All the current trends are headed towards electric vehicles. The convenience of driving a noiseless car, the joy of riding an e-bike with pedal assists, and the feeling of fulfilling a social responsibility are a few reasons EVs are getting so popular.
In this article, we take a look into the basic workings of electric vehicles. We also explore the different parts of an electric vehicle and explain their functions. In the latter part of this article, we discuss some of the pros and cons of electric vehicles over conventional vehicles such as gas cars and bicycles.
So, without further ado, let’s jump into it!
How Electric Vehicles Work
Electric vehicles use electricity as the primary source of energy. The battery is charged via external EV charging stations, and the electric traction motor later consumes the energy. Electric vehicles can also be charged at home on 120V or 240V outlets, but 480V public fast charges are quicker. E-bikes don’t need a lot of energy and are usually charged at home.
EVs are significantly more efficient than vehicles with fossil fuel engines. According to the Depart of Energy (DOE), traditional vehicles with an internal combustion engine only convert from 12% to 30% of the energy released from the fuel into the vehicle’s motion. The efficiency can be even lower for some vehicles at lower speeds. The rest of the energy is wasted as heat. In comparison, electric vehicles convert more than 77% of the energy from the grid to generate motion at the wheels.
To better understand how they work, let’s look at the basic parts of an electric vehicle.
The battery pack stores energy from the grid transferred to it during charging. This energy is later used to power the traction motor and other vehicle parts.
Most EVs today use lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries have a high energy density, require little maintenance, and can produce high currents. This makes them better for electric cars and e-bikes than other commercial batteries.
Some electric vehicles also use supercapacitors, but the technology is still in its infancy and has not been able to replace Li-ion batteries yet. Other promising batteries are also under development, such as a new type of flexible Li-ion battery that doesn’t catch fire.
AC motors can produce much higher torque than DC motors, so they’re proffered in electric vehicles. However, batteries only produce DC power—except fly-wheel batteries, which are still in development and may be used in future electric cars
Electric vehicles use an inverter to convert DC power from the battery into AC power. The inverter also plays an important role in an EV, similar to the role a gearbox plays in traditional vehicles. The inverter actively controls the frequency of the AC power being sent to the motor, which controls the vehicle’s speed.
AC Traction Motor
The traction motor takes the AC power supplied by the inverter and converts it into the mechanical motion of the vehicle. This might seem similar to a combustion engine at first, but it’s completely different.
Combustion engines have a very limited range of speeds. They can’t rotate faster than their higher limit or slower than their lower limit. How do vehicles have a high range of speeds then? The gearbox. The gearbox uses different gears to make your wheels rotate at the speed you need, even if the engine is rotating faster or slower. The gearbox is only there to make up for this limitation of combustion engines.
Electric Traction motors don’t have this problem. In theory, a single transmission can be operational from speeds below 10 mph to up to 200 mph.
The batteries used in electric vehicles produce a very high voltage for the motor. Other electronics in the vehicles, including other systems, require lower voltages to function. EVs use a DC/DC converter that converts battery power to a lower voltage level and supplies it to the other systems in the vehicle. The DC/DC converted also charges the auxiliary battery.
Electric vehicles are more complex than traditional vehicles, and these are just the basic components. With this out of the way, let’s look at some of the pros and cons of EVs.
Better for the Environment
Electric vehicles are much better for the environment than traditional vehicles. The carbon footprint of e-bikes is even lower than walking, making them the perfect means of transportation.
Electric vehicles produce a uniform acceleration, making for a comfortable ride whether you’re in an electric car or on an E-bike.
Better for Health
E-bikes with pedal assist are even better for health than walking. Since they’re also much faster than bicycles, which makes them the ideal healthy means of travel, electric vehicles can also reduce pollution in cities and promote health.
When you’re in a traditional vehicle and hit the brakes, all the mechanical energy your vehicle had goes to waste. EVs can convert mechanical energy into electrical energy using regenerative braking and reduce this energy loss.
Charging points are still less common than gas stations, although they’re increasingly common. Considering the plans of COP26, they’ll likely be everywhere by the end of 2020s. This is not a problem for E-bikes, though. E-bikes can easily be charged at home.
Higher Upfront Costs
Electric vehicles take more resources to manufacture, and they cost more upfront. However, EVs cost less to run and require less maintenance.
Car batteries take much longer to charge compared to traditional fueling. Reducing charging time is one of the primary areas of research in EVs. Supercapacitors are a promising solution; they can gather more charge in seconds than Li-ion batteries do in hours.
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