Domino's Effect - Part 2
By Bill Moore
We continued our dialog with Robert Kanode, who now works as a consultant for Oxygen World S.p.A., with headquarters in Padova (Padua),Italy, by talking about why Oxygen settled on using nickel zinc batteries for its newest scooters.
He responded by first talking about various battery chemistries. He ignored lead acid, essentially because it doesn't offer the energy density available in more advanced chemistries. While Oxygen does make use of it in some bike and scooter models, Kanode pointed out that it will not be offered as an option in the P and CLR models that will make their way into the North American marketplace.
He said that while nickel cadmium batteries are still available, they are gradually being phased out due to their toxic properties. This leaves nickel zinc at the low end of the cost/performance ladder, followed by nickel metal hydride, then lithium and finally lithium polymer.
"Nickel metal hydride and the lithiums were all developed for low drain applications such as cell phones, such as computers," he stated. "They are now trying to penetrate this high drain arena, which has been dominated by lead acid. Most people don't understand that seventy percent of the battery world is dominated by high drain applications, and by lead acid.
"So, as you walk up this chain, just to give you one example, nickel zinc will cost approximately double what lead acid will. But then if you step to nickel metal hydride, you're looking at a factor of three to four times nickel zinc. Within that sector, just looking at material cost, [nickel zinc] is very attractive."
Kanode noted that nickel zinc is forty per cent lighter and offers forty percent greater energy density than lead acid. It also has a longer life cycle than convention lead batteries, which are not really designed to be deep discharged; instead they are more suitable at starter batteries. In contrast, nickel zinc can be deep discharged, or "abused" as Kanode put it.
The more advanced chemistries like nickel metal hydride (NiMH) and lithium require a more sophisticated battery management system to avoid damaging the cells during charge and discharge.
"From a material cost standpoint, nickel zinc occupies a very wide area between the cost and performance deficiencies of lead acid and the improved performance of nickel metal hydride, but at dramatically higher cost," he stated.
Will lithium batteries eventually dominate the traction battery market? Kanode doesn't think so. He sees fuel cells being commercialized to the point they become the preferred source of affordable electric traction power. He also sees a widening market for NiMH in the EV world, as well as other firms besides Evercel introducing nickel zinc batteries in the near future.
"As those two chemistries continue to mature, I think you will also see the fuel cell mature to a point that it can begin to deliver on the promise of longer range, but more importantly, the ability to refuel." He added that most people don't realize that the fuel cell is a type of battery, one that can be continually refueled instead of recharged.
It should be noted, however, that compared to a secondary battery, fuel cells perform relatively poorly in terms of overall energy efficiency. While you can typically recapture more than ninety percent of the electrical energy you put into a rechargeable battery, that same amount of electricity, when used to electrolyze water into hydrogen and oxygen, returns only about 30-40 percent of the input energy.
What fuel cells do offer is the ability to be refueled in far less time than it takes to recharge a battery, in just minutes instead of hours. But as Kanode points out, they still have to improve their reliability and get the cost of their fuel down, while expanding its distribution.
"Reliability, durability and long life are still an issue," he stated.
Back when EV World interviewed Raffaello Locatelli in late 2002, the company wasn't taking an serious interest in fuel cells. Kanode commented, however, that since then there as been noticeable progress to develop practical fuel cells for two-wheelers. Palcan in Canada is working on such an application and Vectrix has exhibited a small direct methanol fuel cell for their forthcoming electric motorcycle. As currently envisioned, it will act like a small APU that recharges the battery while the vehicle sits rather than provide electromotive power.
Environmental Solutions Won't Sell
While Oxygen's battery electric motor scooter is a breath of fresh air because it generates no tailpipe emissions, Kanode is of the firm opinion that you can't sell consumers products because of their environmental benefits.
"It has to be economical. People will not buy an environmental solution at any cost," he stated. One might argue that environmental solutions like the defunct-EV1 or the highly popular Toyota Prius don't support that view, but there is probably some truth to his view.
Next, I asked him who he saw as Oxygen's biggest competitors.
"I think our direct competitor is [Taiwan-based electric scooter maker] EVT. We have some advantages over EVT. First of all, Oxygen is an original electric motorscooter. It always has been. It's been designed from the ground up," he replied. He noted that for one thing the battery pack is mounted low between the driver's feet. "It has excellent stability and it goes on from there."
Kanode commented that Oxygen's current product lineup is now very mature, having continued to progress since its original rollout. The early shortcomings of the product have been engineered out. This includes introduction of a next generation scooter with a larger chassis that is well suited for both consumer and commercial applications like law enforcement and delivery services. He annouced that the CLR model would very soon be available with buddy seat, making it a comfortable two passenger vehicle.
During a subsequent telephone conversation, he drew my attention to the fact that Oxygen is working very closely with the prestigeous New York design firm, the Springtime USA, which not only helped the company refine the design of the CLR scooter for Domino's Pizza but also is working on some exciting new projects, which Oxygen will be announcing at a later date.
Kanode sees Oxygen scooters fitting between the higher-speed Vectrix and the walking-speed Segway Transporter. He considers all three " professional grade? products that offer a complementary spectrum of mobility solutions.
"Put the three of us together, Oxygen, Segway and Vectrix and we will bring to the market not just one product attempting to enter and create a market, but a group of products that have different functions [that] have the same performance and serious reliability. And I believe taken together these three companies and family of products will expand this market faster."
The EVing of the Police
Kanode sees vehicles like the Oxygen P as an important tool in law enforcement, especially for departments who want added mobility but either can't afford new patrol cars or where a patrol car simply isn't appropriate to the needs of the enforcement mission. This is particularly true for policing out-of-door events and venues.
"Something other than a patrol car will work better, and that's the origins of the pedal police bike."
Oxygen's consultant noted that police department administrators are concerned about cost issues first and functionality second. This causes them to begin to evaluate what are their mission needs and how could an electric motor scooter fit that profile. Obviously, Kanode points out, a vehicle like the Oxygen P isn't going to catch speeding automobiles. But such a vehicle can be ideal for patrol functions in city parks, traffic endorcement in congested downtown urban areas, and policing of outdoor events.
Somewhat like using electric industry forklifts, a police department or precinct would have one scooter on patrol and one on standby being recharged. However, Kanode noted that an Oxygen P can be brought up to a useable charge level in as little as one hour's time. He also explained that since the scooter is electric, its motor isn't running while the vehicle is stopped. And because the charger is built into the scooter, there are plenty of locations to do "opportunity" charging. Recently Temple University campus security took a look at the Oxygen P and noted that every light pole on campus has an electic outlet built into it. An camput security officer could park his scooter while doing dorm and building patrol and let it recharge.
Finally, I asked Kanode why he choose to remain in the EV world, given his background in the computer and manufacturing business. He reply was intriguing. He stated that EV products have progressed now to the point that consumers and fleet operators like Dominos or police departments don't have to trade performance for being environmentally responsible. EV products have come a long way over the last decade and are beginning to compete with their fossil fuel cousins. They are now cost and performance competitive.
"I believe this market will expand and that is a large part of why it caught my interest," he said. He also sees the infrastructure to support EVs, and he includes fuel cells here, as beginning, in his words, "to gain traction."
"There is still no distribution system for hydrogen, but it is being more than just talked about now," he continued. "It is an industry that encompasses many forms of technology; and it is an industry that now has something attractive, and the challenge, of course, for all of us is to create an environment where people can consider the product."
Speaking of considering the product, Kanode and Oxygen can be reached at Oxygen World's web site or toll-free in North America at 1 866 699-9753.