06/20/2013 11:39 EDT | Updated 08/20/2013 05:12 EDT

Gas-powered cars to dominate for decades, expert says

The head of a leading automotive research centre thinks the internal combustion engine will be world's most popular engine for at least another two decades.

Peter Frise, CEO of Auto 21, a national research and development network at the University of Windsor, expects the fossil-fuelled engine to still be the No. 1 auto engine until at least 2035.

"You should never say never but it's a very, very tough problem, there's no question about that," he said of developing electric cars. "I think it's going to cost a lot more money than people are prepared for right now.

"The battery itself can cost more than the rest of the car itself, put together. That's just not something people can handle these days."

Some of the world's top automotive engineers have gathered in Windsor, Ont., to discuss how to build a better battery.

Experts are at the Ed Lumley Centre for Engineering Innovation to discuss the latest developments in electric vehicle technology.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is hosting the international workshop focused on electrified vehicle components and systems.

"It all boils down to the battery. It's all about energy storage," Frise said. "Generating energy or transferring energy from one form to another is something mankind has been good at for quite some time. Storing electrical energy is not easy."

Frise says approximately 85 per cent of car trips in Canada are about 50 km in length and they're usually made with only one or two people in the car.

An electric car could handle that kind of workload. But, he said, too many people suffer from "range anxiety."

Frise called the current Nissan Leaf and Ford's electric Focus "great vehicles in the city."

"But wouldn't be suitable for a long drive to the cottage," Frise said. "The present generation of vehicles is often not able to meet those needs. They just can't go far enough on a charge or carry a big enough load.

"The band of people who can use them on a daily basis is relatively small."

Batteries too expensive

Cost is also a factor that deters people from buying an all-electric car.

The Nissan Leaf, for example, costs approximately $42,000. Frise said the buyer is eligible for an $8,000 rebate, but the rebate means the car doesn't stand on its own, Frise said.

Frise estimates that a rechargeable battery, which is heavy and expensive, accounts for more than half the cost of the rest of any electric car.

"If the battery needed to be replaced, would you be prepared to put more than half the cost the car into replacing the battery? Most people look at that and say 'I don't think so,'" Frise said.

When Auto 21 opened in 2001, electric cars were barely spoke of, much less developed. Frise said billions are now spent on research and development each year.

"The progress made over the last decade or so is absolutely astounding," he said.

"Recent advancements in electric powertrain and energy storage design have created a great deal of momentum in the field, making an organized collaborative discussion a necessity for the academic community," said Narayan Kar, an electrical and computer engineering at the University of Windsor and one of the conference's key organizers.