Jul 152011

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge when it comes to developing green cars is the energy source. After all, we now have more than 100 years of practice when it comes to engineering and designing parts of cars like the body, safety structures and technologies, suspensions, wheels, tyres, interiors and materials.

However, when it comes to figuring out how to pack plenty of power into the eco-cars of the future, then we have a considerable amount of head scratching to perform. You see, the lowly litre of petrol, as foul-smelling, expensive and unsustainable as it may be, packs a huge amount of punch.

No easily available fuel source that we can use in internal combustion engines carries such a high specific energy level. A litre of diesel, LPG, hydrogen or cooking oil does not even come close to offering the energy output we can get from burning the same amount of gasoline.

Renault Twizy - All Electric Car from around £6,000

Renault Twizy - All Electric Car from around £6,000

Obviously that stinks. That’s why we’re talking about eco-cars after all. We need to find ways to propel cars, trucks and buses that don’t involve poisoning the environment or risking empty fuel stations in 50 years.

Enter the lowly battery. It’s been around for longer than the car but it’s still a relatively heavy, hard-to-engineer and expensive item and unfortunately, it doesn’t let us drive for too long.

The best modern mass-produced all-electric cars are still struggling to manage more than 100 miles on a single charge and some fall short of that figure by as much as 40 miles. As a result, plenty of companies – from component and technology developers to the famous automobile brands themselves – are racing to come up with new, fancier and most importantly, more powerful, battery technologies.

Anything that prompts further development of battery technology, even if it’s not focused on transport, is likely to help us reach the hallowed day of the future when we can jump in our cars, drive for two days and then plug them in for 15 minutes for a full charge.

Japanese electronics firm Panasonic is already famous in many parts of the world for its production of consumer electronics and white goods. In some markets, it also sells batteries.

The company has now announced that it is establishing a fuel-cell development centre in Europe. Called the Panasonic Fuel Cell Development Office and located in the Germany city of Langen, the facility will focus primarily on developing fuel cells for use in the homes of European customers.

Though the fuel cells Panasonic is working on at this unit of its European R&D centre will be used to power homes, any advances made in the residential technology offers the chance to give electric cars a boost, too. Meanwhile, another Japanese company is working on a different area of sustainable electricity generation that could help us with our driving needs.

The Japanese city of Yokohama is presently home to a bunch of solar-power charging stations produced by a joint-venture company created by Sumitomo and Nissan. The firm, 4R Energy Corporation, has developed electric-car charging stations that produce power from the sun and store it in lithium-ion battery packs.

The power units combine solar cells to capture the sun’s energy with high-capacity battery packs using lithium-ion cells. The company is currently testing seven of the charging stations around Nissan’s headquarters.

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