Posted on Jan 18, 2023
On a Wednesday, January 18th, 2022, challenged by heavy snowfall and Lincoln-Center internet problems, John Bidwell, an HP retiree and guest of Stacy Plemmons, gave us a last-minute informal but very interesting and informative presentation on electric vehicles.  Mr. Bidwell has invested significant effort and time, much of it post-retirement, in understanding and working on electric vehicles, especially motorcycles, partly resulting in several patents and performance records.  For a long time, he believed that lithium-ion batteries would always be too small to be effective in the transport sector, but once Tesla demonstrated that this was not ultimately the case, he has been working on electric propulsion and firmly believes that electric vehicles are the wave of the future. 
He started by saying that some 79% of oil goes to transport.  Focusing on chipping away at that target was behind most of the rest of his presentation.  With a nod to the speaker who should have presented today, he talked about Lightning eMotors, a company in Loveland that converts small- to medium-size trucks, especially delivery vans (especially the size he referred to as Sprinter Vans), from gasoline power to electric power.  He also referred to Rivian, a company that is manufacturing good-performing small electric trucks that is currently facing some manufacturing challenges but is producing a good product – a product that was capable of chasing motorcycles from Tierra del Fuego at the south end of South America to Los Angeles.  The Tesla-Y was the number one car sale in the US last year.  In response to a question about F-150 pickups, he agreed that there are more of the gasoline version of that sold than of Teslas, but that the electric version of the F-150 is a very effective replacement for the gas-powered version except where the pickup will regularly be used for towing.  In towing mode, the electric-powered mileage is reduced by about ½ and there are no regularly available charging stations that can be accessed except by parking the trailer.  The electric F-150 can be used for camping if the distance to the camp ground is less than 100 miles. 
Most of the remainder of the presentation focused on charging the batteries.  The most abundant way currently is in the home with a 220-volt system.  It is cost-effective (in Fort Collins, charging in off-peak times, it is around $0.065 per kilowatt hour (KwH; batteries are rated by the number of KwH that they hold), or around $0.24 per KwH during peak times, where peak- vs. off-peak timing is driven by the effort to minimize the amount of power-generation capability that a utility has to have in order to supply power during times of peak demand).  There are basically two types of charging systems.  The proprietary Tesla system is the best fast charger in the world, delivering 100 to 150 miles of effective range in about 20 minutes.  The de-facto standard fast-charging system is CCS, used by all of the other manufacturers.  In the CCS system, a level-2 charger (Tesla provides an adapter), using 240 volt power, provides around 30 miles of range per hour of plug-in.  A level-3 charger (Tesla is the best) can provide around 500 miles per hour of charging, although the physics of the battery leads to charging beyond 80% of its capacity being done at the level-2 rate. 
The problem for long-distance travel is that level-3 chargers are not found everywhere.  It becomes most convenient to do level-2 charging overnight, perhaps using an app to find a “destination charger” as a feature of some hotels. is one such app, nominally showing the location of all charging stations.  Away from major population centers, it can be difficult to find a charging station – it can be hard work. 
The rest of the presentation covered a range of subjects, mostly from audience questions.  
The effect of very cold weather on long-distance travel is that the battery will lose around 15% of its range.  In that regard, it is surprising that Norway has the world’s highest uptake of electric vehicles with over 50% of new vehicles recently being electric. 
There is a range of features available in different electric vehicles.  The high-end vehicles have 4-wheel drive and can accelerate and drive rapidly.  Lower-end vehicles tend to have 2-wheel drive and correspondingly lower performance (he pointed to the Chevy Bolt as an excellent example).  High-end vehicles have many driver-assist provisions – in some ways, they almost drive themselves; however, they can’t always do that, for example getting confused by construction and “thinking” that they are on a frontage road and slow down dramatically. 
The cost for charging using a DC fast charger (level-3 at public charger) can range from perhaps $0.25 per KwH to around $0.45 per KwH.  The Tesla batteries have a capacity of some 75 KwH, which is presumably comparable to other brand batteries. 
Some discussion of the life-cycle economics of gas-fueled vehicles vs. electric vehicles.  Although there is some question about the economics of replacing a serviceable old gas-fueled vehicle with a new electric vehicle, studies show that new electric vehicles will be more economic and more sustainable than new gas-fueled vehicles. 
Although there is some thought that replacing all gas-fueled vehicles with electric vehicles would require significant increase in power-generation capability, studies have concluded that if the entire fleet of vehicles were electric and most were charged during off-peak times, there would be no need to add power generation capability. 
Is there enough lithium to supply the number of batteries necessary?  Studies have shown that there is enough, the only question being where you are going to mine it.  The largest lithium mine in the world is currently in Australia.  The Salton Sea (southern California) apparently contains enough lithium to supply all of the needs of the US, apparently sustainably. 
What is the life span of the batteries?  Apparently, none of the Tesla batteries manufactured so far have worn out and the industry is constantly working on improving the life span.  Tesla predicts that they will soon have a one-million-mile battery. 
What about other brands?  Lucid makes an apparently excellent car with a long range but a high price tag.  Their business model is apparently questionable.  Rivian, with backing from Ford and Amazon (does an electric vehicle manufacturer need deep-pocket investors?) is delivering vans to Amazon and has shown impressive off-road capability. 
What about retro-fitting gas-fueled vehicles?  Mr. Bidwell reminded us that he started by retro-fitting motorcycles very successfully.  He finished by pointing out that Lightning eMotors (which was supposed to have been the subject of today’s presentation before the technical problems) is currently successfully turning various Ford products (small to medium trucks/vans) into electric vehicles apparently using commercially available electric motors, solid-state controllers, and charging hardware.