Audi EV of the future could be ‘energy storage device on four wheels’

24 Jul 2020

Audi E-tron with experimental bidirectional charging technology. Image: Audi

This week in future tech, Audi has begun research into ‘bidirectional charging’, allowing EVs to act as small-scale batteries for domestic grids.

Audi has announced a partnership with the Hager Group to research and develop bidirectional charging – or vehicle-to-home (V2H) charging – in its cars. This would allow for the high-voltage battery of an electric vehicle (EV) to be used to supply electricity back into a domestic grid as a decentralised energy storage system.

A homeowner with local solar power generation could use their home energy to charge their EV. But when the homeowner is facing dark clouds for an extended period of time, the EV could supply stored electricity back to the house. It could also be used when a home experiences a prolonged blackout.

Audi said that while V2H is simple in theory, it requires a complex, coordinated effort between technical components of the EV and the grid infrastructure. In a test grid, an Audi E-tron EV operated with a DC wall box, which enables a charging capacity of up to 12kW, and a flexibly extendable home storage unit with a capacity of 9kWh.

“Electric mobility is bringing the automotive industry and the energy sector closer together,” said Martin Dehm, technical project manager for bidirectional charging at Audi.

“The battery of an Audi E-tron could supply a single-family home with energy for around one week independently. Looking ahead, we want to make this potential accessible and make the electric car part of the energy transition as an energy storage device on four wheels.”

Covid-19 travel shutdown leads to solar power boost

New research into the effects of a shutdown on major commercial air traffic over the skies of Delhi has revealed a significant boost for solar power output in the region.

Scientists from MIT writing in Joule said that the clearer skies over the Indian city led to an 8pc increase in solar power output. While not unexpected, the researchers said that this is the first study to demonstrate and quantify the impact of the reduced air pollution on solar output.

The effect should apply to solar installations worldwide, but would normally be very difficult to measure against a background of natural variations in solar panel output caused by everything from clouds to dust on the panels. However, the conditions triggered by the pandemic – including a combination of the cessation of normal activities and high-quality air pollution data – created a scientifically relevant experiment.

Despite reports of clearer skies resulting in higher output levels from solar farms in Germany and the UK, MIT researcher Ian Marius Peters said this was just a coincidence, unlike the recent Delhi findings.

“The air pollution levels in Germany and Great Britain are generally so low that most [solar] installations are not significantly affected by them,” Peters said. After checking the data, what contributed most to those high levels of solar output in Europe this spring turned out to be just “extremely nice weather”, which produced record numbers of sunlight hours.

Berlin-based Grover joins growing list of e-scooter makers

After adding an e-scooter subscription service in early 2019, tech rental start-up Grover is now rolling out its own brand of vehicles. Under the company’s micromobility sub-brand ‘GroverGo’, the new scooter comes with a range of 25km and weighs 13kg.

Unlike pay-per-ride e-scooters available in many European cities, Grover offers a monthly subscription for the vehicle so that the customer can take their e-scooter anywhere. If they no longer want an e-scooter, they cancel the subscription and return the vehicle.

“Grover’s e-scooter is our answer to people’s changing mobility habits,” said Grover co-founder and CEO Michael Cassau.

“Especially now, post-coronavirus, our e-scooter is the perfect alternative to public transport and the well-known pay-per-ride services, allowing subscribers to go beyond the last mile and reach their daily destinations quickly and conveniently, all while avoiding shared spaces or surfaces.”

Tiny, 3D-printed ‘Lego bricks’ may help heal broken bones

Inspired by Lego bricks, researchers have developed small, hollow blocks that serve as scaffolding onto which both hard and soft tissue can regrow better than today’s standard regeneration methods.

In a paper published in Advanced Materials, the US-based researchers said each brick is 1.5mm cubed, or roughly the size of a small flea.

Luiz Bertassoni of Oregon Health and Science University, who was lead researcher on the project, said the patent-pending scaffolding is easy to use and “can be stacked together like Legos and placed in thousands of different configurations” to match the complexity and size of many situations.

A unique advantage of this new scaffolding system is that its hollow blocks can be filled with small amounts of gel to grow damaged tissue where it’s needed most. The study found growth factor-filled blocks placed near repaired rat bones led to about three times more blood vessel growth than conventional scaffolding material.

The researchers now plan to test the technology’s ability to repair more complex bone fractures in rats or larger animals.

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic