As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

Fueling your Car

Home-Grown Zero-Carbon Hydrogen Technology

CSIRO’s Toyota Mirai HFC vehicle (image from CSIRO)

There are three possibilities when it comes to finding an alternative to the standard fossil fuels used in the majority of vehicles on the road.  The first is a switch to biofuels (biodiesel, ethanol, etc.), the second is to go electric (the sexy new technology that’s mushrooming) and the third is hydrogen fuel cells or HFCs.

I discussed the basics of HFCs in my previous post.  If you can’t remember or if you can’t be bothered hopping over to have a look, one of the points I raised was that most of the hydrogen gas used to power HFCs comes from natural gas, with methane (from sewage and effluent) coming in as the more sustainable second possibility.  However, there’s another possible source of the hydrogen fuel that’s being worked on by our very own CSIRO researchers right here in Australia: ammonia.

Most of us are familiar with ammonia as the thing that makes floor cleaners (a) really cut through grease and (b) smell horrible.  However, ammonia is also produced as a waste product by living cells and in humans, it quickly turns into urea and is excreted as urine.  In fact, some of the pong associated with old-school long-drop dunnies comes from the urea in urine breaking back down into ammonia again (the rest of the smell comes from methane and some sulphur-based compounds, depending on what you’ve been eating).

Ammonia is chemically rendered as NH3, which should tell you straight away that there are three nice little hydrogen atoms just waiting to be turned into hydrogen gas; the leftover nitrogen is also a gas –and that’s one of the most common elements in the atmosphere (it makes up three-quarters of the earth’s atmosphere, in fact).  Yes, ammonia in its pure form is a gas (the liquid stuff in household products is in the form of ammonium hydroxide or ammonia mixed with water).  The fun here from the perspective of HFC technology consists of splitting the ammonia gas up into nitrogen gas and hydrogen gas, and then separating the two.

And this is precisely what the ammonia-to-hydrogen team at CSIRO have been working on.  In August year, they made the big breakthrough by developing a membrane-based technology that will convert ammonia into hydrogen gas.  The hydrogen gas can then be used by vehicles powered by HFC technology.  The bit they’re all rubbing their hands with glee about is because up until now, one of the obstacles with getting HFC-powered motoring off the ground is that it’s hard to transport hydrogen gas from wherever it’s produced to the hydrogen equivalent of a bowser.  However, ammonia is a lot easier to get from A to B.  This means that with this home-grown technology, Australia will be able to export hydrogen (in the form of ammonia during transport) to the markets that want it.

Asia seems to be the hot spot for vehicles using HFC technology, with Toyota and Hyundai really getting behind the tech; European marques, on the other hand, seem to be concentrating on electric vehicles.  In fact, Japan is eyeing up hydrogen as a source of energy for generating power for homes as well.

The question has to be asked where they’re going to get all this ammonia from.  However, it’s possible to take nitrogen gas and water, then zap it with electrical current and turn it into ammonia – and it was an Australian researcher who came up with the tech to do this. It’s kind of like a fuel cell – which breaks down gas to produce electricity – but in reverse: using electricity to produce ammonia.  The new Australian technology is considered to be an improvement over the traditional method of producing ammonia (which is needed for making the fertilizer that grows the food you eat), which takes hydrogen gas from fossil fuels and reacts it, spitting out a good deal of CO2 in the process.  The new Aussie tech skips the bits involving carbon in any form, as it takes nitrogen from the atmosphere (N2) and water (H2O) and puts out NH3 and O2.  O2 is oxygen – what we breathe.

The idea is that in the future, they’ll set up a plant or two in the middle of the outback where there’s lots of solar and wind energy available for generating electricity, pump in some H2O and get ammonia for export AND use in hydrogen cars thanks to the new membrane tech out the other end with zero carbon emissions.  It could be asked where they’re going to get the water from in the middle of the Outback but I suppose that it’s not essential to use clean, fresh drinking water for the process, as it’s pretty easy to distil pure water out of wastewater.  In fact, one has the very happy vision of a process that takes sewage from cities, whips out the ammonia, urea and methane already in there (bonus!), distils out the water for making more ammonia and exporting the lot; any solids can probably also be used for fertilizer.

It’s going to take a little while for all the systems to get into place.  It’s still very early days for HFC vehicles but a start has been made and some of the hurdles have been overcome.  A few HFC vehicles have made it onto these shores.  The analysts say that it will probably take another decade or so until HFC cars become common on our roads but it’s likely to happen.  Look what happened with electric vehicles, after all.  Once they were really rare but now there’s charging points just about everywhere you look.

You can find more information here , here  and here .


Hydrogen Fuel Cells – The Basic Facts

One of the more exciting vehicles that’s scheduled to come to Australia at some unspecified date in 2019 is the Hyundai Nexo – one of the vehicles recently awarded the Best in Class for all-round safety by Euro NCAP.  This vehicle combines regular batteries with hydrogen fuel cell technology. Three vehicles made by major marques have been designed to run on HFCs: the aforementioned Hyundai Nexo, the Toyota  Mirai and the Honda  Clarity.

Toyota Mirai concept car

Hydrogen fuel cell technology is another option for overcoming our addiction to fossil fuels (the other two are biofuels and electricity).  But what is hydrogen fuel cell technology and how does it work?  Is it really that sustainable and/or environmentally friendly?  Isn’t hydrogen explosive, so will a car running on hydrogen fuel cell technology really be safe?

OK, let’s start with the basics: how does it work?

Diagram of a hydrogen fuel cell

A hydrogen fuel cell (let’s call it an HFC for short) is designed to generate electricity, so a vehicle that’s powered by HFC technology is technically an EV.  A chemical reaction takes place in the cell and this gets a current going, thanks to the delicate balance between positive and negative ions (all chemistry is, ultimately, to do with electricity). How is this different from a battery?  Well, a battery uses what’s stored inside it but an HFC needs a continual supply of fuel.  Think of a battery as being like a lake, whereas the HFC is a stream or a river.  The other thing that an HFC needs is something for the hydrogen fuel to react with as it passes through the cell itself, which consists of an anode, cathode and an electrolyte solution – and I don’t mean a fancy sports drink.  One of the things that hydrogen reacts best with and is readily found in the atmosphere is good old oxygen.

