For as many benefits as electric motorcycles provide, to date there are still two areas preventing e-bikes from penetrating through to the masses: range and price. There’s not enough of the former, and there’s too much of the latter. Zero Motorcycles’ Senior Battery Specialist, Luke Workman, is dedicated to furthering the performance of battery technology. The results, then, would lead to ever increasing range at a price affordable by the masses.

Motorcycle.com recently had a chance to sit down with Workman and pick his brain about EV technology. Here we bring you some highlights of our conversation, along with a supplemental video with some rather bold predictions. Definitely give it a watch.

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When looking at Workman’s progress, consider this: when he started with Zero in 2011, the motorcycles only had a 40-mile range. Luke’s first battery iteration doubled that, with the next iteration doubling the range yet again. While doing so, Workman and the Zero team also upped other performance aspects like acceleration and top speed. This works differently than in the internal combustion world, where fuel efficiency is often synonymous with lackluster performance. Unlike battery developers for the car world, however, who have virtually endless space to stuff batteries, Workman faces a specific challenge: increasing the amount of energy density given the confines of a motorcycle’s limited space, all while remaining incredibly safe.

It’s a challenge Workman relishes, as he’s not only an engineer but also an avid motorcyclist. To him, the advancement of electric technology is personal. While he declined to give the recipe inside Zero’s batteries, as it’s proprietary information, he did, however, describe their architecture, which is unique in the EV world. Zero’s partnership with Farasis, a lithium-ion battery company just down the street from Zero in Hayward, California, has produced what Workman says is the most energy-dense electric vehicle battery on the market today.

While Zero batteries are manufactured overseas, each cell box and monolith is assembled in-house.

While Zero batteries are manufactured overseas, each cell box and monolith is assembled in-house.

Each individual battery (internally known as a cell box, and colloquially termed “bricks”) contains 28 flat cells from Farasis. Each cell is 3.6 volts, which added together makes for roughly 100 volts. All Zero motorcycles purposely operate at 100 volts for safety concerns; getting zapped with 100 volts (say, if you’re a Zero technician) will hurt, but up the voltage to 300, which is where many electric cars operate, and it’ll kill you.

Typically, battery packs in, say, electric cars use cylindrical cells. These cylinders not only take up more space, making them less efficient, but they also have less power capacity than Zero’s flat-cell design. Since a car has considerably more space, the answer is simply to stuff more batteries to fit.

For the umteenth time, it’s completely safe to ride a Zero motorcycle in the rain.

For the umteenth time, it’s completely safe to ride a Zero motorcycle in the rain.

Individual bricks are what power the Zero FX model. Add three or four bricks together and you have what’s known as a “monolith” in Zero terms, which powers the S, SR and DS models. The three-brick monoliths are currently featured in ZF9.4 models, while the four-brick monoliths are used for ZF12.5 models. Zero’s optional Power Tank is simply a single auxiliary brick.

Zero assembles each cell box and/or monolith in-house, and the company has recently converted an adjoining building at its Santa Cruz headquarters solely for this task. Each battery pack is then given numerous stress tests, like being soaked in a shower for 30 minutes, before getting the stamp of approval.

What Does The Future Hold?

One of the many technologies Workman is optimistic about involves the use of solid-state electrolytes, which omits the liquid electrolyte currently used in batteries today. Solid-state electrolytes would not only be safer to produce, but have the potential for greater energy densities. Cells would then be smaller and more robust, Workman says.

You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. One of the first Zero motorcycles rests by the front door of the office. A reminder of the company’s humble beginnings.

You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. One of the first Zero motorcycles rests by the front door of the office. A reminder of the company’s humble beginnings.

Other technologies on Workman’s radar screen include magnesium-ion-based batteries, metallic magnesium-based batteries, sulfur-based anode materials and silicon-based anode materials. Workman says each technology currently faces hurdles with cyclic and discharge stability, but there are several teams with big budgets working to solve these issues. These are “enabling technologies for many next generation battery technologies to thrive,” he says. “The limit is something greater than 10 times over where we are today.”

Workman declined to talk about current projects he’s working on, but he was solid in his conviction that the age of electric vehicles is in our future. Watch the video above to hear more from Workman, including his prediction for the future of the internal combustion engine.

  • GreggJ

    Wow, all of sudden gas bikes seem about as modern as clipper ships. This is the first video that makes electric motorcycles seem really really cool.

  • Craig Calfee

    When I ride my Zero in traffic or down the freeway, I feel like I’m on a time machine. I’m transported into the future – and one of the first to get there!
    When I need to drive my van, I fell like I’m transported back into last century. Thanks, Luke.

    • GreggJ

      Um, and you make some pretty damn amazing time machines yourself :)

  • grindz145

    Great job Luke and Troy! A gas engine is absolutely a Rube Goldberg machine. It’s borderline insane that we’ve come as far as we have. Zero and Luke are literally pushing the boundaries of the technology. Absolutely exceptional.

  • Adam Davis

    I used to street race with this guy back in WA, when we were kids. He has always been freakishly intelligent.

  • Michael Shields

    I LOVE commuting & trail riding on my electric mountain bike (Stealth Bomber), torque RULES! The silence can surprise pedestrians so I run a child’s propeller plane on the handlebar and a bear-bell to make SOME noise. Bring on the improved battery chemistries…

  • http://www.endless-sphere.com Liveforphysics

    I want to give credit to the amazing Team that made this rapid battery evolution all possible, Dr. Wang and Keith, and Andy, none of it would have happened without your amazing skills. Andrew and Bryan, you guys made the designs so tough and rugged and cleverly packaged, Thank you both so much! Nate and Kenyon and Peter, you guys together created one of the most difficult and under-appreciated, yet most critical parts in an EV, and it works beautifully, thank you! Thank you to everyone else at Zero for your hard work to make it possible!! I feel so fortunate to work at a place with such kind and unrestrictive and positive leadership all the way to the top.

    Thank you also to my Dad and Bigmoose and TheOldOne and many in the crew at Endless-Sphere for freely and kindly giving me the most useful portion of my education.

    ATB,
    -Luke

  • ZeroRider

    Thank you. A delight to hear these ideas articulated by someone who understands them, and is not just a PR figurehead repeated what they have been told to say. Workman’s got a wonderful factual metered speech pattern of a realist at the leading edge without any incorporation of unfeasable exponential whimsy.

  • http://www.themotorcycleobsession.com/ Chris Cope

    I’ll admit there’s a whole lot of this I don’t understand, but the thing I’ll take away is the belief that we could see 1,000 miles per charge within a few years. I would love to see that happen.

  • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

    Nice in-depth story, Trizzie!

  • http://www.endless-sphere.com Liveforphysics

    Micah, thank you for coming up with one of the most key elements of the pack design. Thank you too Eland and the rest of EE and ME. Thank you to the battery line who does such an excellent job building them, I love you all!

  • PaulScott58

    This was a very good interview. I gained some insight into how the batteries work on my Zero.

    I consider my 2013 Zero S to be the perfect commuter bike, especially here in CA since we get to split lanes. Even with the smaller 8.5 kWh pack, I can eke out 100 miles when necessary. Now that there are lots of L2 chargers around, I got Harlan Flagg of Hollywood Electrics to fashion a J-plug adapter so I can charge at all of them giving me a much more effective range for getting up into the Santa Monica Mountains.

  • Jeff Clark

    Great video/article guys! I usually just tell people it’s full of Duracells when they get curious what just passed them on the track.

  • dkw12002 .

    Thanks. One of the most informative interviews ever.