<>
In the last article, I wrote about the emotional reasons about why I decided to build and electric motorcycle; this part outlines our clear logic behind electric mobility.

Why we decided to build an electric motorcycle.

In the last article, I wrote about the emotional reasons about why I decided to build and electric motorcycle; this part outlines our clear logic behind electric mobility.

While researching about the past of electric vehicles (EV), it came as a surprise to me that at the turn of last century there were a comparable number of electric cars to internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. Then came along Ford Model T and we all know the rest is history. The innovation of an assembly line, the dropping of prices are some of the reasons that ice technology took off while EVs struggled with range and charging problems. Ice technology reached mass popularity and sounded the death knell of EV.

Intellectually, an ev is so much better than a ice. It is much cheaper to run per kilometer because electricity is cheaper to produce and distribute today than fossil fuels (or even hydrogen – another probable clean fuel alternative) and it is always going to be. It is always going to be cheaper to transport electrons (which don’t require a mass transfer) from point A to B over wires than it will be to transport petrol, CNG or hydrogen.

Intellectually, an ev is so much better than a ice. It is much cheaper to run per kilometer because electricity is cheaper to produce and distribute today than fossil fuels (or even hydrogen – another probable clean fuel alternative) and it is always going to be. It is always going to be cheaper to transport electrons (which don’t require a mass transfer) from point A to B over wires than it will be to transport petrol, CNG or hydrogen.

An electric motor is much more efficient than a ice . While a typical ice vehicle is only about 17% – 21% energy efficient, a typical ev is about 59%-62%. What that means is that for every unit of energy that is put into the vehicle an ice can use only about 20% and the rest is wasted in engine heat, etc. while for an ev this is about 60%. That means that for every Rupee that you spend on buying your energy, you get only 20% bang for your buck with an ice (quite literally); that goes up to about 60% with an ev. In fact, I’m betting that an electric two wheeler would be as close as about 80% efficient since we don’t waste energy on either the heater or the air-conditioner (and the last two numbers have been calculated with heating and cooling added).

Electric vehicles can potentially have lower maintenance cost because an ev has much fewer moving parts, no noise, vibration or harmonics. Battery replacement is potentially the single largest maintenance cost; however ev’s are designed to last the lifetime of the vehicle so it doesn’t bother the consumer. [I must admit however that Tesla has not been able to exploit this feature of the ev – probably since they have been releasing premium cars uptil now]. However, it is possible to design a system which will require very little maintenance than an ice and Zeuva is currently working on projects which will bring this cost down.

A cheaper distribution system means that you get the same amount of energy for lesser, a more efficient system means that you use that energy more effectively and a potentially lower cost of maintenance means that you spend less on keeping it healthy. All of these translate into a lower total cost of ownership. I’m specially enthused about this feature of ev’s in a price sensitive market like India

You might have read somewhere that ev’s accelerate much faster than a normal ice vehicle. This is because of the fact that the electric motor has maximum torque at zero RPM while most engines reach their maximum at 4000 – 8000 rpm depending on the engine. This means that an ev has maximum force right when you say go and then it becomes lesser while ice actually reached maximum force when you rev it a bit hard…. this should be really exciting news for all speed buffs. EV’s are cheaper and faster too – can you believe that!

Both the source of energy in an ev and it’s Achilles Heels at the same time is the battery. This manifests the consumer in two ways –  range and recharging time. Batteries that last as long as the lifetime of an ev are expensive. Consider this : a typical 100cc motorcycle has a range of about a 500 kms. However how often does someone use more than 70 – 100 kms on a daily basis. Manufacturers want to make ev’s affordable for consumers, and the way they look at this point is what is the use of putting 5 times the battery needed and asking the consumer to pay for it (meaning making it quite un-comparable to an ice in terms of price) when they only need range about a 100 kms. However it doesn’t solve one critical anxiety of a consumer – “whether the ev will be able to take me to my destination or not.” Very accurate range prediction algorithms are being created to solve the problem and slowly as more and more consumers use ev’s they will loose this range anxiety and become comfortable with ev’s.

Lithium Ion cell – A Tesla is powered by 1000s of them.

The other big problem for consumers is the recharging problem. It is true that there are different speeds of charging available – slow charging, fast charging; a fast charging takes about an hour to reach 80% – 90% of full charge. In any case even fast charging is not as fast as what consumers are used to right now – getting into a petrol station and getting refilled in matter of a few minutes. Battery swapping is one solution which solved this problem. This will allow you to get to a station, give back your discharged battery and walk away with a new one. [Consumers who intend to buy an ev should know that fast charging every time will eventually spoil the battery faster – yes same as on a mobile phone.]

However, the real big benefit of ev to society at large is lower greenhouse gasses (GHG) emission. About one fourths of total co2 emissions in developed countries is related to automotive emissions. (In India this is about 13%). CO2 emissions causes global warming which is probably one of the biggest concerns of enlightened leaders across the world. No wonder governments across the world are providing all kinds of incentives to promote ev technology. Conspiracy theorists believe that governments around the world are tired of problem in the middle east; even if that is true it still helps a bigger environmental cause.

Critics of this technology are quick to point out that the electricity used in ev technology is still produced in gas or coal fired power plants, and that it only shifts the pollutants from our cities to elsewhere. Even if gas is used to generate energy, and then 50% of energy is lost in transmission of energy in wires, ev’s are still more efficient that ice where only 13% energy is lost in transmission while about 80% energy is lost in the engine. Experts have shown that in these scenarios the ev’s travel about 1.14 kms/MJ of energy while a typical ice travels only about 0.52 kms/MJ of energy.

Nonetheless, the true potential of ev is that it can be plugged to a renewable energy grid and that would be totally clean renewable energy. And that to me is not unreal or distant the way solar energy prices are falling. Someday when that happens all of us would feel how stupid we were for using ice, it’s almost like few years ago there were debates in courts about harm done by cigarettes – of course cigarettes kill just as CO2 emission harms our environment.

This article is a reproduction of this original article.

Leave a comment