The ZED70 is the first electric ute engineered in Australia for use in the harsh climates found in the mining and agribusiness industries.

The fully electric vehicle is based on the Landcruiser 79 series platform and promises a range of up to 350km. The pickup was developed in Adelaide, South Australia, over the past year by Dave Mitchell and Tim Possingham, who both have extensive experience in motorsport and original equipment manufacturing (OEM). They set up Zero Automotive to address the growing demand and fleet targets for zero emission vehicles, especially in the mining and agribusiness industries.

Possingham said they didn’t plan to mass-produce the ZED70 but would rather supply commissioned vehicles that met specific industry needs.

“This vehicle is a bespoke vehicle that we designed to suit the application whether it be mining, agribusiness, or local and state governmental agencies,” he said.

The South Australian company specifically worked with mining and energy companies to understand their vehicle fleet needs, such as zero emissions in underground mines and the elimination of diesel fuel on sites.

“It’s a priority for those types of clients to reduce their emissions and also clean up the environment that some of the workers are working within,” said Possingham. “Diesel particulates in particular, are hazardous for the people to breathe in, so in a confined environment, where there’s very large costs involved in ventilation, removing the source of noxious fumes is it certainly something that can have a shorter payback (for the ute).”

The ZED70 is already Australian design rules compliant and road legal and will sell for less than D$200,000.

“It’s available in 20 to 120 kilowatt hour battery packs, with modular battery packs in it, and has a 700 Newton meter electric motor in it,” said Possingham. “That has more torque than the factory turbo diesel V8 that’s normally found in this Landcruiser 79 series platform.”

According to Possingham, advances in technology meant the cost of the vehicle would reduce over time and also allow Zero Automotive to customise each EV for the client – such as implementing automatic speed limiting for mining sites – to add value.

“Advances in battery technology, charging tech and peripheral tech, such as geo-fencing, telematics and semi autonomous operation, have reached a sweet spot,” he said. “A vehicle that’s got low maintenance and low running costs also has total cost of ownership benefits to industry.”

The ZED70 is available in wagon, dual cab, single cab and troop carrier configurations and has regenerative braking, high voltage air conditioning and heating.

The ZED70 ute has been undergoing trials by the parks department of the City of Adelaide, while a major mining company is also testing its regenerative braking systems on the steep and long inclines of its pit mine.

South Australia has traditionally been a powerhouse in automotive manufacturing, being home to both Holden and Mitsubishi in Australia until they shut down over the past decade. The ZED70 utility is just one of a handful of new vehicles being made in Adelaide, including the Brabham supercar, which Possingham also has an interest in. The EV ute will be built in Adelaide with parts sourced from all over the world.

“The vehicle integration and componentry fit has all been engineered out of Edwardstown in South Australia,” Possingham said.

Possingham, who runs the Adelaide Motorsport Festival and Adelaide Rally, said that though he loved internal combustion engines, electric vehicles made more sense now that limited range had been nearly been eliminated with better batteries.

“It’s hard to find a negative, except for something like cost at the moment, which is changing,” he said. “As these things are addressed the shift will be swift and will be widespread and we can see that it’s happening now and it’s happening very, very fast. For many organizations the time to make the decision to electrify their fleet is happening right now because people are demanding greener solutions

“It’s unquestionable that it’s time to reduce carbon emissions from our vehicle fleets.”

New battery technology could slash e-vehicle costs

South Australian researchers from the University of Adelaide have secured a $1m research contract with a Chinese battery manufacturer to develop the new technology and bring it to market within 12 months. The patented design uses non-toxic zinc and manganese, two metals that are abundant in Australia, and incombustible aqueous electrolyte to produce a battery with a high-energy density.

The researchers estimate the cost of this new electrolytic Zn-Mn battery to be less than US$ 10 per kilowatt hour compared with US$ 300 per kilowatt hour for current Li-ion batteries, US$ 72 per kilowatt hour for Ni–Fe batteries and US$ 48 per kilowatt hour for Lead–acid batteries.

The battery is designed by Dr Dongliang Chao and Professor Shi-Zhang Qiao from the University of Adelaide’s School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials. The high-energy, safe battery opens up markets where the battery weight, size and safety are essential factors, including automotive and aerospace, and domestic and commercial buildings, and grid-scale energy storage.

Dr Chao said that, though there were other Zn-Mn batteries on the market such as the dry cell, they were not rechargeable or recyclable and did not present high-energy density due to a different chemical reaction mechanism.

“I can imagine this battery being used on all vehicle types from small scooters to even diesel electric trains. Also in homes that need batteries to store solar power, or even large solar/wind farms,” he said. “With more sustainable energy being produced – such as through wind and solar farms – storing this energy in batteries in a safe, non-expensive and environmentally sound way is becoming more urgent but current battery materials – including lithium, lead and cadmium – are expensive, hazardous and toxic.

“Our new electrolytic battery technology uses the non-toxic zinc and manganese and incombustible aqueous electrolyte to produce a battery with a high energy density.”

Dr Chao and Professor Qiao began working on the project in South Australia about 12 months ago and patented the technology at the beginning of this year. Chinese battery manufacturer Zhuoyue Power New Energy, whose current batteries are lead-based, has committed $1m to develop the new technology. The ongoing research work and initial product development will be conducted in Adelaide with manufacturing expected to take place in Australia and China.

Dr Chao said the project would combine the new electrolytic battery technology and the company’s battery assembling technology.

“In addition, the battery uses basic materials and simple manufacturing processes so will be much cheaper to produce and easier to recycle than existing batteries of comparable energy density,” Dr Chao said.

Dr Chao obtained his PhD from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and worked as a researcher at University of California, Los Angeles, before joining the University of Adelaide in South Australia last year.

South Australia is home to the world’s largest lithium-ion battery at Neoen’s Hornsdale Wind Farm in the state’s Mid North. It is also looming as a hub for electric vehicles and hosts the World Solar Challenge, the world’s most famous solar car race.