Author: Daniele Pagani, translated by: Pernille Manicus
As you may know from our previous work, Folkecenter has for long time promoted sustainable mobility; we see that as a very important topic to focus on, as the transport sector is responsible for about ¼ of world’s CO2 emissions. And now we can announce, that we saved 5000 kg CO2 by driving electric!
Our work of testing and demonstration of green mobility technologies started by owning (and driving) an electric Kewett; this is an early model of electric vehicle, very different from what you can find today on Western markets, but not because of that less interesting. Batteries were very heavy, they contained only a fraction of the energy available today in their lithium counterparts and the performances were not comparable to modern electric vehicles (EVs). Still, it was capable of fulfilling the main characteristic of a car: driving its owner from point A to point B…and doing it in a clean way!
Electric mobility was not the only focus of Folkecenter: we also did a lot of work in the Pure Plant Oil (PPO) sector, by making studies and tests on applications both for mobility and for power generation. The advantages of this technology were the relatively low complexity level (conventional Diesel engines could be converted to PPO), their lower emissions and their possible application also in heavy-duty equipment, like tractors and trucks. On the other hand, the technology still produced emissions and, most important, its application on large scale would result in competition for the land usage (opposed to agricultural utilization). By this, we do not mean that the technology is not valid, but just that its application should be reserved to very specific locations and uses.
The next topic we focused on was hydrogen: one of our projects consisted in designing a conversion kit for gasoline engines, so that vehicles could run both on hydrogen and on gasoline, depending on the need. The idea behind that was to start creating a demand for hydrogen filling stations (Folkecenter has one!), so that by the time fuel cell vehicles were cheap enough, the infrastructure would have been already in place. Sadly, the project had to be abandoned because on an unfavorable regulating environment.
We come than to our days: as you have seen from previous newsletters, we are back to electric mobility. Currently, we own two electric vans: a Streetscooter Work B14, developed for the German Post and a Nissan eNV200. The first has a small battery, and therefore a modest range of 40-60 km, while the second can drive up to 300 km.
Our Experience with Electric Mobility
In the last seven years we drove around 37.000 km with the two vans combined. So, what is our experience with these two, more “commercially minded” vehicles? Positive, even if more could have been done when developing them.
Let us explain.
Before that, however, a clarification is needed: both the vans were purchased when electric vehicles were still not so popular as today; at the time of buying the eNV200, it was practically the only available option with a decent range that a private could buy, while now many more models are available. That also means that, as early adopters, we encountered issues which today’s buyers will not (or at least, should not) encounter.
Streetscooter Work B14
Let’s start with the Streetscooter: the project came out of a University work, so one should not have the same expectations as if it was an established manufacturer. Still, a little bit of comfort would have been appreciated. The van is very basic, which is not necessarily a negative thing, but given the price, few more (cheap) adjustments would have considerably improved the experience. To begin with, a switch which would have stopped the car “eating” power when unplugged: yes, you understood correctly! Leaving the van unplugged for a little bit more than a day would result in the standard 12 V battery being completely empty: quite a deal, considering that without that you could not open the car with the remote control, nor start the van and not even charge it (when closing the car, the charging plug was locked so the cable could not be inserted). And, what’s worse, the 12V battery is placed under the cargo area, so you need to roll under the car and hope to have cables long enough.
Another problem was the lack of balancing among the cells when charging, which forced us to do it manually (not everyone is capable of doing that!).
We had also some other issues, some of which we could solve with the technical support of the company, others, more serious, that we had to solve ourselves, as the company changed ownership, resulting in a very bad support (and in the van being parked in our workshop, useless, for about a year!).
Besides these issues, the van has been a very good addition to our tools and its perfect for the applications we are using it.
One note before concluding the review of the Streetscooter: the model we own is a very early one (almost a prototype), so some of the experiences may be different on more recent models; however, we can only evaluate what we have!
Multiple Uses of the Streetscooter:
Concerning the eNV200, being part of a higher-volume production, things were a little different: the comfort is very good and we did not have any problems related to the performances…except for charging.
