MIT Scientists Say EVs May Still Need an Internal Combustion Engine

A new report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says that EVs are ready to be the cars of tomorrow, but only with the help of yesterday’s engines.

The report, which uses surveys about consumer travel and GPS data to map out the potential spread of EV use, shows that EVs are capable of handling drivers’ needs nearly nine times out of 10, while also showing that today’s grid is ready to handle EVs on a widespread basis.

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“We find that the energy of 87 percent of vehicle-days could be met by an existing, affordable electric vehicle,” the report said. It was published Monday in Nature. “This percentage is remarkably similar across diverse cities.”

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Report author Jessika Trancik said that number still isn’t high enough, though.

“That number is very high, but to get people to actually buy cars, people need to know that it will meet their needs on all days,” she said, according to the Guardian. “Nobody wants to be waiting by the side of the road.”

The scientists proposed two solutions. One is an app that could predict when a driver would need to use an internal-combustion vehicle based on factors like planned travel distance and speed, and predicted weather.

Solution number two is to have gas-powered cars available, perhaps through a car-sharing company.

“We still need a little bit of business model innovation, with community car sharing, or car sharing [businesses] where you could maybe order one the night before on that small number of very high-energy days,” Trancik said.

As always, range remains a problem with EVs. But the MIT team thinks their solutions could change that.

“The picture I have is of a lot of people owning electric cars but then being able to very conveniently get an internal-combustion engine vehicle to take that long road trip,” Trancik said. “That needs to be as easy as getting an Uber.”

The MIT researchers are arguing that EV use needs to be more widespread sooner rather than later because of the environmental damage being wrought by fossil fuels.

“Transportation accounts for 28 percent of U.S. energy use and 34 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the majority coming from light-duty vehicles making personal trips – people commuting to work, driving to social events, and performing errands in cars and light trucks,” the report said.

In MIT’s view, infrastructure won’t need major alterations.

“We looked at a case where the grid wouldn’t have to change very much,” Trancik said.

“Once-daily charging at home overnight when many power plants sit idle would be a less invasive charging option for vehicles,” Trancik said. “Given that we have to look out for the electrical grid, and the fact that there are limited charging stations today, and we don’t know how rapidly charging infrastructures will be expanded, we wanted to look at a non-invasive option, which meant once-daily charging. And there are opportunities in many workplaces, such as solar panels.”

MIT’s proposed app would allow drivers to see how much their battery might be drained based on conditions on any given day.

“[You’d see that] you have a 10 percent probability of exceeding, and maybe you’re not comfortable with that risk, and you’d say: ‘Oh, let me order a shared internal combustion engine vehicle and take that car today.’ But most of the time I’m going to be driving in my electric car where the acoustics are really great and I know I’m not contributing any emissions,” Trancik said.

The Guardian