Joule battery needs work

2011-04-13 07:01

Cape Town - The battery pack for electric vehicles has much more potential than what is currently available, but requires more development.

"We expect battery performance to double in the next two decades because the lithium-ion battery is only at 15% of its theoretical limit," Optimal Energy CEO Kobus Meiring told News24 on the sidelines of the International Battery Association conference in Cape Town.

Optimal Energy designed the Joule electric vehicle and Meiring said that the battery pack was the most significant challenge in its development.

"The theoretical limit of lithium-ion batteries is 150 watt hours per kilogram and we already do 240km with the current battery. If we can extend the range to, say 500km, you can use the battery electric vehicle for anything.

"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."

Unique approach

Meiring said he believes the switch to electric vehicles (EVs) will be gradual, and would require a unique approach in countries where there is a lack of infrastructure to charge EVs.

"China made 13 million cars last year and that grew 50% from the year before so they don't have to make electric vehicles, but the government has stepped in and said, 'You have to do this.' In South Africa, we can roll out EVs without much infrastructure because we have a place or garage to park the car and charge it.

"In China, they have residential buildings, but with very little parking space because there were no cars, years ago when those were built. In Europe, we can roll out electric vehicles with a few plugs on the street," Meiring said.

In 2010, the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle won the European Car of the Year award and Meiring said that this demonstrated the company's commitment to electric vehicles.

"The Nissan Renault CEO has bet the whole company on the Leaf, but it is essentially a conversion of the Tiida. We took the decision to build the Joule as an electric vehicle from the ground up."

Government support

Optimal Energy isn't too concerned about being first to the market with an electric vehicle, and Meiring said that such a vehicle was difficult to mass-produce. The Joule is slated for production in 2014 of 50 000 vehicles a year.

"We'd love to get there as soon as possible, but not first. First is dangerous, but we wouldn't mind a close second. Investment is holding us back, and maybe there's a bit of afro-pessimism - that's such nonsense - we're all people.

"There are 400 cells in the Joule battery and they have to be matched. Quality control is the key and the battery isn't there yet; it’s a big industrial challenge," he said.

He added that international electric vehicle start-ups that produce the Tesla have had significant government support, and that the South African government needed to more fully support development of the Joule.

The department of science and technology initially provided the seed money for the Joule, and the Industrial Development Corporation is a shareholder in the company.


Electric vehicles attracted some controversy in Denmark with plans to zero-rate the tax on EVs while there is a tax of about 180% on ordinary cars. Meiring would like to see more government and private sector support to promote an electric vehicle ecosystem.

"The DTI (department of trade and industry) legislation protects incumbents in the motor vehicle industry and all governments give concessions to the car industry because it's such a big job creator.

"But we must ask ourselves where the profits from that production goes. It goes back to Germany. They just view South Africa as a source of cheap labour."

- Follow Duncan on Twitter


  • My2Sent - 2011-04-13 08:12

    A very nice concept and long overdue, but once again only for the privileged few. How many of the ordinary South Africans will be able to afford it at this price? I think the cheap Chinese import will still get a bigger marketshare. The target of 10 000 per year for South Africa at this price is far to optimistic - rather think 100 to perhaps 1000???. If the price drops to an South African affordable level, then perhaps....

      WillF - 2011-04-13 08:44

      That is not the point at this stage - it is all about development and technology. What is for the privilaged few now - through groth and R&D can become the cheap transport of the future. Look at cell phone technology and satelite technology. I stand under correction but I think our new vehicle sales is around 650 000 units per year. I do not think 10 000 is too extreme. The average Toyota Yaris owner will probably be paying anything between R 800 - R 3000 / month on fuel (which is going up in price). + They will be paying financing the vehicle +/- R 15000/ month. This car will not be coming in much more than a Yaris and without the fuel bill. It's a no brainer for the doubters.. They are probably the people who don't see the investment in solar geysers (because they have never installed they will never know)

      WillF - 2011-04-13 08:45

      sorry - the repayments around R 1500/ month, not R15000!

