By on October 27, 2010

Editor’s Note: On Monday, TTAC’s Martin Schwoerer wrote about a planned record-breaking non-stop run of 600 KMs, from Munich to Berlin, with a car that was equipped with a “revolutionary” electric battery system. Something smells funny, he said, and vowed to donate 100 Euros in case the drive was completed. Well, it was. So, how does it feel to have pie on your face?

How about Vegetarians Against the klan? Or maybe the Tugg Speedman Foundation? No, there are probably better organisations to give my money to. Guess I’ll ask the Best & Brightest…

The Battery Geniuses drove the 600 clicks fair and square (a notary public opted out at the last minute, but I don’t want to be a sore loser). The press is unanimous that we can talk about a Miracle of Berlin.

So one doesn’t want to welch out. On the other hand there is an tedious matter of journalistic responsibility: perhaps a wee bit of research, first?

I checked the website of DBM, the maker of the “revolutionary” battery which they call “Kolibri”. (Kolibri doesn’t stand for anything, it seems — it’s just German for “hummingbird”, which is nice, but I would have preferred a puppy, or a bear cub). Their website looks home-made and doesn’t offer any details about the battery, other than it is a Lithium Polymer-type battery, and that they are selling an explanatory book for … €249.00 Euros.

I call their press guy, the line is busy, and remains busy the next ten times I call. I send an email asking for an interview. (No reply to date).

How about alternative media? I check out the forum of Spiegel Online — normally an unsavory, miserablist place, but quite good for mythbusting. Here’s what they say:

* “I’m waiting for a caveat, like the batteries will cost one million Euros a piece, or something.”

* “500,000 KM lifespan. 100 kilos weight. 20 minutes to charge. This battery is literally too good to be true.”

* “He’s pulling a fast one: the boss of DBM, Mirko Hannemann, says “the technology works and is ready for production”. Huh? A revolutionary product that is ready for production? Things don’t work that way”.

* “LiPo is not really new, and it’s not really safe, either. The cell’s membranes like to collapse, which causes a nice little fire, like the one in May at a place that used a DBM battery on a fork lift. A local fire department found it hard to extinguish”

* “Another website was threatened with legal measures by Hannemann when it wrote about the fire — even though the article was just a re-hashing of a police report “

And then I found a fascinating link to a proper nerd’s forum.

“I can kid myself (and don’t need a battery “company” to do it).

Since the media isn’t doing its job, I did some research on my own.”

Here’s the gist of what Pastmaster posted:

DBM Energy GmbH is a mailbox company.

DBM’s website states as contact a non-registered entity named DBM Headquarters, which is located in a smallish office building. In that office building, there are several small-sounding firms such as a long-term storage company, a fire-extinguisher company, and a “battery-service” company.

Google DBM and you find exactly two hits. One refers to DBM having won an “Innovation Award of Reason”. Nobody’s heard of that, either.

So, dear Best and Brightest: you’re the jury. What should I do? Pay the €100, or continue to dig?

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38 Comments on “The Berlin Miracle (Or Just Another EV Hoax?)...”

  • avatar

    Who drove the car? Get one of the German car magazines to repeat the test, then pay your 100 euros.


    • 0 avatar

      +1. Get this result verified by an impartial party. But it’s looking rather shady… Does anyone know if Munich to Berlin is mostly downhill? What was the wind speed and direction when this drive took place? Were they drafting a mailbox truck all the way to Berlin? We need answers!

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Was it independently verified / verifiable?

  • avatar

    Dig! It still smells like a hoax.

  • avatar

    Nothing new, this has been going on since the invention of the EV:

    • 0 avatar

      agreed. int he early 1900s and 1910s EV companies would set up elaborately prepared routes for long distance endurance runs to show off battery capacities their vehicles didn’t truly possess. These trials were in response to the sport of touring and the growing assertions that EVs weren’t proper cars, or at least weren’t real man’s cars that went along with it. The same sort of thing happened with the Edison battery with staged endurance trials and short recharges. I, too smell a rat and suggest the book “Taking Charge – The Electric Automobile in America” by Michael Brian Schiffer for the one book to read on electric car history.

    • 0 avatar

      agreed. In the early 1900s and 1910s EV companies would set up elaborately prepared routes for long distance endurance runs to show off battery capacities their vehicles didn’t truly possess. These trials were in response to the sport of touring (taking cars on long drives into the country, beyond the range of battery-powered cars) and the growing assertions that EVs weren’t proper cars (or at least weren’t real man’s cars) that went along with it. The same sort of thing happened with the Edison battery, with staged endurance trials and short recharges. I, too smell a rat and suggest the book “Taking Charge – The Electric Automobile in America” by Michael Brian Schiffer for the one book to read on electric car history.

