Electric vehicle parts & components explained
Electric cars serve similar functions as gasoline-powered vehicles, but the electric vehicle components are different if you open them up. Electric-powered cars are becoming popular with increasing fuel problems and sustainability issues. Electric vehicles are efficient and consume less energy, making them environmentally friendly.
You can choose to switch to fully electric cars or hybrid options with components of both electric and fuel-powered cars. If you are wondering what the components of EVs are and their function, read on to learn more.
Primary electric vehicle components
Electric cars run using rechargeable batteries. The electrical energy storage is available in direct current electricity used to drive the motor. The battery is the main electric vehicle component equivalent to a fuel tank in a gasoline-powered engine. Your driving range with an electric car depends on the battery capacity. Hence, when looking for an EV, it is crucial to check the battery capacity to avoid frequently stopping for a recharge. Apart from the capacity, the battery weight and size can also affect a vehicle's performance. For instance, a large and heavy battery takes away from the storage space and limits energy efficiency or fuel economy. You need a small, lightweight battery that can store as much electric energy as possible to optimise performance.
Older electric vehicle models had low battery capacities and required frequent recharging. However, recent technology advancements have improved the battery capability. Recent EVs boast significant battery upgrades in terms of driving distance and density. The battery life has seen a significant improvement, and you don't need to replace it after a couple of years. Nowadays, a battery can last the entire vehicle cycle.
Some of the common types of electric car batteries include:
Most electric vehicles use lithium-ion batteries due to their high power-to-weight ratio, high-temperature performance and energy efficiency. They hold more energy without needing extra weight, which is vital for electric cars that travel far on a single charge. The low self-discharge rate allows the battery to hold a full charge over time. Besides, lithium-ion battery parts are recyclable, perfect for environmentally conscious buyers. Most plug-in hybrid vehicles and fully electric cars rely on these batteries for better performance.
Nickel-metal hydride batteries
Nickel-metal hydride batteries are mostly used in hybrid vehicles, but they can also be useful in electric cars. Their main appeal is the longer life cycle than lithium-ion batteries. Unfortunately, they have a high self-discharging rate, so you need to recharge often. They are also quite expensive, and they generate heat.
Lead-acid batteries are affordable, safe and reliable, but they are only used in electric vehicles to supplement other battery loads. Their short life span and poor cold-temperature performance make them impossible to use in electric cars. While you can find high-power lead-acid batteries, they are used in commercial settings for secondary storage.
Electric vehicles rely on electricity saved in the batteries to generate power. The motor is the main electric vehicle component since it can convert electrical energy to kinetic energy, which gives the wheels the power to rotate. That is why EVs don't need an engine and transmission to generate power. Depending on your car's system voltage, the motor can be structured to use DC or AC. Most vehicles use AC motors since they are more affordable and lighter than their DC counterparts. AC motors also tend to suffer less mechanical wear and tear. The only downside is that the car will require a sophisticated motor controller.
The advantages of using a motor instead of an engine make electric cars desirable. For instance, you won't hear the vibrations and noise associated with an engine. The rides are also quiet and comfortable. Besides, the small size of the powertrain means the car has lots of additional space like an expanded cabin and more legroom.
The motor doesn't just generate kinetic energy; it's also an electric generator. It can convert kinetic energy generated by the car in neutral gear into electric energy. It also saves energy when your EV decelerates or culminates in a regenerative braking system.
Battery management system
The battery management system ensures battery cells in electric vehicles operate as a single entity. Most electric cars have as little as ten to as many as thousands of mini-cells to generate enough power to move the cars. All mini cells need to be in a similar condition to optimise battery performance and durability. The battery management system is built into the battery's body or incorporated into the electric power control unit. It oversees the cell's discharge or charge status. When a cell malfunctions, the battery management system can switch it off through a relay mechanism to prevent it from interfering with other systems.
The motor controller acts as a floodgate that ensures power distribution. A controller monitors the vehicle's performance, from the operator and motor to the battery and foot pedal. Using a microprocessor, the controller can limit or redirect current to improve mechanical performance or match the operator's driving style. Nowadays, you can find refined controllers that provide accurate speed and higher efficiency. In some electric vehicles, the power controller combines the inverter, low voltage converter and the control unit. The inverter converts DC to AC and supplies it to the motor to control its speed. It is also responsible for deceleration and acceleration, maximising the vehicle's drivability. On the other hand, the low voltage DC-DC converter generates low voltage power that electronic systems use. This is necessary since the electronic systems need to be converted to DC to make them useful.
The reducer performs a crucial role in conveying the motor's power to the wheels. However, the RPM from the motor is higher than that of a combustion engine. The reducer decreases the RPM to appropriate levels to match the driving conditions. Reducing the RPM allows the EV powertrain to provide higher torque.
Battery heating system
The battery heater exists to maintain an ideal temperature range to prevent seasonal performance decreases. Usually, the battery decreases in charging capacity and speed at lower temperatures. The heating system also functions during charging to ensure charge efficiency and maintain maximum driving distance.
Classification of electric cars based on the components
Electric cars are available in three types depending on the degree of electricity used as the energy sources.
Battery electric vehicles
A battery-electric vehicle is all-electric and uses rechargeable batteries to power the motor. It doesn't have a combustion engine and relies on electricity stored in the high-capacity battery packs to power all the electronics on board and move the vehicle. When the battery is depleted, you can charge it with an external power source. Electric vehicles don't emit any exhaust fumes and don't require clutches, gears and spark plugs. Fully electric cars have the components mentioned above and use them to operate smoothly. Some of the advantages of battery-powered electric vehicles are environmental sustainability and better rides. The minimal noise and vibrations make driving them more comfortable.
Fuel-cell electric vehicles
Like battery-powered electric vehicles, they use electricity to power the motor. The main difference is using fuel cells from hydrogen to power a vehicle instead of drawing electricity from a battery only. Fuel cells are useful in powering vehicles for special applications. Most people use them in an indoor application that requires clean emissions. Few manufacturers have released hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles like Toyota and Hyundai. Fuel electric vehicles are cleaner than battery-electric cars since they have zero carbon emissions.
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles
The extended-range electric vehicles are powered by fuel and electricity. The electric part of the vehicles can be recharged by plugging into an external source or regenerative braking. Some of the electric components in a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) include a motor, electronic unit controller, traction battery packs, auxiliary battery, charge port and a DC-DC converter. The components support electrical functions like powering the motor and regenerating power from braking. A PHEV also has an exhaust system, fuel tank and internal combustion engine that the car switches to when the electric power is depleted.
Hybrid electric vehicles
Like PHEVs, hybrid cars are powered by electricity and petrol. Unlike the PHEVs, its electric energy is generated through a regenerative braking system that recharges the battery. The electric motor slows down the car during the regeneration and covers some of the energy from the heating to generate electricity. The car usually starts off using an electric motor before gasoline cuts in as the car accelerates. The addition of an electric motor ensures the best fuel economy for driving in different conditions.
Electric vehicles are increasingly becoming part of modern life. The components bring tremendous fuel economy, a smooth driving feel and eco-friendliness that appeal to many consumers. Understanding electric vehicle components helps you choose the best electric vehicle for your needs.