Archive for category CO2 and Scooters

Fast-charge batteries? Good news, though don’t hold your breath… yet

The world’s press got very excited last week by a letter published in ‘Nature’ magazine by two researchers from MIT. They have been looking into enhancing lithium iron phosphate electrodes in order to improve charging times for batteries, and talk about the potential for Li-ion batteries (used in mobile phones, but also in the Tesla electric supercar) that could charge fully in seconds.

Clearly this would be good for mobile phone and laptop users, but just imagine what it would do for electric cars, where probably the biggest barrier to entry apart from how long they last is how long it takes to charge their batteries. Theoretically, our MIT heroes suggest, and the media emphasises, this could mean electric cars that are chargeable in under 10 minutes.

This truly would be an amazing development, although a quick surf around the more intelligent parts of the blogosphere suggests that things aren’t as simple as all that: fast charge batteries may not be capable of providing the same level of power, and the fast-charge process itself could require far more power than today’s typical batter-charge process. And anyway, this is a discovery in its early days…

Still, it does make you think - well, it makes me think at any rate. If I go back to the piece I wrote on Lord Stern’s analysis of what green technologies we should be investing in right now, he pushed the development of efficient batteries right down the scale. I said I didn’t agree then, and I repeat it now. Whilst I fully realise that batteries need to get their power from somewhere, I still think that electric power needs to play a major role in transport before we manage to develop other more efficient, safe solutions such as hydrogen power and maybe one day fusion on an industrial basis.

Electric power already delivers, if you work within its limitations. The Tesla will travel up to 220 miles between charges, and at high speeds, but its hugely expensive. Smaller electric cars such as the Nice Mega City are far more affordable, but with a typical range of 60 miles at 40 mph and only 2 seats. The Vectrix scooter will travel over 60 miles at an average of 40 mph with a 2 hour charge time. Other day to day cars and scooters are arriving on the market that will travel up to 100 miles per charge, even if at limited speeds. As a commuter solution, electric vehicles already work, but they could take far more of the transport market if the challenges of range, power and charge time were improved still further.

To me, the development of fast-charge batteries is one crucial step for electric vehicles, as it takes the pressure off the need for greater range - although this remains important. Also, if you think laterally, it brings into play other potential solutions. If a battery can be charged easier and faster, couldn’t it be charged by green energy in this way? Surely a fast-charge battery would be ideal for a hybrid car, enabling it to take even more weight off the petrol side of the bargain?

So I at least am going to watch this space closely, whilst I continue to save up for my Vectrix, or whatever is the best solution by the time I hit my budget target. I’m convinced that this is the future (or one of the futures) of private and public transport.

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Electric Scooter test drive: E-max 110s from Baroni-EV

Following on from my recent article on electric scooters, and specifically the Vectrix, I headed off today to The Electric Transport Shop in Camden to see what I could do about a taking a test drive. Unfortunately, I realised when I got there that I need to take the CBT again, so couldn’t yet test a Vectrix. I could, however, follow up on my promise to Sam Clarke of Baroni EV and test drive their new electric scooter, the E-max 110s.

First a few stats on the E-max (taken from their blurb):

  • Max speed: 30 mph (limited so it’s classed as a scooter)
  • Range at 30 mph: 50-62 miles
  • Power: 2.5 (4.5 with boost)
  • Battery: Silicone lead acid
  • Charging time: 5 hours for full charge

The bike has a modern and racy design, and pretty much looks like a typical 50cc scooter. It’s comfortable to sit on and well balanced - certainly lighter than my old Vespa too. It comes with a special charger that you plug in under the seat - slightly less practical than the Vectrix which just has a cable that plugs in directly.

Dials are very simple - enough information, and not too much to go wrong. There’s a standard analogue speedometer in kmh and mph, although it did take me a moment to work out which was which as the kmh is more prominent - fortunately not a bad error to make, though, as at worst you will be going slower than you think! A lcd screen then shows you level of charge and mileage. Other leds indicate if lights are on or if indicators are being used - I did find that the indicator light was very small, and even in a 15 minute test left them on twice - but then I was always forgetting with my Vespa, so nothing new there!

To turn on, you simply turn the key and wait for the welcome message on the lcd screen. I did note that there was no other safety mechanism, and so you can only tell that the bike is on by twisting the throttle. And then you’re off. Slowly but steadily I have to say, but then probably at the same speed as with a 50cc petrol scooter. It should also be mentioned that the model I tested was a little under-powered according to the guy in the shop, but either way, you’re not going to be burning BMWs off the lights like you can with a Vectrix!

