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Nuclear Powered Electric Vehicles! Not Really

September 26, 2010

Nuclear powered vehicles, good idea I guess, but a long way off. Maybe when the Jetson’s live next door. Sorry to disappoint, but nuclear powered vehicles is just not the topic of this discussion. The central tenant of this discussion rests with the oncoming onslaught of Electric Vehicles to the U.S. market.

If you think this discussion will point you in the right direction as to which electric vehicle you should buy, wrong again. Better said, this discussion can be regarded as the ABC’s of the nascent electric vehicle industry.

While being force-fed with every kind of advertising gibberish one can think of to lure you into thinking that today’s iteration of Electric Vehicle is the cure-all to the dastardly internal combustion engine with its unquenchable thirst for petroleum, my head spins with a new language that is as confusing as trying to communicate with inhabitants of another planet.

Meeting after meeting, it is apparent the one truism that stands out amongst all others is the new language full of acronyms and alphanumeric names applied to the electric vehicle and its embedded technologies. The poor consumer, who wants to keep things short and simple, is left with their head spinning with this new and unending glossary of somewhat contradictory ABC’s. Seems as though every type of electric vehicle, charging system and battery pack is the best for you.

Seems rather counterproductive to conjure up such a devise language at such an early stage of commercialization. I don’t know about you, though my box of Cheerios may not be the best for me in terms of caloric and nutrient value, I know where to purchase it, prepare it, and place it on the shelf so it can be used another day.

This marking strategy is somewhat precarious and likely to cause so much channel confusion that many prospective customers may take a wait and see attitude. The industry may takes its baby-steps through the curiosity of the early adopters who may come to the rescue and be one of the first in their neighborhood to have an electric vehicle in their driveway. True, the government will incentivize the purchase and make it somewhat attractive to us, the consumer, to reach into our pocketbooks or rush to the bank and get a loan so you could be the proud owner of an electric vehicle.

In reality, besides adding a confusing set of choices, the electric vehicle industry, which will struggle to make their marketing forecast, will be inhibited by high priced vehicles, range uncertainties and questions about battery durability and chargeability. 

Since., at this time, it will be impossible to reach into the crystal ball and tell you which electric vehicle you should purchase that would both minimize any changes in your lifestyle and bring you the expected rate of returns; this discussion, if you can call it a discussion at all, is nothing more than a dictionary of terms used to describe electric vehicles and its technology.


Type of Electric  Vehicles:
To begin let’s explore the type of electric vehicles that may be offered to the public.

Common Types:
• BEV – Battery Electric Vehicles: an electric vehicle that uses chemical energy stored in rechargeable battery packs. As with other electric vehicles, BEVs use electric motors and motor controllers instead of ICEs for propulsion. Sometimes, all-electric vehicles are referred as BEVs (although a plug-in hybrid is also a battery electric vehicle).
• EV – Electric Vehicles: an electric vehicle is propelled solely by electric motors that use chemical energy stored in rechargeable battery packs. EV’s do not have internal combustion engines (ICE).
• HV – Hybrid Vehicle: A vehicle that uses two or more power sources, usually one being a fuel source like gasoline, the other being a form of electricity.
• HEV – Hybrid Electric Vehicles: a hybrid electric vehicle combines a conventional ICE powertrain with some form of electric propulsion system. The on-board electric batteries are charged internally and do not have external charging capabilities. A hybrid electric vehicle
• PHEV – Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles: an electric vehicle with an internal combustion engine backup that can be re-charged by plugging in to normal household current as well as using the on-board charging capabilities of HEVs.

