July 22, 2007
Electric Motorcycles Coming To Market

Due to Peak Oil (world oil production peaking and declining) we might be less than 5 years away from almost $200 per barrel oil (though I think inelasticity of oil demand is not high enough to make that possible). So then are we all going to start walking around with shotguns fighthing over dwindling food supplies in a post-oil apocalyptic society? Of course not - at least not in industrialized countries. What then? Electric motorcycles.

The Vectrix scooter ($11,000) uses nickel metal hydride batteries--the same type used now in the popular Toyota Prius hybrid. This type of battery is lighter than lead-acid batteries and more durable: Vectrix claims it has a 10-year lifetime. Lithium-ion batteries, in turn, are lighter than nickel metal hydride, and new chemistries have made them durable as well, lasting as long as or longer than nickel metal hydride batteries. The Vectrix scooter weighs about 200 kilograms, while the lithium-ion-powered Enertia ($12,000), made by Brammo Motorsports of Ashland, OR, weighs just 125 kilograms.

Curiously, the two lithium ion (Li ion) bikes have shorter ranges than the nickel metal hydride (NiMH) bike.

The Zero motorcycle is now available with a 40-mile-range battery, and it will have an optional 80-mile pack, Saiki says. The Vectrix scooter can go up to 60 miles on a charge, while the Enertia can go up to 45 miles.

That might reflect high costs for the Li ion batteries at this point. Brammo is using A123 Systems batteries in their Zero. If A123 wins a production contract from GM and scales up production for cars I'm expecting substantial price drops for their batteries. If another competitor wins a GM production contract then that competitor will start selling for much cheaper. Either way, the price will come down as Li ion batteries move into production for cars and trucks.

Enertia is claiming a fuel efficiency of 2.42 kilometers (km) per megajoule (MJ). What does that mean? First off, 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity is 3.6 MJ. So then 1 kwh (which costs about 10 cents/kwh on average in the United States) can move the motorcycle 2.42 km (1.5 miles) times 3.6 for 8.7 kilometers (5.4 miles). That's less than 2 cents per mile. If you were to ride it 10,000 miles it would cost you $200. If you live in the highest electric cost state of Hawaii (22 cents/kwh) then it'll cost you $440. For California (14.32 cents/kwh) it would cost you $286. That is why Peak Oil won't cause a total collapse of civilization. The world is going to shift to electricity for transportation: electric cars, electric trains, electric motorcycles, and the Segway. We can generate the electricity with nuclear, wind, and eventually solar power.

Update: The Enertia uses .185 kwh/mile (1/5.4). In the comments of an earlier post Nick pointed me to a US Department of Energy Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report on the feasibility of pluggable hybrid electric vehicles (i.e. hybrids that can get recharged at home and run off cheaper wall socket electricity for part of the time). Table 1 on page 9 has an interesting table of kwh/mile for 4 sizes of vehicles:

Vehicle ClassSpecific Energy Requirements
Size of Battery for PHEV33
Compact sedan0.268.6
Mid-size sedan0.309.9
Mid-size SUV0.3812.5
Full-size SUV0.4615.2

This chart is problematic for those who hope that the end of the fossil fuels era will spell the death of the large SUV. With sufficiently advanced battery technology you could take 2 round trips across the United States of 12,000 miles total and if you charge up at the average rate of about 10 cents/kwh then you'll only spend $552 in fuel costs. If you charge up late at night using off-peak pricing then you might be able to cut your cost down to a third or less.

That rosy scenario for cheap SUV travel requires a few elements. First, it requires batteries that can store a lot of energy per weight. The batteries would have to be fairly cheap and last through many charges. Plus, the batteries would need to charge quickly so that you could stop for lunch and recharge while you eat.

To get down to super cheap prices for travel would require government regulatory agencies to allow dynamic pricing based on level of demand so that late night electric power could cost much less than daytime power. I think that once electric cars take off the interests of the electric car owners will create pressure for such reforms.

Even before we get batteries suitable for long trips we'll get batteries suitable for shorter commuting hops. The third column in the table above describes how much battery capacity is needed for a car to travel 33 miles on a single charge. That would encompass most commuting round trips and other daily round trips.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 July 22 03:34 PM  Energy Electric Cars

aa2 said at July 23, 2007 1:20 AM:

Hey these bikes look really great. I had a thought last week for the first time for me.. that oil could explode to 150-200$ a barrel now. I first read of peak oil in 1997... and am an optimist that we can deal with the challenges. Including part of the way is to increase production of oil, while we are working on the plug in car technology.

