Petrol takes back seat to battery power

By Simon O'Rourke

Waikato University mechanical engineer Mike Duke says gas stations will be replaced by "battery exchange stations", as electric vehicles begin their slow, but inevitable, takeover of traditional petrol powered motorcars.

His prediction was made yesterday as Energy Minister David Parker attended the unveiling of the UltraCommuter electric car in Hamilton.

The car has been designed and built by engineering students at Waikato University over the past two years, and its official launch was yesterday.

Next month, the prototype will be raced in the 3000km Darwin to Adelaide World Solar Challenge, and will be entered in a non-fuel-powered class.

The car runs on one of three 150kg lithium battery packs, capable of taking the car up to 200km.

Speeds of between 120km/h and 170km/m can be reached.

Recharging each pack costs less than $5 of electricity, so the six-day journey is estimated to cost a grand total of $83.

Compare that to the same journey in a Holden VE Commodore, which would cost about $530 of gas (assuming 10.9 litres of petrol are used per 100km).

The university team aims to have the fastest and most energy efficient, purely battery-powered, car in the race.

Dr Duke said electric cars were bound to take over as the preferred mode of transport but was hesitant to predict when.

Gas stations would become a thing of the past, he said, and would be replaced by energy exchange stations.

"You won't have to get out of your car, it will be recognised and your credit card will be automatically debited," Dr Duke said.

"Your battery will be automatically taken out and replaced at a battery exchange station. The battery will power the car.

"It's all possible and achievable with technology today."

After the race the car, which has cost about $500,000 to develop, will be made road legal and used as a research tool for investigating the introduction of battery electric cars to New Zealand.

Funding has come from HybridAuto Australia and Page MacRae, a Mount Maunganui engineering firm.

Dr Duke said taking the car to market would take at least 18 months and cost a minimum of $10 million in investment for the production of between 100 and 2000 electric cars a year.

The UltraCommuter car is a long range two-seater electric vehicle.

Lithium battery packs, weighing 150kg, give it a range of up to 200km (but the distance can be doubled by using two battery packs at once).

Battery packs are plugged into a power source for recharging, using up about $5 of power.

The aluminium honeycomb chassis is one-third the weight of a typical car, and two engines are situated in the rear wheels.

The car will be raced from Darwin to Adelaide next month, a 3000km journey.

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