enough electricity to add 18 miles of range. The Sion can also be 80% charged using an AC outlet in about 30 minutes.
Diesel engines create more nitrous oxide (NOx) pollutants than gasoline engines due primarily to higher combustion temperatures and pressures. The urea injection system that most manufacturers use to control NOx emissions requires complex and expensive hardware. Continental’s experimentation may have yielded a 60% reduction in emissions through a 48 volt electrical system that promotes rapid heating of the catalytic converter. So, rather than the usual catalytic converter, which depends on the engine to elevate temperature, Continental’s approach uses electricity rather than the engine. That means the catalyst reaches optimal heat levels much more quickly and achieves high efficiency NOx reductions. Yes, this may be a small move in a dead-end fossil fuel-dependent industry, but who knows where experimentation like this could lead?
Contrary to most insiders who assert that a weak charging infrastructure is the greatest obstacle to mass EV adoption, Ulrich Eichhorn, head of research and development for Volkswagen, says that what the automotive industry needs is more batteries. By 2025, for example, VW expects 25% of its catalog to be powered by batteries. “We will need more than 200 gigawatt-hours,” he stated, which is a leap from the 150 gigawatt hour level the company cited last year. If other car manufacturers follow VW’s lead and evolve into one-quarter EV sales within the decade, it would require forty new Gigafactories to supple 1.5 terawatt-hours of lithium-ion battery cells each year. That’s a conservative estimate that doesn’t take into account the additional emerging demand for grid storage.
The word’s out — albeit a couple of months after the fact. Hyperloop One opened up its 500 meter long test track called DevLoop, inserted its 28 foot long Hyperloop pod, and accelerated to — wait for it— 70 mph. Underwhelmed? Don’t be, at least in the long run. This experimentation is the beginning of something that could be truly revolutionary. The Hyperloop accelerates using electromagnetic propulsion and mag-lev technology as it travels through a tube in partial vacuum. With many refinements on the way, the company hopes to achieve 250 miles per hour, and the theoretical speed limit for the Hyperloop is three times that speed. Eleven routes are in the planning stage in the U.S. for this ultrafast, futuristic transportation system.