      Duncan Alfreds - 2011-04-13 09:11

      How many South Africans afford new cars over R200k every year? And would you trust a cheap Chinese import?

      Sheda Hab - 2011-09-16 16:27

      We spend millions on the Joule. Government is right behind them. Great except that if we had our old fashioned public transport back with electric buses and trams we would not need electric cars AND the poor will be able to get around not just those who can afford cars.

  • Ross - 2011-04-13 08:23

    Can't wait for this one. We salute our South African Engineers.

  • Currie_Mafia - 2011-04-13 08:33

    About time...Nice to see SA taking EV's seriously... Car prices in this country is still about the highest in the world.

  • Lump of coal - 2011-04-13 08:47

    What is the price ???

      Duncan Alfreds - 2011-04-13 09:09

      Under R300k, and they'll probably do a battery lease deal.

  • CyberDog - 2011-04-13 08:53

    Yeah, those lipo batteries can burn.. damn, I would hate to see a Li or Lipo based car in an accident, it will be like a roman candle. Those Rc-Helicopter batteries are pretty impressive when they light up from over-charging, now times that by a hundred.

  • John Clark - 2011-04-13 09:46

    It would help local sales and marketing a lot if we were able to have faith in our electricity supply to charge EV's. Telling the boss you may not be able to make it into work today because there was load shedding last night probably won't go down too well.

  • makkemal - 2011-04-13 10:18

    Were are we going to get the power to charge these cars ? Nuclear ?

  • makkemal - 2011-04-13 10:18

    Were are we going to get the power to charge these cars ? Nuclear ?

  • makkemal - 2011-04-13 10:18

    Were are we going to get the power to charge these cars ? Nuclear ?

  • makkemal - 2011-04-13 10:20

    Were are we going to get the power to charge these cars ? Nuclear ? How often will you have to replace the battery at what cost ?

  • makkemal - 2011-04-13 10:22

    Were are we going to get the power to charge these cars ? Nuclear ? How often will you have to replace the battery at what cost ?

  • makkemal - 2011-04-13 10:23

    Were are we going to get the power to charge these cars ? Nuclear ? How often will you have to replace the battery at what cost ?

  • makkemal - 2011-04-13 10:34

    Were are we going to get the power to charge these cars ? Nuclear ? How often will you have to replace the battery at what cost ?

      Finch Finish - 2011-04-13 10:56

      The battery is currently planned to be leased at a fixed cost, which will also cover replacement when necessary (so no additional cost for replacement). Also, the batteries are expected to last several years (around 3 -5 years, obviously based on use). As for electric consumption, the argument is that these vehicles should be charged overnight, when there is a sizeable surplus of electricity. This however assumes that owner will not just plug the vehicle in when they get home, causing increased in electric consumption during peak times (5 - 8pm). If however legislation is implemented to accommodates cheaper rates for off-peak electric consumption, it might work. All in all, the Joule could be a real star in the future, not to speak of further developments (imagine EV taxi or public transport systems....) Whatever

  • Rammsteen - 2011-04-13 10:59

    If I had R300k to spend on a car I would look at buying the cheapest V8 Chevvy around. absolutely nothing beats cubes!

  • SkiaBran - 2011-04-13 11:39

    and we do what with the toxic lumps of batteries left when they die after 3 years?

  • Katoolsie - 2011-04-13 11:51

    Electric cars just don't work as well ad Hydrogen powered cars. Hydrogen powered cars use a Hydrogen Fuel Cell and the only thing that comes out of the exhaust is water! You can also fill it up at a gas station just like a petrol car. A electric car's range is not very good and it takes 16 hours or so to charge!

      Nokka - 2011-04-13 15:01

      The problem with hydrogen is 1) storage space in the car, 2) direct sunlight when parked outside and 3) cost.

  • costajules - 2011-04-13 12:00

    150 watt hours per kilogram? - That sounds a bit low

  • - 2011-04-19 15:44

    been waiting all my life for an electric

  • phathuchicos - 2012-03-02 21:52

    I am betting on would worth it to drive 100% hom-made electric car not only for the sake of creating jobs, but also for the value of money.

  • pages:
  • 1