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Technological Megatrends for Vehicles are Heavy on Electronics

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There are three important technological megatrends for vehicles that are now coming increasingly important. They are shaping what is designed and the market positioning of new vehicles from type of customer targeted to the location where the vehicles will be used. A new report from IDTechEx, “Electric Motors for Electric Vehicles 2015-2025,” gives forecasts and analyses for the place of electric traction motors in the creation of the $500 billion plus market for electric vehicles emerging in 2025.

 Firstly consideration is electrification. Both conventional and electric vehicles, whether for land, water or airborne use, are rapidly becoming more electrical and electronic and less mechanical. For example, the newly popular switched reluctance traction motors - have no magnets or windings in the rotor. Indeed, the material cost is halved, but control and getting the optimal torque curves is more challenging calling for double the electronics.

 A different trend for traction motors for both hybrid and pure electric vehicles is for there to be more than one per vehicle. For example, in-wheel motors as on the best-selling pure electric bus the BYD B9 recently landing orders up to 2000 at a time. Many cars planned for imminent launch have in-wheel motors in two or four wheels but doubling of motors is most popularl for other reasons such as four wheel drive, greater efficiency, release of space, modularization and redundancy—all achieved with inboard motors.

Secondly comes the megatrend of integration which includes those in-wheel motors as they increasingly integrate power electronics, brakes and much more. Mechanical, electric and electronic components are merging. Several companies are printing electric cars and Harvard University has printed much of the electronics, including a lithium battery, and it plans to print a motor though all of these are initially small. Meanwhile, Toyota hybrid transmissions include two motors, one acting as both generator and torque assist and the power electronics is embedded.

 Structural electronics is the end game for much of this as the batteries become solid state and are part of the internal and external bodywork to save space, self-cool and possibly manage higher currents to drive those motors. 

 Structural supercapacitors have been demonstrated in car bodywork and there is some argument that traction motors should be driven by supercabatteries, which are hybrid supercapacitors, sometimes in the form of asynchronous electrochemical double layer capacitors (AEDLC) also called lithium-ion capacitors. These can have the superb one million cycle life of the supercapacitor, exceptional power density, good series resistance and the energy density of the lithium-ion battery or at least a lead-acid battery. Use in hybrids is now commonplace for supercapacitors. Higher power densities may call for improved motors so they can withstand the newly available pulses of power thus delivering better performance.

 In aircraft on the other hand, extreme light weight is about to be achieved with structural photovoltaics, structural batteries and new traction motors with exceptional power-to-weight ratio. For a two hundred year old technology, the electric motor is now changing surprisingly rapidly.

 Zero pollution at point of use is another megatrend and it is achieved with pure electric powertrains (battery, supercapacitor, supercabattery) or fuel cell hybrid powertrains, currently only commercially successful in thousands in forklift trucks in the US. Innovations starting in forklift trucks are not new. Asynchronous motors were first successful there and are now commonplace in cars, buses and more. However, what is usually forgotten is that energy harvesting is also zero pollution at point of use and it is becoming capable of providing very serious amounts of energy such as kilowatts, albeit intermittently. Still, the power demands of a vehicle are also intermittent. Indeed, intermittency is greatly reduced by multi-mode energy harvesting such as harvesting movement in all directions plus heat difference, light, infrared and so on. It means that the expensive, short-lived traction battery can be smaller in future to drive the rapidly changing traction motors in vehicles as these technologies become commercial.