BMW Group Innovation Days 2010 - Why electromobility?

02.07.2010: Climate change and global warming. Climate change and the global warming that comes with it are facts. The decade from 2000 to 2009 was certainly the warmest ever recorded, yet the worldwide efforts to counteract this are greater than ever too. A furth

Climate change and global warming.

Climate change and the global warming that comes with it are facts. The decade from 2000 to 2009 was certainly the warmest ever recorded, yet the worldwide efforts to counteract this are greater than ever too. A further rise in the average temperature would bring with it a multitude of far-reaching consequences, including the faster melting of glaciers, a rise in sea level, changing precipitation patterns and greater extremes in weather.

One cause of the steadily rising average temperature lies in the intensification of the natural greenhouse effect due to human action. The burning of fossil fuels, in particular, creates carbon dioxide gas (CO2), which is harmful to the climate and further exacerbates the greenhouse effect, thus accelerating global warming.

In order to slow down climate change and possibly even halt it, the most important challenge is therefore to reduce CO2 emissions significantly and quickly. Possible ways of doing this include a switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, as well as increasing the efficiency of all energy consumption.

Growing scarcity of resources.

In addition to the changes in our climate, the entire planet is affected most of all by the looming shortage of resources. Key raw materials such as petroleum and precious metals are not in unlimited supply, yet day-to-day demand is rising. One of the causes of dwindling resources lies in the increasing industrialisation of the emerging nations. But population growth, rising living standards and the irresponsible use of raw materials are also contributing to this trend. The upshot: prices are rising in almost every commodity sector.

 In the foreseeable future – the exact point in time is disputed – the maximum global limit of oil extraction (“peak oil”) will be reached. From that point onward the gulf between supply and demand will grow ever wider and it will not be possible to meet all needs. That is why the quest for alternatives to oil is already proceeding at full throttle.

Sustainability as a social trend.

Because of the dramatic escalation of climatic developments and dwindling resources, mankind is becoming ever more aware of its role in the ecological system. Many people have already got the message: they see themselves as part of a universal system and want to behave in a considered and responsible way – especially with future generations in mind – by adopting a sustainable lifestyle. However, “sustainable” means more than just “environmentally friendly”.

As generally understood, the term “sustainability” has three aspects: an environmental, an economic and a social one. Environmental sustainability describes the goal of preserving nature and the environment for future generations, that is to say, using resources responsibly. Economic sustainability requires economic behaviour that offers a robust and lasting foundation for commerce, employment and prosperity.

Social sustainability means the development of society to ensure the involvement of every member of a community. As one of the first companies to do so, the BMW Group has already signed up for sustainability in all its three aspects with a view to creating added value for the company, for the environment and for society.

The fact that in business, too, sustainability is perceived as ever more important is reflected in tools like the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Such share indices not only evaluate companies according to economic criteria, but also take account of ecological and social aspects. In this context the BMW Group has been the leader in its sector for the past five years.

Increasing urbanisation – cities require new solutions for mobility.

A further observable trend is increasing urbanisation. More and more people are moving from the country to the city, villages are evolving into towns, the boundaries between town and country are breaking down and large conurbations are being created. Since 2007, more than half the world’s population has come to live in towns.
According to UN forecasts, the proportion of the world population living in towns and cities will rise to 60% by 2030, and in 2050 it will reach 70%. Even today there are more than 130 cities throughout the world with over 3 million inhabitants.

One particular side effect of urbanisation is the emergence of so-called “megacities”. Depending on the definition, the term “megacity” or “mega-urban area” is used to describe cities with at least 8 million inhabitants. Worldwide there are now more than 30 of these vast agglomerations, with a total population of some 280 million.

While these cities are growing ever faster, so also are challenges such as overcrowding and pollution. Yet not all megacities are alike: Shanghai, London, Los Angeles and Tokyo are certainly megacities by definition, but they differ greatly in their transport infrastructure as well as in their citizens’ demands for personal mobility. The influence of growth on the urban infrastructure varies from city to city.

Legislation reflects the changing environment.

The governments of various countries are also taking action as a consequence of climate change and declining resources. They are attempting to combat rising CO2 emissions with the introduction of certification for zero-emission vehicles, restrictions on road access and ambitious fleet legislation.

The USA, Europe, China and Japan, for example, are calling for a reduction in total vehicle emissions of up to 30% by 2020 as compared with 2008.

The response of the BMW Group.

Mobility of the future requires a new balance between global requirements and individual needs. What is needed are new solutions for personal mobility in urban areas. They should be recognisably sustainable and, as far as possible, unencumbered by restrictions, while at the same time offering the possibility of differentiation.

In all this, the reduction of fuel consumption and emissions will become increasingly important. The BMW Group has recognised these needs and has set itself the goal of making zero-emission mobility possible. With that in mind, the BMW Group is developing a vehicle that opens up new possibilities in this area and can adapt to evolving customer needs.