TTT said at July 23, 2007 12:09 PM:

The Tesla Roadster already gets about 1 cent/mile, fully electric.

FK said at July 23, 2007 1:47 PM:

When comparing the cost of fuel between ICE and electric vehicles, doesn't it make more sense to include the price of batteries along with electricity for the EVs? If you have a car for 200,000 miles and it requires a new battery pack at 50,000 seems like the cost of the batteries should be included as a gasoline powered car wouldn't have this expense.

So how much would the cost of batteries add per mile?

Based on the comments to this Green Car Congress post, they estimate the Enertia's battery pack costs around $6,000 (the batteries are Valence rather than A123 as you reported). I am not sure how long the cycle life is of the battery (they only say "long cycle life" on the Enertia's website), but the best I can find is 600. Assuming you get the most out of each cycle and go 45 miles each time, this gives you 600 * 45 = 27,000 miles. $6,000 / 27,000 = 22 a mile.

That is much more than the electricity cost. It is also more than the 10 a mile that you would pay with $3 a gallon gasoline prices and a 30 MPG car.

Greg said at July 23, 2007 2:06 PM:


On the other hand, with an electric vehicle you don't need to change oil every 6000 miles @ $30 per change (0.5c/mile), nor you need timing belt, air filter, hoses, etc every X miles, and you don't need emissions test every X years (depending upon your state).
As to 10c/kwH electricity, it assumes that the batteries are 100% efficient - which is not the case. Though the electricity cost is only a small portion of expenses for an EV.
I also think that when replacing the batteries, you'll be getting some money for the old ones, as they still do contain expensive materials.
Bottom line, the money spent for transportation is roughly the same, EV or ICE. The difference is, EVs are gradually getting less expensive while ICEs are going the other way.

Randall Parker said at July 23, 2007 7:49 PM:


But the Tesla Roadster costs so much that you'd be better of paying $10/gallon for gasoline in a Prius.


Yes, the number of charge cycles is key to whether batteries are cost effective. But we don't know what replacement batteries will cost because we do not know how rapidly battery costs will drop. Initial batteries will be expensive. But that won't always be the case.

We also do not know how long various next gen batteries will last. I'm expecting warranties to be for less than real actual lifetimes.

My point is that if we can develop cheap batteries that last a long time then electricity costs will be so low that land travel will be cheap.

My second point: How rapidly we get great batteries will determine how wrenching Peak Oil will be. If we get great batteries with low costs and long lifes in the next 3 years then Peak Oil will be no big deal. If the batteries take much longer then living standards will drop and people will have to move to be closer to work and change jobs and move to be closer to trains.

Randall Parker said at July 23, 2007 8:12 PM:


I've been spending a lot of time reading the smarter Peak Oilers and I'm persuaded by their evidence and analyses. The Middle Eastern oil reserves are greatly overstated. Saudi Arabia has probably already peaked. Iran is going to stop exporting oil by 2014 due to domestic demand growth. Russia is probably near peak. Mexico's past peak. We are in for a tough time.

We are probably going to go thru some recessions driven by jumps in oil prices. The economic adjustments will be wrenching. I'm trying to figure out how fast we'll develop the technologies needed for the shift to a more electrical economy.

aa2 said at July 24, 2007 1:25 AM:

Yes you are right Randall.. how quickly batteries come in will determine a lot of the pain. They don't need to replace all oil use either, just a significant enough amount to let production keep up. I read once that lithium batteries get ten percent better each year. And I believe they were talking about cost and energy density. So every 7 years they double in cost effectiveness. Which sounds about right.

Heres the thing for Americans I read if you had a plug in that could get 20 miles on all electric.. I think that would reduce oil consumption by 80% for the average person. 20 miles all electric is still a difficult challenge to do in a cost effective way!

Bigelow said at July 24, 2007 4:54 AM:

How much oil will we be using to build plug in hybrid vehicles and electrics vs. the oil we saved fueling the internal combustion engined vehicles that we have replaced?

Stephen Gordon said at July 24, 2007 5:14 AM:

I'm guessing that hybrid vehicles will be with us awhile. It's just hard to beat the advantages of liquid fuel for long trips. Biodiesel could become the liquid fuel of choice because its sustainable.