Naturally, there’s always a waste product produced from the reaction that generates the charge. This waste product is dihydrogen monoxide.  For those of you who haven’t heard of this, dihydrogen monoxide is a colourless, odourless compound that’s liquid at room temperature.  In gas form, dihydrogen monoxide is a well-known and very common greenhouse gas, and it’s quite corrosive to a number of metals (it’s a major component of acid rain).  It’s vital to the operation of nuclear-powered submarines and is widely used in industry as a solvent and coolant.  Although it has been used as a form of torture, it’s highly addictive to humans and is responsible for hundreds of human deaths globally every year.  Prolonged contact with dihydrogen monoxide in solid form causes severe tissue damage.  You can find more information about this potentially dangerous substance here*:

For the less alarmist of us, dihydrogen monoxide is, of course, H2O or good old water, like the stuff I’m sipping on right now on a hot summer day.  Yes – that’s the main waste product produced by HFCs, which is why these are a bit of a hot topic in the world of environmental motoring.

OK, so air goes in one bit of the HFC, hydrogen gas goes in the other, and water and electrical power come out of it.  The next question that one has to ask is where the hydrogen fuel comes from (this question always needs to be asked: what’s the source of the fossil fuel substitute?).  The cheapest source of hydrogen gas as used on HFCs is natural gas, which is, unfortunately, a fossil fuel.  So are some of the other sources of hydrogen gas.  However, you can get it out of methane, which is the simplest type of hydrocarbon.  Methane can be produced naturally by bacteria that live in the guts of certain animals, especially cows.  Not sure how you can catch the methane from burping and farting cows for use in making hydrogen gas for HFCs.  And, just in case you’re wondering, some humans (not all!) do produce methane when they fart.  It’s down to the particular breed of bacteria in the gut (archaea if you want to be picky – they’re known as methanogens).  They’re as common as muck – literally.  So yes, there’s potential for hydrogen gas to be produced from natural sources – including from sewage.  The other thing is that producing hydrogen gas from methane leaves carbon dioxide behind.  But this has way less effect as a greenhouse gas than methane, so that’s a plus.

If you’re currently feeling that HFCs might not be quite as environmentally friendly after all and we all ought to drive straight EVs, then I encourage you to do a thorough investigation of how the electricity used to charge EVs comes from. It’s not always that carbon-neutral either.  Heck, even a bicycle isn’t carbon-neutral because when you puff and pant more to push those pedals, you are breathing out more carbon dioxide than normal.  All in all, HFCs are pretty darn good.  The worst thing they chuck out as exhaust is water, and the hydrogen gas needed to power them can come from sustainable sources – very sustainable if you get it from animal manure and/or sewage, which also means that poop becomes a resource instead of a problem to get rid of.  They’re doing this in Japan – and they’ve also managed to get the carbon bits of the methane to become calcium carbonate, which sequesters carbon and has all sorts of fun uses from a dietary supplement through to agricultural lime.

Another plus about HFCs is that they are a lot more efficient than combustion engines.  A large chunk of the potential energy going in turns into the electrical energy that you want, which is then turned into kinetic (motion) energy by the motor so your car gets moving (or it turns into some other form, such as light energy for the headlights or sound energy for the stereo system).  Some comes out in the form of heat.  Combustion engines waste a lot of the potential energy in the form of heat (lots of it!) and noise (ditto).

The amount of electrical energy produced by a single HFC isn’t going to be very large, so inside any vehicle powered by hydrogen technology, there will be a stack of HFCs, which work together to produce the full amount of oomph you need. The fun part in designing a vehicle that runs on HFC technology involves ensuring that the stack has the oomph needed without being too heavy and working out where to put the tanks of hydrogen gas.  However, this isn’t too hard.

The other problem with manufacturing HFC vehicles is that the catalyst inside the cells is expensive – platinum is common.  This is probably one of the biggest barriers to the spread of the technology, along with the usual issue of nobody buying HFC vehicles because nobody’s got an easy place to get the gas from and nobody’s selling the gas because nobody’s buying HFC cars.  They had the same issue with plug-in EVs too, remember, and we all know how that’s changed.  However, last year, our very own CSIRO came up with some technology to get hydrogen fuel for HFC vehicles out of ammonia and they want to go crazy with this and use it all over the show.  This is exciting stuff and probably deserves a post of its very own, so I’ll tell you more about that another day.

I feel in the need for some 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine theine combined with dihydrogen monoxide in solution with β-D-galactopyranosyl-(1→4)-D-glucose and calcium phosphate, also known as a cup of coffee, so it’s time for me to stop and to wish you safe and happy driving – hopefully without too much methane inside the cabin of your car on long journeys!

*Some people in the world have far, far too much time on their hands.

Fossil Fuel, EVs or Bio Fuels?

Fossil Fuels

Is petroleum diesel still a fuel that is going to be around to power our cars in the future?  On the surface, it might look like the era of the diesel engine might be drawing to a close, especially when we hear that some manufacturers are pulling the pin on building new diesel engines.  The truth is that non-renewable resources, which include fossil fuels such as oil, coal, petroleum and natural gas, are all finite in their quantity available in nature for the future.  Diesel fuel is a petroleum product, and so is considered to be a finite non-renewable resource.  Certainly it would seem that petroleum-based diesel has a limited window of opportunity for powering motor vehicles around the globe.  But is this actually the case?

Added to the seemingly limited supply of our fossil fuels, we also hear that some car manufacturers are deciding to avoid building new diesel engines all together.  Volvo was one of the first to announce boldly that by 2019 there would be no more diesel powered Volvo cars and SUVs in their line-up.  Volkswagen Group’s diesel emissions cheating scandal has meant that they have decided to stop selling diesel models, as well.  Volkswagen Group is pretty big when you consider that VW, Audi and Porsche are all under the same banner.

