GM's Volt Versus the Renault-Nissan Electric "Better Place" Edition

electric car nissan renault

 Chevy’s Volt Concept Car – Better than Better Place?

In the past year or so, we’ve posted a number of articles dealing with electric cars and the technology surrounding them, especially those being developed by an Israeli company, Better Place, whose total electric version was exhibited at the recent COP 15 Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen. And if you’ve been reading the news you wouldn’t have missed a recent $350 million investment in the company led by HSBC. So somebody is believing in them.

By this time next year, several types of electric cars are expected to be available to the general public, including General Motor’s new Chevrolet Volt version.

The technology and concepts dealing with these more environmentally friendly cars are shaping up to be as different as the cars themselves. As it looks like now, two of the main electric concept cars on the road will be the Volt models marketed by GM and the Z.E. Zero Emission ones by Renault-Nissan.

From an environmental standpoint, both versions will be much better for the environment than gasoline driven ones or hybrid models which even include luxury models by Mercedes-Benz. Renault-Nissan’s Z.E. version will be just like its name implies, i.e. zero emissions. The car will be a total electric version that is said will be able to go for up to 160 km (100 miles) on a full charge of its specially designed lithium-ion batteries, depending on road conditions.  When the battery needs recharging, the driver can either recharge it overnight by plugging into an electrical outlet or simply exchange the battery at a battery exchange station, which only takes a matter of minutes.

The Renault-Nissan Z.E. concept was developed largely by Shai Agassi’s Better Place Company which signed a deal with Renault-Nissan to provide the technology for the development of these electric cars, as well as the batteries and recharging stations for them.

better place battery stationA Better Place Battery Exchange Station

GE’s Volt concept is a bit different in that these cars will have both an electric engine and a small internal combustion engine as well, like a hybrid car has. The big difference between this car and a hybrid is that the power source  of the car is  the electric engine, which will have around 161 horse power (120 KW) and will be able to travel for about 60 km (40 miles) on a full charge to its lithium-ion battery pack.

Now if you’re  wondering what the 1.4 liter fossil fuel powered engine does, its function is to power a 53KW generator that recharges the battery for driving “extended ranges.” Of course, you can simply plug in to any electrical outlet and recharge the batteries in a period of around 6 hours. The auxiliary i.c. engine is designed to run on either gasoline or gasoline-bio-fuel mixture, and may not even be necessary to use if one only drives short distances.

Both GM (which is still restructuring following its bankruptcy filing last year) and Renault-Nissan are staking a lot in their electric car ventures; and Ford is also coming out with an electric powered Focus model which has already been featured on the Jay Leno Show for several months.

All of these cars appear to rely on the “Li-ion” battery concept, originally developed by researchers like Professor Doron Aurbach in which the cathode (positive electrode) contains lithium, a soft, silver-white metal that belongs to the alkali metal group of chemical elements.

The anode (negative electrode) is made out of a type of porous carbon) which makes one wonder if even this concept is completely “carbon free”.  And last of all, when “plugging up” to an electrical outlet for recharging, just how is the electricity created that will do the recharging? Perhaps some day, most of the electrical “juice” that recharges your electric car’s (carbon-free?)  batteries will be produced from solar or some other form of renewable energy. But for the time being anyway, I’ll bet that most electricity will still be made by power plants using – you guessed it – fossil fuels. And who will be calculating the carbon footprint that goes into making these vehicles?

Articles on electric car and battery technologies:
Comparing Israel’s energy advances to those abroad
Better Place Electric Car Guru Shai Agassi Gets “Wired”
Better Place’s Electric Car Gets Reviewed at Copenhagen Climate Change Conference

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