Exploring the South in 4x4 Electric Style: A Journey into Pure Electric Adventure

A 38,000 km Pure Electric Adventure, driving from the Netherlands to South Africa, powered solely by solar energy.

Andreas Gutleben

On the 5th of November 2022, an extraordinary adventure that would showcase the remarkable potential of driving an electric car over long distances, even in regions where electric infrastructure is not yet established begun. Destination: South Africa.

Meet Renske Cox and Maarten van Pel, an inspiring Dutch couple hailing from Brabant in the south of the Netherlands. Renske is an entrepreneur with expertise in marketing and communication, who specializes in transforming businesses into sustainable and environmentally friendly ventures. On the other hand, Maarten is an engineer and a true handyman, bringing a lot of creativity to everything he does.
Having collectively climbed over 15 mountains exceeding 4000m and journeyed by public transport through the natural wonders of New Zealand, Fiji, Thailand, Costa Rica, Galapagos, and Ecuador, they embody a spirit of adventure and exploration. Together, they co-founded the NGO called 4x4ELECTRIC, which would go on to carry out this mission.

Despite the increasing adoption of electric vehicles, many still opt for fossil fuel cars for long-distance travel. However, Maarten and Renske wanted to show the world what is possible when driving an electric car for long distances, even under extreme circumstances and through countries where electric cars and charging stations are not yet established. Therefore, they planned on setting out an adventure in which they drive an all-electric Skoda Enyaq from the Netherlands to South Africa, and back. Along the way, they intended to visit sustainable initiatives, sharing the stories of individuals and projects that have implemented sustainability in various inspiring ways.
The Skoda Enyaq, built in 2021, comes equipped with a 50L water tank for drinking and showering, an induction, and an integrated tent attached to the roof of the car. To facilitate charging in isolated areas, they carried 60 solar panels, each measuring 1m2, stored in a frame with 6 drawers. These solar panels boast a capacity of 180 Watt each. What sets their charging approach apart is the innovative technique used; directly converting DC instead of going through the traditional DC-AC-DC process, eliminating the need for a battery between the solar panels and the car. The result: a remarkable reduction of up to 20% in energy losses (Source: https://4x4electric.com/).

photo credit: 4x4 Electric

As pioneers in battery testing and monitoring at AVILOO, we were thrilled to be part of this extraordinary adventure, recognizing the unique learning opportunities it presented. Collaborating with 4x4ELECTRIC, we assumed the crucial role of ground control for the HV-battery, conducting round-the-clock monitoring down to the cellular level. Our mission was to promptly identify and address any issues or challenges related to the HV-battery that might arise during the expedition, especially when driving through extreme environments where temperatures could vary from -6 °C up to 44 °C.

Certainly, this expedition presented challenges for us. To fully equip 4x4ELECTRIC, we provided them with 3 AVILOO boxes and multiple OBD cables as reserves in case any hardware got damaged and ceased to function. Data and roaming posed significant challenges as well. Fortunately, Magenta provided us with a special roaming package that allows the AVILOO box to transfer data in almost all countries in Africa. However, there were still countries where roaming wasn't possible due to excessively high costs. Therefore, we equipped the AVILOO boxes with larger SD cards than usual to collect and store large amounts of data temporarily in countries with no roaming. The data are then sent when entering a country with roaming capabilities. Another challenge for us was getting GPS data. Unfortunately, we never received any even though we tried different positions and locations in the car.

Nonetheless, we have gotten a good amount of data that 4x4ELECTRIC could also use to post battery related content. And with the collaboration of Itility, also a partner of 4x4ELECTRIC, we were able to display some parameters to their developed dashboard on the 4x4ELECTRIC website.

Dashboard - Expedition route (photo credit: 4x4 Electric)

Dashboard - Temperature, battery level, altitude (photo credit: 4x4 Electric)

Dashboard - Charging on the move (photo credit: 4x4 Electric)

Not only could we display some of the data we have collected on the dashboard, but we also found interesting insights into the charging cycle created by solar charging. As seen in figure 7, the curvature of the power during solar charging corresponded to the position of the sun.

