The stones in the road for China’s 2025 plan on electric vehicles

October 22, 2018


Marco
Hernandez
As part of the goal to become a tech superpower, China’s home-grown new-energy and electric vehicles are designated to play a crucial role in a sector that is one of the 10 key areas identified under the ‘Made in China 2025’ industrial strategy

In recent years, electric vehicle (EV) sales and production have surged in China, in large part helped by government subsidies to car buyers

Chinese brands are selling huge quantities of EVs in China and around the world, even more than well known brands like Tesla

China wants EVs to account for 40 per cent of the country’s auto sales by 2025, which would represent a big jump from last year’s 2.7 per cent as petrol vehicles still account for most of the volume. And this also means the pressing need to resolve one of the biggest global issues beyond technology

The power of an EV lies in the strength of the battery. The tech of lithium batteries to power the vehicles relies on rare minerals sourced from politically sensitive regions. Rapid technological advancement has increased pressure to extract more minerals to cover the massive demand, in turn raising other problems.

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Hunting resources

There are alternatives, such as vehicles powered by hydrogen, but the technology is not fully developed, which leaves ion batteries as the main option for EVs today. While lithium and nickel reserves are spread out across the world, access to cobalt - which the Democratic Republic of Congo is the world’s top producer - could be more challenging. Each car battery uses between 12kg and 4.5kg of cobalt

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Source: Statista

China produced 24.8 million passenger cars in 2017. To replace that number with EVs, it will need 111,600 metric tons of cobalt

According to the United States Geographical Survey (USGS), the DRC extracted 66,000 metric tons in 2017, which is just more than half of what’s needed in one year. So the production clearly is not enough to cover that high demand

How far can you go

The US, Japan and the European Union have a vast network of charging stations for EVs, but China lags in this aspect. Below, a map of charging stations arround the world:

Source: Open Street Maps

The map below shows charging stations spotted on Open Street Maps (OSM) as of mid-October 2018. Take a look at how far you can go with the BYD model E6 - China’s most popular EV, with a battery range of 300km - using stations in different Chinese cities

Northeast China

300km west from Beijing, there are no charging stations. So without a private charging station, this area is out of range

Black dots are charging stations

Car range definitions based on the BYD E6 model for this series of maps:

SAFE: under 100 km
White - light blue on the map shows where drivers can reach charging stations easily

NO RETURN: 150 km
Yellow - green range is a point of no return, meaning you may not be able to go back to a charging station

MAX: 300 km
Red indicates a radius of 300km from any charging station and is the furthest you can reach before your car battery runs out of power

Southwest China

Stations in Mianyang, Chengdu, Chongqing and Zunyi cities make a corridor for EVs in the southwest area of China, but the highway network extends further into the western region

Eastern China

Driving an EV around Shanghai is easy. OSM spots many stations near the main neighbouring cities. But if drivers head west to cities like Nanchang or Wuhan, they may get stuck half way

Southern China

The Pearl River delta region has a vast network, but there are limitations

Did you know most electric vehicles are powered by cells like AA batteries?

Although the first EV was produced in 1828, the technology to develop an efficient vehicle only achieved significant milestones in the last few years because of the batteries. Early models had solved the engine problem, but the battery issue - its rechargeability and power storage - was the dealbreaker

Tesla Model S

Source: Tesla

Today’s “modern” batteries are based on a simple principle - the cells look pretty much like AA batteries packed in rows with interleaved panels of insulating material to prevent overheating and improve performance

Source: Tesla

As with the engine technology, the lithium-ion battery has been around for around 100 years. Its commercialisation started in the 80s in Japan, but significant progress came when the batteries were used in smartphones and EVs. We have just embarked on a new era of technological progress, so the future will be amazing

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