Less Common Types:
• AFV – Alternative Fuel Vehicle: an alternative fuel vehicle that is run off of any form of alternative fuel, whether it is electricity, solar energy, ethanol, biodiesel, etc.
• BFV – Bi-Fuel Vehicle:  a bi-fuel vehicle that is able to store two or more different types of fuel and have the vehicle run off of one fuel at a time.
• FFV – Flexible Fuel Vehicle / Flex Fuel Vehicle: a flexible fuel vehicle that is run on more than one kind of fuel stored in the same tank together.
• FCV- Fuel Cell Vehicle: a fuel cell vehicle that converts hydrogen into electric energy that energizes electric motors
• FFEV – Full Function EV: an electric vehicle that is similar to gasoline operated vehicles as far as being able to accelerate easily across town and on highways, but have the downside of being more expensive than its gasoline operated version and require large expensive batteries.
• LEV – Light EVs: Range from electric-assist bicycles to heavy electric scooters and motorcycles.
• NEV – Neighborhood Electric Vehicles: a battery charged EV with a given amount of speed of up to 25 mph in designated neighborhood areas.
• PZEV – Partial Zero-Emissions Vehicle: a vehicle with a 15 year warranty and zero evaporative emissions to meet the SULEV tailpipe emission standards.
• SULEV – Super Ultra Low EV: Using various techniques the SULEV produces minimal air pollution because if its gas electric hybrid vehicle design.
• TLEV – Transitional Low Emission Vehicle: the rating for selling lightweight vehicles that was phased out in 2004.
• ULEV – Ultra Low Emission Vehicle:  Along with the Super Low EV, emits very low levels of air pollutants. It can also qualify for tax advantages because, according to the Air Resources Board of California, USA, it emits 50% less pollution than a new model car released the same year.
• ZEV – Zero Emissions Vehicle: a vehicle that produces no tailpipe emissions, no evaporative emissions, and no emissions from gasoline refining or sales, according to California’s Air Resource Board which also produced the standards for the SULEV and PZEV.


Charging Methods:
Now that you understand the type of electric vehicles on the marketplace, it’s time to look at the various ways eclectic vehicles can be externally charged.

If you recall from above, that electric vehicles using both electric motors and ICEs are examples of hybrid electric vehicles, and are not considered pure (or all) EVs because they operate in a charge-sustaining mode and cannot be externally charged. Hybrid vehicles with batteries that can be charged externally to displace some or all of their internal combustion engine power and gasoline fuel are called plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), and are BEVs during their charge-depleting mode.

• Conductive charging: a direct wired charging method utilizes direct electrical contact between the batteries and the charger. Conductive charging is achieved by connecting the vehicle to a power source with plug-in wires. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has standardized the SAE Ji772 conductive charging coupler as an electrical connector for electric vehicles. Conductive charging, is broken down into three levels, where each level has different voltage and current levels.
• Inductive Charging: a wireless charging method sends energy through an inductive coupling to an electrical device, which stores the energy in the batteries. Inductive charging carries a far lower risk of electrical shock, when compared with conductive charging, because there are no exposed conductors. One disadvantage of inductive charging is its lower efficiency and increased resistive heating in comparison to direct contact.

Conductive Charging Levels:
• Level 1 Charging:
  this type of charging uses a common 120 Volt, singe-phase outlet for a three-prong grounded connector with a ground-fault circuit interrupt.  Level 1 charging is claimed to require 8 to 14 hours to fully charge a vehicle, depending upon EV and battery type.
• Level 2 Charging: this type of charging requires 208-240 VAC single phase maximum nominal supply with 32 Amps maximum continuous current with 40 Amps branch circuit. Level 2 charging is claimed to require charged in 4 to 6 hours to fully charge a vehicle, depending upon EV and battery type.
• Level 3 Charging: better known as fast or rapid charging requires 480 VAC, 400 Amp, three-phase electrical service. Level 3 charging is claimed to require  ten minutes to fully charge a vehicle, depending upon EV and battery type.


Energy Storage Technologies:
To make matters worse, it’s time to review the litany of ways to power electric vehicles. While these storage devices may be considered to be “Batteries,” it’s more encompassing to call these sources “Energy Storage Technologies.”

Lead-Acid Batteries:
• Flooded or Wet Lead Acid:
are the most common lead-acid battery-type in use today. They offer the most size and design options and are built for many different uses. They usually are not sealed so the user can replenish any electrolyte the battery vented while charging the battery. Typically, the cells can be access via small ~1/2″ holes in the top casing of the battery.
• Gel Cells: use a thickening agent like fumed silica to immobilize the electrolyte. Thus, if the battery container cracks or is breached, the cell will continue to function. Furthermore, the thickening agent prevents stratification by preventing the movement of electrolyte. Gel cells are sealed and cannot be re-filled with electrolyte, controlling the rate of charge is very important or the battery will be ruined in short order. Furthermore, gel cells use slightly lower charging voltages than flooded cells and thus the set-points for charging equipment have to be adjusted.
• Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM): batteries are the latest step in the evolution of lead-acid batteries. Instead of using a gel, an AGM uses a fiberglass like separator to hold the electrolyte in place. The physical bond between the separator fibers, the lead plates, and the container make AGMs spill-proof and the most vibration and impact resistant lead-acid batteries available today. Even better, AGMs use almost the same voltage set-points as flooded cells and thus can be used as drop-in replacements for flooded cells. An AGM can do anything a Gel-cell can, only better. However, since they are also sealed, charging has to be controlled carefully or they too can be ruined in short order.
• VRLA – Valve Regulated Lead Acid: just a fancy way of saying advanced, sealed, starved electrolyte lead acid and include Gel Cell and AGM batteries.

