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Multielectricity plant

Itaipu Binacional produces electric vehicles in a partnership with Fiat and Swiss companies

Itaipu Binacional Electric car, socket for recharging and battery charge indicator on the panelItaipu Binacional

The first electric car developed in Brazil by a vehicle manufacturer appeared in 1974. It was the Itaipu E-150 prototype with two seats, from Gurgel, a company based in Rio Claro in São Paulo state, headed up by the engineer João Augusto do Amaral Gurgel. Later, in 1981, the factory presented the Itaipu E-400 and soon thereafter the E-500, a multiuse platform for pickups and vans that sold a few dozen units and was unsuccessful due to problems with the rechargeable batteries that had a very short working life. The name Itaipu was chosen in honor of the biggest hydroelectric power station in Brazil, on the Parana River on the border with Paraguay. It is there that electric cars are now being developed in a partnership between Itaipu Binacional, the Swiss hydroelectric power company Kraftwerk Oberhasli (KWO) and Fiat. “We’ve already assembled 45 vehicles, including automobiles, small trucks and a minibus,”  says Celso Novais, general coordinator of the Brazilian Electric Vehicle Project of Itaipu. “We started in 2005 with a technical cooperation partnership agreement for the production of hydroelectricity and KWO suggested we establish a research project for the development and production of electric vehicles, starting from technology that exists in Switzerland,” says Novais. The batteries come from Mes-Dea and, in addition to nickel, their main element is sodium chloride. “These batteries are operationally more viable in tropical countries because they use abundant raw materials that are easy to recycle.”

The automobiles are the Palio Weekend model and they were assembled at the Itaipu Center for Research, Development and the Assembly of Electric Vehicles. They have no combustion engine or gearbox and the main components added were the 160 kg sodium battery, control modules, a special electric motor for powering the car, a socket for recharging the battery in place of the traditional fuel tank inlet and an electric charge indicator on the panel. The vehicles are undergoing trials and may, in the future, become part of the Fiat production line. “The problem with electric vehicles is their cost, which is two and half times greater than the cost of a conventional car, because the batteries represent 50% of the car’s total value,”  says Novais. For this reason, Itaipu has already contacted KWO itself as well as other companies in order to make it feasible to develop batteries in Brazil, as a cheaper and more competitive alternative.

As for the cost per kilometer traveled, he says it is about four times lower than with gasoline. For energy companies the difference is greater because they use their own raw material. The autonomy of the Itaipu vehicles is 120 km. The time required to recharge a fully discharged battery is eight hours, with the car plugged into a 220-volt socket. “Every day around the world, 90% of automobiles spend about 12 hours parked in their garages,” says Novais. He has carried out an impact study on the use of electric vehicles relative to energy production in the country. “If all the cars produced in 2008 in Brazil (3 million) had been electric, the total power consumed that year would have increased by 3.2%.”  In a scenario that is closer to reality, but still optimistic according to Novais, if 10% of the automobiles produced were electric, the increase in consumption would be just 0.32%, which could be offset, for example, by using LEDs in street lighting instead of conventional lamps.