Because our global economy relies on so many diesel engines for performing many mechanical tasks we can’t drive the world’s diesel fleet over the cliff and forget about them just yet.  The reality is that even America’s economy would grind to a halt immediately if they decided to go without diesel power overnight.  Diesel engines are used in so many commercial applications – trucking, construction, shipping, farming, buses and much, much more.  Diesel motors are still far more energy frugal (assuming proper and legal emissions treatment is followed) compared with gasoline equivalents.  For any sort of heavy-duty transportation work or for towing purposes, the low-end torque of a diesel engine simply cannot be matched by gasoline motors which have to be worked much harder for the same amount of work – and therefore pump out more emissions.


EVs are getting plenty of press at the moment, but in reality they have a very long way to go before they can truly be considered as a true logistical alternative to the diesel motor.  There just simply isn’t the network in place to produce so many EVs nor power so many EVs for our global economy to continue growing at the pace it is.


What I haven’t heard so much of lately is the advancements made in biofuels.  Biofuels seem to me to be the much more sensible replacement option for petroleum diesel, as biodiesel fuels are a renewable resource.  Biofuels are derived from biological materials such as food crops, crop residues, forest residues, animal wastes, and landfills.  Major biofuels are biodiesel, ethanol, and methane; and biofuels, by their very nature, are renewable over a period of less than one year for those based on crop rotation, crop residues, and animal wastes or about 35 years for those based on forest residues.

Emissions from burning biodiesel in a conventional diesel engine have significantly lower levels of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, particulate matter, sulphur oxides, odour, and noxious “smoke” compared to emissions from the conventional petroleum diesel motor that we are more familiar with.  Also, carbon dioxide emissions from combustion of biodiesel are reduced by about 10% when compared to petroleum diesel, but there is a more significant carbon dioxide benefit with biodiesel made from plant oils.  During the photosynthesis process, as the plants are growing and developing, carbon dioxide is drawn from the environment into the plant, while the plants release beneficial oxygen into the environment.

How are EV batteries made?  Are they as clean as renewable biofuels?  If EVs are running on electricity produced by burning dirty fossil fuels, the climate benefits are limited.  Because of the complex batteries that EVs use, it currently takes more energy to produce an electric car than a conventional one.  While fewer emissions are produced by the cars themselves while driving on the streets, CO2 is still being emitted by power plants needed to charge the EVs.  And, disposing of those complex EV batteries creates an environmental hazard in itself.  EV batteries also need to be made from non-renewable minerals such as copper and cobalt, and rare earths like neodymium.

Some other negatives for EVs are that the mining activities for the minerals in countries like China or the Democratic Republic of Congo often cause human rights violations and vast ecological devastation which include: deforestation, polluted rivers and contaminated soil.  Not so great!  And, in addition, many automakers use aluminium to build the bodies of EVs, and a tremendous amount of energy is required to process bauxite ore into the lightweight metal.

Trucks, ships and tractors still think diesel power rules!  Even though some car manufacturers have abandoned petroleum diesel fuelled cars, there are other automotive manufacturers that have actually ramped up their diesel vehicle production.  General Motors, Jaguar, Land Rover, BMW, Mazda, Kia, Jeep, Ford, Nissan and Chevrolet are all manufacturing plenty of new diesel motors.

Hmmm?!  Biofuels then?

Yes, Virginia (Fanpetals), There Is A New Biofuel Feedstock On The Block

Sida hermaphrodita or Virginia Fanpetals: a new player in the biofuel game.

When it comes to biofuels, especially the sort of biofuel that gets used for ethanol, there’s always a bit of an issue.  You see, it kind of defeats the purpose of having a sustainable fuel source if you have to pour on truckloads of fertiliser (a lot of which can come from petrochemicals as well) and tons of water.  It’s also rather frowned on if the crop in question takes away land from something that could be used for growing crops that people are going to eat directly (as vegetables, flour, cooking oil, sugar, etc.) or indirectly (after a fodder crop has been fed to animals that produce milk, meat or eggs).

Now, we’re not doing too badly over here in Australia on the biofuel ethanol front, as we’ve got the sugarcane industry. Using residues from other crops is a tried and true means of sourcing ethanol feedstocks, with sugarcane residues being particularly good at it.  In fact, Brazil, which has a bigger sugarcane industry than we do, is a tad further ahead when it comes to using ethanol for everyday driving.  Other sources include residues from wood processing and residues from the alcohol industry (they’re doing this in the UK).  Apparently, the trick is to find the right methods and the right bacteria, etc. that will break your feedstocks down so it can be turned into ethanol.

However, the search is on around the world for novel feedstock crops for biofuels of all types (this includes the crops that can produce oils for turning into biodiesel as well as the ones that have suitable stems or whatever for turning into ethanol).  The ideal crop is something that grows easily with minimal input needed in the form of fertiliser and pesticides, doesn’t need people poking around with tractors much except during harvest, doesn’t demand water like a camel that’s been for a week in the desert and produces the three Fs: Food (for humans), Fodder (for animals) and Fuel.

One of the new players on the biofuel crop front is a plant that looks a bit like a common weed known as Virginia fanpetals, Virginia Mallow or Sida (its Latin name is Sida hermaphrodita). This is a native of the US but for some reason, it’s getting a fair amount of interest from a team in Eastern Europe because it doesn’t demand the same amount of water as elephant grass (Miscanthus), which is another easy-growing biofuel feedstock.  What’s more, they’ve found that it’s a triple-F plant if you want to get technical.  The plant has lots of flowers that are very attractive to honeybees, so the Food part of the equation comes in the form of the honey produced that way.  The leaves, when they’re green, are pretty nutritious for animals.  And when the plant is dry, the whole lot, stems and leaves, are great for biofuel (and they also burn cleanly in incinerators, making them an alternative to coal for generating electricity).