  • avatar

    The exact text of your “bet” as ambiguous. You just said you’d do it “If I’m wrong”. By that reasoning, I would say that they pulled their stunt doesn’t mean you were nessecarily wrong. Definitely keep digging. OTOH, it probably couldn’t hurt your karma to donate the $100 regardless (after the investigation).

  • avatar

    I’m always in favor of digging more, even when I’m already in a hole.

  • avatar

    Dig, Martin, dig! Or just follow Twotone’s advice.

  • avatar
    Tree Trunk

    Lets assume they did the trip fair and square.  Let’s also assume that they used all available hypermileing techniques, which improved their range by lets say a third.  
    That still leaves an EV that could get 400km or about 250 miles to the charge, something that would absolutely work for anything but long road trips.
    The only question left is the technology commercially feasible.  There are number of things that can go wrong between the proof of concept to the production stage, the battery might be to expensive, the battery might fall apart after a few charges, catch fire, explode, the battery might fill up every usable space in the car etc…
    Still waiting to hear more they might be onto something

    • 0 avatar

      No its not hard. Like i said elsewhere, Tesla has topped 500km already, and SANYO did a demo with a commuter car that went over 1000km.
      Its nothing revolutionary, with an appropriately sized, expensive and sufficiently heavy lithium pack you can do that.
      Probably even with LiFEPo4, that WILL NOT catch fire.
      Im not sure what the hoopla is about.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    I still don’t think its that big of a deal to run 600km/366 miles on a charge. At about 40 mph, the optimum speed for a Leaf, it can easily go 140 miles. The A2 is substantially smaller and more aerodynamic. I’m guessing that about 40Kwh of battery capacity, fully used, would do the trick. That’s only slightly larger than a Tesla battery pack. Is that so hard?

    • 0 avatar

      Electric motorcycles use around 100 wh/mi, depending on speed and braking. Electric cars are around 200 wh/mi in a very good case, 300 wh/mi in more typical cases. The Aptera 2e is rated at 200 wh/mile, though it is likely to achieve this at much higher speeds than the typical EV.
      Audi A2 has about 7 sq feet of effective frontal area (66 in x 61 in x 0.25cd). Nissan Leaf has about 8.6 sq feet (69 x 61 x 0.29). At 40 mph, aero drag isn’t that much of a consideration anyhow – mass and rolling resistance will rule the day.
      Speaking of mass, let’s assume they get 200 wh/mile. 73 kwh of a very lightly packaged lithium ion battery might have a specific energy around 150 wh/kg, total pack weight of 480kg = 1100 lbs. The A2 would need reinforcement to carry this weight, as the car has a nominal payload (incl driver) of 515 kg.
      Tesla Roadster has a 53 kwh 1000 lb battery pack, fwiw.

    • 0 avatar

      @protomech, if you remove the engine and gearbox (not needed in an all-electric version) I expect you’d regain enough capacity that no reinforcement would be required, at least in a driver-only scenario, even with your 480 kg battery.
      As for rolling resistance vs drag, at 50 mph/80 km/h, the A2 is likely spending 80% of its energy overcoming drag and 20% on rolling resistance, with a total power requirement of about 5.4 kW (mass is pretty much a non-factor at steady highway speeds on flat ground).  The Leaf’s worse aerodynamics would increase this to about 6.4 kW, so arguably the A2 could get 20% of additional range.
      In any case, that’s 7.5h of driving at 80 km/h, so the required battery capacity would be about 40 kWh.  (Full marks to Paul for his guess!)  Puttering along at 50 km/h would drop the drag significantly (it goes up with the cube of the velocity) and you could get away with 20 kWh.  (Sorry, I cannot make myself use such an abomination of units as Wh/mi.)
      As to the weight of that battery: best conventional Li-ion batteries have capacity on the order of 0.2 kWh/kg, so the battery weight should be about 200 kg.
      But about that cost …

    • 0 avatar

      @th009, you’re right, swapping the gas drivetrain and other components for an electric motor would free up maybe 100-150 kg. That’s pushing it a little close, but not unreasonably so.
      I see 34% rolling resistance drag component at 55 mph with the following inputs: 3000 lbs, 0.008 crr, 0.25 cd, 23.4 A, 0.9 drivetrain efficiency, 10 C air temp. 7.8 kw, 142 wh/mi. Add a kilowatt or two for the heater, and losses due to traffic, non-optimal terrain and 200 wh/mi is probably about right.

