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US Pushes Harder For Electric Vehicle Makeover

Fossil energy nightmare resolves to fast-charging, long-range electric vehicle dream in waning days of Trump administration – wait, what?!?

File this one under D for Don’t let the door hit you on your way out. The waning days of the Trump* administration have been marked by a flurry of activity in the area of clean power and clean transport. I know, right? There was supposed to be a thing about saving coal jobs and promoting the US oil and gas industry, but it sure looks like not everyone got the message. In the latest development, the administration has just unleashed a new round of funding to help launch the US electric vehicle industry into the mainstream.

US Banks $60 Million More On The Electric Vehicle Of The Future

The new round of electric vehicle funding comes under a broader $128 million Department of Energy R&D program for sustainable transportation that also includes an assist for two other elements aimed at retiring fossil energy, those being biomass and green hydrogen.

The $60 million share for electric vehicle research comes under DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office, where it will focus on battery electric vehicles.

Though the $128 million pot says “transportation” on the label, it looks like there is plenty of wiggle room for the “sustainable” part to trickle over into other sectors of the US economy.

As DOE explains, the electric vehicle part “supports priorities in batteries and electrification, advanced engine and fuel technologies, materials, mobility systems, and transportation and energy analysis,” adding that it also supports the Energy Storage Grand Challenge, which focuses on, well, energy storage.

That means anything from onboard energy storage for electric vehicles, all the way on up to utility-scale energy storage that will push fossil sources out of the power generation sector.

So much for saving all your coal jobs.

Group Hug For US Taxpayers

Where were we? Oh, right, electric vehicles. In presenting the new round of $60 million for electric vehicle research, the Energy Department takes a jab at the impact of gasmobile fuel costs on household budgets, pointing out that “the average U.S. household spends over 15 percent of its total family expenditures on transportation, making it the most expensive spending category after housing.”

Ouch! In other words, DOE makes the case for electrification as part and parcel of a long-term economic development plan.

“Growing our economy requires transportation, and transportation requires energy,” DOE emphasizes, in case anyone misses the point.

To be clear, the Vehicle Technologies Office is not focused exclusively on electrification. However, it does support the broader mission of fuel diversification. In addition to EV batteries, it covers lightweight materials and other research areas that bear directly on improvements in electric vehicle efficiency and affordability.

Those efforts have continued from the last days of the Bush administration, on through President Obama’s 8 years in the White House, and all during the first and only term of Trump.

“VTO-funded research has reduced the cost of advanced batteries by 75% since 2008, and nearly every plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) on the road today uses VTO-developed battery technology,” the Vehicle Technologies Office enthuses, which means that every taxpaying person in the US can take a victory lap.

So, What Does The Electric Vehicle Of The Future Look Like?

Despite the improvements, the Energy Department is still not satisfied, mainly because the upfront cost of electric vehicles is still relatively high.

That’s why many automakers are starting their electric vehicle pivot in the luxury market, where buyers don’t mind dipping into their pockets for extra bells and whistles.

The new round of funding aims to increase consumer access by zeroing in on the battery, which is where the bulk of electric vehicles’ costs resides.

The idea is to develop new chemistries and other technologies that cut battery costs by more than half, down below the $80-per-kilowatt-hour mark.

At the same time, VTO aims to meet gasmobiles on their own turf by increasing the standard battery range to 300 miles, and cutting charge times down to a maximum of 15 minutes. That’s about what one would expect from driving and refueling an ICE vehicle.

They’re thinking all this can be done by 2028, partly through improvements in existing technology and partly by diving into new technology, including a new generation of electric powertrains that gets to the $7-per-kilowatt level by 2022, down from a 2012 benchmark of $30.

“New innovations in motor technology — printable magnets, high-conductivity windings, and novel architectures — could lead to much smaller, very high energy density systems with twice the useful life that can enable more affordable, better performing PEVs,” VTO explains.

Cool, So What’s Next?

A quick look at the VTO funding opportunity announcement provides a hint of the sparkling green transportation future.

One main area of interest involves improvements in liquid electrolytes for lithium-ion batteries, as the most promising pathway for achieving the 15 minute charging goal.

VTO specifically warns against additive or incremental improvements. They are looking for the next big thing, so keep an eye on that.

If you’re thinking sulfur cathodes, run right out and buy yourself a cigar. CleanTechnica took note of a sulfur battery back in 2013, among other times in passing, and it seems that a lot of R&D activity has been going on since then.

“Sulfur represents the most promising cathode material in the near term. It is the 16th most abundant element on Earth and is highly affordable,” enthuses VTO. “In addition, the theoretical specific capacity of sulfur is 1,675 mAh/g compared to approximately 275 mAh/g for NMC [lithium-nickel=manganese] oxide cathodes.”

That’s not all. VTO is also looking at lithium-air batteries, which is a whole ‘nother kettle of corn.

For those of you wondering what about new solid-state battery technology, that’s a good question. Under the current state of development, solid-state batteries do not dovetail with the 15-minute goal. That could change, but for now, VTO is focusing on new technology that addresses cost, range, and charging time all at once.

But Wait, There’s More

Another part of that $60 million is going to a somewhat ambitious goal of improving power density 10 times by 2025, compared to a 2015 benchmark, while halving costs and increasing the lifespan as measured by miles driven.

The main pathway for that will be integrating various components — including gate drivers, sensors, and heat sinks — into a power module in order to cut the size of the inverter.

Another factor involves reducing the volume of the capacitor, either by improving the capacitor itself or by tweaking the inverter to require less volume.

This all sounds simple enough, but VTO notes that involves crowding different components with different temperature capabilities even more closer than they are now, which means that thermal expansion will present some serious challenges along with other technology obstacles to overcome.

VTO foresees that artificial intelligence and machine learning will come into play for designing new integrated features.

The Right Electric Vehicle For You

Of interest to gasmobile fans, the new funding round also includes set-asides for cleaning up ICE emissions and improving fuel efficiency. That’s reality for you. Much as we love electric vehicles, gasmobiles will still rule the roadways over the coming years, so best to tidy them up as much as possible.

That area does include lightweighting, ride sharing, connectivity, and analytical projects, so there should be some benefits rippling over to the electrification area as well.

For that matter, in terms of materials and infrastructure impacts, electric cars and trucks unfortunately have much in common with their ICE cousins.

It’s a different story when you consider small personal mobility devices like electric bikes, scooters, skateboards, and what-have-you. There is already a ton of variety out there, so if you’re looking for non-car electric mobility it’s easy to find something that fits your particular needs.

CleanTechnica has been reviewing a series of pedal-assist e-bikes and scooters, including a snuggly two-seater from a company called Civilized Cycles and the eye-catching new Rush from Harley Davidson, introduced by its Serial 1 Cycle Company venture.

For fat tire fans, we have a review of the jaunty, foldable RadMini Step-Thru from the company Rad Power on tap, so stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Twitter.

*Developing story.


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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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