Electric Engines: The Future is Here

Posted by Steve Graham on 9/1/22 1:25 PM

This is the beginning of a series of articles on electric vehicles. This is not meant to be an engineering series but a more general look that focuses on the broader history, the present situation, future uses, and potential problems of the new “Electric Age.”

The announcement by Stellantis that they are wrapping up an 18-year run of gasoline-powered “muscle cars” is a sign of the ending of one era and the beginning of another. It is widely thought that the “Classic Era” of the muscle car age was between 1964 and 1971. There are, of course, purists that think the first muscle car started in 1949 with the Oldsmobile Rocket 88, those who would extend the era until 1974, and others who would bring the era into the present. However you want to define it, the closing of production of muscle cars is a symbol of the end of the internal combustion engine era and the beginning of the electric age. I was a teenager in the late-1960s/early-70s, and I can probably thank the good lord that I didn’t possess one of those high-powered machines, or I might have been a casualty in finding out how fast it could go and how the steering reacted on the mostly gravel roads of the time. I will miss the throb of the engine; even though electric engines are quicker off the line and dangerous in that respect, I will miss the symbol of the old age that is passing away.

This first article will focus on the history of electric cars and trucks. There will be more articles on the various aspects of the coming age forthcoming. There is also a section on the new Inflation Reduction Act. That piece of legislation is complex and involves many industries. This is just an overview, but this legislation will impact transportation for years and is now part of the history of the new “Electrification Age.” The word “coming” is a somewhat deceptive term as electric cars and trucks are here now, but there will be millions more in the relatively near term. The widespread adaption of any new technology presents problems to be solved, and there are a host of industries involved in the changes that will transform the globe. The adaption of the internal combustion engine changed the face of the globe as roads had to be built. Widespread ways of refining and distributing fuel needed to be developed. Methods of payments to make the product a mass-consumption product lay in the future, and changes in government policy to allow the development of a mass transportation network were all needed to make the technology work. At a first glance, the new age will not require the scale of the infrastructure and investment needed to support the electric age, compared to the internal combustion age. We do not have to build the road system from scratch, nor build the oil refineries, pipelines, and fueling stations. If we are going down the road to an all-electric and energy-independent future, we will need millions, and perhaps billions, of solar panels, and places to put them. The power grid will need to be expanded and parking lots wired, and convenient ways to charge both personal vehicles and commercial trucks need to be developed. There are some advantages to using electric engines, and one of them is that you can fuel your vehicle at home. That alone will change the dynamics of fuel.

There are currently millions of electric vehicles on the road. The commercial vehicle industry is somewhat slower to adapt electric engines because of the specialized nature of the business. Partly because a nation-wide grid of charging stations has not yet been built, diesel engines have an advantage today because they can haul a lot of weight long distances and require relatively few fuel stops. Electric engines can compete best in an intra-city environment, specifically with a relatively short hauling distance and in areas with stringent air quality standards. Meeting air quality standards is a big cost for internal combustion engines, and not all countries have U.S. air standards. In part, because of government policy and mass adaption and production of the electric engines, cost parity is coming. It is already cheaper to develop electric generation facilities than to build a coal-fired plant. This is largely because of government environmental standards. That fact alone will drive adaption of renewable energy. The new age will not be without problems. The issues of independent, renewable energy and use of technologies are entwined, and hydrogen fuel cell trucks may be part of the future of transportation.

What is Electricity?

Short courses are wonderful as they refresh the executive on things that they learned years ago. They may also fill in holes and inconsistencies in subjects we thought we had already mastered. It helps to brush up on science every now and again and answer questions we heard long ago like, “What is it that actually kills you, amperage or voltage?”