But there are other ways we could go. We could go all-electric with the advantages of instant fueling by using standardized, exchangable battery packs. Maybe you'd pull up in a bay that looks like a cross between an automatic car wash and a oil change place. The near-empty battery pack is pulled out and replaced with a full battery pack and you're on your way in minutes.

Nick said at July 24, 2007 11:03 AM:

Randall, I believe A123systems is getting around 5,000 cycles before the battery loses 20% of capacity (that's a fairly standard definition of cycle life). They promise 2,000 cycles for power tools, a very harsh application. Tesla says that they are paying $400/KWH for good quality conventional Li-ion. I've seen no reason why A123systems can't get close to that price in the next few years, which would get you $.08 per per kwh-discharge, and about 2 cents per mile in a Mid-size sedan (plus electricity costs of 1-4 cents/miles).

Please note that lead-acid is available for $65/KWH, and 400 cycle life, which gives $.16 per kwh-discharge, and about 4 cents per mile in a Mid-size sedan. So, we could do a PHEV with lead-acid right now that would be cost-competitive with an ICE vehicle, it would just require battery replacement every year or two, which would be slightly inconvenient.

Firefly says that their lead-acid will cost $100-150 per KWH. Their main selling point is extended life (in addition to much lower weight, and higher power). I haven't seen a cycle life yet, but I would hope for 2,000 cycles. That would get you $.075 per per kwh-discharge, and about 2 cents per mile in a Mid-size sedan.

Electric transport is here. Heck, it's been here for 100 years, just not competitively convenient. Now, it's all over but the engineering to accomodate the specific characteristics of the newest batteries to be used.

Allan Lotreck said at July 24, 2007 1:27 PM:

In all the posts here (as well as in many posts elsewhere), there is no mention of how long it takes to recharge a depleted battery. I suspect that it will take about as long to recharge as to discharge, which may be a matter of hours, which is another reason to enjoy fossil fuels while we still have them.

Randall Parker said at July 24, 2007 6:13 PM:


The US auto market currently puts 16 million new cars on the road every year. So a shift to electric could be made gradually by making all-electric cars in large quantities in place of the existing car mix.

Also, if battery costs drop drastically expect to see conversions. Got a Cadillac with 100,000 miles on it? Convert it to electric.

Stephen Gordon and Allan Lotreck,

Liquid fuels are very convenient for longer trips where you want to fill up quickly and have a large travel range between stops. That's why we need to shift to electric for the daily drives to work and stores. Save the liquid fuel for the purposes where a switch to electric is at least harder to do at this point.

Where we most need liquid fuels: Airplanes. Air travel is going to become more expensive vis a vis travel and car travel due to the decline in oil extraction and depletion of oil reserves. I do not know how much the relative cost of air travel will change versus ground travel. But the change will be substantial as higher prices for liquid fuels makes air travel more expensive even as better batteries drastically lower the cost per mile travelled.

Randall Parker said at July 24, 2007 6:20 PM:


Thanks for those numbers.

5000 cycles is great. At that point the batteries still have considerable residual value to collect photovoltaic electricity during the day or nuclear at night to use when electric rates are higher.

The $400/kwh sounds very high. For a big SUV that goes 2 miles per kwh that's $200 per mile of range. For a big SUV with 400 miles of range that's $80,000 just for the batteries. For a compact car it is still half that amount.

Nick said at July 25, 2007 11:00 AM:

Randall, yes, I think plug-in's with about 40 miles of range will be a sweetspot for several years. That can give a 90% reduction in fuel use, so that's really good enough, at least for a while. As battery prices decline & gas prices rise that sweetspot will rise.

Eventually li-ion's like the A123systems will become much cheaper than that, but I think it will be a while before pure EV's are practical, general use vehicles. That will depend to some extent on infrastructure for public charging. I think the A123systems, Altair & Firefly batteries all have much faster recharge times than conventional chemistries, but there will be tradeoffs for a while.

Randall Parker said at July 26, 2007 5:37 PM:


At $400 per kwh then a compact car at .25 kwh per mile would need $4000 of batteries for 40 miles range. A big SUV with 40 miles range would need $8000 of batteries.

Keep in mind that for a person driving 33 miles per day they'd have to plug it in every single night. Some will do it. Most will find that impractical. We've discussed this before. We need automated systems for hooking up to recharge. But that doesn't work so well unless you either own your own home or work somewhere that accommodates that need. Well, the capital equipment for the automated chargers ends up being one set of equipment per car. Seems expensive.

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