“Record-Setting” Electric Car Maker Refuses Independent Testing. Was It Just A Hoax?

Back in late October it was all over the media; the jubilation was huge. A German retrofitted Audi A2 equipped with new high-tech batteries was driven 605 km from Munich to Berlin on a single charge with an average speed close to 90 kilometres per hour, read here. It was a new record. The Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, even welcomed the electric car at the Brandenburg Gate – a national landmark. The symbolism could not have been more poignant.

Driver Mirko Hannemann even joked that there was still enough power left to charge the iPhones of the reporters, who had flocked behind the car in a media spectacle along the route. The record-setting trip represented the breakthrough that would herald in a new age of environmentally friendly mobility, and it became a symbol of German engineering prowess.

 The 605 km distance smashed all records. Typically an electric car can travel around 70 km on a single charge, and so the 600 km distance represented a quantum leap. Electric mobility was no longer just a utopian dream. It was now reality.

According to the German Information Centre Pretoria:

In Japan, a battery-powered car has run 1,000 kilometres on one charge. That May feat was the work of Japan Electric Vehicle Club. The German engineers said their car was special because the battery was not installed inside the luggage area, but under the luggage area, meaning the full interior space of the car was still available.

German Economic Minister Reinhard Bruderle made sure to be photographed sitting in the car, indulging in its success.

According to the manufacturer of the batteries and electric motors, DBM Energy, the car has a lithium-metal-polymer battery and can function for 500,000 kilometres.

Hannemann, 27, the chief of DBM energy, said 50 experts spent six weeks adapting and tuning up the car for the run.

It was the long awaited feat needed to launch the German government’s ambitious goal of having five million electric cars on its streets by 2030, and by 2050 most urban transport would do without fossil fuels. Germany was on its way to becoming a world leading climate hero.

Is it all just a fraud?

Yesterday leading German newspaper DIE ZEIT wrote a report titled Dubious Record, raising serious questions about claims made by the heavily subsidized manufacturer. What has really raised eyebrows in particular are DMB’s claims that, as DIE ZEIT writes:

Its battery technology is ready for series production and is already affordable in niche markets, like forklifts. It allows 2000 charging cycles and 500,000 km of travel in an automobile. And that with unprecedented reliability. Even shooting through the batteries with live ammo neither led to a fire nor the release of poisonous gases. The wonder rechargeable battery “was able to maintain a constant power output”.

Those are awfully impressive claims. This led DIE ZEIT to ask: If that is so, then why all the future billions for further development? DIE ZEIT:

If that were the case, the auto industry would be at the start of a technological revolution, the military would have to convert over to this new munition-proof energy source. DBM managing director Mirko Hannemann has already received a top offer for its technology from Samsung for € 600 million – and turned it down. Why?

Independent testing refused

Die Zeit points out that when you’re playing with such high stakes, eventually you have to show your hand and become transparent. Potential investors want to see what’s really behind the mainly tax-payer financed record-setting Munich to Berlin trip. DIE ZEIT probes deeper:  

Hannemann drove the car alone while journalists had to tag along behind.”

And in order for the 600 km trip to be recognised as an official record, it was supposed to be certified by a notary public. And the manufacturer refuses to subject the technology to independent testing. DIE ZEIT:

An invited notary public never showed up. German automobile club ADAC offered to test the super-car and its potent batteries, yet the company declined. Concerning an offer to organise an independent test, no reply came to DIE ZEIT by the press deadline. That’s not a good omen! The “breakthrough” in battery technology could very well turn into a PR disaster.”

Shall we call it electric-car gate? The “record”, which probably led to hundreds of millions more being approved for research, could very well turn out to have been just a hoax. If so – fooled again!


Update: hat-tip Dirk:

DBM technology “old and unsafe”. Financial Times Deutschland reports:

A packaging manufacturer had bought a DBM Energy battery for the forklift. Just two months later ‘incompatibility between the battery and the charging unit occurred,’ confirms Papstar-Logistik director Gregor Falke. 100 firemen were mobilized, 7 people had to be hospitalized.