Non-Lead Acid Chemical Energy Storage Devices:
• Fuel Cells: An electrochemical cell in which the energy of a reaction between a fuel (combustible substance) such as hydrogen, methane, propane, methanol, diesel fuel or even gasoline., and an oxidant, such as liquid oxygen, is converted directly and continuously into electrical energy. The most widely discussed type is the hydrogen fuel cell, in which energy is obtained from the oxidation of hydrogen. The only byproducts are water and a small amount of nitrous oxide if air is used as the oxidizer. Modern hydrogen fuel cells can provide up to 200 kilowatts (kW) of power as alternative energy sources for cars, light trucks and space vehicles. Fuel cells, especially the hydrogen type, offer several advantages over conventional power sources. These include: reduced dependence on fossil fuels, long useful life, high efficiency, relative safety, essentially zero toxicity, minimal maintenance costs, reduced pollution, particularly carbon emissions, and tax breaks for users and producers. Significant limitations of hydrogen fuel cells include: high cost of manufacture, relatively high cost of operation, difficulty in transporting and storing hydrogen, and low fuel energy density
• LIB – Lithium Ion Battery: is a rechargeable battery types in which lithium ions move from the negative electrode to the positive electrode during discharge, and back when charging. Chemistry, performance, cost, and safety characteristics vary across LIB types. The energy density of lithium-ion is typically twice that of the standard nickel-cadmium. The high cell voltage of 3.6 volts allows battery pack designs with only one cell. Lithium-ion is a low maintenance battery, an advantage that most other chemistries cannot claim. There is no memory and no scheduled cycling is required to prolong the battery’s life. In addition, the self-discharge is less than half compared to nickel-cadmium, making lithium-ion well suited for modern fuel gauge applications. lithium-ion cells cause little harm when disposed.Lithium-ion has its drawbacks. It is fragile and requires a protection circuit to maintain safe operation. Built into each pack, the protection circuit limits the peak voltage of each cell during charge and prevents the cell voltage from dropping too low on discharge. In addition, the cell temperature is monitored to prevent temperature extremes. Aging is a concern with most lithium-ion batteries and many manufacturers remain silent about this issue. Some capacity deterioration is noticeable after one year, whether the battery is in use or not. The battery frequently fails after two or three years. Manufacturers are constantly improving lithium-ion. New and enhanced chemical combinations are introduced every six months or so. With such rapid progress, it is difficult to assess how well the revised battery will age.  Storage in a cool place slows the aging process of lithium-ion (and other chemistries). Manufacturers recommend storage temperatures of 59°F (15°C). In addition, the battery should be partially charged during storage. The manufacturer recommends a 40% charge.
• LPB – Lithium Polymer Battery: a new battery technology developed by 3M, Hydro-Quebec and Argonne National Laboratory is believed to hold the answer for EVs. LPB appear to be one of the best long-term alternatives to the internal combustion engine and is considered one of the best options for creating a viable, rechargeable EV battery. The LPB is also the first-ever solid-state battery for EVs. The polymer electrolyte allows for the safe use of lithium, the lightest metal in the world and the most attractive negative electrode available for electrochemical power sources.The Lithium Polymer battery relies on thin-film technology, with composite films that are only 100 microns thick.  It’s a solid state battery that can be wound and shaped to suite the application.  It uses a plastic electrolyte. 3M expects that a typical EV battery pack would weigh on the order of 500 pounds (224 kg), which could provide as much as 45 kW-h of energy.  In comparison, EV1’s lead-acid battery pack weighs over 1000 pounds (480 kg) and provides 16 kW-h of energy.  So we have the potential of storing nearly 3 times the energy with half the mass of today’s lead-acid batteries.  Cycle life should be high, and the battery should be relatively cheap to build.
• Magnesium-Lithium: a new and revolutionary rechargeable Magnesium battery system has been developed for heavy-load applications such as EVs. The  magnesium battery system can be recycled many thousands of times with extremely low capacity fading. it is environmentally non-toxic as well as being non-explosive. It is also very lightweight and incredibly cheap to produce. Magnesium is the seventh most abundant metal on earth so it’s an ideal material for making into batteries. It has a reported energy density of 60 Wh/Kg. Unlike nickel-metal-hydride technology, this magnesium battery system demonstrates virtually NO self discharge! This means that once charged, the pack can be left in a charged state for long periods of time without damage. the battery has an operating temperature of -4F to 140F (-20C to 60C) and possesses a stable almost constant voltage of 1.2V per cell. This is hugely significant as it means that these cells should not suffer from reduced range in colder climates. Lead acid technology can lose half of its practical range or more in sub 0 temperatures. The constant cell voltage of 1.2V per cell matches very well with applications in 6V multiples (5 x 1.2V cells) which includes most EV applications.
• NiMh – Nickel Metal Hydride: is a hybrid of the proven positive electrode chemistry of the sealed
