Alleviating Range Anxiety

Range anxiety (n): the fear that a vehicle has insufficient range to reach its destination thus stranding the vehicle's occupants… With over 200,000 electric powered cars on the world's roads today, range anxiety is a common affliction. The best selling electric car, Nissan's Leaf, has a range of 120 kilometres per battery charge, and one battery needs eight or more hours to fully charge.[1]120 kilometres is usually sufficient for day-to-day personal mobility needs, but this limit is often the reason why prospective buyers shy away from electric vehicles. However, car manufacturers, researchers, and eMobility providers are all working on ways to improve the range of e-batteries and relieve range anxiety.

Technical Improvements

A clear solution to range anxiety is an improved car and battery that last longer and drive further on one charge; but this is easier said than done. IBM researchers are working on a Lithium/Air Battery Project that aims to bolster a battery’s range to 800 kilometres.[2] Phinergy, a battery-specialist company, is developing a battery that extracts the needed oxygen from the surrounding air to decrease the battery’s weight and, with a few other modifications, to increase the range to 1,600 kilometres.[3] Car manufacturers like BMW are devising lighter vehicles that lessen the load the battery needs to handle (check out BMW’s i3).

Availability and Compatibility of Charging Stations

The next problem owners of e-cars quickly run into is a lack of charging

stations. Unlike the typical gas station, charging stations are difficult to find and not every car can be charged at every station. Tesla Motors, for example, plans to triple the number of charging stations it runs in North America and IBM experts suggest that the number of worldwide charging stations will grow from today’s 135,000 to 10.7 million by 2020. Furthermore, ChargePoint, Inc. and ECOtality, Inc., both leaders in electric transportation, have announced that they will work together to make their charging station network accessible to all electric car drivers.[4] Leaders within the European Union have also suggested that they want to standardize the plugs for electric cars so all vehicles can be charged at stations Union-wide.

Charging On-the-Go

The most exciting solution to range anxiety is induction charging. Induction charging requires that the car only sits on top or drives over underground modules or rods. These underground modules create electricity through a magnetic field that then recharges the vehicle’s battery. At an amusement part in South Korea, a tram follows a route part which has electric rods underneath the road surface. As the tram goes on its normal route, its battery is automatically recharged. This technology allows for a lighter battery and eliminates charging breaks. This “On Line Electric Vehicle” was designed by the Korea Advanced Institute of Technology (KAIST), which is working to transfer the technology to city busses and high-speed trains. Similar projects with city busses are being tested in the German cities of Mannheim and Berlin.

The Prognosis for Range Anxiety

It is clear to see that e-car technology will continue to improve, and we have no doubt that battery powered vehicles will soon be comparable to gasoline vehicles. The biggest challenge in this relatively new field, however, is compatibility. Since the concepts and technologies are still young, no standards prevail and every company, every car, and every charging system can be different. Thus now more than ever all parties involved – including e-car owners – have to work together to standardise the technology and to make this field grow and thrive.

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