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Tech advances fuel bigger electric dreams

Electric vehicles offer drivers an opportunity to shake their fossil fuel addiction, but such a feel-good change does not mean that EV technology experts are resting on their laurels. There is always room to make things cleaner, cheaper and more practical. ‘Range anxiety’, although diminishing as the performance of EVs is more widely understood, still remains a reason why some drivers and organisations don’t take the plunge. Scientists at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) claim they’ve cracked it with 2-in-1 electric motor, which integrates the normal motor with the air-conditioning compressor.

The space saved means bigger batteries can be used, placing more power under the bonnet, while the compressor can also use energy from vehicle braking. Meanwhile, researchers in North Carolina claim the way to put to bed such anxieties once and for all is their new range-estimating software for all EVs. The user-friendly interface crunches the numbers based on everything from current energy consumption to traffic and road incline, and provides an estimate to what the experts say is game-changing accuracy. Charging EVs does not necessarily have to be a one-way street - as a pilot in the States is demonstrating. By making a ‘network’ of vehicles, a professor at the University of Delaware has proved that a kind of mini power-plant can be created which can sell energy back to the grid when it’s not being used. The technology involved is still a fair way off the mainstream.

EVs don’t come complete with two-way chargers and the circuit boards being used to connect cars to each other and the grid are not yet commercially available. With smart grids a significant issue on the international energy policy agenda, though, this is perhaps one to watch - although some big names are already looking at systems where one electric car could be used as an emergency back-up power supply for a home. Zero-carbon recharging is another expected area of growth. A new solar car port looks like an interesting development, especially considering its makers say it can be installed in five minutes. However, this is also another area with barriers to be overcome; with this one, it’s all about prohibitive cost at this stage. There are also new types of vehicles going electric. A Derby motorhome company has designed what they claim to be the first all-electric camper van. Hillside Leisure director Mark Cross even manages to provide a camping analogy to explain the efficiency of increasingly-common fast charging facilities:

"A dedicated CHAdeMO quick charger can recharge the battery to 80 per cent capacity in as little as 30 minutes – a perfect time to grab a snack on route to a campsite.More than 1,100 of these quick chargers are already available and have been installed across Europe, with 220 of those in the UK."

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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