Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Nikola unveils how its electric truck works: custom hydrogen fuel cell

Nikola One electric semi truck
Nikola One electric semi truck

In May, the Nikola Motor Company appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, with a design for a natural gas- and electric-powered Class 8 commercial semi truck.
It is to be called the Nikola One, and the company plans to unveil a running prototype on December 2.

But it appears Nikola (pronounced NEEK-oh-la) will actually employ a somewhat different powertrain in its semi truck.
It was previously understood that the Nikola One would use natural gas-powered turbines to generate electricity to power the truck.
Now, the company says U.S. and Canadian-market versions of the truck will in fact use hydrogen fuel cells.
This seemingly-important piece of information was previously kept confidential "pending finalization of key supplier agreements," a Nikola press release said.
Nikola One natural gas-electric semi truck
Nikola One natural gas-electric semi truck

The company still plans to produce a natural-gas version of the Nikola One, it said, but it will be sold only in countries where hydrogen fueling stations aren't available.
Nikola says it plans to ensure that sufficient infrastructure is available in the U.S.
It will build 50 hydrogen stations, with a goal of having its entire fueling network operational by 2020.

To produce hydrogen for these stations, Nikola will also build its own solar farms, which the company says will produce 100 megawatts or more of electricity apiece.
When it first announced its Class 8 truck back in May, Nikola had said it would build a network of 50 natural-gas stations.
It also offered 100,000 gallons of free natural gas to the first 5,000 customers who placed reservations for the truck.
Nikola One electric semi truck
Nikola One electric semi truck

It's unclear whether U.S. customers who took up that offer will now get free hydrogen instead.
Nikola claims the same range of 1,200 miles between fill-ups for its hydrogen powertrain as it did for natural gas.
The Nikola One is to be powered by six electric motors, good for a combined 2,000 horsepower and 3,700 pound-feet of torque.

That power is sent to the wheels via a two-speed transmission.
A 320-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack can also be recharged by plugging in, but the company doesn't expect that to be the main energy source.
Given the underdeveloped state of U.S. hydrogen-fueling infrastructure, Nikola may have no choice but to build its own stations to make its truck a viable option for haulers.
Nikola One electric semi truck
Nikola One electric semi truck

Hydrogen stations today are considerably more expensive to construct than gas and diesel fueling stations or electric-car charging sites.
But building a network along major highways to support a fleet of over-the-road trucks is somewhat less daunting than creating one dense enough to make hydrogen practical for drivers of passenger vehicles.
Given the very high number of miles covered by most diesel-powered commercial tractor-trailer rigs, the reductions in tailpipe and carbon emissions would be substantial even at a low number of such trucks.

Still, Nikola faces the same uphill battle as any other startup attempting to break into the vehicle market.
It faces a particularly tough challenge in trying to introduce a form of electric drive to commercial trucks at a faster pace than is generally considered to be possible.
We'll get a better idea of the company's chances when the Nikola One prototype is unveiled in December.

Audi electric four-wheel-drive “A9 e-tron” confirmed

The UK’s Autocar reports that Audi will put a four-wheel-drive electric sedan rivaling the Tesla Model S into production. Perhaps to be called the A9 e-tron, the car will share much of its technology with the upcoming e-tron quattro SUV, including the advanced torque vectoring capabilities.
The vehicle will have a range of up to 500 km (311 miles), and reportedly will offer Level 4 autonomous driving technology—one step up from that used in next year’s new A8.
Audi R&D boss Stefan Knirsch said he is confident the new electric saloon will deliver a unique driving experience through the use of electric motors and a power electronics package that Audi is developing.
Knirsch said: “Some rivals have gone for a synchronous motor with a high power density but at relatively low revs. There are also asynchronous motors that typically achieve similar power outputs but at much higher revs. From 2018, our electric cars will be equipped with asynchronous motors. We are convinced they offer higher efficiency levels than synchronous motors.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

When will hydrogen fuel be available everywhere in the U.S.? Poll results

2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, 2016 Toyota Mirai at hydrogen fueling station, Fountain Valley, CA
2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, 2016 Toyota Mirai at hydrogen fueling station, Fountain Valley, CA

While you might think that any zero-emission vehicle would be viewed as a good thing, hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles continue to generate opposition among some electric-car fans.
Perhaps viewing them as competition for long-range battery electric vehicles of the sort now planned by virtually every car maker, they produce huge volumes of comments every time we write about them.