Sida is also tough as old boots, as it grows very happily on sandy soils and can handle drought and frost perfectly well.  It also has a feature that would make it a right pain if it established itself in your garden: if you cut it back to ground level, it comes back again next spring and will do so for 15–20 years.  This is what’s getting those researchers rubbing their hands with glee: no ploughing, harrowing or sowing.  Just a bit of fertiliser a couple of times a year and you get a crop year after year.  And it grows on the sort of ground and in the sort of conditions that are useless for, say, potatoes, wheat and carrots.  In other words, it looks like it could be a bit of a winner.  Can we grow it over here and make even more of our own biofuel?

However, finding out about this got me thinking.  Now, we all know that we’ve got unique plant life knocking around in the Outback that’s used to really harsh conditions.  Are they any good for biofuels?  Is there something sitting out there that could be the next big thing?  I really, really hope that there’s a nice CSIRO research team poking around to see if there are any native plants that could do the trick.

Closer to home, however, I also can’t help but notice all the weeds in the garden and the way that the lawn is starting to grow like crazy in the springtime.  And let’s take a look in our rubbish bins at all the banana skins and apple cores.  Couldn’t this be used as a bioethanol feedstock as well?  Once you start looking around and getting this sort of mindset, all sorts of possibilities open up (especially when you’re on a long drive).  Maybe we’d clear up some of the rubbish problem while we’re at it…

Bioethanol isn’t the only way forward, of course.  It’s one of three possible lanes on the sustainable motoring highway, with the other two being electricity and biodiesel.  And we shouldn’t forget the biofuels while we get all excited – rightly – about the new electric vehicles.  After all, classic car drivers, tradies, tractor drivers, truckies and the owners of hybrids all need something to put in the fuel tank!

Electric Vehicles: What Will Happen With The Fuel Taxes?

I think we all know by now that electric cars and hybrids are much more common on the roads than they used to be.  It’s 20 years since the original Toyota Prius  – the groundbreaking first hybrid vehicle – hit the roads, which means that if you’ve got your eyes open, you can score a second-hand hybrid.  They’re getting better and better with extended range and more body types coming with hybrid and even all-electric versions.

One of the reasons put forward for why you should switch to an electric or hybrid vehicle – and you hear this one more often with pure electrics – is that electricity is cheaper than petrol or diesel, so it’s cheaper to fill up.  You’re not paying all that tax.

Ah yes – the tax.  Can anyone else spot the potential problem here?  What will happen if a large proportion of us switched to purely electric vehicles?  This means that one particular source of government income is going to drop dramatically.  Can we see the government smiling happily about this and how we’re polluting so much less, etc. and just carrying on without the tax coming from fuel?  Maybe they could take a cut in their salaries or spend less on frivolous projects and fancy-pants conferences.  Ooh look – a flying pig.  Better get out your manure-proof umbrella.

OK, if we take a less cynical view and make the charitable assumption that the fuel taxes get used to keep the roads in good order.  If we don’t want our roads to deteriorate if loads of people switch to electric vehicles, that money has got to come from somewhere.  But where?  What are the options?

The first option would be to hike up the fuel tax to cover the shortfall.  There are two problems with this one.  The first is that even though there are some second-hand hybrids knocking about and even though we do our best here at Private Fleet to get you the best deals on a new car, pure electric vehicles still tend to be at the newer end of the spectrum and are beyond the budget of a low-income family (especially if said family needs a larger vehicle than the little hatchbacks that early examples of hybrids tended to be).  This leads to a vicious cycle: they can’t afford to upgrade to an electric with the higher petrol prices, which means they have to keep on using the expensive fuel, etc. or switch to using public transport if they live in towns.

The other people who will get hit hard by this hypothetical hike in fuel taxes are those in rural communities.  Although range of electrics is getting better, it’s not quite where it needs to be for those out the back of beyond: the park rangers, the tour guides in the Outback and the district nurses and midwives.  Going electric isn’t really an option for them – and the sort of vehicles needed by your park rangers and tour guides (i.e. big 4 x4s) don’t usually come in electric (although that’s starting to change).  What’s more, the big rigs and farm tractors don’t come in electric versions either (electric tractors exist but they’re puny), so they’ll keep on needing diesel.  This means that their costs will go up with a hypothetical fuel tax hike, which probably means that farmers and trucking companies will go out of business or else they’ll pass the costs along and we’ll all have higher food prices.  It’s like the old army wisdom about not pissing off the person who cooks: you don’t ever brush off the farming community as unimportant, because they are the ones who produce your food and most of us like to eat.

OK, so the knock-on consequences to rural communities and a lot of Australia’s industries would throw our economy into chaos (just think of all the diesel-powered machines involved in the mining industry, for example – although there are some rugged electric utes that have been specifically designed for the mining industry).  The Powers That Be hopefully aren’t that stupid and they are more likely to find a fairer way of getting the tax money than simply increasing the existing tax.  What’s much more likely is that they’ll create a new tax.  Any guesses as to what that new tax is likely to be?  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if people are using electricity instead of using petrol and diesel and thus avoiding the fuel tax, the obvious thing to slap a tax on is the electricity…

You read it here first, folks.  Although at the moment, using electric vehicles will save you at the plug (rather than the pump), it’s only going to be a matter of time until a tax appears, especially as electric vehicles become more common.  Yes, there are other advantages to using electric vehicles such as the reduced pollution and how they don’t depend on a finite resource (biofuels aside), but the advantage of not paying a fuel tax won’t last forever.

Enjoy it while you can!

How Long Does It Take To Charge An EV?

I guess we’ve all noticed by now that EVs (either hybrids or full-time electric vehicles) are getting common on the roads.  Maybe you’re considering getting one for your next car.  Charging stations for EVs are popping up left, right and centre.  This is because the battery in an EV, just like the battery in any other device powered by electricity, needs to be recharged.  It’s kind of like charging your phone or your laptop.

