Batteries – Paving the way for the future

One of my favorite alternative timelines is to imagine a world where electricity would have already overtaken petrol as the de facto power source for cars. And this is not just due to my electrical engineering background. In the early 1900s, electric cars were the most popular choice over petrol or steam due to their convenience. The petrol car was considered noisy, smelly, and difficult to operate due to the need for hand-cranking to start the engine. The lack of petrol stations also curbed its popularity.

Cost over comfort

After the introduction of the Model T Ford and, ironically, an electric starter motor, the petrol car started to dominate the automotive market by the 1920s. The cost of a noisy and smelly Model T was roughly a third of an equivalent electric car, paving the way for petrol motoring. Eventually, all electric vehicles basically disappeared from the roads for decades.

Doing something is better than doing nothing

As we are heading towards 2030 and the first checkpoint for the Paris agreement, there’s once again plenty of bustle around electric cars and their popularity. It’s easy to think that private motoring is the number one cause for global warming as all we see is cars every day, even though it’s actually a minor contributor in the big picture. Electric cars are possibly one of the solutions for reducing emissions, but certainly not the only one, let alone the most effective.

Infrastructure and efficiency issues are universal

If electric vehicles would have become prevalent decades ago, the current go-to grievances about heavy, resource-intensive batteries, short range and lack of charging stations would have most definitely been solved. The same issues were solved with petrol cars as well, as gas stations weren’t popping out of thin air and reliable fuel-efficient engines took time to develop. There’s currently a chicken-or-the-egg problem with the breakthrough of electric motoring as we lack the infrastructure due to lack of vehicles and vice versa.

Not a jack of all trades

Despite the boundaries set by physics, I firmly believe that going electric in small-scale vehicles and appliances is the only way. The issue with batteries in comparison with internal combustion engines is that a battery has to carry 100 % of the energy needed to power the vehicle, while the fuel needs to carry roughly 5 % and the rest of the energy comes from the air needed in combustion. This doesn’t matter much in cars as the energy consumption is relatively low, and charging options are easily available compared to a container ship sailing in the Indian ocean.

Sustainability over performance

The scarcity of rare-earth metals and their ethical sourcing is another discussion, but after the latest crises and the political rumblings in the Far East, there’s a heavy incentive to reduce the need for dubious minerals and resources. At first this may compromise the performance of batteries but will most likely be the best alternative in the big picture. And at least from our perspective, companies are making increasing investments in developing electric and hybrid power trains.

Engineering wonderland

All in all, together with hydrogen, batteries and electric drives are something where we at TT Gaskets see a bright future ahead of us.

The engineering problems with sealing and insulation of electric drives are usually the opposite of our traditionally strong field of large engines. In ICEs, we want to keep the stuff inside the engine and protect the outside world, but in batteries we usually want to keep the outside world away from the package in many senses. This has already been fruitful from the engineering perspective as existing solutions are used in a whole new way.

In the end, all technologies are compromises and have their drawbacks, but that doesn’t prevent us from delivering Smarter Sealing for a Safer Tomorrow.