You can get a little more power by holding down the ‘boost’ button just by the throttle. This gives you maybe 10 seconds of higher pull - the stats suggest that it just under doubles the power, before things settle down again, although you will use the batter quicker as well. Still, I’m not talking about a racing bike here; the only reason to buy an e-max would be commuting, and most of that - in London at any rate - is at under 30 miles an hour! And I have to say that once you get up to speed it’s a real pleasure. Yes, you have to get used to the lack of sound - it’s so quiet that when my mobile rang I almost fell off the bike - and this has to change your awareness when driving. At one point I was turning right and a lady was crossing the street I was turning into. She did not even look my way as she didn’t hear me coming.

The ride is also very comfortable. I went down a street with a whole squad of sleeping policemen and found I didn’t have to slow that much, and the bike seems to corner like any typical scooter of its size. The brakes were very efficient, and I felt totally in control at all times.

The e-max costs £2,800, and will be available in the UK around April / May time, so far less to invest than the £6,900 cost of a Vectrix, but does it compare favourably? On the positive side I would say that it’s a well-built and easy to use machine, with a very comfortable ride, and, if the production model really will do 60 plus miles at 30 mph on a full charge, then it will actually have a similar or even better range than the Vectrix, which promise 68 miles at 25mph. However the 5 hour charge time compared with 2-3 hours for the Vectrix could become annoying on very busy days.

The biggest killer for me, however, is the power, or lack thereof. Going up a pretty slight hill in Camden, with the wind in my face, I got stuck around 25 mph, and it took me a while just to get there. During my short test drive I did get honked at by one white van man who felt I was just too slow and obstructive for his liking as well. When you compare this with the 0-50 in 6.8 seconds Vectrix, you are on a different playing field, and to me, at any rate, acceleration and power is important to me, so important that, as soon as I have taken my CBT again, I will be back to test one and am likely invest the additional £4,000 odd in what is for me the current leader in this market.

Don’t get me wrong - I really like the e-max, and it is a great solution for people who really are happy to potter around at 30mph and don’t mind waiting a while to get there. What’s more you can go a long way between charges, and it certainly seems a well-built solid and good-looking machine. For me, however, I want an electric scooter that does what petrol ones do, or even more, and this one still doesn’t have the power I am looking for, especially for quite a bit more than you’d pay for a Vespa. Too much more to justify the important green label.

Next week I’m going to go back and test the retro-looking EVT 168, and, as soon as I get my CBT, the Vectrix review will follow.

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Vectrix - the future of urban travel?

I’ve just moved house and country over the Christmas period (thus the long silence), and find myself faced with a new commuting challenge: how to travel the 12 or so miles from West to Central London every day as efficiently as possible? That is, how to get to and from work in the least time possible, and as cheaply as possible, and how to get around London from meeting to meeting as quickly as possible, whilst generating a minimum of CO2 emissions?

I’ve moved from Paris, where the public transport system is (barring strikes), efficient and very cheap to use. I’m happy to say that I have moved to an area that is very well served by various forms of public transport, and I have lots of options for getting to work - British Rail + tube, tube only, bus + British Rail + tube - but my costs have shot up. Living around the same distance from central Paris, my monthly travel cost me - wait for it - 40 Euros! My new and shiny Oyster card costs me - wait for it - £109 a month (that’s 146 Euros on today’s exchange rate)! This punishing cost, combined with the fact that I have in only 2 weeks experienced closed tube stations and at least 40% late trains, has encouraged me to consider other options.

When I lived in London 4 years ago, I had a much-loved Vespa. It was very reliable, very cheap to run, and I could guarantee the time it took to make pretty much any journey in London, regardless of traffic. From an emissions point of view I can’t justify getting another Vespa, and I don’t want to wait until Piaggio brings out its first hybrid some time towards the end of this year. Instead, I’ve been researching what for me has to be the next big thing in urban transport - electric motorbikes.

Like electric cars, the concept of the electric motorbike has been around for a long time. For some reason - petrol lobby perhaps… just possibly… - they have never really got off the ground, and even today there are very few makes and models to choose from. Most of those that you can find are pretty pricey considering their typical performance - 6 or more hours of charging gives a maximum of 40 miles travel at around 25 miles an hour, and all this for the same price or more than a petrol scooter. There are also questions about reliability, and longevity. One player stands out from the rest, however: the Vectrix.