Most, if not all, of us have had some experience with charging up things with batteries and know that it can take some time.  This raises a rather important question about EVs: how long does it take to charge one?  We’ve mostly become familiar with how to fuel up an internal combustion engine (ICE) car: you pull up to the bowser, you open the fuel cap, you fill up with the liquid fuel of your choice, then you nip in and pay for it, possibly picking up a packet of peanuts or a coffee while you’re at it.  It doesn’t take too long – maybe 10 mins max, depending on how long the queue at the checkout is, how big your fuel tank is and how empty it was when you started.  But what about an EV?  There’s nothing physical going into the tank and we all know that it can take a while for a battery to recharge (I usually give my rechargeable AA batteries about 4 hours, the laptop takes 2 hours and the amount of time for the phone varies depending on who else needs the charger and whether I need the phone!).

The good news is that on average, it takes 20–30 mins to get to 80% when charging an EV, especially if you’re using one of the public charge points around town.  This means that most of us might have to plan a charging session into our days – during lunchtime, maybe, or while picking up groceries.

There’s a certain strategy to ensuring that your EV has the charge it needs to keep ticking on around town.  I’m assuming here that you are based in the city and do most of your driving in the city.  If you’re in a rural area and do a lot of open road running, things will be a bit different and given the range of what’s currently on the EV market, you might either consider sticking with an ICE vehicle or at least a hybrid, or you’ll have to try another strategy.  Anyway, for the typical suburban driver, the best strategy is to use the public charging points around town for top-up charging, and you do the full charge to 100% overnight at home if possible.

The reason why it might not be best to try charging your EV to 100% charge at one of the public points is because charging an EV isn’t like filling up a petrol or diesel vehicle. With the ICE, you pump in the fuel at a steady constant rate and if you graphed it, it would make a straight line – as long as your grip on the pump is nice and steady.  However, the graph for charging time is more like one of those curved lines related to quadratic equations – you know, the ones we all struggled through at high school and couldn’t see the point of.  Charging starts with a hiss and a roar and you can get to 80% charge pretty quickly.  It’s the final 20% needed to get to full charge that seems to take forever.  It’s more like pumping iron at the gym than pumping gas – you do the first round of sets and reps quickly, but those last few when you’re getting tired tend to be a bit slower.  This is why charging to 100% is best left for overnight charging sessions at home.

The good news about overnight charging is that night rates for electricity are often lower than daytime rates.  This is because all the commercial users of electricity – factories, shops, heavy industry – don’t put as much demand on the power grid outside working hours, so there is plenty of power for everybody else.  Whether this will remain the case when EVs are adopted more widely is uncertain – let’s hope that lower overnight rates remain a thing.

Of course, the exact time of charging will depend on the individual EV and it also depends on the type of charger that you’re connecting your car up to.  Chargers come in three types: Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3.  Levels 1 and 2 use AC current but Level 3 uses DC current.  Level 3 DC chargers generally are only compatible with Tesla models, which is ironic, given that Nikola Tesla specialised in AC current.  Level 1 chargers just plug into a typical 10-V socket and are best kept for emergency top-ups, as they charge pretty slowly.  What you will generally come across both at home (if you install one) or around town are Level 2 chargers.  Level 2 chargers have a charging rate of 15–100 km/hr, meaning that in one hour they give your vehicle enough charge to take it 15–100 km.  The low-power Level 2s installed at home tend to be towards the 15 km/hr end and the public ones are at the other end.

The different levels are not the same as the plug types, which are known as (predictably) Types.  There are four types: Type 1 (J1772), Type 2 (Mennekes), Type 3 (Scame) and Type 4 (CHAdeMO).  Tesla, being a posh marque, has its very own type of charging plug, rather like Apple, although it’s based on the Type 2 Mennekes.  Type 3 is also pretty rare in Australia.  There’s also a combo plug (known as a Combined Charge System or CCS) that combines either the Type 1 or Type 2 (it varies depending on the marque) with a pair of DC connectors.  Charging stations generally have CHAdeMO and CCS to make thing simpler.  The different plug types are quite a lot to wrap your head, so I might have to explain all this in another post.

Anyway, in a nutshell, here’s the basics you need to know:

  • The average time needed to charge to 80% is half an hour although this depends on the level of charger.
  • Charge time isn’t linear – the first 80% is fairly quick but the final 20% is slower.
  • Full charging to 100% is best done at home overnight.
  • Around-town chargers are best kept for topping up to 80%
  • Slower chargers (Level 1 and Level 2) use AC current but the fast ones use DC.
  • Nikola Tesla, who was the pioneer of AC electricity, would be spitting mad that the cars with his name use DC current. Just as well he never got around to inventing that death ray…



