E-Car Prospects Move Up A Gear

Nov. 5, 2009
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Interesting to see this week that an impressive consortium of electronics companies, car makers, and automotive component firms has convened to create a project called E3Car, the number 3 representing “Energy, Efficient, Electrical.”

The idea behind this powerful team of companies is to collaborate on boosting the efficiency of electrically powered cars by one third. This is, of course, a very laudable ambition. However, E3Carproject leaders are still a bit unclear on the deadline for when these technological objectives must come to fruition and start to appear on public roads.

The project wants to extend the travel range of electrically powered vehicles by 35% using batteries that are similar in size to existing battery technology. Naturally, a lot of how these targets are hit will lie in the hands of the semiconductor companies that form part of the consortium. These include Atmel, AustriaMicrosystems, CISC Semiconductor, Infineon, On Semiconductor, and Philips Electronics B.V.

The research relative to semiconductor components will focus on how those components are used in the vehicle powertrain. That means engine and transmission systems will be a key area of investigation, since the powertrain operation in an electric vehicle consumes a large percentage of electricity.

More specifically, the E3Car project will need to investigate areas such as power conversion, power-management and powerdistribution networks, as well as smart-power monitoring.

The consortium has already defined some key areas of research, which include power technologies for both electrical and hybrid vehicles based on Si, SOI, SiC and GaN technologies.

None of this will come cheap. Thus, it’s always interesting to see how serious, and by that I mean how big, a budget has been allocated to the consortium’s work.

The total budget for the E3Car project is around €44 million, and half of that will come from the 33 industry and research partners. The other half is provided by the ENIAC (European Nanoelectronics Initiative Advisory Council) organisation and 11 funding organisations in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain. One of the largest sponsors is the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

It’s also interesting to note that, coincidentally, the German Federal Government is pursuing a broad holistic strategy concerning electric vehicles. The “National Development Plan on Electric-Drive Vehicles” was approved by the German Federal Cabinet in August this year. It’s designed to ensure that the whole concept of electric mobility, and that includes cars, is adopted in Germany. The goal is to have one million electric vehicles on German roads by 2020. In total, funding for electric mobility by the Government will be €700 million.

So, not only is E3Car a very serious and well-funded project in itself, there’s also the comforting knowledge that anything which encourages the increased use of electric vehicles is whole-heartedly supported by the German Government.

Clearly, Germany sees electric vehicles as an important part of its social structure, as well as a potentially lucrative business opportunity that will eventually enhance its industrial and economic strength. My take on all this is that any European country not already involved in funding such research may be well advised to reconsider their position.


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