SA Joule is not dead, NRF says

2012-11-05 11:29
SA has shuttered its electric car programme. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

SA has shuttered its electric car programme. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - The technological innovation created in the development of the Joule electric car has value beyond the project, the National Research Foundation has said.

"The government has made a formal decision about the Joule project itself and I think that decision has been made. But you know one mustn't take a very narrow view of innovation and technology," National Research Foundation CEO Dr Albert van Jaarsveld told News24.

The Joule development was put on ice and the development company, Optimal Energy, shuttered after they could not find suitable partners to facilitate mass production of the car.

"In the process of developing the Joule as a concept, there were many components of the car that were developed and built. All of those components can have a life way beyond the Joule," said Van Jaarsveld.

The Joule was touted as a South African innovation that could solve the issue of fuel price increases affecting motorists and the vehicle was slated for production by 2014.


But challenges persisted: One problem was the industrial scale of the project with little infrastructure to support it and, in particular, producing batteries that would drive the electric motors safely was a concern.

"Safety is holding us back. In remote controlled aeroplanes they double that [battery power] already, but it's a toy, so it's not such a big issue," Optimal Energy CEO Kobus Meiring told News24 in 2011.

However, Van Jaarsveld said that the technological edge gained from the project could find its way into other developments.

"The technology advantages gained from doing a project like that are not dead even though the project itself has been brought to a halt.

"There are many things like the batteries and all the other developments that we can take forward and we can work with other partners; we can make injections into new projects in that regard. Technology development is never lost," he said.

The Joule project had an estimated cost of R300m and Optimal Energy mulled a programme to build an electric bus when it became clear that the car would not get going.

Many global companies like Nissan, GM and Toyota have more capacity to produce an electric car and this ultimately sealed the Joule's fate.

"It had a lot of potential; I think everybody understood that. The problem we ran into is that it was competing with very high-end investments from commercial companies around the world," said Van Jaarsveld.

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