While their use is on the rise, electric cars currently still only make up a tiny 0.15 per cent of the cars on our roads worldwide. In certain European countries, however, things look a little different: alongside the pioneering Norway, home to the electric vehicle capital of the world, things are also on the move in France, where the huge electric car sharing service Autolib is based. But when it comes to buying one, many consumers are still put off by the comparatively limited driving range of electric vehicles.
The French startup EP Tender wants to make those worries a thing of the past. They’ve developed an innovative range-extending trailer that should allow cars to cover a range of up to 500 kilometers, plus the distance allowed by the car’s inner electric motor. Because such long journeys are pretty rare, the company is focusing on a rental system, meaning their potential clients don’t have to commit to a purchase. According to a survey done by the company, the majority of car journeys are short enough to be covered by an electric car without any need to recharge along the way – meaning that for the average car user, this range extending trailer will only be used very rarely.
This is where the rental system, “Tender’Lib” comes in: the startup plans to make the trailers available to rent throughout the whole of France, at any time of the day or night, via an on-demand rental network of over 400 charging stations. Meaning there’s no need to own one – all you need is a trailer hitch on the back of your car, so that you can attach the trailer to your vehicle.
Energy Produced By a Combustion Engine
But how do these trailer generators work? Currently the electricity for the trailers is produced by a combustion engine and an alternator. The 35 litre tank is the same size as that of a small-sized car and still requires petrol, meaning as soon as the trailer is added, the car becomes a kind of hybrid. There’s one obvious question at this point: if you still have to burn fossil fuels to cover longer distances in your car, then to what extent does that cancel out and contradict the reasons behind buying an electric car in the first place?
But the company is hoping to further develop the technology in the future, and power the trailer with fuel cells or a larger battery. They want to speed up the switch to more sustainable technologies, and argue that their range extender would only need to be used for a small number of trips each year – 2% of total car usage, so they claim. And if a solution like this is enough to get more electric cars on our roads, then that would already be a huge achievement.
The startup is partially financed by Horizon 2020, an EU research and innovation programme, and was chosen to be one of the 18 finalists at the Start Up Energy Transition Tech Festival, held by the German Energy Agency in Berlin on the 20th of March. The trailer is due to enter the French market this year, while tests in the USA, China and the EU are in the planning stages.
This is a translation by Marisa Pettit of an original article that first appeared on our German language site.