25 thoughts on ““Record-Setting” Electric Car Maker Refuses Independent Testing. Was It Just A Hoax?”

  1. I was interested in the battery technology so i googled for DBM Energy.
    Turns out they had a little fire with a forklift at Papstar; the blog that published the police report got threatening mails from DBM so i won’t give a link; battery makers are very eager to suppress reports about failures as the fires often develop acidic gases and wreck the reputation of a battery maker for good.

    But here’s a fresh report from ftd; i don’t think we’ll get into trouble for that:

    They say the battery technology used by DBM is not safe.

  2. Thanks Dirk
    Dangerous gases like the ESLs! I’ll add an update on this later today. It would all be very funny, were it not so expenseive for us taxpayers.

  3. Batteries Matter
    Three megawatt hours of electricity would be required for an electric car to travel 12,000 miles a year. But to get the three megawatt hours of electricity to the consumer requires the use of much more generation energy because of losses in transmission and other generator inefficiencies. Thus 11 megawatt hours of generation would be required to get the four megawatt hours to the car. This works out to the equivalent of 38 miles per gallon. This is the same efficiency offered by advanced gasoline, diesel and hybrid engines. And you don’t need to pay $33,000, the suggested manufacturer’s retail price of the Leaf, to get them.

    The lower marginal costs of electric car operation are offset by the much higher fixed costs of batteries relative to an internal combustion engine of equivalent output.
    Yes, the marginal costs of plug-in electric cars are lower than conventional gasoline powered cars: three cents a mile if electricity costs 15 cents per kilowatt hour. Gasoline would have to cost 90 cents per gallon and be used at the rate of 30 miles per gallon to provide equivalent marginal costs. At $3 per gallon and 30 miles per gallon, the marginal costs of conventional cars (10 cents per mile) are more than triple the electric car marginal costs.

    But the lower marginal costs of electric car operation are offset by the much higher fixed costs of batteries relative to an internal combustion engine of equivalent output. So for electric cars to be cost competitive, battery costs would have to be much lower (probably about a third of their current costs) or gasoline prices would have to be much higher (above $5 a gallon).

    And there would not be carbon-emission advantages from electric cars unless all the new electricity used for cars were renewable. With natural gas-fired generation, the cost of carbon emission reduction from electric cars would be well over $100 per ton, much higher than any carbon tax recommended by economists. Thus, the electric car is not a cost effective answer to all our problems and would not exist without government tax subsidies.

    Electric cars, like wind mills and solar have become the “Green Face” of a new political doctrine. They consequently tell us that electric vehicles are not only good for the environment but because we run out of oil by 2030.

    Any person who loves our freedom should reject the hubris based on lies and cheats that is poured over us.

    Because in the end, like any other doctrine from the past they will kill people.

    The only difference will be the scale of the operations and the numbers that will be killed.

    We will count them in the billions.

  4. There is still a lot of research to be done before we will see a reliable all weather battery with a really high energy density per kilo weight.

    There is nothing available that puts a punch of energy in a light weight but gasoline and diesel.

    And at this moment in time only LPG beats gasoline and diesel in price, not in performance.

    De distance between fossil fuel and battery generated power can still be counted in light years.

  5. Irrespective of battery efficiency the media forgets the brutal laws of supply and demand.

    Lithium cobalt batteries as used in the Tesla need lithium ($$) and cobalt ($$$). If everyone wants to buy a Li-Co based battery car all at once then the available world production of both would be exausted in a few hours.

    Then their prices rise.

    This happens for all batteries if a large number of battery based cars were to be produced. All battery designs, except one, require relatively rare ingredients – lithium, cobalt, lead, nickel etc. As soon as significant new consumption occurs the prices will spike and the batteries will become uneconomic for cars.