Private Fleet Car Review: 2018 Jeep Compass Limited

Jeep. It’s a name that’s synonymous with unbreakable cars, uncompromising off road ability, and being uniquely American. Well, once. Any Jeep labelled TrailHawk is still uncompromising in its ability to deal with mud, snow, sand, gravel, as easily as the tarmac, but not all Jeeps are unbreakable and not all Jeeps are American. I reviewed a Jeep a couple of years that refused to play ball. It was a time when quality control wasn’t part of the first sentence in how to build one. Thankfully it seems those times are well and truly past as our Indian built 2018 Jeep Compass Limited with 2.4L petrol fed “Tigershark” engine proved.The time the Compass Limited spent with us coincided with a trip that would ultimately cover 1150 kilometres. This would start at AWT’s Blue Mountains based HQ, south via Goulbourn and Queanbeyan, east of Canberra, to Cooma before overnighting at the Aalberg Chalet. Mine hosts were Ulla and Lindsay, an engaging and effervescent couple, providing an atmosphere of welcome and warmth. From there a few hours at Thredbo for ski lessons for my junior staffers, before a drive along the “Barry Way” via Dalgety, the Boco wind farm, and the parched depths of the NSW plains before our eastward bounds journey had us in Bega for one night. From there is was north through Narooma, Ulladulla, and Nowra, diverting through the gorgeous Kangaroo Valley and marveling at the once ocean floor cliffs before rejoining the Hume on our way home.The Compass sits above the Renegade and below the Cherokee in Jeep’s substantial range. A choice of four trim levels are available, with Sport, Longitude, Limited, and TrailHawk on offer. The Compass Liited has a 2.4L petrol engine named Tigershark, or the preferred for long distance haulage diesel. The petrol engine has 129kW, 229 Nm, and a nine speed CVT auto. Fuel consumption is quoted as 9.7L/100km on a combined cycle from the 60 litre tank and 7.4L/100 for the highway. AWT’s best figure was 8.6L/100km on a purely highway driven cycle. This was with four up and the cargo area filled with three bags/travel cases. The petrol Limited’s weight is 1503 kilograms dry.Our journey starts with an eastwards bound run from the lower Blue Mountains to one of Sydney’s orbital freeways, The M7 takes drivers south towards the city bound M5 or the Canberra and beyond Hume. What’s immediately noticeable is suspension tune. It leans towards the harder side of compliance, and there’s an initial feeling that tyres were at the wrong pressure. That didn’t turn out to be the situation. What was also becoming clear was the lack of torque at low revs. On the flatter country roads it would purr along in a quiet, unfussed, manner. Thew CVT changes smoothly, unobtrusively. Heading towards Goulbourn, around two hours drive south of Sydney. there’s some good long gradients that test cars and with that peak torque available at 3900 rpm it needs a hefty shove on the go pedal to get the engine and transmission to drop back enough to get close to that rev point. Forward motion slows appreciably and in order to keep safety up for traffic flow, more pedal is needed.Downhill runs have the CVT finding itself in a cog and holding that, using the engine as a braking device. This would be ideal in a hybrid to charge batteries but it’s disconcerting in the Compass as it holds revs in the upper range. There’s a little more effort than expected to move the gear selector left to engage manual shift mode and override the computer’s selection choice. The movement isn’t silky smooth either. The same applies to the indicator stalk, mounted on the left hand side of the steering column in this case. There’s a plasticky click to engage but there’s an upside. Just about every other car maker has a soft touch program that indicates just three times. the Compass Limited’s blinker count is five.As the journey progresses south what also becomes noticeable is the lack of real road safety shown by far too many other drivers. NSW and the ACT have a myopic focus on speed as to why people crash. By the time a stop at Lake George, twenty or so minutes north of Canberra is undertaken, the amount of vehicles successfully completing a safe lane change is one. That’s the Jeep.The all purpose rubber fitted, Bridgestone‘s Turanza, with a 225/55/18 profile isn’t a fan of the rougher road surfaces and transmits that to the cabin via the MacPherson strut front and Chapman front rear. Get onto the smooth blacktop and the noise level drops dramatically and the ride becomes far more enjoyable too. Queanbeyan and it’s an 80 kp/h limit. The Compass Limited exercises her brakes here more than anywhere, with traffic lights and roundabouts working together to not make a fluid traffic flow possible. Unexpectedly the initial feeling of the seats being hard and lacking in support is slowly being disproved, with no real sensation of seat cushion related fatigue. The storage nook based under the passenger seat cushion is handy too.

Outside temperatures vary along the way. Countering that is the Jeep’s electric seats (quick, thankfully) and dual controlled climate control. There’s dial or icons on the eight inch touchscreen which are well laid out, simple to use, and efficiently effective. Economy has stabilised at 8.6L/100 and a pitstop for a break and top up has been undertaken. Mid afternoon has Cooma through the front windscreen. We’re in a convoy that includes an Audi Q7 and Ford Territory, driven by people that have no sense of road manners or safety. One overtaking lane has a Range Rover and Corolla ahead of the Jeep, with the Corolla inexplicably moving right, forcing the Rangie to brake momentarily before scooting past the left side of the Toyota. This has allowed us to do the same as the Corolla is clearly struggling. However again that lack of low rev torque is appreciable but the cams come on song at around 3500, and there’s a noticeable in the Jeep’s behaviour. It’s needed as the Q7 ranges up behind the Corolla before a sudden non indicated dart left to take up position a foot shy of the Compass. The merge lane to one lane is here and all of a sudden the Territory is almost buried in the Corolla’s rear, with the driver having no apparent sense of when to brake appropriately. The Jeep’s overall drive and safety package have been tested and passed.

Jindabyne and the twisting downhill run to the picturesque town has the steering come alive. Electrically assisted it’s light enough to not feel it is out of touch with the road, and weighty enough to provide a real sense of communication between car and driver. The CVT appreciates this sort of road more, and works in concert with the accelerator to be where it should be gear wise. Being a vehicle that has a 4WD mode that splits drive front and rear on demand, the predominantly FWD bias has the Compass track wide only occasionally. This requires naught more that a tap of the brake or accelerator to bring the nose back on line.

