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Five suc­cess­es on the path to e-mobil­i­ty

There is still progress to be made and mile­stones to be achieved before EVs become the norm, but the indus­try has already gar­nered lots of suc­cess. Here, we take a look at five sig­nif­i­cant high­lights that have helped pave the way for the e-mobil­i­ty rev­o­lu­tion.

The first elec­tric vehi­cles

EVs are far from a mod­ern inven­tion. From as far back as the 19th cen­tu­ry, sci­en­tists, engi­neers and inven­tors have been explor­ing the use of elec­tric­i­ty to pow­er vehi­cles. How­ev­er, attribut­ing the first EV to one par­tic­u­lar per­son is near impos­si­ble. It’s wide­ly con­sid­ered that a series of break­throughs in the 1800s enabled the first elec­tric-pow­ered cars to hit the road.

Hun­gar­i­an inven­tor Ányos­Jed­lik cre­at­ed a type of elec­tric motor capa­ble of pow­er­ing a small mod­el car­riage in 1828. In the UK, the first EV can be traced back to 1832–1839, when Robert Ander­son built a crude elec­tric car­riage pow­ered by non-recharge­able pri­ma­ry pow­er cells. The Nether­lands and U.S. are also cred­it­ed with invent­ing elec­tric car­riages around the same time.

A game-chang­ing bat­tery

Per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant EV-relat­ed inven­tion can be cred­it­ed to French physi­cist Gas­ton Plan­té, who devel­oped the lead-acid bat­tery in 1859. Planté’s cre­ation was the first recharge­able elec­tric bat­tery mar­ket­ed for com­mer­cial use. It would go on to make elec­tric motor­ing a viable option.

Most mod­ern-day EVs are pow­ered by a lithi­um-ion bat­tery. This is due to the high­er ener­gy den­si­ty it offers com­pared to oth­er bat­tery types, which means it can be small­er in size while retain­ing the same stor­age capac­i­ty. How­ev­er, lead-acid bat­ter­ies are still wide­ly used today in auto­mo­biles – both elec­tric and com­bus­tion-pow­ered – for cer­tain appli­ca­tions as the cells have a rel­a­tive­ly large pow­er-to-weight ratio and a low pro­duc­tion cost.

Pro­lif­ic charg­ing infra­struc­ture

The glob­al stock of pas­sen­ger EVs passed the five mil­lion mark in 2018. This has meant that the num­ber of charg­ing points has need­ed to sub­stan­tial­ly increase too. By the end of 2018, there were approx­i­mate­ly 5.2 mil­lion charge points around the world, an increase of 44% from the pre­vi­ous year. Most of this growth came in the pri­vate charg­ing space, which account­ed for over 90% of the 1.6 mil­lion new instal­la­tions in 2018.

Pub­lic charg­ing is also on the rise, though. For exam­ple, the U.S. state of Mary­land fea­tures the country’s first gas sta­tion that has ful­ly tran­si­tioned from offer­ing petro­le­um to exclu­sive­ly offer­ing EV charg­ing points. In fact, installing EV charg­ing infra­struc­ture that meets the needs of all EV dri­vers is a pri­or­i­ty for near­ly every coun­try world­wide. Chi­na has set aims of hav­ing 4.3 mil­lion pri­vate charg­ers and 500,000 pub­lic charg­ers avail­able by 2030, while France’s total tar­get is sev­en mil­lion charg­ing points by 2025. EV charg­ing has sig­nif­i­cant­ly evolved: from dri­vers only charg­ing at home, now it’s easy to find an expan­sive, con­tin­u­al­ly-grow­ing charg­ing infra­struc­ture in pri­vate, in pub­lic and at the work­place. If the indus­try con­tin­ues on this same path, charg­ing options will become more abun­dant as EV adop­tion per­sists.

The end of the road for com­bus­tion engines

Near­ly 40 coun­tries and cities around the world have already announced plans to ban the sale and use of pas­sen­ger vehi­cles pow­ered by fos­sil fuels with­in the next 30 years. These include Chi­na and Japan (two of the three largest auto mar­kets glob­al­ly), as well as places in near­ly every con­ti­nent. Ban­ning fos­sil fuel vehi­cles is also on the Euro­pean Union’s agen­da, with hopes that an EU-wide posi­tion on phas­ing out the inter­nal com­bus­tion engine by 2040 will soon be agreed.

Rea­sons for ban­ning vehi­cles with inter­nal com­bus­tion engines are var­ied. Some are to meet nation­al cli­mate tar­gets or inter­na­tion­al agree­ments to reduce car­bon emis­sions, such as the Paris Agree­ment. In con­trast, oth­ers are aimed at achiev­ing greater ener­gy inde­pen­dence or min­i­miz­ing the health risks asso­ci­at­ed with poor air qual­i­ty. How­ev­er, while there have been lots of vows to ban sales, not much offi­cial leg­is­la­tion has been put in place. It’s like­ly that this will not take place until the aver­age cost of an EV will fall below that of a gaso­line or diesel vehi­cle – per­haps in about five years’ time.

Bring­ing elec­tri­fi­ca­tion to oth­er forms of trans­port

While EVs are the most pro­lif­ic and rec­og­nized form of elec­tric trans­port, oth­er types of elec­tri­fi­ca­tion are tak­ing place across the world. In 2019, two of London’s bus routes became exclu­sive­ly elec­tric, mean­ing that the city has the largest fleet of elec­tric bus­es in Europe. In the same year, the world’s most pow­er­ful ful­ly-elec­tric fer­ry was launched in Den­mark. Backed by the Hori­zon 2020 Euro­pean ini­tia­tive, the Ellen E-fer­ry is proof that ener­gy-effi­cient, zero-emis­sion water­borne trans­port is pos­si­ble for island com­mu­ni­ties, coastal zones and inland water­ways in Europe and beyond. In Ger­many, there are more elec­tric bus­es oper­at­ing in cities than ever before, as well as the first pas­sen­ger train in the world pow­ered by a com­bi­na­tion of a bat­tery and hydro­gen fuel cell.

Major play­ers from the avi­a­tion, marine and oth­er heavy-duty trans­port sec­tors will be able to look to the EV indus­try for best prac­tice when it comes to elec­tri­fi­ca­tion. How­ev­er, accord­ing to the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, fur­ther sig­nif­i­cant break­throughs in bat­tery cell tech­nol­o­gy are required that will lead to 3–5 times high­er ener­gy den­si­ties. This will make the elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of long-haul trucks, small air­craft and long-dis­tance ves­sels more attrac­tive in the mid-to-long term.

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