Battery and charging technology key to unlocking Turkish EV market growth

Ahead of his forthcoming chairmanship and seminar at the first CWIEME Istanbul electrical manufacturing exhibition, Professor Nejat Tuncay of Istanbul's Okan University has revealed improvements to vehicle range and battery diagnostics, as well as charging infrastructures, as the final hurdles to the proliferation of electric vehicles in Turkey.

The automotive industry is one of the core contributors to the Turkish economy, accounting for approximately one fifth of all exports. Domestic demand is also high, increasing from 115 per thousand people in 2004 to 233 in 2014. Many of the world's largest car brands have manufacturing facilities in Turkey, some even with separate R&D centres. Nevertheless, the hybrid (HEV) and electric vehicle (EV) market in Turkey is still in its early phases.

Out of some 15 million cars on the road in Turkey today, just 400 are HEV or EVs - and in the first four months of 2015 a mere 30 EVs were sold. Turkey's first EV - the now discontinued Renault Fluence Z.E - was launched in 2012 followed by the BMW i3 in 2014. The Toyota Prius and Honda Civic hybrids have been available for some time.

"Electric drive technology has come a long way," says Professor Nejat Tuncay, founder of the R&D company MEKATRO and dean of the Faculty of Engineering at Okan University. "The acceleration and deceleration is smooth and the regenerative braking works very well. There are still some improvements to be made in engine size, weight and production cost - including the electric machine and power electronics - but overall I would say that today's EVs give a much nicer ride than with a traditional combustion engine."

For this reason Professor Tuncay sees battery technology, rather than engine technology, as the key to unlocking Turkey's market potential. "The young generation is very keen to have the latest technology. The fact that Turkey has one of the highest rates of cell phone ownership in the world is a case in point. There is also a growing environmental awareness in Turkey - but the range of EVs remains an issue for the Turkish public," he explains.

Turkish citizens regularly drive long distances between their home and place of work. Professor Tuncay, for example, drives 140km a day and in a hilly city like Istanbul batteries run down more quickly. Tesla claims that its cars can travel as far as 400km, which is what Professor Tuncay would need to account for traffic and diversions, but a BMW i3 would need a range extender to complete that distance. The typical range for an EV is a maximum of 200km.

The Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) is currently supporting several projects, including those of Professor Tuncay and his MSc and PhD students at Okan University, to increase the range of EVs, for example using fuel cells, as well as improving the diagnostics of battery life and health.

"It's not like a petroleum tank where you can directly see the level of fuel in your car so more work needs to be done to ensure the actual and perceived reliability of EVs," he says.

Charging infrastructure in progress
The range of EVs would not be such an issue if charging points were widely available. Many local authorities say that the limited number of electric vehicles on the roads keeps them from making investments this field in a ‘chicken and egg' situation. Nevertheless, charging provisions to support the proliferation of EVs form part of the national government's plans to reduce energy consumption and meet EU vehicle emissions legislation. Roughly a quarter of the country's total energy consumption comes from road transportation.

Three municipalities - Istanbul, Ankara and Gaziantep - have agreed to purchase EVs and provide charging points in their parking lots and social facilities for a number of municipal employees. However, no public charging points are available as yet. Istanbul Enerji, an association of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, is still assessing the possibilities of a municipal charging network. The scope of the project includes, charging stations, grid technologies, standardization and regulation.

"A lot of planning would be required to enable the grid system to support a fast charging network as opposed to the usual one-hour charging points. Otherwise there could if problems if many vehicles were to draw a high current from the supply at the same time. Power producing facilities would be needed near to the charging stations to avoid electrical losses, voltage drops or spikes, or resonance. With a SmartGrid you could take energy from the car during peak team and give it back when needed and have a well-regulated system. We are quite a way off that though.

"I imagine it will be more than 10 years before we see more EVs on the road than combustion engine cars - as the technology matures and becomes cheaper, and the infrastructure catches up. But there are still many opportunities for material and components suppliers at CWIEME Istanbul, especially those willing to play the long game," he says.

Professor Tuncay will be discussing this new era for the Turkish automotive industry, including human-vehicle interfaces and vehicle-to-vehicle communication, at the forthcoming CWIEME Istanbul exhibition - Turkey's largest dedicated event for electric motor, generator, transformer and electrical manufacturing industries. His seminar entitled ‘The road to electrical vehicle and hybrid evolution in Turkey' will take place on Wednesday 18th November at 3pm. Seminars are held in English and Turkish and are free for all visitors to attend.

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