Professor Van Mierlo: 'EV and renewable energy: a perfect marriage'
How far along are we in the transition to electric vehicles in our country? Not as far as some would like or farther than most people think?
Prof. Van Mierlo: ‘Belgium is a typical trend follower, not a trendsetter. Subsidies have so far not brought much change to the country. The focus has now mainly turned to the company car market to give added stimulus to making the fleet more eco-friendly. People are not really aware of the challenge that we face. If our goal is to be fully electric by 2050 and if a car has an average lifespan of 15 years, then 100% of newly registered vehicles need to be electric from 2035. That is just around the corner!
A study by Bloomberg, on the other hand, shows that an electric car will be cheaper than a petrol or diesel car from 2025. The running cost of an electric car is already much lower today than other cars because of lower maintenance costs and because it runs on electricity, for example. So you need to look at the TCO, or total cost of ownership, per kilometre, including tax and fiscal incentives. And, as I mentioned, electric cars will also be cheaper from 2025.
The question is: should we simply wait to see what happens or should we take the lead? E-mobility is more than just a vehicle on wheels. There is a whole service sector behind it, as well as benefits for our economy.’
E-mobility is more than just a vehicle on wheels. There is a whole service sector behind it, as well as benefits for our economy.
What is your view of the reuse and second life for discarded batteries?
‘The manufacturer remains responsible for the battery, including in a second “life”. It is understandable that this is sometimes an obstacle to second-life applications. But legal solutions can be found. The prices of raw materials also fluctuate. I presume that recyclers are not keen on spending a couple “lifetimes” waiting until they can recover certain types of raw materials. This is just an assumption of course.
Technically speaking, we are seeing a very interesting phenomenon. Even if the battery capacity has fallen to 80 or 70%, it can still be used perfectly well for storing energy. That solution is cheaper than a power wall, for example. But it is also quite a challenge to the manufacturers: to create a second life-friendly battery design that facilitates dismantling and monitoring via a BMS (Battery Management System) and the diagnosis.’
Perennial critics tend to object that we will have too little electricity for all those electric cars...
‘Nothing could be further from the truth. We will need an estimated 20% more energy, at most. Naturally this will be the case thanks to better, lighter batteries that use less electricity. At a local level, a fantastic marriage is possible between EVs and renewable solar and wind energy. Sometimes energy production is greater than the demand, and sometimes demand is greater.
With smart “vehicle to grid” and “vehicle to home” installations, we can pump much more clean energy into the system. Without having to build natural gas plants. Remember that in a fully charged car battery, around 90% energy is left over in the evenings (after 40 km). You can do something with that. Provided a legal framework, even a profit model can be built around it.’
Prof. Dr. Ir. Joeri Van Mierlo:
- Teaches at the VUB, the university that back in the early ‘70s had already pioneered research in electromobility.
- Chair of MOBI (Mobility, Logistics and Automotive Technology Research Centre) and an expert in the area of electric and hybrid vehicles. Battery technology, too, holds few secrets for him.
- Moreover, he is (among other things) the vice-chairman of AVERE (the European association) and of its Belgian section