The answer to the voltage versus amperage lies in what is referred to as Ohm’s Law: Amps = Volts + Ohms. Resistance (ohms) of the human body depends on many factors, such as the amount of moisture in the body, what other objects are in the path it is traveling through, and which path the electrons are taking. Generally speaking, the statement, “it’s the amperage that kills you,” is partly correct. However, it is like saying, “it is the size of the vehicle, not the speed that kills you.” Both are needed to kill you. At one milliamp, you feel a slight tingle; at 5 milliamps a slight shock is felt. You can let go, but you may still have strong involuntary movements that can cause injuries. At 9 to 30 milliamps for men and 6 to 25 milliamps for women, a painful shock is felt. Muscular control is lost, and you might not be able to let go. Anything higher is bad news, if you survive. Now, if 120V is traveling through a 20-kiloohm path in your body, at 129V you get a 6mA shock, at 240V it would be 12mA, and at 480V it would be 24mA. The answer is, “Use properly grounded materials and, although amperage might kill you, the higher the voltage, the more diligent you need to be.” End of the short course.

History of Electric Vehicles:

Practical electrical vehicles appeared during the 1890s. An electric vehicle held the vehicular land speed record until around 1900. In the 20th century, the high cost, low top speed, and short-range of battery electric vehicles, compared to the internal combustion engine vehicles, led to a worldwide decline in their use as private motor vehicles. Electric vehicles continued to be used for loading, freight equipment, and public transport, especially rail vehicles. In the 21st century, interest in electric and alternative fuel vehicles increased. There were growing concerns over the problems of hydrocarbon-fueled vehicles, including damage to the environment caused by their emissions and the sustainability of the current hydrocarbon-based transportation infrastructure. There were improvements in electric vehicle technology. Since 1910, combined sales of all-electric cars and utility vans achieved 1 million units globally in September 2016. By the end of 2019, there were 4.8 million cars in use. Cumulative sales of cars and light duty trucks reached the 10 million milestone by the end of 2020.

An electric truck is an electric vehicle powered by batteries to transport cargo, carry specialized payloads, or preform other utilitarian work. Electric trucks have serviced niche applications like milk floats, pushback tugs, and forklifts for over 100 years. For the majority of the 20th century lead-acid batteries were used, but the 21st century brought more energy-dense battery chemistries and lighter materials that broadened the range of applicability to more roles. Electric trucks reduce noise and pollution relative to internal combustion engines. Due to high efficiency and low component counts of electronic power trains, no fuel burning when idle, and silent and efficient acceleration, the costs of owning and operating electric trucks is dramatically lower than their internal combustion cousins. According to the Department of Energy, the average cost per KWH of battery packs fell from $500 in 2013 to $200 in 2019 and hit $137 in 2020, and some vehicles were under $100.

Long-distance freight has been the trucking segment least amendable to electrification, since the increased weight of batteries, relative to fuel, detracts from payload capacity and the alternative, more refueling stops, detracts from delivery times. By contrast, short-haul urban delivery has been electrified quickly, since the clean nature of electric trucks fits well with urban planning and municipal regulation, and the capabilities of properly sized batteries are well-suited for daily stop-and-go traffic within a metropolitan area. Medium and heavy-duty vehicles account for less than 5% of the vehicles on the road but produce over 20% of the emissions from the transportation sector, which in turn accounts for more than one-third of U.S. greenhouse gases. A recent report by the Department of Energy suggests that cost competitiveness of zero-emissions medium duty and heavy-duty trucks will be the same or lower than those of diesel trucks. Battery electric trucks are expected to be cost competitive for smaller trucks by 2030, while heavy trucks will the same or lower by 2035, with ranges of 500 miles or less. Due to advances in fuel cells and hydrogen production, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are expected to become competitive for long-haul trucks with a greater than 500-mile range by 2035.

Mobility is at the core of modern civilization. The latest numbers that came out of BloombergNEF’s seventh annual Global Electric Vehicle Outlook show the vitality of the Electric Vehicle Industry. There are now almost 20 million passenger electric vehicles in the market today, and electronification has spread to other segments of road transport. There are roughly 13 million commercial electric vehicles, including buses, delivery vans, and trucks. There are 260 million electric mopeds, scooters, motorcycles, and three-wheelers on the road today. Passenger electric vehicle sales are expected to rise from 6.6 million in 2021 to 20.6 million in 2025. Global sales of commercial electric trucks and vans doubled in 2021, and most of the sales were in the lighter truck models. By 2030, sales of trucks and vans are projected to be between 26% and 50% of all sales. By 2030, electric vehicle sales will reach 60% of all sales under some economic scenarios. There will be millions and millions of electric vehicle cars and trucks on the road. We will be dwelling on different aspects of the “Electrification Age” in following articles.