“In the future there will still be a need for individual mobility. Customers will always want to decide for themselves when, where and how they will travel. But they will want to do this in the most environmentally friendly way possible. And the desire to be different from others will still be there – for instance, a wish to stand out from the crowd by owning premium products.” (Peter Ratz)

E-mobility – sustainable solution and stable trend.

The BMW Group sees electromobility as one possible way of meeting future demand for personal mobility. Here, one great advantage lies in zero local emissions. Since e-mobility involves electric current rather than fuel being converted into propulsion, no climate-harming gases are created during the journey.

 If the energy to drive the vehicle is obtained from a renewable source, e.g. from wind or water power, e-mobility is climate-neutral and conserves natural resources, since even in generating the energy needed, no CO2 reaches the environment.

On the one hand, electric vehicles contribute in this way to reducing emissions and improving the quality of life in big cities. On the other hand, e-mobility thus meets the growing customer need to act in a holistic, ecologically sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.

“Electromobility allows people to be individually mobile without polluting the environment with harmful emissions.” (Martin Arlt)

Power, torque and comfort – joy is e-mobility.

Yet electromobility is not just emission-free, it also offers a unique and exciting driving experience. It is not just that electric vehicles move almost noiselessly. In EVs, the entire torque of the electric motor is available from a standing start, which makes the car extremely agile and provides a high fun factor. Moreover, an EV accelerates right up to maximum speed without interruption.

“All our test customers assure us that electromobility is simply great fun.” (Ulrich Kranz)

There is another unusual feature about driving with an electric engine. If you take your foot off the throttle, the car does not simply run on, but actively decelerates. The throttle pedal thus becomes a “driving pedal” and, especially at a moderate and slightly varying speed, makes for an extremely comfortable drive.

This means that, in town traffic, some 75% of all deceleration manoeuvres can be handled without activating the brake pedal. The deceleration torque is also exploited as a means of generating energy, in a process called recuperation. As soon as the driver takes his foot off the throttle, the electric motor becomes a generator, the kinetic energy being converted into current and fed back into the vehicle’s battery. In this way as much as 20% of the energy consumed can be recycled.

What are the limits of e-mobility?

Electromobility is just at the beginning of its development, and consequently further innovation work still needs to be done in certain areas. The greatest challenge is clearly the development of the energy storage system. Due to its specific properties with regard to energy density and weight, this is currently the limiting factor of e-mobility.

Energy density and weight of the energy storage system.

Up to now a battery has only been able to store a limited amount of energy as the energy density of the cell complex is comparatively low. Currently the energy storage device in an electric vehicle contains approximately the energy equivalent of two to three litres of fuel. However, the high efficiency of an electric motor partly compensates for this.

For while a combustion engine can convert a maximum of 40% of the energy in the fuel, the electric motor uses as much as 96% of the available energy. Thus an electric motor can take you significantly further on less energy. Admittedly, the range of an electric vehicle today is still not comparable with that of a combustion engine; but the development of mobile energy storage systems for vehicles is only just beginning, which makes it likely that significantly expanded research efforts over the next few years will lead to further leaps in technology.

In future, then, energy storage devices may not only become significantly cheaper, but also lighter and more compact, while at the same time delivering higher energy density.

Along with energy density, the weight of the energy storage component is the second factor that restricts range. In principle it is true that the lighter the vehicle, the greater the range for a given battery capacity. However, due to the low energy density, a battery to drive a road vehicle is approximately the size of a large suitcase as well as being very heavy. Although the range can be increased through higher battery capacity, that makes the battery even heavier, which would cancel out part of the extra range thus gained.

The task, therefore, is to find the optimum relationship between the weight and thus the capacity of the energy storage system, and to further increase the range through such measures as systematic lightweight construction and intelligent strategies for battery charging and usage. Work is also being targeted at significantly slashing the recharging time through rapid charging. At the moment several hours, and thus idle time, are still needed to fully charge an EV.

“We are very aware of the limits of electromobility, but that doesn’t prevent us from pushing the envelope step by step, day by day.” (Martin Arlt)

The development engineers in the BMW Group have recognised the areas in electromobility that remain to be improved and are working intensively on optimal, customer-friendly solutions. In this context the BMW Group is running extensive pilot projects in Germany, the United Kingdom and the USA in order to obtain valuable information about the use and operation of e-vehicles and to make them even better suited to customer needs. As the first results of the MINI E trials show, the BMW Group is on the right track.

The BMW Group is pursuing a holistic, future-proof approac

Electromobility is an integral component of EfficientDynamics. With this strategy, the BMW Group has for some time now been very successful in reducing consumption and emissions through new generations of highly efficient engines, aerodynamic measures, the use of innovative lightweight construction and intelligent energy management in the vehicle – while at the same time achieving better performance.

That is what made it possible, between 1995 and 2009, to reduce the CO2 emissions of the entire BMW vehicle fleet by almost one third. Even today, through EfficientDynamics, the BMW Group is achieving additional consumption benefits through further electrification of the powertrain, right up to hybridisation. Taking the long view, EfficientDynamics means the transition to emission-free mobility – through the use of battery power as well as renewably generated hydrogen.

