The contemporary challenges of electric vehicles
Electric vehicles (EV) have been around since the mid-19th century and, at one point, they seemed to be the future of transportation. However, with the advent of mass production, the affordable price of petroleum, and the technical limitations of the electric motor, internal combustion engines (ICE) gained many advantages over EVs, and they became the standard for car manufacturing, reducing EVs to public transportation (trams, trains etc.), and experimental vehicles. In recent decades, prompted by an environmentally-friendly attitude and a series of oil crises, vehicle manufacturers have been aiming for a more sustainable form of transportation. In this article, we will look at the challenges EV manufacturers have to face in order to become a common sight on our roads.
Unsurprisingly, the most obvious hindrances are cost-related. On the one hand, producing an electric motor is indeed an international venture as the materials needed for the lithium battery are delivered from all over the world. While nickel and aluminium are easily available, the price of lithium is going up due to demand, while cobalt is supplied from the politically-unstable Democratic Republic of Congo, and the majority of the production is used for personal electronic devices, which means that it is not sufficient to satisfy the needs of the EV industry. In addition to that, while in many cases ICEs can be repaired or fixed using DIY methods or at any workshop, EVs are way more complex machines, thus in many cases repairing can be quite an expensive and complicated ordeal; and, on a similar note, the issue of battery recycling is still to be solved.
In the long run, however, electricity is a cheaper fuel and with the adoption of time-of-use pricing by utilities, the recharging costs can also be controlled. Furthermore, new formulae and synthetic materials are being tested and used for the sustainable production of batteries. Finally, the price of EVs has been nosediving since the last decade, while vehicles have become able to travel further on just one charge.
Nevertheless, electricity is still a problematic point. First and foremost, it should be noted that a significant proportion of electricity production is not eco-friendly at all and, as such, it undermines the ecological objectives of EVs. Furthermore, the grid system in its present state will not be able to sustain the capacity required for charging EVs. This is not the only infrastructure obstacle at the moment: the lack of charging stations also hinders the prevalence of EVs.
Still, it should be noted that the transformation to EVs is and continues to be gradual, therefore there will be enough time for utilities to adapt to changing energy consumption habits, which will provide them with new income possibilities. At the same time, EV manufacturers are also experimenting with more effective energy consumption solutions, converting the vehicles from a mode of transportation to mobile energy storage.
Electric vehicles are in constant transformation and car manufacturers are coming up with new solutions to make EVs more and more sustainable and available, with experts expecting that the adoption of EVs will go past the tipping point sometime in the 2020s.
Written by Zsolt Beke