      Btw, with the ecomodder tool you linked, you get wh/mi simply by dividing watts by mph. wh/mi or wh/km or kwh/100mi, etc is the simplest expression for energy per unit distance traveled.

  • avatar

    Dig!  Dig!  Dig!  Schneller!  Sie müssen schneller gehen!

  • avatar

    Meh, a battery charge that can get you 600 km down the road in a mere 20 minutes?

    The math doesnt add up, unless you couple the main deflector array to directly to the warp engines.

    Save your €100 for some good food and beer.

    • 0 avatar

      To fully charge a 40kWH battery from dead in 20 minutes (1/3 of an hour), the charger (even at 100% efficiency) would be charging at a rate of 120,000Watts.

      Dats a big charger.

    • 0 avatar

      120kW is huge by residential standards but not unusual for industrial/commercial.  Your average 50kW radio station would have electric service that big.

      Now if you want to replace gas stations with fast charging stations you would have to put 2-12 or so of these 120kW chargers in your facility.  Then you have your customers vehicles occupy the premises for 20 minutes each.  After this wait they pay you $4 (at 10 cents per kW-hr).  Does this sound like a good business to anyone?

    • 0 avatar

      How many gas stations consuming up to 1.5MW would be online before the electical grid goes kerflooey?

    • 0 avatar

      Three phase :

      P = I x V
      30 A x 440 V = P
      P = 13 200 Watts.

      Easy. No problem at all.
      30 Amps is the current an electric range uses.  Not a huge amount at all.

    • 0 avatar

      At 13kW, you are still an order of magnitude too low. Even worse, breaking news below states that the batteries are rated at 115kWHrs. Now you need to charge at around 350kW to charge in 20 minutes, so you are a factor of 27X too low.

       Also you are assuming a close-to 100% power factor. We know that’s not gonna happen. So the math still doesn’t add up. Even more.

  • avatar

    “Dig, Captain! Dig as the Troglytes Do!”

  • avatar

    They probably called the battery kolibri (hummingbird) because those diminutive avians are capable of remarkable flights during their migrations. For example, they typically fly 500 miles over the Gulf of Mexico nonstop in 18-22 hours.

  • avatar

    Okay, one more time. Google SANYO Mira. They topped 1000km in a commuter car already.
    A Tesla in Australia went 500km on a charge ( 313 miles )
    What SNAKE OIL are we talking about ? 600km claim is nothing that has not been done before.

  • avatar

    Possible or nopt, I guarantee that this specific instance is fraud with a capital frau. Free energy, rub your car on water, oil companies suppressed blah blah. Whether or not they rigged a car with 3000lbs of batteries and went the distance is irelevant. Let me guess – they’re looking for investors?

  • avatar

    ^ I agree, this isn’t outside the realm of existing technology, even the 20 minute charge time, Last year Formula One cars ran a KERS system in which batteries were charged in less than a lap; but the life of the batteries was one race.  This is just a scam, it doesn’t mean EV’s are a scam, it means whoever is behind this is making vaporware look good.

  • avatar

    Lithium polymer is terrible in the cold.  That 600 km run would be about 200 on a very cold day.

  • avatar

    The numbers say it’s either a hoax, an explosive device or a helluva breakthrough. AutoblogGreen has a few more specifics (and a link to here in the comments):

    “The Germans even had 18 percent of the pack’s 115 kWh left at the end.” 380 miles, that’s 250 Wh/mi, which is the right figure for a modern light EV. But a 115 kWh battery pack is huge! Tesla’s lithium pack is representative of current production battery technology: 53 kWh and 450 kg (almost 1000 pounds), or an energy density of about 120 Wh/kg. A 115 kWh pack would weigh a ton. Yet “they were also compact enough to be integrated into the car without giving up passenger seating or trunk space.”
    So their batteries must represent a major-breakthrough energy density. There are reports of experimental lithium cells with 2X or even 4X better kWh per kg. So far the resulting battery packs are impossibly expensive, unstable and/or short-lived.
    Such a breakthrough would be wonderful news. I’m skeptical but hopeful.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m liking your avatar (Reddy Kilowatt), which could be resurrected for the new tagline: “Drive Better… Electrically!”

