Electric vehicles: Making change happen

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - March 11, 2021 - 12:00am

With the increased prospect of electricity taking a more dominant role in powering personal mobility this decade, the debate on electric vehicle (EV) batteries has also been given bigger attention. In the past, cost and technology had been major issues. As these concerns were addressed, new ones have cropped up, namely supply of battery components, overall safety, replacement, and recycling.

Two of our readers have sent in comments, and these should provide some inputs to discuss new developments and issues in battery technology and the manufacture for EVs. Before we do that, though, here is what our letter senders wrote:

From Parker Holden: “Your recent STAR article was excellent and put a lot into perspective. I fully agree that [EVs] are the wave of the future. However, everything has a downside, as well as an upside.

“There are several issues that the vehicle manufactures are not going to be able to directly address and will hold up sales in addition to the very major km per charge which you covered very well.

“1. Battery life is a big item, as a replacement battery is a big part of the vehicle cost as you noted.

“2. Disposal of old batteries is going to be a very big item and will cause major problems unless efficient recycling is well developed and available.

“3. Lithium ion batteries have had some random and unexplained overheating and fire starting problems. I am not completely up to date on this subject.

“There are several issues related to battery charging.

“4. Fast charging is going to be in demand and if it happens at certain hours of the day it is going to have a major impact on the electric supply system. This is likely to occur at the end of the working day or early evening, which is already a peak period. It is also likely to involve high capacity chargers used to get quick charging

“5. Charging involves precise voltage control of the DC charging current (which is supplied from the AC mains in a process of variable voltage rectification). There are several ways to do this, but the modern and cheapest way is to use electronic switches called IGBTs or SCRs. These devices do a good job, but cause a lot of distortion to the 60 hertz sine wave supply. This distortion is maximized as the battery approaches full charge. The distortion has several negative impacts on the electric system that I will not detail here, but collectively they result in increased costs and reduced revenue for the electric company. They are not going to absorb these peso losses sitting down!

“These are the kinds of things that the auto sales people do not want to talk about! Please keep up the excellent reporting and my thanks to the STAR for making the column space available for these kinds of articles.”

Our other e-mail sender is Edgardo Alabastro, who is co-chair of the environmental committee of the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI) and executive director of the Kaibigan ng Kalikasan at Kaunlaran (KKK).

Ed, who has a PhD, wrote: “I am an avid ‘fan’ of Bizlinks from which I draw useful insights. Your e-vehicles write-up (last week) truly interests me. No doubt as to resolving outstanding issues, e.g., cost, battery charging, etc., and that, indeed, it is (climate change) friendly.

“My concern though, mentioned to the Meralco CEO during (the company’s) robust launching of e-vehicles  at Meralco years ago, is security vis-à-vis the sourcing of metallic elements used in the battery, traditionally lithium.

“I then expressed my view as I am expressing now to Bizlinks.

“a. How may the Philippines be self sustained and secured if the metallic element is to be sourced from another country, especially from one which has a history of restricting supplies.

 “b. Are there alternative metals?

“c. May these be produced using locally available minerals such as nickel?

“d. Are there technologies for these or may these be developed. Seems to me the known processing technologies may already be old.”

Both Parker Holden and Ed Alabastro have raised questions that would take up more than the space allocation given for this column. Offhand, the many issues with EV batteries are something that vehicle manufacturers and government regulators are well aware of, it seems. We’ll discuss these separately in future columns.

Even as we speak, technical experts are doing their best to come up with answers to questions on EV battery safety, life, replacement, cost, recycling, materials supply, and other possible repercussions that may disrupt the lives we lead today.

The exchange of information, especially among environmental, health, and safety advocates, has produced a steady flow of published articles that flag existing and potential concerns. These alone make interesting reading on a variety of issues, including those raised by our two featured readers.

More than this, however, is the race among EV makers to come up with a product that would make vehicles running on today’s internal combustion engines (ICE) the less preferred choice by motorists. The recent decisive shift of some of these big vehicle manufacturers towards EV is a telling sign.

The growing clamor by enlightened governments and their constituents to phase out fossil fuel use in vehicles, by far, has been the biggest moving force in this support for alternative “environment-friendly” modes of transportation.

Before, the question before was the feasibility of EVs replacing ICE-run vehicles. Today, it is about making this change happen. Yes, EVs is the future.

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We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us on www.facebook.com/ReyGamboa and follow us on www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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