No, not the eponymous film production but a rather eccentric electric vehicle – the Sinclair C5. Ok, it was an unmitigated commercial disaster. But Sinclair was trying to make use of the considerable technical and environmental benefits of an electric power train over the standard combustion engine.

Figure 1. The Sinclair C5 electric vehicle

Electric Dreams

The first benefit is the application of instantaneous torque to deliver a linear power response (figure 2). Ultimately, this leads to a fast and smooth acceleration, particularly at low speeds. By comparison, a combustion engine will deliver the acceleration by moving through a gear box. Here, the variable torque leads to variable (and less efficient) power delivery and a jerkier ride.

Figure 2. Torque versus velocity profiles of electric and combustion power trains (Zhang et al, International Journal of Automotive Technology, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp. 707-718 (2017)).

Secondly, there are many fewer moving parts on an electric power train (10’s) when compared to one with a combustion engine (1000’s). This simplifies the manufacturing process, improves robustness and most likely improves reliability of the vehicle. Thirdly, the greenhouse gas emission from an electric vehicle is virtually zero. This was less of a concern in 1985, but is now front and centre of the world’s biggest problems and will likely dominate policy for the foreseeable future.

Electric Nightmares

All good then? Well, no. Moving vehicles require a power source that can deliver the required power, have the capacity to do so for long periods of time and is not too heavy. Lithium-ion batteries are the front runners to deliver this performance. And these depend upon the rate and extent to which the lithium-ion can intercalate into (and out of) the electrode materials. Furthermore, the safety and longevity of the battery cell is dependent on the quality of these materials. Find out here how particle size and shape of the anode and cathode materials can impact the performance and longevity of battery cells.

Material Science to the rescue

The Sinclair C5 didn’t last beyond the first year of trading. But modern-day electric bikes and cars are now widely available. Nearly all of which utilize the lithium-ion battery. Adoption of this technology is predicted to increase. And for this to happen battery performance and longevity will need to improve. This links to the material properties of electrodes, and shows that controlling these is likely to be a precursor to global diffusion of electric vehicles and environmental strategies. Read here about the analytical toolkit for the optimization of battery electrode materials that Malvern Panalytical has to offer.


Ronghui Zhang, Kening Li, Zhaocheng He, Haiwei Wang, Feng You, Advanced Emergency Braking Control Based on a Nonlinear Model Predictive Algorithm for Intelligent Vehicles. Applied Sciences. (2017).  7. 504. 10.3390/app7050504.

Further reading