    The only battery for which supply is not a problem is the sodium-sulfur battery, as there are very large amounts of sodium and sulfur available in the world, and thus supply can more or less keep up with demand (eventually anyway).

    The trouble with sodium sulfur batteries is they have to run molten at ~300 C, and if water gets into them the results could be more than slightly deadly. I have not researched the safety of Na-S batteries myself, but H2S is nasty, as are Na-water fires. However I do know supply and demand – there just isn’t enough Li, Ni or Pb in the world for enough batteries for (economic) mass electric car production.

  6. What amazes me time after time is the amount of hype and propaganda that’s put behind so called new developments in the battery industry and the enormous amounts of money that are poured into new development.

    Well, the best batteries today stick in your lab top, your mobile phone and some electric tools and even those application end with a burn out of the battery that destroys the hardware.

    I don’t expect any new developments soon and neither does the industry.

    In the USA an entire scene has specialized in electric drag racing.
    They use batteries and banks of ultracapacitators http://www.maxwell.com/ultracapacitors/ to take the peak powers from the battery packs.
    That’s where the best products in the market are tested and they haven’t seen a “better product” come by for the past two years.

    Their conclusion are supported by the US DOE
    DOE report addresses battery shortcomings

    Traditional li-ion battery technology has matured and faces drawbacks that prevent it from solving the cost, performance and safety obstacles to viable electric vehicles. Li-ion batteries have not proven “suitable or cost-effective for use in cars with plugs,” according to John Petersen, former director Axion Power International, citing a December 2008 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) report that addressed several li-ion shortcomings:

    Cost- The current cost of Li-based batteries is approximately a factor of two too high on a kW basis. The main cost drivers being addressed are the high cost of raw materials and materials processing, the cost of cell and module packaging, and manufacturing costs.
    Performance – The barriers related to battery performance include a loss in discharge power at low temperatures and power fade over time and/or when cycled.
    The underlying problem facing the power-storage industry is that it’s been trying to make traditional liquid chemistry li-ion batteries scale to a size and performance threshold that does not make sense – from safety or economic perspectives. It is analogous to efforts to scale traditional glass-tube TV sets beyond the 30” screen.

    The costly and rare raw materials that are required, along with expensive materials processing, make for steep barriers to overcome when it comes to powering electric vehicles. While li-ion batteries are adequate to deliver 70 Wh of energy that is standard for laptop computers, the technology fails to economically scale for producing the 15-20kWh battery that a typical plug-in electric vehicle requires for a 40-mile range.

    Practical impact of this challenge

    Liquid electrolyte li-ion technology presents safety issues, too. Because traditional li-ion batteries require liquid electrolytes, each cell is essentially a chemical reactor that suffers from thermal, chemical and mechanical degradation each time the battery is charged and discharged.

    The practical impact of this challenge has been seen in the many recalls of cell phone and laptop batteries that have caught on fire. Each automotive cell stores 10-20 times more energy than a laptop cell requiring dramatically more sophisticated electronics and packaging to make them safe. This adds further cost, weight and complexity to automotive batteries.

    That’s one of the reasons why I have strong doubts about the range claims of the Audi. A battery with such a performance simply does not exist.

    1. Makes me giggle. Some of the commenters over there seem to believe Moore’s Law can be applied to power storages.

    1. Vegetable growers everywhere add CO2 to their greenhouses to enhance growth rates. Trees grow fast next to coal fired power stations.

      CO2 as fertilizer? What a silly idea! (/sarc) I’ll not be very suprised if her paper gets into IPCC AR5 and these don’t.

  7. Some of the stuff here about LiIon batteries is nonsense.

    TeslaMotors batteries are in banks of regular laptop type cells, but are carefully managed electronically and thermally. They are kept in safe operating ranges, and are (proven) crash-safe. Life expectancy is hence about 10 yrs, at which point they should have about 70% of remaining capacity, and hence still be fully usable for other applications. They are almost totally recyclable, as well.

