In mobility, battery technology is not only useful for cars, but has a wide range of applications.
What is possible for passenger cars should also be feasible for commercial vehicles. In fact, it must be! Because truck manufacturers are under the same pressure to build more environmentally friendly vehicles. In Switzerland, some larger companies such as Coop, Migros and Feldschlösschen have already converted part of their commercial vehicle fleet to electric for the local distribution of goods. Large trucks with a payload of up to 44 tonnes have enough space for large batteries. And at the vehicle depot, the electric trucks can be recharged whenever they return from a trip. In addition, the vehicle’s roof can be fitted with solar panels so that electricity can even be produced while driving.
The electrified commercial vehicle has a certain tradition here in Switzerland – Johann Albert Tribelhorn was even a pioneer at the beginning of the 20th century with his company on Lake Zurich. Later on, the Swiss Post Office used electric vehicles for decades to deliver letters and parcels. Many hotels had an electric bus, some of them to this day. In addition to an electric drive, hydrogen is also a suitable fuel for commercial vehicles, especially because of its high efficiency. The industry is currently divided on whether fuel cells or batteries are more suitable for trucks. Manufacturers currently use either one technology or the other.
In contrast to bicycles, the electric drive has not yet really become established with heavy motorbikes, and the range of models on offer is not yet very extensive. As with cars, many customers find it difficult to make the switch because of the shorter range compared with the combustion engine. Only a few brands have a powerful motorbike with electric drive in their range. But here, too, the selection will expand in line with the improvement in battery capacities. The situation with scooters is different. Here, many manufacturers have already followed the trend and have an electric model in their range. This also has to do with the fact that the average radius of a scooter is usually much smaller than that of a large motorbike used for travelling over mountain passes, for example.
As cycling is in itself already environmentally friendly, electrifying the bicycle was not motivated by the environmental aspect. The focus here was much more on convenience. In contrast to cars, the electrification of bicycles began earlier, albeit with anything but a smooth start. The first models supported by an electric motor were built in the 1990s, with Switzerland leading the way. However, after a series of setbacks, it took until the second half of the 2000s for the breakthrough to come. Today, e-bikes are fully established. Every brand has models in every bike category – race bike, mountain bike, city bike, trekking bike – with electrified versions in two strength classes. Some half a million bicycles were sold in Switzerland in 2020, 29 per cent or 171 000 of which were electric bikes.
The dream of flying is probably as old as humanity itself – and is by now no longer an unrealistic one. Electric flight is humanity’s next great dream. Electrically driven small aircraft and air taxis already exist, but wide-body aircraft cannot yet be powered in this way. An electric motor is much more efficient than a combustion engine in terms of energy. The batteries that store the electricity to power the engine, however, have a lower energy density than jet fuel. The large aircrafts used in civil aviation would consequently need a large number of heavy batteries. These would increase the take-off weight to such an extent that take-off would not (yet) be possible from a purely physical perspective.
The next problem is range. For long-distance flights, the range offered by today’s electric batteries is not sufficient. Experts believe, however, that shorter routes of up to 1000 kilometres with 50-seat regional aircraft will soon be feasible. The aircraft industry is working on research aimed at making the current dream of flying come true. Measures to massively reduce the weight of electric aircraft will involve manufacturing the fuselage and wings entirely or partly of carbon. In another parallel to the car industry, hybrid technology could be used as an interim solution. It seems most likely, however, that synthetic fuels will be used for aircraft.