Charging, or better, quick charging, appears to be an issue in this van (and on modern Nissan Leafs as well): despite some users being able to utilize their Nissan EVs even for longer routes, the term “Rapid-gate” is very popular on online forums. This means that batteries become excessively warm while quick-charging, so the process is stopped for safety reasons (if it would continue, they could explode!). In practical terms, this means that we could not do more than 2-3 quick charges in row, which, considering motorway speeds, means just few hundred km before having to stop (and wait for many hours!) to let it cool down.
Our van is air-cooled (actively), meaning that the batteries have a flow of air which keeps their temperature; we think that the problem of overheating is generated by the fact that a larger battery was inserted in a van which was originally designed to host one of about half the size. Currently, most EVs are liquid cooled, factor which seems to have considerably reduced the issue.
For most applications this is not a huge problem, but we think dealers should inform the customers when buying such vehicles, as users expect normal operations unless diversely instructed. On this note, the support from the manufacturer was not really at the level of expectations.
We have recently been suggested by another Nissan EV driver an alternative approach which may secure us longer trips; we will try it out and let you know.
Another charging limitation was related to the protocols used: despite having the Danish charging card, we were not able to charge in Germany (at the same operator!). This is hopefully an issue of the past, as other users seem not to have had this problem, but we did not have the chance to try it out in more recent times.
That said, the van works brilliantly for our everyday use and, in case we manage to solve the issue of quick charging, it could become our transportation mean also for longer journeys
Is range enough?
Short answer: yes.
Of course, having more km available would be nice, but that comes at a price (both financially and in terms of weight). The Streetscooter is perfect for day-to-day tasks, which are mostly carried out in Folkecenter and in the close neighborhood. This van is not suitable for longer trips, as the speed is limited to 85 km/h and no quick charging is available; however, the range available and the relatively short charging time are well suited for in-city delivery (and overnight charging).
The Nissan is more of a van as we are used to, capable of reaching motorway speeds and with decent range; provided only one quick charge per day is made (would be already more than what this type of van is used for normally), it can carry out its tasks without any problem. Additionally, it is prepared for bi-directional charging (Vehicle to Grid – V2G), a feature which could be very relevant in the near future. An upgraded cooling system would, however, be a game changer!
Despite these small inconveniences we have mentioned, the vans work very well and all the people who drove them loved them.
Things we have learned
- Batteries are still a limitation for EVs, but technology is evolving and more performing (and sustainable) solutions are being developed;
- Regeneration and careful driving allow you to extend your trip considerably, therefore reducing the range anxiety;
- When possible, slow charging should be preferred, as less impacting on the battery life;
- The range shown is an estimation, not considering many environmental factors, like cold or wind (very impacting on a van!). You are definitively better off with an instantaneous consumption reader, which can positively influence your driving behavior;
- Battery cooling systems are very important: based on your driving needs, you may need to choose an EV with liquid cooling instead of air cooling;
- For long trip, planning is essential. A help for that can be the website “A better Route Planner” (https://abetterrouteplanner.com/);
- International trips should be planned a bit more carefully, to make sure that you can actually charge in a foreign country;
- Support from the manufacturers may not be sufficient (hopefully that has improved). Make sure you can have some support close to your area, in case of need (or at least ask the support conditions when purchasing the vehicle);
CO2 Savings and how did we Estimate them
The ones of you who follow us since long know that at every newsletter we have published the CO2 savings of our vans.
We are glad to inform you that we have now reached the magic number of 5000 kg of CO2 saved.
How did we calculate them?
Of course, ours are just estimations and we use them to better understand how some habit change can have a huge impact. What we did is taking the eNV200 as reference and compared it with the equivalent gasoline and Diesel option, which had an average emission of 137 g/km. We therefore multiplied the number by the driven km and…voilà, here you have!
We used the same value for the Streetscooter as well, which may not be 100% correct, but since no the brand does not have any fossil-powered vehicle we thought this was the closest we could get.
One last note on the “Free km” you can find in the table (in the top of the article): when decelerating, the Nissan charges the batteries, therefore allowing us to drive a bit extra than you would have had without this system. With careful driving, we managed so far to achieve 13% or regeneration, meaning almost 3000 km for which we didn’t pay for. That’s quite an achievement!
The Streetscooter, on the other hand, has regeneration but not an indicator, so we cannot provide you with a number on that.
We are now looking forwards to reaching the 10,000 kg milestone!