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From left to right: Mark Smith (Wattstor), Dr Xiaoyu Yan (ESI), Matthew Trevaskis (ecodrive) and Dr Mark Scibor-Rylski (University of Exeter’s CoVentures Intervention Business Mentor). Image: Toby Weller

Cornish collaboration could revolutionise the market for electric vehicles

The University of Exeter’s Penryn-based Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) has teamed up with two Cornish businesses, ecodrive and Wattstor, to monitor and manage the monetary value of the most expensive element of an EV: its battery.

The ESI is embarking on the first in-depth study to determine how the monetary value of batteries changes over time, depending on their use. This will mean sellers can more accurately determine a pre-owned vehicle's value; it will also help to create a market for pre-owned EVs and boost the market for used EV batteries for other purposes, such as energy storage for buildings

One of the barriers to EVs being widely adopted is their costs, which are higher than the equivalent conventional vehicles. Although the price has fallen by 40 per cent over the last four years, batteries remain the most expensive component of EVs at around £5,000.

The large batteries used in EVs need to be managed and maintained if they are to provide a long life and keep the cost of EV ownership as low as possible. When they are no longer suitable for use in EVs, batteries may still have many years of useful life left for other work. This partnership suggests treating the battery and the vehicle as separate items.

Dr Xiaoyu Yan of the ESI is leading the team to develop an algorithm to pinpoint the monetary value of a battery and determine the best ways of extending its life. This will not only reflect the number of miles the battery has done, but will also be dependent on how often and how it has been charged, the speed at which the vehicle is driven and how sharply the driver accelerates and brakes.

By installing monitors on EVs, the team will capture a detailed picture of an EV battery’s whole life to ascertain its value, help users to maximise its life and identify  a range of second-life uses for EV batteries once they cease to offer the range the EV user needs.

Through the partnership, ecodrive is providing the ESI with a Renault Twizy, an innovative EV that it hopes will prove popular with University students and staff. Director of ecodrive, Matthew Trevaskis, said: “We know that EVs carry a price premium, and the big unknown is still the long-term value of its battery. This partnership will give us some seriously robust data that will boost the re-sale market for EVs and will also open up new markets for batteries in other sectors, such as renewable energy storage for buildings.”

University of Exeter’s CoVentures Intervention Business Mentor, Dr Mark Scibor-Rylski, commented: “Electric cars actually have a much longer life than conventional vehicles, but the battery is like a car within a car with its own depreciation, and we need to know what this is. I believe the findings from this study could help the big car manufacturers market EVs in a new way.”

Tremough Innovation Centre business Wattstor worked previously with the ESI to develop its innovative building energy storage system for wind or solar power. The company is now involved in this project to maximise the potential for used EV batteries being used for energy storage in homes, giving them value they would otherwise not have.

Mark Smith of Wattstor said: “With so many of us being off grid, Cornwall is an excellent position to lead the way in smarter energy storage. This collaboration has given us access to leading experts and research facilities to ensure our product is evidence based. Working with the ESI has also linked us into a wider network that is strengthening our skill set and boosting the industry in Cornwall.”

Dr Xiaoyu Yan of the ESI said: “This collaboration brings together two companies that work in different sectors but could share mutual benefits. As well as generating some interesting research findings that could benefit these two local businesses, I hope our partnership will inspire more people to consider moving over to EVs.”

Date: 18 July 2014