    Some of the advances in cathodes and internal banding, requiring minimal manufacturing changes, indicate that energy density will increase by 5-10X over the next 5 yrs or so, which drastically reduces materials costs.

    And so on.

    As for “transmission costs”, let’s do apples-to-apples, ‘K? What are the transmission costs of getting a bbl of oil to the local gas station? Going further, the engine of an IC vehicle has ‘000s of moving parts. An electric motor has 1: the rotor. Total motor weight for the TM Roadster: 110 lbs.

    Yet further, brakes on the Roadster last almost forever, because they are almost never used. Regen decel takes the car down to about 5 mph. in most driving. Emergency stops and stopping “creep” at stoplights are about the only use the brakes get.

    Range in mixed mode traffic is 240 mi., 400 km. A carefully driven one in competition got over 300 mi. (in Australia a year or so ago.) In stop-go slow traffic, you might get 400 mi. The next model, “Model S”, will get about 300 mi. in mixed mode driving.

    Battery capacity is about 55kwh currently, perhaps 70kwh from the plug including losses. Where I live, that’s under $5. About 2¢/mi. A car getting 30 mpg paying $3/gal costs 10¢/mi.

    1. “Some of the advances in cathodes and internal banding, requiring minimal manufacturing changes, indicate that energy density will increase by 5-10X over the next 5 yrs or so, which drastically reduces materials costs. ”

      That would be fantastic. Do you have a source for these statements?

    2. Oh. You’re paying about 10 Eurocent per kWh; less than half of German tariffs. (23 Eurocent/kWh). So given your mileage numbers and my tariff i would end up with 4.6¢/mi (US cent) or 4 Eurocent per km; i’m currently paying about 6 Eurocent per km for LPG (which is tax-free ATM in Germany; a consequence of the CO2 scare.).

      IOW – renewable energy subsidies make electricity so expensive that electric cars become rather less attractive – i love the law of unintended consequences.

    3. As an example of what you are up against, the Climate Change Committee advising the UK government is advocating 11 million electric cars on British roads by 2030.

      At say 100 kg of cobalt and 20 kg of lithium per car you would require 1.1 million tonnes of cobalt and 220,000 tonnes of lithium for those cars. World production now is about 60,000 t/a of Co and about 25,000 t/a of Li. So Britain alone would need all the cobalt produced in the world and half the lithium for the next 20 years. Germany is several times bigger than Britain. It takes 10-20 years for a big new mine to come on stream, so expanding production won’t stop the prices going up 10 fold at least.

      You can potentially replace cobalt by going to LiMn or LiFePO4 batteries, but you can’t replace the lithium. Energy density reduces the size of the battery, but does not change the amount of lithium required – one mole of lithium can give you 1 mole of electrons, that’s it. If you include less lithium you get less range.

      Unless a cheap, light battery which uses no lithium or other price sensitive materials is produced the economics you cite are a complete myth. I work in this field. There just isn’t enough lithium available to do 1% of what these people are saying. Prices will absolutely skyrocket like rare earths recently, which have risen roughly 1000% in a year.

  8. I think the author from the NYT article with transmission losses means the transport losses from the grid.
    In the US these distances are much longer therefore higher losses.

    Tesla: 40% of it’s cars could catch fire

    I know the technology, have build my own battery banks for aeronautical use. Think it is reliable but not without a solid fire proof battery box and a redundant cooling system + fire wall.

    I agree, the price of an electric car and the price of electric power will make the entire concept obsolete before “the revolution” can take off.
    Even if they have a car that manages to drive 600 km between recharge.

  9. dave ward,

    I stumbled on the Linc Volt project when they were experimenting with a Mazda Rotary engine as a generator.

    I like these kind of projects but only if they are performed for the good reasons and result in the right solution.

    These guys are freaks.
    They want to breath oxygen but they don’t want to exhale CO2.

