Take a Ride Into the Future in Hybrid & Electric Cars

March 5, 2010


Copper is an Essential Material for the Future of the Auto Industry

NEW YORK, NY— Hybrid and electric automobiles will be the vehicles of the future. And copper will play a big role in their development, says Bob Weed, vice president of original equipment manufacturing for the Copper Development Association (CDA).

"You see more hybrids on the roads these days and that has generated a lot of excitement about these dynamic new products," Weed says. "The public is definitely interested."

That's good for the copper industry. The average car produced in North America has 50-55 pounds of copper in it. In an electric car, the amount of copper will triple - to 150-180 pounds, Weed says. More than half the copper is in the car's wiring harness and electrical components.

There's significantly more copper used in vehicles today, particularly electric and hybrid electric vehicles, says Pete Savagian, director-hybrid and electric architecture for General Motors Engineering. According to Savagian, the new Chevrolet Volt contains two electric motors and two inverters.

"The motor is larger in the electric vehicle because it drives the wheels, causing the current to go up by hundreds of amps," Savagian says. "Cables (made with copper wiring) are larger and heavier in order to carry the current and higher voltage."

The vehicle's inverter system is required to deliver power to the motors and is connected to them by cables containing 8-18 kg of copper.

"The reason we like to use copper is because of its efficiency for transferring heat," Savagian says. This increases the efficiency of electrical components, like the motor and inverters by allowing them to operate at low temperatures. It also reduces the possibility of damage to copper wire insulation.

Savagian adds, "Copper is superior in thermal conductivity in general and this property is important to the efficient operation of EVs and hybrid vehicles."

Ford Motor Co. uses copper throughout hybrid, battery electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, according to Gil Portalatin, Ford hybrid and battery electric systems application manager. The company also uses copper in motor winding and all the high and low voltage wiring.

Innovations like hybrids, and the all-electric cars now on the drawing boards, typically require novel engineering solutions, and for products that are copper-intensive in design, organizations like CDA often help to facilitate production. The CDA was instrumental in developing the copper motor rotor, a breakthrough electrical component that can provide many advantages over permanent magnet motors in automotive applications.

As the hybrid market continues to expand, competing technologies such as ethanol-burning cars and trucks, "clean diesels," hydrogen-powered fuel cells and all-electric vehicles are being developed and improved by auto manufacturers - and these technologies could play an important role in the future of transportation. Regardless of which technologies ultimately win out, copper components will be an intrinsic part of tomorrow's more efficient and environmentally friendly automobiles.

Says Weed, "Copper at the present time plays a very important role in all of the wiring systems, electrical motors and battery storage devices in our vehicles, and we expect that to continue in the years ahead."

Hybrid and electric vehicles also will provide a good fit for busy Americans, who drive more than ever.

In a September 2009 presentation to the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), Dr. Christopher Borroni-Bird, director of advanced technology vehicle concepts for General Motors, reported that global demographics are changing and people are more likely to live in urban areas, rather than rural. The majority of traffic congestion comes from bottlenecks (40%) and traffic accidents (25%). In dense urban centers, about a third of gasoline is consumed looking for parking. And more than 90% of drivers travel up to 50 miles a day. All these factors make electric and hybrid vehicles attractive for consumers.

Study Finds Electric & Hybrid Vehicles Would Reduce Emissions

Increased use of plug-in electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in the U.S. would dramatically reduce emissions that cause global warming and air pollution and would curb our dependence on oil, according to a new study released last month by Environment America at the North American International Auto Show. According to the report:

  • Powering a car on electricity would result in 93% less smog-forming volatile and organic compounds and 31% less nitrogen oxide, compared to powering a car on gasoline.
  • Oil use in the U.S. would be reduced by about one-third if three-fourths of American vehicles were electric.
  • Operating costs of plug-in cars are likely to be significantly lower than those of gasoline-powered cars. Electricity costs three to five cents per mile with average electric rates, or the equivalent of 75 cents to $1.25 per gallon of gasoline.

The Top 10 States for New Hybrid Sales '09

The total number of hybrid cars sold in the U.S. was 290,272 in 2009, as consumers bought new models, such as the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Honda Insight, according to HybridCars.com.

  1. California: 55,553
  2. New York: 15,348
  3. Florida: 14,949
  4. Texas: 14,632
  5. New Jersey: 11,367
  6. Illinois: 11,124
  7. Washington: 9,650
  8. Virginia: 9,126
  9. Pennsylvania: 9,126
  10. Massachusetts: 8,425

Source: www.hybridcars.com