“In the long term, mobility will be based on forms of energy derived exclusively from renewable sources. Resources are too valuable to be squandered.” (Peter Ratz)

Sustainability in the BMW Group.

Considering the product in isolation, however, is not enough for the BMW Group. Having affirmed its leadership claim with EfficentDynamics, the BMW Group intends to do the same in terms of sustainability across the entire value creation chain. That is why the BMW Group’s sustainability strategy not only commits the company to further development of efficient drivetrain technologies and to the implementation of concepts for sustainable mobility in conurbations.

In addition to that, under the Clean Production philosophy, consumption of resources and pressure on the environment must continue to be reduced in the production process as well. And as part of society, the company is committed to meeting social challenges – with the aim of actively collaborating in shaping the context for independent action inside and outside the company.

“Throughout the company we are convinced that, in future, premium mobility in particular will be defined to a far greater extent than before by its sustainability credentials. People who think ‘premium’ will in future naturally also mean sustainability.” (Martin Arlt)

BMW is systematically aligning its processes and structures to electromobility.

In order to pass on the company DNA to electric vehicles as well, the BMW Group places great value on the development and design of the defining attributes of an electric vehicle. When it comes to the energy storage system the development engineers are applying effective storage management, intelligent operating strategies and optimal temperature control in their attempt to extract the maximum performance and range from the cells.

 The highly efficient drivetrain is also an in-house development, as the BMW Group wants to lay claim to building the best automotive power units in the future as well, units which set themselves apart from the competition through efficiency and power delivery – even when current instead of fuel is converted into motion.

“The BMW Group embodies engine building competence in its name. And that will remain so in the future.” (Patrick Müller)

In other areas the BMW Group is developing its know-how with experienced partners. Whether it is with SB LiMotive in the field of power cell development or with SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers (SGL Group) in the development and production of carbon fibres and carbon fibre sheets, the engineers are jointly honing valuable skills with which to drive forward personal mobility in the future too.

For example, as part of the joint venture with SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers (SGL Group), an ultra-modern, renewably powered carbon fibre production plant is being built at Moses Lake, USA, so that the material can be manufactured under the best possible conditions and processed economically.

The Megacity Vehicle – sustainable mobility in urban surroundings.

The Megacity Vehicle (MCV) demonstrates one way in which the BMW Group envisages future mobility in urban surroundings. As an example of “purpose design”, the MCV is systematically designed with the needs and demands of e-mobility in mind. For as shown by the earlier development work on the MINI E and BMW ActiveE concept vehicle, the adaptation of a vehicle originally designed to be driven by a combustion engine (conversion vehicle) does not exploit the full potential of electric mobility.

 That is why the MCV integrates the newly developed drive components into a completely new vehicle architecture. The systematic application of lightweight construction and innovative use of CFRP (carbon fibre-reinforced plastics) complete the elaborately worked-out vehicle concept.

BMW took its first steps in the direction of electric drive as early as 1969 with an electrified BMW 1602. Over the last 40 years, with various prototypes and test set-ups, the BMW Group has been assembling valuable expertise on this alternative drive system and has repeatedly examined potential opportunities for putting it into practice. One such trial was with the BMW E1, an experimental vehicle which, as early as 1991, displayed many of the features of modern electric vehicles and which was used to explore the benefits and disadvantages of this form of power in practical operation.

However, it was not until the advent of lithium-ion technology that real prospects of series development opened up, since this matched the requisite demands for cycle stability and load resistance and had already proved itself repeatedly in a variety of applications. The BMW Group acted swiftly and was able at an early stage to convert its know-how into a marketable product – the MINI E.

 This important milestone for the BMW Group in the development of e-mobility has already been on the road since mid-2009. And with more than 600 MINI E models, the BMW Group is today running one of the largest fleets of electric vehicles in customer hands. The first results of the trials clearly show that e-mobility is already fit for everyday use.

“The time is ripe for electric vehicles.” (Patrick Müller)

BMW thinks beyond the product.

Electromobility also opens up completely new possibilities around the vehicle itself. Various services relating to the recharging of the EV are conceivable. For example, the BMW Group is already collaborating with energy suppliers to facilitate rapid and flexible access to “green” electricity. Intelligent charge control methods and remotely operated recharging are further possible ways of making e-mobility even more customer-friendly. That is why the BMW Group and its partners are trialling so-called “smart charging”.

With this counter-cyclical recharging strategy the electric vehicle is only charged when overall demand for electricity is low or when renewable energy is available – for example overnight. To do this, the owner simply states the latest time by which the vehicle has to be recharged. Then, according to preference, the vehicle can be charged in a particularly environmentally friendly way or particularly fast. In the long term, ideas exist for making e-vehicles an element of energy supply and, for example, using them as storage buffers.

In future the BMW Group will encompass individual mobility in even wider terms. Since increasing urbanisation is progressively changing the ground rules for mobility, the BMW Group is also thinking about mobility services in which the intermodal links between different forms of transport play a key role.

- Tobias Hahn -


02.07.2010 / MaP

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