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks, shaker!
      A commenter over at Autoblog Green links to this German page, with photos and specs:
      Google translates the specs:
      * Empty weight (including driver) 1260 kg
      * Perm. Total weight 1600 kg
      * Battery lithium-iron-polymer (260 Ah/380 V) cell voltage of 3.8 volts
      * Battery weight about 300 kg
      * Charging time about 4 hours due to mains phase current in the household (380)
      * battery requires 6 minutes (future solution)
      * Life time 2500 charge cycles (without loss of capacity)
      * = Service life target: 500,000 km
      * Top speed 160 km / h
      * 5-speed sequential gearbox (race gear: shifting without the clutch)
      * E-motor 300 Nm torque
      Those figures work out to 98.8 kWh, specific energy of 330 Wh/kg, which is 2-3x better than current production state-of-the-art. 2500 cycles are claimed, 500K km implies 200 km (124 mi) per cycle. Cost, safety and mass production, not to mention independent verification, remain to be seen.


    • 0 avatar

      Interesting, Mike.

      Tesla’s cells are actually closer to 200 wh/kg, the entire pack including packaging and battery conditioning is 450 kg (120 wh/kg).
      Leyden Energy claims 225 wh/kg from their lithium ion pouch cells, or 190 wh/kg in 18650 cylinders. They claim the batteries are more tolerant of extreme temperatures. The Brammo Enertia Plus and Empulse will use these cells.
      300 wh/kg is impressive, but so is volumetric density that would enable fitting a 100kwh battery without compromising cabin/cargo space.

    • 0 avatar

      Edit, where’s an edit button.. I’m also skeptical. Big claims require big proof (see eestor), and there’s definitely a snake oil taste in my mouth. I’d love for it to be true, but more information will come in time.

  • avatar

    If anything, I’m more skeptical now that the run has been completed. I understand the need for corporate secrecy if there’s actually something revolutionary afoot here, but not enough bones have been thrown to us. Dig more.

  • avatar
    martin schwoerer

    Some semi-news:
    1) Paul, you are of course right that a range of 600 KM has for some time been theoretically possible. But my point was about a record-breaking real-life range in what you could call a normal car. That is why, incidentially, I disregarded the Mira EV record — it was done at way below speeds in which you could normally travel (i.e., a 25 MPH average).
    2) Instead of hedging with a lot of fine print, I made a brash statement: that an electric range of 600KMs is not possible at the present time with a four-seater (under normal traffic conditions). And that was horse shit. Some American guys, unofficially, broke that record in 1995. A pointer:
    3) I have donated €100 to this charity:
    Full disclosure: my daughter will be working there shortly, as a teacher. I could have left it to the B&B to suggest / discuss a better charity, but I wanted to get it over with quickly. I hope you folks can understand this. No gloating, please.
    4) The 1995 American record is not official, but neither is the Lekker / DBM record. As stated above, it was not notarized. In addition, I’d like to point out that the accompaning reporter from the ADAC blog noticed that during the test run, the Lekker A2 “disappeared” between 3:20 AM and 3:50 AM. Folks around the virtual campfire are discussing whether batteries were “switched” during this time.
    5) Note that in the EV World piece linked above, DBM is quoted as saying their record is a real record, in contrast to the American one, because in the German case, a “production” car was used and not just a prototype. But I can see no indication that the Lekker A2 is more than a prototype.
    6) For numerous additional reasons, I have reasons to doubt DBM’s veracity.
    a) All factors stated above. And an interview with DBM has still not been made possible. And here’s a piece (in German) from what I’d call the “researching press”, in which my doubts are shared.
    (No permalink, please scroll down to the article with the pic of the Lekker A2).
    b) Some more odd statements from the DBM website.
    They say their battery is the first “safe” one, because tests have shown that a bullet shot does not cause a fire. This is not true. Batteries by LiTec and Saft have done better than that — they have survived a nail being driven into them without short-circuiting.
    Also, DBM claims that Siemens AG declined to cooperate with them, and that Siemens had justified their negative reply with the explanation “our clients do not want a long-range electric vehicle”. This seems highly unlikely — it sounds more like somebody was trying to invent a conspiracy. I have contacted Siemens requesting comment; no reply yet.
    Again, I’ll post additional news as soon as possible.

  • avatar

    Wow,  i am impressed. You actually did research this topic, the second time around.

    There are of course tons more of previous distance per single charge accomplishments, it was a topic of the recent EVDL mailing list discussion, including cars like Solectria Sunrise,  BAT International prototype and so on.
    Also, Michelin Challenge bibendum reports have lots of honest, independently verified data on all sorts of record performances by various “alternatively fueled” cars.

    If and when you post a followup article, it would be good to give a honest objective of the “previous art” and what todays bleeding edge technology is actually capable of.

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