Report on EVS26
May 14, 2012
EVS26 in Los Angeles this month reminded one of the children's chant, "When she was good she was very, very good but when she was bad she was awful". The networking opportunities were superb, the welcoming reception and the Gala Dinner being truly memorable.
The variety of cars to try out was again unparalleled in the USA, including more than one fuel cell vehicle, and there were a few vehicles beyond cars.
On the other hand, the exhibition, once by far the world's largest, is in decline to the point where it is now one quarter of the size of the competing eCarTec in Germany, let alone the EVS that took place in China. Partly, this may due to over-emphasis on cars, which represent less than half the market. It may also be that the US EV industry is increasingly putting its exhibition dollars into other EV events across the country in the last year or even deciding not to exhibit at all in the USA. As exhibitors, we were saddened by the high handed attitude of the exhibition organisers but others had worse stories to tell. We made excellent contacts though.
To talk at the conference, you had to pay money. This led to droves of 15 minute lectures by those reporting on the unmeasurable or statistically meaningless under a faux academic verbose title. We also had a considerable dose of the obvious. With typically five parallel streams and no times published for individual presentations, it took determination and luck to dance between rooms to find the good stuff.
So what were the trends emerging?
1. Everyone continues to agree that we are in the age of the hybrid on-road vehicle. Go to the IDTechEx "Electric Vehicles Land Sea Air" events and you will see we are in the age of pure electric drive trains for most other types of vehicle but with hybrids creating additional non-road markets. For more read the IDTechEx report Electric Vehicles 2012-2022.
2. The exhibition had some huge pure electric Balqon trucks and the conference revealed how, although these are very expensive, industrial and commercial vehicles are becoming hybrid and quite often pure electric because of such factors as cost-over-life and tolerance of frequent stop-start. Then there is the desire of port authorities and the like to be green and reduce local pollution.
3. You had to be one of the 60 people at the death slot presentation by Ed Benjamin on the last half day to hear the real significance of the sprinkling of two wheelers at the event. Armed with deeply researched facts, he declared that we are within a few months of more people going to work electrically by road that using other means by road. It is the 150 million e-bikes in China with 31 million new ones worldwide being added and maybe 800 million yearly in 2100. Compare about 65 million cars and about 65 million other road vehicles in place today, he said.
Electric car makers are losing their shirts and are further threatened by more than half the people in the world now being in cities. Contrast, an e-bike maker reporting $90 million in profit and China exporting e-bikes to 170 countries. Although the e-bike leader has only 1% percent or so of the sales of GM, several leading car makers are getting into bikes and questioning the future of cars, something IDTechEx supported in its earlier presentation by noting that electric cars use five times more energy per person kilometer than either e-bikes or electric buses. Add to that the impossible problem of providing enough roads, parking and charging places for cars in populous countries and the fact that young people cannot afford cars, increasingly cannot pass the driving test and anyway want to use social media on their journey or get fit. For more read the IDTechEx report, Light Electric Vehicles 2012-2022.
SYSTEMS AND COMPONENTS
4. Quite a few new charging station manufacturers offered largely me-too products. There are at least 150 charging station manufacturers in the world - few will survive. For more read the IDTechEx report Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure 2012-2022.
5. There was a glimpse of the huge need for many forms of range extender and the fabulous opportunity for the mere 40 or so manufacturers with serious offerings, including the fuel cells from the UK company Intelligent Energy on display.
The Europeans are in the lead. The elegant little piston engine range extenders from Lotus and MAHLE in the UK were seen but not most others from around the world - Japan has equivalents. A sweet spot of 30kW is not unusual and that can mean two to three cylinders, a small fuel cell, gas turbine, Wankel engine or many other options. The more elegant versions are fuel generators with not protruding shaft to a separate generator but this was not properly exposed at this event. Aymeric Rousseau of Argonne National Lab. said in his presentation that they had found transit bus hybrids can actually pollute more: he should have added that better range extenders must be made and that is indeed happening.
6. Parallel hybrids are still declared best for most long distance, steady speed conditions as with heavy trucks. For more read the IDTechEx report, Range Extenders for Electric Vehicles 2012-2022.
7. There were the inevitable new, mainly Chinese battery makers on display. Companies continue to pile into batteries if you excuse the pun - at least 150 companies now claim to make cells for traction batteries but there is only room in the market for a few. Batteries with lithium iron phosphate cathodes are dishonestly portrayed as inherently safe all too often. These and their variants have the most suppliers and, properly made, they can be safer than lithium cobalt oxide batteries in having wider temperature range but no lithium cell is inherently safe. In fact, most fires and explosions are down to failure of the Battery Management Systems, something rarely mentioned, and more work needs doing on these. Lithium Balance from Denmark in next-generation BMS had a small stand. For more read the IDTechEx report, Electric Vehicle Traction Batteries 2012-2022.
8. Maxwell Technologies, Nippon Chemi-Con and Nichicon showed supercapacitors (ultracapacitors), the Japanese products using aqueous propylene carbonate in a voluntary national agreement to shun dangerous chemicals like acetonitrile and Maxwell Technologies taking the opposite view and gaining more market share thanks to better low temperature performance etc. Below is its drop-in replacement for one of the three lead acid batteries in a typical truck so starting becomes excellent even at minus 40C. Those puzzled why supercapacitors help e-bikes and buses have fast charge-discharge but not the cars in between will have been relieved to see nippon Chemi-Con supercapacitors carrying out that purpose in a Mazda car. Cars are not different but they can be slow to adopt new technology. Some have had small supercapacitors to work brakes if regen fails but not protecting the battery and enhancing performance..
All three agreed that vehicles are their biggest opportunity for the next decade, including many applications in both conventional and electric vehicles, including opening conventional and electric bus doors in a power outage. Indeed, we glimpsed how an increasing minority of even car manufacturers see supercapacitors as hugely important for the future.
Many hybrid buses in China often have only supercapacitors - no batteries. Bollore of France, which makes an electric car, is now making its own Batscap supercapacitor for fast charge-discharge, not just its own lithium metal polymer battery ie third generation traction battery. We have been tracking those supercapacitor patents and others from vehicle manufacturers such as Honda, Mitsubishi and Fuje Heavy Industries since 2005. Yet the number of manufacturers making supercapacitors for the biggest opportunities - electrical engineering mainly meaning vehicles - remains modest in the world. For more read the IDTechEx report, Electrochemical Double Layer Capacitors: Supercapacitors 2013-2023.
9. The larger stands promoting motors were mainly concentrated on the traditional types but it was illuminating to visit the little Higen Motor Co Ltd stand describing another synchronous motor using ferrite magnets without rare earths yet achieving excellent performance. It is a reluctance motor but not the better known switched reluctance synchronous motor with no magnets, seen elsewhere as a solution to the rare earth problem. The large Siemens presence and its presentation promoted its excellent asynchronous traction motors. They have no rare earths and are gaining market share, particularly for large and medium sized electric vehicles whether hybrid or pure electric but now smaller vehicles such as the Tesla Roadster, Mini-E, many new electric cars and many pure electric golf cars. For more read the IDTechEx report, Electric Motors for Electric Vehicles 2012-2022.