The Inflation Reduction Act

The Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law on August 16, 2022, by President Joe Biden and will inject billions of dollars into clean energy and electric vehicle incentives and programs. The goal is to invest $369 billion over 10-years into energy and other climate programs. Key provisions include expanding tax credits for electric vehicles by providing a new tax credit of $4,000 for the sale of used electric vehicles and providing tax credits for up to $7,500 for purchases certain new electric vehicles.

No legislation is perfect, the very nature of the legislative process entails compromise that usually results in some unintended changes, sometimes diverting some of the original purposes of the authors. The final form of any legislation is the result of a series of compromises and inclusions of riders and tacit recognition of key members of Congress, who represent the constituents of their respective state. The end result is that there appears to be what are commonly called “loopholes,” or sections of the legislation that may limit the original purposes of the authors but were necessary to survive the legislative process. In short, there are pieces in the legislation that you need to know before trying to use the tax credits, and some aspects may have to be refined to get better use of this legislation. To be fair, all legislation by both political parties is subject to this legislative process. The system might not be “perfect,” but the checks-and-balances do tend to sort themselves out, eventually.

Under this bill, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) establishes new clean vehicle credits, which replace the prior “plug-in” vehicle credit. Eligible battery-powered electric vehicles must meet critical mineral and battery component contents, and other requirements, to qualify for credits up to $7,500 per vehicle. The Treasury and Energy Department issued guidance on implementing policy on the day the legislation was signed into law, limiting the vehicles eligible for the electric vehicle tax credit for the remainder of 2022. Effective immediately, only electric vehicles whose final assembly is in North America are eligible for the existing credit. To be eligible for the $3750 credit, a percentage of the value applicable critical minerals contained in the vehicle’s batteries must be extracted or processed in the U.S. or a country in which the U.S. has a free trade agreement or must be recycled in the U.S. Applicable percent will increase from 40% in 2024 to 80% after 2026. Qualifying critical minerals include aluminum, lithium, nickel, and graphite, among others. Furthermore, a clean vehicle would not qualify if it contained any critical minerals that were extracted, processed, or recycled by a foreign entity of concern, including companies owned or controlled by the People’s Republic of China. That same law applies to any component of a foreign entity of concern after December 31, 2023.

In addition, there are other new restrictions. Final assembly must be in North America. There are limits of MSRP, the credit must not be used for vans, SUVs, and pickup trucks in which the manufacturer’s suggested retail price exceeds $80,000, or any other vehicle whose MSRP exceeds $55,000 (although there is a separate tax credit up to $40,000 for certain heavy-duty commercial clean vehicles). There are limits on purchaser income, in which married filing joint exceeds $300,000, or taxpayers whose are heads of households whose AGI exceeds $225,000. Also, there is a 10-year limit to the legislation. There are also tax credits for clean sources of electricity and energy storage, and some $30 billion in programs for states and electric sources to accelerate the transition to clean power generation.

There are a host of winners and losers in this complex legislation. There are far more components to the legislation that apply to home appliances and heating systems and Medicare drug purchases. There is not time in this article to cover the pros and cons of any part of the legislation, but there is a recognition that some parts could be revised to better clarify some of the aspects and perhaps accelerate the purchase of electric vehicles and the generation of clean energy. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation suggests broadening the criteria regarding countries eligible from which batteries, battery components, and critical minerals to include countries with which the U.S. has a military alliance. There will be more suggested improvements by other industries affected by the legislation. We will try and extend this topic in coming publications.

Tags: Economy, semiconductors, shortage





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