Imperial’s Dr Billy Wu, Senior Lecturer at the Dyson School of Design Engineering, took part in a virtual event on electric cars this week.
This event, which was attended by local residents, was organised by Kensington MP Felicity Buchan and featured speakers from a number of other local organisations.
Electric vehicles could have a transformational impact in the UK and across the world, significantly reducing greenhouse emissions and supporting progress towards the government’s ambition to reach net zero emissions in the UK by 2050.
Most existing transport uses internal combustion engines, which rely on highly-polluting petrol and diesel, compared to electric vehicles with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that have a substantially reduced environmental impact – though there are still barriers to their uptake.
Imperial’s Dr Billy Wu, Senior Lecturer at the Dyson School of Design Engineering, took part in the virtual event, highlighting his research into making electric batteries greener, more efficient, cheaper and safer. He explained that while electric vehicles are currently not at price parity with internal combustion engines, technology is advancing rapidly and parity is expected to be reached by 2023.
During the event, Dr Wu also outlined some of the challenges to further growth in electric vehicle use, such as how to adapt the UK energy grid to meet greater demands for electricity. He highlighted some of the ways these challenges could be overcome, such as vehicle-to-grid (V2G) systems which allow drivers to sell the energy in their vehicle back to the grid at times of high demand.
With Ofgem research this week finding that 6.5 million households plan to buy an electric car by 2030, Dr Wu stressed the need for drivers to be aware of how to most effectively charge their vehicles, such as ensuring that rapid charges are used only when necessary to prolong the life of the car’s battery.
Also speaking at the event was Councillor Johnny Thalassites, Lead Member for Transport and Environment at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. He spoke about the commitment of the borough to promoting electric vehicle use, with Kensington and Chelsea now having more electric vehicle charging per head than any other borough in London.
The Science Museum’s Dr Rachel Boon, Curator of Technology and Engineering, provided some historical background to the use of electric vehicles and outlined some of the challenges to changing consumer behaviour such as trust and cost. She also emphasised that electric vehicles must be considered alongside other kinds of low-emission options, such as hydrogen.
Richard Herrington, Head of Earth Science at the Natural History Museum, spoke about some of the environmental challenges around extracting the minerals needed to produce electric batteries, such as cobalt and lithium, with current supplies being mined from some of the most ecologically diverse areas of the world. He provided an overview of ways to mitigate these challenges, such as making use of deposits closer to home – with increasing signs that lithium mining may even be viable in Cornwall.
Dr Wu’s research links with Imperial’s Transition to Zero Pollution initiative, which is connecting researchers from across the College to move to a zero pollution future.
Imperial’s vision for a sustainable zero pollution future
In September, the College launched a new strategic programme Transition to Zero Pollution, one of the first initiatives of Imperial’s new Academic Strategy, with a launch event featuring a keynote speech from Mary Robinson. The initiative captures our vision to transform the way we think about pollution, bringing together ideas around resource management, health and environmental impacts, socio-economic and human behaviour in a ‘whole system’ approach.