Finally it’s time to exit the Compass Limited and it’s a chance to appreciate the cabin ambience. There’s the natural level of fatigue after six hours of travel and breaks, but none extra from the seats and ride. The dash dials have a slightly old fashioned style of font for the numbers, with small LED light points spread around the dials. In between is a colour LCD screen, as is standard in just about every car, offering trip info, average and on demand fuel usage, and more. The rear seat passengers have enough leg room even with the adults pushing their seats back. Rear seat passengers also get a USB point, handy for the older but not yet teenaged ones. There’s a ski-port fold out cupholder for them as well.The front seat passengers have an elegantly designed dash to look at and feel. Soft touch materials abound, the trim is subtle, tasteful, and there’s plenty of room for legs, heads, and shoulders. A centre console mounted drive selector dial gives the Compass Limited some off road prowess including Snow, Sand, and Mud. All round vision is excellent and ergonomics including a push button start where one would find a keyhole makes the process natural and intuitive. It complements the redesigned exterior, aligning the Compass range more with the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee appearance. Audio is superb and well balanced, with the DAB tuner more sensitive than others, thankfully. What was noticeable was a lack of height adjustment for the passenger seat. It’s clearly not a big vehicle, making the interior packaging all the more remarkable for its successful implementation. The Compass is just 4394mm long, 1819mm wide, and stands 1644mm tall. It packs in a 2636mm wheelbase and has a stable chassis thanks to the 1550mm and 1546 mm track font and rear. This gives the Compass excellent cross wind stability and helps the compact SUV in its high levels of agility both off and on road. A 212mm road clearance allows for some good running on those tracks well beaten, plus the approach and departure angles of 16.8 and 31.7 degrees, it’s able to handle a good coverage of terrain. Although Thredbo was cold, it wasn’t overly endowed with snow. This unfortunately didn’t give us a real chance to try the Snow mode for any length of time. However some drifts were found and a simple flick of the drive dial had the Compass Limited crawl its way out without issue. Where the Compass Limited shine came later. From Jindabyne and along the Barry Way the road and terrain is tight, testing the handling and ride. The vistas are incredible, with ridge high roads providing unparalleled views all around. Sadly this meant that the view provided evidence of the terrible drought the farmers are enduring and all too often the tragic signs in a paddock were evidence of this.

The flat runs were fine for the auto and engine, but any uphill runs tasked the combination time and again. Anything over four thousand rpm and the noise was thrashy, whiny, and the Compass Limited really struggled to maintain forward momentum, even with the torque coming on stream. However there’s no doubt that with a lighter load the effort would, naturally, be less evident. Evidence of power was seen on the horizon, with a wind farm coming into view and the road would take the Compass directly between the line of the Boco Wind Farm. Almost silent, the huge turbines swung lazily, majestically, with the ridge they’re mounted on hiding a sudden drop to the eastern plains.The Jeep’s off road ability was tested somewhat after crossing the Snowy River and heading towards Bega. A rutted, sandy, gravelly road east of Cathcart called the Tantawangalo Road is a long, mostly one laned affair. It was here that the Jeep Compass and its all wheel drive system gets a workout. Slip the dial onto Sand and the dash lights up with an icon saying so. However it also shows that the traction control is disengaged. To us it seems odd that on such a surface that traction control would be disengaged. Especially when farmers are lawfully allowed to range cows freely on the roads.What also happens is that the computer bumps the engine’s rev point to around three thousand, taking advantage of the rise of the torque curve. This endowed the Compass Limited with a frisky, energetic, attitude, and could be coaxed into gentle skids on turns where it could be done safely. The handling tightens up and becomes even more responsive, and there’s just enough freeplay in the steering to set up for a Scandinavian flick style turn. The taut suspension also magically dials out the rutted surfaces and worked the coil springs wonderfully. The car could be throttle controlled, easing off for the turns before getting back on the juice, powering out and settling the Compass.

Overnight in Bega and north along the Princes Highway. Again there were far too many examples of why the government’s myopic focus on speed is a failure. Should the highway patrol police vehicles without working indicators then an absolute motza would be made and basic driving standards would increase. Further north to Nowra and to Kangaroo Valley. Again the uphill runs tested the engine and transmission and still averaged a sub nine litre figure.

The final run from Mittagong and Bowral and along the Hume to home, and the Compass Limited is settling into a rhythm. It’s a rev point of under two thousand at cruising speed and the car is composed, relaxed, almost as if it knows the home base is near.

At The End Of The Drive.
Jeep quotes 7.4L per 100 kilometres for the highway run. To achieve a final figure of 8.6L/100 km with a load aboard was a welcome surprise. The diesel is quoted as 5.1L/100 km for the highway so that final figure is superb in context. The overall fit and finish is as it should be, the initial misgivings over the ride quality were dispatched quickly, and for a family of four for a weekend away it suffices. Off road manners show why the Jeep name is the one to go to. In essence the 2018 Jeep Compass Limited was better than expected. And that’s a winner in anyone’s book. Here’s where you can find your true north: 2018 Jeep Compass range

EVs, Power Bills and Emissions

How do we change a system employed by government?  If we went cold turkey on many of our traditional national policies the flow on effects throughout the public and business sectors would be ruinous.  If you believe the headlines which state that traditional motor vehicles are heading for a cliff edge where there will be no more fossil fuels available to power them, and that the environment will be so much the better without vehicles that are powered by conventional fossil fuels, then things look pretty dismal.  But is this actually so?

There are numerous countries around the world that have their special governmental team of policymakers pushing for electric vehicles (EVs) to be subsidised and made easier for those who can afford an expensive EV to buy one.  Across the ditch the New Zealand Labour/Green government are creating a fast track for EV purchase in the hopes to lessen greenhouse emissions and keep NZ green.  And in America they have recently brought in policy that reduces the initial purchase price of an EV by up to $7500 USD.  Of course, the subsidizing is paid for by the tax payer.  Those who cannot afford to buy a new electric vehicle pay for the privileges that the wealthier EV owners enjoy – like free use of public charging stations and preferential access to carpool lanes.  What about the grand schemes and plans of making some American States totally EV and thus pronouncing the ban of all internal combustion vehicles by 2040 (California).  Is this really fair?

Could this thinking and ideology be the motivation behind EVs in Australia?  How could the typical Australian on an average wage manage a law that states that you must drive a new and expensive EV by 2040?  By the way, we’ll also use your current taxes to help the wealthy buy an EV quickly (and enjoy its benefits) while you struggle to put the food on the table, let alone by an EV!

Let’s also remember that most of Australia’s electricity is made by coal and other natural resource plants.  A large fleet of EVs across Australia will draw down on the current available power supplies very heavily.  But wait, I know, we could use people’s current taxes to build more expensive cleaner power plants and provide bigger, better power networks!  That will make Australia a better place.  Power companies will enjoy the profits and will be sure to put the price of power up once electricity comes in short supply.

