Fuels of the Future

1. Battery powered vehicles: Battery technology continues to improve by the day however the range that it is currently able to offer is its key downside. The greatest range you can achieve with cars currently on the market ranges from 60 kms to 150 kms before you would either need a battery swap or recharge. Whilst continually improving, the current charge times are slow and hence restrictive. Pros:
  • The power to recharge batteries would be supplied by the existing grid. Hence governments would have the ability to regulate the input based on policy.
  • Battery powered vehicles tend to be silent and do away with the requirement for an exhaust system
  • Charging stations and battery swap stations are in pre implementation phases. The theory is, standardisation of batteries would allow battery users to simply swap batteries in a “swap and go” fashion
  • Significant advances have already occurred in battery technology and on a cost basis there appears to be a steady decrease in costs to the end user. The Nissan Leaf and Holden (Chevrolet) Volt are the current answer to this new technology however entry level costs are in excess of A$55,000. As a result mainstream adoption of this technology appears to be some time away. The cost will also remain a disincentive for large volume vehicle purchasers such as car hire companies in Sydney
  • Range: The primary downside of this technology can be summed up in two words; range limitation. Taking the Holden Volt for example, the current model will allow motorists to complete 60 kilometers before requiring a recharge. To enable this there is on board a battery unit weighing a sizeable 170 kilograms which requires 6 to 8 hours to recharge. The idea behind this is that the 60 kilometers would accommodate the average Aussie commute and hence eliminate the need for burning of fossil fuels until longer journeys are undertaken. The Hybrid solution would make it ideal for applications such as car rental in Sydney
  • The zero sum equation: Whilst one may feel environmentally responsible behind the wheel of a Leaf or Volt, the true benefit to the environment will only occur if power fed into the national grid is from a renewable source. Coal remains the main provider of fuel at present in Australia.
Summary Whilst the future looks bright for battery powered vehicles, there remain a few tricky years to negotiate through. Key challenges remain battery range, recharge times and alternate energy sources to support the national power grid.