ABC ISSUE 370 – OUT NOW!

By: Fabian Cotter


Electric vehicle battery production and charging methods are hot topics these days. Is ‘battery swapping’ the solution? Maybe... Or maybe not.

ABC ISSUE 370 – OUT NOW!
ABC issue 370 - We speak exclusively with the people behind the latest, design-award-winning 'VicPol' ADT bus.

Okay, I’m a little worried. In fact, I think I’m quite disturbed...
While I’ve just realised making that statement will have copious amounts of people who know me well say, "What’s new?", it’s not my dubious mental state I’m referring to here (though I’m working on that).
Electric vehicles – there’s something amiss. Something just isn’t sitting right. To me, anyway.
While I was never the clever science type at school – and god knows how we got away with our lives after a failed (read: successful) accidental ‘rock-concert pyrotechnics’ display in Year 8 using beakers, some cystalised pebble-looking thingies and a wayward Bunsen burner or three – I’m pretty sure I know equine dung when I hear it. Well … the hallmarks of it anyway.
It’s not the vehicles themselves that’s of concern, nor the theories behind their innate value in weening mankind off its crude oil ‘smack habit’ of the past 170-odd years, but it’s the production and disposal of batteries once all the bells and whistles of the sales pitch has long died down and the horozontally-challenged  non-gender-specific ‘lady’ has sung. Long after...
As we reported recently on www.busnews.com.au, a massive 84 per cent of all municipal bus sales globally will be electric by 2030, according to the latest Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) Electric Vehicle Outlook 2018. It adds that by 2040 it expects about 2.3 million e-buses on the road globally and that they will: "…add to oil displacement and battery demand impacts over the next five years...". Salient information to us in the bus and public transport game, but it’s still just one slice – large as it may be – of any future of transport pie.
Further, "Battery technology, advancement and manufacturing" is key with massive interest in raw materials production, costs and investment potential, with any growth of EVs requiring a, "dramatic scale-up in the lithium-ion battery supply chain."
"Lithium-ion battery manufacturing capacity today is around 131GWh per year. Based on plants announced and under construction, this is set to jump to over 400GWh by 2021..." And, "... by 2030 we expect global EV lithium-ion battery demand to be over 1500GWh. All of this is driving up demand – and price – for key battery materials like cobalt, lithium and nickel."
That’s just a 12-year snapshot. A synopis that arguably highlights an economic and infrastructure path that if ardently pursued by government, military, business, environmental and consumer groups worldwide would be a rolling boulder for any other new or improved non-electric power alternatives to stop. Or at least bump it off its track a little.
Paranoia? Probably. But if mankind’s apathy towards change saw such reliance on fossil fuels for so long – or at least until some crisis reminds us of the perils of such large dependence – then I reckon electricity will be sucked from the teat for equally as long a time in future, potentially.
That’s great if production methods and uses are squeaky ‘clean’ (the reason we are looking at this solution to enironmental ills in the first place, remember?) – but is it?
Lithium mining and that of other Earth minerals needed for battery production ‘ain’t Kansas’, from what I’ve seen and read (Tech metals insider website www.kitco.com and its How Green Is Lithium? story just one), so it’s not entirely some great panacea to the planet’s power problems. And there’s enough of us with umpteen old laptop batteries at home and not enough doors for these to be loveably decorative door stoppers, or needless desk paperweights already.
I guess I’m not sure we are looking at this long term enough. If we are not making global energy decisions factoring in impacts at least three generations after most of us are dead, then we’ve learned nothing about human ramifications on stuff since the industrial revolution. Which brings us to the now...
We have all sorts of battery-charging and re-charging infrastructure and methodologies being bandied about. Whose is best? Which one costs less? How do we make ours number one and screw the rest? And that’s fine, but there’s a particular solution to the above that is the thing I’m most worried about. And it’s called ‘battery swapping’. And it’s kind of scary because … it makes the most common sense. A new, unique idea? No chance! Just ask any 40s-something ‘kid’ who built and ran Tamiya R/C cars back in the day having mulitple charged-up battery packs to swap out and keep driving for ages.
In fact, fundamental principles behind radio-controlled ‘toys’ are at their zenith now in modern EV strategies. Just sayin’.
Instead of multiple bespoke charging outlets for different vehicles, imagine generic, universal-fit batteries that just get swapped out of a vehicle in under, say, two minutes at a ‘service station’ or ‘e-garage’ and you’re on your way again? Beautiful! Spent ones get re-charged and live to fight another day. Sweet! If only all companies could agree on a set battery shape, design and size – which might just come at the detriment of their own patented sytems, which they’ve no doubt invested multiple millions – if not billions – to master and perfect, or are in the process of.
It’d be a tough sales pitch to get everyone to agree to battery swapping, indeed. Ooooh, and the monoply that could come with such control...
Alternatively, gees if we could somehow harness the years of R&D that’s embedded into our cleanest internal combustion engines – but without the crude oil implications... We can? What?!
If companies like Carbon Engineering (www.carbonengineering.com – even Bill Gates sees merit in it, apparently) gets ‘air to fuel’ technology up and running en masse, who knows what could happen? Or at least buy us all some time so we work out which is the best energy path to follow and how to best do it.
Claiming it, "...directly synthesizes transportation fuels – such as gasoline, diesel, or Jet-A – using only atmospheric CO2 and hydrogen split from water, and powered by clean electricity," it could be worth a shot.
That is, extracting naturally occuring carbon dioxide (stuff plants breathe), turning it into some clean combustable pellet (huh?) that can be used in conventional engines for fuel, then CO2 is ultimately expelled back into the atmosphere when a vehicle expends it. Hmm. Very interesting if legit. And not a Bunsen burner in sight!
The point is, we need to tread carefully and think logically about EVs, clean power, batteries and such. Forward thinking yes, but like that scene in Terminator 2 where they hunt down the engineer who invented Arnie’s robotic arm in the past – only to see how bad its implications would turn out to be in future – whichever way or ways we go, there’s no real turning back. That’s the way the system works, after all. We are not supposed to. But I digress...
This issue we exclusively check out VicPol’s stunning new ‘booze bus’, test drive the Wrightbus StreetLite 8.8m, visit Melbourne’s Deluxe Coachlines and examine the NSW B-Line double-decker passenger information system. And more.
Until the next thrilling installment...

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