Now we have some data to show how well the Twitter followers of Green Car Reports think they can do in the market.
We simply polled those followers about when they thought that hydrogen fuel for vehicles would be available throughout the U.S.
The rough analogy would be as available as gasoline is today, at more than 100,000 separate fueling station locations throughout the 50 states.
The results were revealing.
More than six out of 10 Twitter followers who responded to the poll said hydrogen will "never" be available throughout the U.S.
The remaining 38 percent of votes were split several ways, with the next most common group being "2030 or later," chosen by 20 percent of respondents.

The choice of "2025" got only 12 percent of the votes, and the nearest-term answer, 2020, garnered a measly 6 percent of supporters.
In other words, the readers who responded to the poll really, really don't believe that hydrogen-fueled vehicles will ever become ubiquitous.
Honda Clarity teaser image, April 2016
Honda Clarity teaser image, April 2016

The difference in zero-emission vehicle powertrains, of course, is that electricity in some form is generally found within a short distance of almost everywhere that cars are parked.
The same can't be said for hydrogen, which must be dispensed at pressures up to 10,000 pounds per square inch from pumps on specialized sites that currently run as high as $2 million per location to build.

We look forward to comparing the results of this poll to our latest poll, running now, which asks the same question—with the same set of date choices—about DC fast-charging instrastructure for electric cars.

New Government Rules Could Wipe Out Most Chinese Electric Car Startups

Never forget that China has a “managed economy.” The national government may have embraced elements of capitalism a generation ago, but the country’s leaders are well aware of the problems that can result if capitalism is allowed to run wild. “Boom or bust” syndrome is something the government thinks is bad for the economy in general and especially bad for the burgeoning electric car industry.
Chinese electric car
To date, more than 200 Chinese startups have announced plans to build an electric car. 100 years ago, every blacksmith and bicycle mechanic in the world was busy building an automobile in the barn at night. Then they started companies to manufacture their creations. Worldwide, thousands if not tens of thousands of nascent car companies have failed over the last century or more.
China looks at the money investors lost backing all those companies that never were. From its managed economy perspective, it thinks funneling more investment into companies that are economically viable is better for the nation than throwing good money after bad and letting market forces determine the winners and losers.
Today in China, every refrigerator manufacturer, moped maker, and backyard tinkerer is jumping into the electric vehicle game. A lot of that frenzy of enthusiasm is fueled by generous government incentives that make “new energy vehicles” affordable for the masses. Those incentives can amount to as much as 60% of the sticker price of a new energy car, which has sparked a huge demand from the public. Right now in China, more than 4000 new models of electric cars are under development. Many of those small companies have no experience building automobiles. Their cars are shoddily made and service after the sale is non-existent.
The government of China says it will now pick the winners itself. Soon, entrepreneurs will need a license from the government to become an automobile manufacturer. (Existing companies like SAIC and BYD will not need to apply for licenses.) According to reports, no more than 10 licenses will be issued — a very small number for such a large country. “There are too many entrants in the sector, and some of them are just speculators,” said Yin Chengliang, a professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Institute of Automotive Engineering. “The government has to raise the threshold. It’s bad to see irrational investments in projects with low technology levels.”
335,000 new energy vehicles were sold in China last year. By 2025, the government wants that number to rise to 3,000,000 vehicles a year. It will be boom times for whichever companies survive the permitting process.
China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology published a draft policy document for public comment this month. It listed 17 technologies that companies that intend to sell electric cars must have in order to ensure “healthy” development of the industry. The factors include a control system for the performance and stability of any new energy vehicle, an information system that tracks the sources and conditions of key parts, and a process for recycling or reusing batteries.
Citing unnamed sources, Economic Daily, an official newspaper run by the State Council, says 90 percent of the companies currently developing EV platforms won’t be able to meet the standards in two years. A lot of money has been invested in those companies already. “There’s definitely a bubble,” said Yale Zhang, a managing director at researcher Autoforesight Shanghai Co. “If you don’t own the core technology and can’t build up the brand, it’s ‘game over’ very quickly once you burn through the cash.”
Source: Bloomberg

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Why The Tesla 100 kWh Battery Is A Super Big Deal