How’s this for performance: 0-50 mph in 6.8 seconds; top speed of 62 mph; up to 68 miles on a single charge of 3 hours (2 hours gives you 80%)? What’s more, it’s a good-looking machine, with excellent build quality: Brembo disc brakes and Marzocchi forks (for those who know about these things), lightweight aluminium frame to compensate for battery weight, and a proprietary and very clever regenerative braking system. And they reckon the battery will do 10 years if you travel 5,000 miles a year.

OK, so it’s expensive: £6,900 or thereabouts, but here’s a quick calculation: if my travel card stayed the same price (which it won’t), I will spend that much on travel in 5.2 years. We have to add the cost of recharging, which is around 20p a time, or a teeny £73 a year if you charge once a day, and of course there’s insurance, but no road tax, no congestion charge, and very little maintenance. And then there’s the convenience bit, the number of times you don’t have to take a taxi or be late for a meeting. To me, from a townie’s point of view, the Vectrix looks like a pretty good investment, and certainly better than an electric car which can’t get through the terrible London traffic.

It’s not perfect yet. You can’t travel long distances at speed, and it’s a lot to pay, but the Vectrix is state of the art in the world of electric scooters today. I’m going to try to test drive one, and I hope to write about that really soon, but, unless I’m really disappointed by the test drive, I think I’m going to buy one as soon as I can.

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First hybrid cars - now hybrid scooters

A quick one today…

Tomorrow is the start of the bi-annual Paris motorbike and cycle show, and this got me thinking about motorbikes and scooters and CO2 emissions.

I have already mentioned in a previous article that bikes and scooters are not always as environmentally friendly as one might expect, with some generating a similar amount of if not more CO2 for their relatively small size. I therefore had the idea of conducting another Reduce Your CO2 investigation, this time visiting the sites of the major motorcycle and scooter manufacturers to see if any of them had anything to say about CO2 emissions and the environmental impact of two-wheelers.

Needless to say, I found pretty much no mention at all of emissions, in some cases a pity, as some models of scooter, for instance the Vespa LX, are already low on emissions of CO2 and other pollutants. When emissions were mentioned, it was only in comparison with the different European standards (Euro 1 - 6), which is not at all informative for most people. In fact, I can see a whole new opportunity for those manufacturers who do have ‘green’ models, as riding a ‘green’ scooter to work is far better than taking any car, although still not as good as a bicycle….

I am therefore not going to bother with a run-down of the different sites as it really is a matter of the same result every time. I do however want to mention another discovery that got me totally sidetracked, and also made me very happy.

Until three years ago I had a Vespa - not the greenest of motorbikes, which is one of the reasons that we parted company, but the ideal mode of transport for permanently congested London town. I adored it, and have always loved the Vespa and Piaggio brands. I was therefore very pleased to discover that Piaggio are almost certainly going to be the first manufacturer to launch hybrid scooters, both under the Vespa and Piaggio labels. They have already tested a prototype engine both with the Vespa LX and also the 3 wheeled Piaggio MP3, and mpg results of 140+ have been reported. Apparently these bikes will be in production around the end of 2008 and, I reckon they will fly off the forecourts.

Ok, so a bicycle is better, and there are also various electric scooters that are already available, but this is still an exciting move by Piaggio. I look forward to being tempted to buy one!

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Scooters and motorbikes - high CO2 emissions for two wheels

According to a study published this month by the french agency ADEME (Agence de l’environnement et de la maitrise de l’énergie), comparing the emissions of 14 motorbikes and scooters with those of 3 cars, scooters, notably 125cc scooters, produce 10 times the co2 emissions of cars that reach today’s approved standards (Euro 4).

The test was run on a commuter route into central Paris, with all vehicules observing speed restrictions. The two-wheelers, all reaching today’s approved standards (Euro 3), of course completed the route in half the time. The bad news, however, is that the scooters produced 10 times the co2 emissions, and the more powerful motorbikes 2 to 3 times the average emissions for cars today.

The state of traffic today in many city centres, and anti-pollution measures such as the London congestion charge have led to a huge increase in the purchase of two wheelers, and above all scooters. Whilst this may mean we get to work quicker, this should not be seen as a way to ease our green conscience - smaller motors do not necessarily mean less pollution.

The sooner advances are made in the development of reliable electric scooters (already available, but still needing improvement) and other green technologies for two-wheelers, the better for all of us.

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