nickel-cadmium battery with the energy storage features of metal alloys developed for advanced hydrogen energy storage concepts. This heritage in a positive-limited battery design results in batteries providing enhanced capacities while retaining the well-characterized electrical and physical design features of the sealed nickel-cadmium battery design. The NiMH battery uses a hydrogen-absorbing alloy for the negative electrode instead of cadmium. As in NiCd cells, the positive electrode is nickel oxyhydroxide (NiOOH). A NiMH battery can have two to three times the capacity of an equivalent size nickel-cadmium battery. Compared to the lithium-ion cell, the volumetric energy density is similar but self-discharge is higher. (Compare: low self-discharge NiMH battery). The true advantage of NiMH batteries can be found in the cycle life (reuse after charging). Typically NiMH batteries can be recharged hundreds of times, potentially allowing them to be equivalent to hundreds of alkaline batteries in total service over their lifetime. However, battery life is limited to 5 years or less. This can make rechargeable NiMH batteries a cost effective power source for many frequently used battery operated devices found in the home or office. Some of the advantages of the nickel-metal hydride battery are: energy density which can be translated into either long run times or reduction in the space necessary for the battery; elimination of the constraints on battery manufacture, usage, and disposal imposed because of concerns over cadmium toxic;  simplified incorporation into products currently using nickel cadmium batteries because of the many design similarities between the two chemistries;  and greater service advantage over other primary battery types at low temperature extremes operating at -4°F.(-20°C).
• NaNiCl – Sodium Nickel Chloride: are high temperature electric battery that use molten salts as an electrolyte. They offer both a higher energy density and higher power density. These features make rechargeable molten salt batteries a promising technology for powering electric vehicles. Operating temperatures of 752°F (400°C) to 1,292°F (700°C), however, bring problems of thermal management and safety, and place more stringent requirements on the rest of the battery components. Some newer designs, operate at a lower temperature range of 473°F (245°C) to 662°F  (350°C).
• Ni-Zn – Nickel Zinc: is a chemistry compound first introduced by Thomas Edison almost a hundred years ago. Originally the technology was put to use in electric vehicles until the gasoline engine emerged as the technology of choice for automobile propulsion. However, with new breakthroughs in engineering, NiZn has become the new cost effective, safe battery solution for everything from consumer AA batteries to power tool packs to high-power motor driven vehicles.Characteristics: This rechargeable battery like the Nickel Iron battery uses an alkaline electrolyte. Nickel-Zink batteries were developed as replacements for military Silver-Zinc batteries. Advantages: good cycle life, fast recharge capability, uses low cost benign materials. Shortcomings: heavy and bulky, low energy density, high self discharge rate, byproducts generated during recharge results in short circuiting and shortened life. Costs: low cost but higher than Lead acid.
• Silver Hydrogen: is a class of Solid-State Hydrogen Storage based on reversible metal hydrides offers several benefits over other means of storing hydrogen. Reversible metal hydrides operate at low pressure, especially when compared to compressed hydrogen, and do not need to be kept at the cryogenic temperatures required for liquid hydrogen storage. Reversible hydride storage typically requires less energy on a system basis, is compact, and can be conformable to fit space available on the application. This battery is too expensive for commercial applications.
• Vanadium Redox: is a significant new multi-purpose 5kW energy storage as an alternative to traditional lead-acid battery backup systems. The Vanadium Redox Battery Energy Storage System is comprised of an electrolyte storage tank containing a vanadium-based electrolyte supplied to a regenerative cell stack that converts chemical energy into electrical energy. A chemical reaction in the flow-cell stacks creates a current that is collected by electrodes and made available to an external circuit. This reaction is reversible, allowing recharging of the DC power modules The main advantages of the vanadium redox battery are that it can offer almost unlimited capacity simply by using larger and larger storage tanks, it can be left completely discharged for long periods with no ill effects, it can be recharged simply by replacing the electrolyte if no power source is available to charge it, and if the electrolytes are accidentally mixed the battery suffers no permanent damage. The main disadvantages with vanadium redox technology are a relatively poor energy-to-volume ratio, and the system complexity in comparison with standard storage batteries.
• Zn-Air: is an electro-chemical battery powered by oxidizing zinc with oxygen from the air. These batteries have high energy densities and are relatively inexpensive to produce. Zinc-air batteries have some properties of fuel cells as well as batteries: the zinc is the fuel, the reaction rate can be controlled by varying the air flow, and oxidized zinc/electrolyte paste can be replaced with fresh paste. A future possibility is to power electric vehicles. Rechargeable zinc-air cells are a difficult design problem since zinc precipitation from the water-based electrolyte must be closely controlled. A satisfactory electrically recharged system potentially offers low material cost and high specific energy, but none has yet reached the market.