One of Elon Musk’s favorite words is “super.” Things are not important to him, they are super important. So he would probably say the new 100 kWh battery available now (for a hefty price) in the Model S and Model X is a super big deal, one that has little to do with the cars’ outrageous performance potential — 0-60 in 2.5 seconds for the Model S, 2.9 seconds for the Model X.
Tesla Model S P100D
Every battery for an electric car begins with cells, mostly lithium ion cells today. They are assembled into clusters and the clusters are then assembled into a complete battery pack. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. Inside the battery pack, coolant must be allowed to circulate. As electricity is withdrawn from a battery, it heats up. If it gets too hot, it can ignite, resulting in a rather spectacular fire.
The key to the new Tesla 100 kWh battery is that it represents the state of the art in battery packaging. In a conference call announcing the new battery, Musk indicated that the new battery comes close to providing the theoretical maximum power possible for its size and shape using the current battery chemistry. I”t’s been quite a challenging development,” he said.
There wasn’t room enough left over in the chassis of the Model S and Model X to make the battery pack larger, so Tesla engineers totally redesigned the cooling system to be more compact yet more efficient. Then they rearranged how the cell clusters were arrange inside the battery pack.
Battery cooling is a big deal for electric cars. There are rumors that Apple is working with a small company in South Korea on battery cells that are hollow in the middle. That empty space is said to allow more air flow for better cooling. But of course, all that is merely theoretical, since Apple isn’t really building an electric car. Or is it?
The real reason the new Tesla 100 kWh battery is a super big deal is because, once again, it marks Tesla as being the smartest company in the game. Tesla is 3 to 5 years ahead of anybody else on the planet when it comes to making world class electric cars.
Elon may be an SOB to work for. His expectations are super high and his demands on his employees are super severe. But his right foot is firmly planted on the accelerator and he has no intention of backing off. Apparently, he doesn’t know how. That is why his cars will always be super far ahead of the competition.

Toyota will help high schoolers build and race fuel cell RC cars

Toyota is working with California high school students to put a real futuristic spin on the remote-control race car concept. The Japanese automaker is working with Horizon Educational Group on a competition that teaches high-school students how to build mini hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles, says Green Car Reports. And then race them.

The project is called the Hydrogen Horizon Automobile Challenge. Toyota started working with students from ten Los Angeles County high schools and ten Orange County high schools. The program is part of Horizon Educational Group's work producing teaching materials related to renewable-energy technologies such as wind and solar power as well as fuel cells. Meanwhile, Toyota's broader aim is to push high-school students into the so-called STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). You can never have enough young scientists for these automobile companies, can you? The first race among these students is scheduled for next March.

Toyota's expanding its community outreach efforts as it looks to boost exposure for its Mirai, which is the company's first mass-produced hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle and can go as far as 300 miles on a full tank. The automaker started selling the model at eight California dealerships last November, with lease rates starting at $499 a month. Through July, Toyota sold 270 Mirai vehicles in the US.

Reports also surfaced earlier this year that Toyota is planning to introduce a smaller, cheaper version of the Mirai in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, with the price coming in at about $53,000, compared to the $65,000 price tag on the current Mirai in Japan. Not as small or as cheap as those little remote-controlled racers, of course.

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

2016 Kia Optima PHEV review

Kia’s first plug-in hybrid, complete with the credibility-stretching fuel economy and emissions figures we’ve come to expect from cars of this type. The Optima PHEV combines the efforts of a normally aspirated 2.0-litre petrol engine and a 50kW electric motor to deliver a peak system output of 202bhp.
There will be more interest among company car drivers in the Optima’s price and CO2 figure. At £31,495 after the UK government’s £2500 plug-in incentive, it undercuts both the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and Volkswagen Passat GTE, the VW by nearly £5000. The 9.8kW/h lithium ion polymer battery, which is located underneath the rear of the car, is powerful enough to deliver a claimed 33 miles of electric-only range, and because the official EUDC consumption test allows plug-ins to start with a full battery and finish with a depleted one, the Optima scores a 176.6mpg rating and 37g/km of CO2.
Getting anywhere close to those figures in the real world will mean lots of short journeys between charging stations, of course, and a little patience. Kia says the battery pack can be replenished from flat in three hours by a 240V domestic supply.
Although it is Kia’s first plug-in, the Optima PHEV is mechanically pretty much identical to the Hyundai Sonata PHEV already on sale in some markets. Like its sister, it uses a six-speed automatic gearbox rather than a CVT, with the electric motor effectively replacing the torque converter at low speeds. Thereafter it can either supplement the petrol engine or, in EV mode, power the car by itself at up to 75mph.
Other changes from a standard Optima are limited. The most obvious is the PHEV’s active radiator grille, which closes when not needed to reduce air resistance. There’s also a subtle blue tint to the headlights and chrome trim. Equipment is generous and includes a powered driver’s seat, wireless charging pad, 8.0in touchscreen and 10-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.
Although it is the most powerful Optima until the forthcoming GT variant arrives, the PHEV’s performance figures are barely better than those of the 139bhp CRDi model. For an explanation, look no further than the plug-in’s 1780kg kerb weight, 200kg more than its diesel sister.

What's it like?