Hang on!  Are electric vehicles really as great as they claim to be?  Supporters of the EV suggest that EVs will reduce air pollution and tackle climate change.  But will they?  (Climate change is another issue – and one that many can make plenty of money, too)  It’s evident that a new vehicle powered by the modern conventional internal combustion engine is, in fact, way more pollutant-free than one might tend to think.  Extracting Lithium and other materials for batteries has an environmental impact of its own.

The appropriate comparison at governmental levels for evaluating the benefits of all those new electric vehicle subsidies, mandates and ideologies should be the difference between an electric car and a new petrol-or-diesel-car.  New internal combustion engines are very clean and emit only about 1 percent of the pollution that older vehicles did back in the 1960s.  New innovations on internal combustion engines continue to improve these engines and their efficiency and cleanliness.

When we consider EVs, and their large appetite for electricity, the energy to power them has to come from somewhere.  Cars are charged from the nation’s electrical grid, which will mean that they’re only as “clean” as Australia’s mix of power sources.  An environmental impact in the mining of the lithium, cobalt, and nickel that go into car batteries is evident.  Extracting Lithium is actually not so bad; most of it is extracted from brines that are evaporated by the sun, but it has a sizeable carbon and physical footprint.  We have a long, long way to go before the production of electricity for the main grid looks as green and as clean as an EV appears.

What’s the inexpensive answer?

The Electric Highway.

One of the appeals of the Australian landscape is its huge gaps between the cities, allowing an almost uninterrupted view of the beautiful world we live on. That also means that using a car not powered by diesel or petrol may be limited in its ability to traverse the distances between them.Come the Electric Highway. Founded by the Tesla Owners Club of Australia, TOCA, they took up a joint initiative with the Australian Electric Vehicle Association to literally fill in the gaps. With a smattering of Tesla supercharger and destination charger points mainly spread along points of the east coast and largely between Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane, a driver can now drive no more than 200 to 300 kilometres before seeing another charging point. The network is made up of 32 amp three-phase chargers which are about 200km apart on average, with the furthest distance between charge points being 400km. Most are capable of adding 110km of range in 30 minutes.

Tesla itself is looking at another eighteen superchargers around Australia by the end of 2019 which is complemented by the Australian Capital Territory’s decision to install fifty dual Electric Vehicle charging points at government sites in order to reach its zero emissions goal by 2022 for government cars.

Although most states have so far effectively failed to get on the electric car wagon, Queensland has bucked that trend by investing heavily in charger points.In that state, EV drivers can travel from Coolangatta to Cairns, and west from Brisbane to Toowoomba, using the government’s fast charger network, which is also vehicle agnostic. This means that the charger points are able to deal with the various car charging point designs, which does beg the question of why a global standard appears to not have been settled on. The rollout was completed in January of 2018.It’s also worth noting that the Western Australian government owned power company, Synergy, did assist the TOCA initiative. In WA alone, more than 70 charge points were installed in towns and roadhouses on all major roads in the south and east of the state, as well as some remote locations in the north.

The initiative, a team effort by Synergy and the WA branch of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association, is installing three-phase charge points in towns and roadhouses on all major roads in the south and east of the state, as well as some remote locations in the north.

WA’s regional utility, Horizon Power, also contributed to the roll-out, with installations of 3 phase outlets in the Kimberley area.

“We’re endeavouring to show that there is ‘people power’ behind the drive to EV’s, and hopefully governments can follow,” said Richard McNeall, a TOCA member and coordinator of the Round Australia Project.Currently most charger points are free, however there is a mooted change to this, but not at a huge impost. With pricing yet to be settled upon it’ll be worth looking out for press releases on this matter.

UK car maker Jaguar Land Rover has also announced plans to add a charging network in Australia, ahead of the release of its first EV, the I-PACE all-electric SUV, later this year. JLR Australia says the up to $4 million network would include 150 changing stations, using 100kW DC chargers provided by Jet Charge.

Plug Share is the site to go to to find out where the charge points are located.

BMW’s EV Wireless Charging

BMW’s Wireless Charging

The new BMW 5-Series iPerformance models boast some very cool ‘world-first’ technology.  Available factory-fitted with a fully integrated inductive charging facility means that you can arrive home, park over a ground pad (the inductive charging facility/station) and hey-presto your car charges up, ready for your next trip away.

BMW’s Wireless Charging consists of the GroundPad (an inductive charging station), that can be installed either in a garage or outdoors, and the CarPad, which is fixed to the underside of the vehicle will connect to the GroundPad once parked appropriately.  This technology is available as an option on the new BMW 530e iPerformance model.  The GroundPad generates a magnetic field that induces an electric current in the CarPad, which then charges the battery in the car.

BMW’s 530e iPerformance model has the parking systems that help the driver to manoeuvre into the correct parking position over the GroundPad using a WiFi connection between the charging station and the vehicle.  Once the connection has been made, an overhead view of the car and its surroundings then appears in the car’s display screen with coloured lines that help guide the driver into position.  An icon shows up on the screen when the correct parking position is reached for the process of inductive charging.  BMW say the position for parking over the top of the GroundPad isn’t difficult to locate as the position can deviate by up to 7 cm longitudinally and up to 14 cm laterally – so it has plenty of buffering for getting a good connection.  To easy!

We already are becoming familiar with the wireless charging systems inside many new cars from different manufacturers where mobile phones and electric toothbrushes can be wirelessly charged inside the car.  BMW says its wireless charging uses the same inductive charging technology already widely used for supplying power to devices such as these.

BMW has unveiled a wireless charging system that will be available in Germany, followed shortly by the UK, the US, Japan and China.  It’s nice to be able to boast this technology and do away with cords and manual contraptions for charging your hybrid.  Germany and Europe seem to be leading the way with cutting edge EV technology, and this inductive charging system, created by BMW, will set the ball rolling for other manufacturers to follow suit.

I can imagine, like BMW, a world where you just pull up to your car park in the city, and the wireless inductive charging facility that’s set in place, in the road, underneath your EV will charge up your car while you duck into the café for a coffee or buy the necessary office equipment for your business.  This is all pretty cool technology!