Non-Chemical Energy Storage Devices:
• Flywheel – Mechanical Batteries:
is a heavy wheel that stores kinetic (movement) energy when rotating. The flywheel systems operates as an AC generator (via the DC AC inverter) and used the kinetic energy of the flywheel to supply the output voltage. After a very short period of time, the kinetic energy from the rotation of the flywheel dissipates. The primary disadvantage of the flywheel technology is the backup supply of energy  which can be as short as 8 second.
• Ultra Capacitors (ultracaps): are extremely high energy density capacitors. Capacitors store electrical energy by physically separating positive and negative charges, in contrast to the chemical means a battery uses. Until 2007, the best capacitors could not store energy in amounts even close to comparable to a battery. This is changing fast, and now we are beginning to see ultracapacitors nearing battery capacities. This milestone is very important, because the only way that batteries have been better than capacitors is in their ability to store more energy. Ultracapacitors with sophisticated variable voltage DC-DC converters can more efficiently handle the high power requirements of acceleration and regenerative braking. They don’t store much energy compared to a battery.

I don’t know about you, but it’s time to take a coffee break and get back to this miss another time.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Whacky World Of Electric Vehicle Acronyms (; Electric Vehicle Charging Information (; Electric Vehicle Battery Information (; Comparing Marine Battery Technologies, (; PowerGenix (

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 26, 2010 9:44 PM

    Nuclear powered vehicles; one crash could ruin your whole city!

  2. September 27, 2010 4:03 PM

    Comment posted in LinkedIn on this discussion:

    LinkedIn Groups
    • Group: White House
    • Discussion: Electric Nuclear Powered Vehicles! Not Really

    Great and informative article. Yes I think marketers enthusiasm in the end less to consumer confusion. Nuclear Fusion powered vehicles … interesting as I am a firm believer this will happen sooner than we think. The rate of change of seems to get faster and faster. The only thing holding us Nuclear Fusion is all of it is government funded … we all know how most Government funded projects are run.

    Will keep this as a reference article!
    Posted by Mahesh Gordhan

  3. September 28, 2010 6:01 AM

    Comment posted in LinkedIn on this discussion:

    Mahesh Gordhan has sent you a message.
    Date: 9/27/2010
    Subject: RE: Great and informative article. Yes I think marketers enthusiasm in the end less to consumer confusion. Nuclear Fusion powered vehicles…

    Hi Barry,

    Thanks for the link and is there any chance that I can get the material in a word document? Its quite timely as just made contact with General Motors strategy team and want to get them to tap into Nuclear Fusion and where it is at. Have a look at my website although its due for an update (last updated in April) and things are moving quickly.

    My focus is to get more funding and awareness of nuclear fusion (or nufusion to avoid the scary nuclear part). There’s lots to do and opening an office in London in a few weeks and have around 8 volunteers working for me on a part time basis but many waiting to join.

    Hope we can be of mutual benefit!

    Kind regards
    Mahesh Gordhan


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