Figure 7. Solar charging cycle in Morocco (Nov. 2022)

The graph illustrates the charging cycle that occurred in Morocco in November 2022, presenting the range between the minimum and maximum cell temperature (orange), the State-of-Charge display or SOC display (green), and the power (purple). The darker lines indicate the average value of the signals, and the shadow areas indicate the range between the minimum and maximum value of the signals.
The charging cycle started at around 9:45 in the morning, with the SOC initially at 21%. As the sun ascended, both the charging power and SOC increased. The power peaked between 12:00 and 13:00, reaching 8 kWh, coinciding with the sun's position, and gradually declined as the sun set, forming a distinctive curve in power. The charging cycle concluded at 17:00 with a 74% SOC display.

Upon analysing this graph, some interesting discoveries were made. As mentioned earlier, the charging cycle initiated at approximately 9:45 in the morning, with the SOC starting at 21%, and the cell temperature ranging between 14.5°C and 16°C. Shortly before the charging cycle began, the power remained consistently low at around 600 W, although the sun should have been delivering more power at that time. Simultaneously, however, the cell temperature increased sharply. This was due to the preheating of the cells. The car detected a fast charger (DC charging) and aimed to quickly raise the cell temperature to the ideal 20°C. Therefore, almost the entire power of the photo voltaic system was used to heat the battery. After reaching a battery temperature of 21.6°C, the entire photo voltaic power was used for charging, resulting in a jump from approximately 600 W to around 4.2 kW.

Figure 8. Power and cell temperature before charging starts

When analysing other solar charging cycles, it became clear that energy and power are lost during the battery warming phase before charging. The lost energy ranged between 1 and 2 kWh. Examples from the expedition include:

  • Warming cell temp. from around 18°C to 20°C before charging required 0.87 kWh.
  • Warming cell temp. from around 15°C to 20°C before charging required 1.5 kWh.

Battery cooling also occurred multiple times during the solar charging cycle, particularly in high outside temperatures, as depicted in figure 9. In this case, we observed that the battery was cooled down four times during a solar charging period.

Figure 9. Solar charging cycle in high outside temperatures in Sierra Leone (Jan. 2023)

In conclusion, while 20% reduction in energy loss is achieved by directly charging DC instead of going through a DC-AC-DC process (Source: https://4x4electric.com/), it’s crucial to consider additional losses of approximately 5% attributed to heating and cooling during the process.

These challenges in solar charging the battery by directly converting to DC can only be identified by closely analysing the battery-related data, which may not be as apparent as other solar charging challenges. However, this analysis doesn't take anything away from the creative and innovative technology developed for the expedition. In fact, having a loss of energy of approximately 5% is arguably better than 20%.

As AVILOO specializes in diagnosing electric car batteries, two AVILOO PREMIUM tests were conducted in the early and late stages of the expedition. The certificates can be seen in figure 10.

Figure 10. AVILOO Battery Certificate. 03.12.2022 and AVILOO Battery Certificate. 25.07.2023

The first PREMIUM test showed that the Skoda Enyaq's battery had a 98% State-of-Health (SOH) on December 3rd, covering a mileage of 25,452 km. This decreased to 96% upon arriving in South Africa after completing 20,894 km after the first test. Fortunately, this isn't a dramatic decrease considering the challenges the battery faced during the expedition.

In conclusion, despite the significant challenges along the way, the expedition was a success. Maarten and Renske reached South Africa and are now back in the Netherlands. They, along with all the teams involved, showcased the capabilities of today’s electric vehicles and technologies, making this expedition possible. We at AVILOO are happy to have been part of this project and have learned new things along the way.

Congratulations to Maarten and Renske!

The #magentabusiness team is providing us with a SIM card including connectivity for this challenging project. Big thanks to Magenta for the support!

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