Electric vehicles are fitted with one or several electric motors driven by energy stored in large batteries that may consist of thousands of small cells. These high-capacity batteries give current models of electric cars a range of up to 200 km (125 miles).
The European Union’s E3Car project is studying how to utilize battery power as efficiently as possible in such vehicles. The Norwegian research organization SINTEF is one of 33 participants in the E3Car project, which comprise vehicle manufacturers, automotive industry suppliers, and research centers from across Europe.
The project has taken up challenges on several fronts. Battery efficiency, higher energy density and power, and energy control make up one group of topics. The infrastructure required for rapid charging or systematic changing of batteries is another. And smart dynamic sensor-based monitoring, where nanoelectronics can provide real-time control, is a third field of research.
‘SINTEF’s area is on the nanoelectronics side, and we are putting up expertise on energy conversion and voltage convertors,’ says project manager Ovidiu Vermesan of SINTEF Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Together with the Norwegian electric car makers ElBil Norge and Think Global, the SINTEF project group is looking at power and energy control in what they consider to be the cars of the future.
The E3Car project is looking to use microprocessors, logic circuits and sensors that will continuously monitor voltage, current and temperature in the battery pack. Measurements of this sort will allow certain operations to be cut out, and the energy used to power others. If a sensor exceeds its permitted range, for example, the battery pack can be disconnected in a millisecond.
‘The battery voltage needs to lie around what the motor requires, 200–400 V,’ explains Vermesan. ‘But we can convert vehicle motors to operate at a lower voltage (100 V), which would mean less risk in the event of fire or traffic accidents.’
E3Car is the largest European research project on the development of nanotechnology for electric vehicles. The project is still in its first phase, and is intended to run until 2012, with a total budget of €44 million (US$63 million).
SINTEF regards participation in the E3Car project as extremely useful, as the results will be of importance not only for vehicles, but also for energy consumption in other applications. ‘We can envisage a wide range of market and environmental possibilities,’ says Ovidiu Vermesan.