    The car is very heavy and to run it on a Capstone hydrogen generator which will require LPG or Hydrogen for fuel is nothing more but an expensive joke.

    The best way would be to rebuild the engine and prepare it for direct injection of LPG (LPi) which requires an electronic engine management and a few big LPG cylinders in the boot.
    A complete installation for a V8 would set them back $ 3500,00 including the engine electronics and the tanks.

    LPG is cheap in the US (no coupling with oil prices) and they have plenty of it.

    For any other solution they should build something without wheels like a rocket.

  10. R. de Haan – Thanks for your thoughts, I found the whole idea rather silly. For a start the weight of the battery pack in the (now useless boot, or trunk as US readers would call it) is going to give rise to some very unpleasant handling characteristics if the driver ever needs to take avoiding action. Think of Ralph Nader and the Chevrolet Corvair…

    Next the performance from the 160 KW motor may well be impressive, but the Capstone micro turbine generator only produces 35KW, so on long journeys or in hilly terrain this will soon become a limiting factor. Regenerative braking will help considerably in stop / start driving, but be of very little use on motorway / interstate cruising.

    When will people realise that battery powered cars will never be a replacement for conventional engines. Only an alternative for city commuting. If you fit a large enough engine / generator to allow for long journeys, you might as well not bother with any type of hybrid.

    The UK motoring programme Top Gear did a back to back real world comparison between a Prius and a VW Lupo with a 1.4 litre TDI diesel engine. Not only did the VW give better mileage, it gave substantially better performance as well.

    The small matter of gradually reducing battery capacity, and the considerable cost of replacement after 5 years or so, is never mentioned either…

  11. I did some back-of-envelope calculations when I first read the report. I noted the use of an Audi A2 and the under-floor space. You may recall that the Audi A2 was available with the “same” 1.2 TDI engine as the VW Lupo 3L, giving pretty much the same fuel consumption. From the world-circumnavigating Lupo records, it showed that it could cruise hundreds of kilometres usine just2 litres of fuel per hundred kilometres. The typical nett energy at the flywheel for that is around 40 MJ.

    The “record” would be plausible if (IIRC) about 60kWh is recoverable from the battery and the motor/drivetrain operated substantially within it’s sweet spot. But not with only 100kg of battery. Related claims of being able to recharge in 6 minutes raised alarms. (http://sufiy.blogspot.com/2010/10/lithium-metal-polymer-battery-from-dbm.html) All highly implausible.

    So I checked the battery maker’s web site. Where what they offered was a book for €200.00 and pseudo-science.

    You get only a “Merry Christmas” page from http://www.dbm-energy.com/

    Cold fusion.

  12. It would be interesting to know the wind direction on the day of the test, as well as the terrain profile between Munich and Berlin. There is about 500 meter difference, and I suppose the motorway would be very gradual…


    1. You can check the terrain along the Autobahn using e.g. Google Maps’ “Terrain” option which shows contour intervals. BAB 9 gets a bit hilly through Bavaria North of Nuremberg and in Thuringia , but it’s not “severe” except for a climb of about 100 metres over a km in the Fränkische Schweiz. That’s one that I recall clearly from my vacation in 2007.

      Munich is at just over 500 metres altitude and the Autobahn drops to a low point near Nuremberg of around 400 m or so. It then climbs in the national park (above) at first quickly back through 500 m, then gradually to about 600 m, before falling quite steadily to Berlin which is 100 m (and less) above mean sea level.

      i.e. the nett change in altitude is a decrease of about 400 metres.

  13. I find most comparisons of kw price to gas price don’t recognize excise taxes included in the gas price but not in the electric cost.

    The electric cars, similar to the used-vegetable oil vehicles, make substantially less economic sense if they also pay what is sometimes called a highway use tax. In my state of NY, state, federal and sales taxes total over $1 per gal. They won’t be happy if that all disappears to cheap taxed electricity.

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