The PHEV copes well with the sort of short, low-speed journeys for which it has been designed, but dynamically it never rises above competence. So don’t come here looking for excitement because that would be the emptiest of quests.
At urban speeds, the transmission does a decent job of blending the efforts of the petrol and ion-fuelled motors, and left in the default hybrid mode, most low-speed progress is done electrically. The driveline isn’t quite as smooth under gentle use as a CVT system, but the auto's real ratios mean that it doesn’t suffer the slurred engine note of a stepless transmission when you want faster progress.
The electric motor supplies the low-down torque that the petrol engine lacks and the PHEV feels respectably brisk at real-world speeds, although acceleration tails off noticeably above 80mph. The EV mode works as intended and the ride quality is good at urban speeds. The petrol engine makes some gruff noises when worked hard, but otherwise refinement is good.
The PHEV has no enthusiasm for faster progress, though. Grip levels are predictably modest and the handling balance is as nose heavy as that of a thrown hammer. Even at everyday speeds, the front nudges wide in tighter corners. There’s no encouragement for more spirited use, with low-geared anaesthetised steering and springs and dampers that struggle to keep the PHEV’s considerable bulk under control on rougher road surfaces. This car feels well short of even the modest dynamic standards of the Toyota Prius. 
There are plenty of pluses, though. The cabin is spacious and the battery pack has been accommodated with only a minimal 15-litre reduction in boot capacity. As is often the case with hybrids, the PHEV’s pricing has moved it into a part of the market where some of the interior trim feels low rent, but build quality feels solid throughout. 

Should I buy one?

As always, a plug-in hybrid is suited to only a small minority of buyers – those who travel between plug-equipped parking spots frequently enough to forgive the considerable compromises forced by the weight of the electric side of the powertrain. Based on our experience, everyday economy with the battery depleted won’t get beyond mid-40s to the gallon on anything but the most gentle of use. 
But if you are looking for a PHEV, then the Optima needs to be on your shortlist. It’s cheaper and more tax efficient than any of its rivals and is backed by Kia’s peerless warranty. Its appeal is also certain to grow as zero-emission zones spread. It’s just a shame the rational attraction isn’t matched by any emotional one.
Kia Optima PHEV
Location Korea; On sale Autumn 2016; Price £31,495 (with £2500 government grant applied); Engine 4 cyls, 1999cc, petrol, plus 50kW electric motor; Petrol power 154bhp at 6000rpm; Petrol torque 139lb ft at 5000rpm; Combined power 202bhp at 6000rpm;Combined torque 276lb ft at 2330rpm; Gearbox 6-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1780kg; Top speed 119mph; 0 60mph 9.1sec; Economy 176.6mpg; CO2 rating/tax band 37g/km, 7% 

This BMW i3 REx Has Driven 56,000 Miles On 50 Gallons Of Gas

Tom Moloughney is an avid electric car advocate. Two years ago, he purchased a BMW i3 with the 0.65 liter onboard two cylinder range extender gasoline engine. 27 months later, he has 56,000 miles on the odometer. He says 96% of those miles have been done on electric power alone. He has purchased about 50 gallons of gasoline for the car, which works out to be more than 1,000 miles per gallon.
BMW i3
For daily driving, the BMW i3 has all the range Moloughney needs to get where he needs to go and back home where he can plug it back in. It is only when he is on trips that he has to use the range extender engine. In order for the car to qualify as a zero emissions vehicle according to the rules established by the California Air Resources Board, its 2.4 gallon tank is electronically limited to 1.9 gallons.
Maloughney say he gets about 38 miles a gallon when using the engine, so he needs to make frequent stops to fill up while travelling. That’s the bad news. The good news is, it takes almost no time and all to add 1.9 gallons of gas.
The i3 is not a perfect car. It has quirks, most of them imposed upon it by regulators. For instance, in the US, the car’s computer prevents the range extender engine from kicking in until the state of charge for the battery is below 5%. That make it impossible for the engine to recharge the battery and move the car forward with authority, especially on hills. Some i3 owners have filed suit against BMW claiming the way the car suddenly goes into reduced power mode with little to no warning is dangerous.
During warm months, Mologhney sometimes goes months without putting gas in the tank. In colder months, battery range is reduced and the engine comes into play more often. The Chevy Volt has a feature that starts the engine every month or so for a few minutes, just to make sure all internal parts are kept properly lubricated.
A new version of the i3 is due later this year with a 50% boost in battery capacity. Range will be about 114 miles with the new version of the car. If Tom Moloughney trades in his current car for a new model with the larger battery, he may never visit a gas station again in his lifetime!
Source and photo credit: Tom Moloughey via Green Car Reports.