EV Street - Electric Vehicles for Dinosaurs

Electric Vehicles have come of age. But, it's going to take a revolution to make it happen.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Global WarNing!

Global Warming? I think most educated people now agree that Global Warming is real. However, the cause for it still has some plausible alternatives to the most widely accepted one which is that we are the cause.

Whether or not we are the cause of it is irrelevant if there is no concern to do anything about it. But, if we can do something about it, the Electric Vehicle is one of our best hopes. And if we can't, the Electric Vehicle still holds a much brighter future for us than any other vehicular power system. In fact, it should become the focus of our national security, not protecting holes in the ground in other countries.

Why is the EV our only viable future? Well now, the debate begins. A debate I find almost comical. Consider the beginning of automotive history. Many may remember the three competing power systems were steam, gasoline and electric. However at the time, electric was so grossly inadequate that it was looked at as more of a novel thought than anything else. In that day, our technology for using the power we generated to turn into a motive force was infantile. Thus, the energy sources with the highest density of power provided the best performance because we threw so much energy away in the process. So, while the electric motor was more efficient at turning it's energy into mechanical energy, the internal combustion engine had so much more raw power available from its fuel source that even though almost 70% of the available energy was thrown away, the remaining 30% was still 5 times more power than the electric system had. Gasoline proved to be the winner.

As the years went by we got better at making use of the power gasoline could provide with the internal combustion engine. However, the internal combustion engine has always been doomed to never being a highly efficient means of power because of the tremendous amount of wasted heat it generates.

Occasionally, someone would revisit the electric car concept but was always vexed by the same problem - power density. How do we get enough electric power storage into an automobile to provide sufficient speed and range?

Daring hobbyists found ways to produce remarkable speeds and reasonable distances with electric vehicles but never without major hurdles remaining like cost or the last major hurdle - how to recharge and recharge time.

Most people know that cost is often a function of production volume and production supremacy. Thus, costs can be improved over time in production. But unless the underlying technology solves the other problems, electric vehicles remained a nonviable competitor for the internal combustion vehicle.

Well, times have change dramatically in the last 5 years and here are the historical arguments against electrics that have little chance of holding validation now:

1. Electrics don't have the power. Bull Shit. Electric motors have come down dramatically in size and weight. A 160 HP motor can fit in the hub of a 14" BMW Mini Cooper tire rim. Therefore , one in each hub produces a car with over 400 HP and is all wheel drive.

2. Electrics don't have the range. Well, until recently, this was true. But, new Lithium and Capacitive storage technologies now offer range performance comparable to ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) powered cars.

3. Electrics cost too much. The only truth here is that historically, the batteries have cost too much. Typical lead acid batteries have the problem of being, heavy, low power density, expensive in the quantities needed for a viable electric car, and a short life with degrading performance through that life. Thus a $4,000 battery pack that required replacing every few years indeed made operating costs of an electric very expensive when amortized through the operational life of the car. But, a $4,000 battery pack would not be a big deal if it would last 100,000 miles or more.

Today, power storage systems capable of that many of recharge cycles to last through that mileage are just becoming available commercially. If an electric car goes 100 miles per charge, then the battery pack must provide 1000 charge/discharge cycles with little degradation to make it that far. Classic lead-acid systems were usually only capable of a finicky 200-300 cycles. But, today's newest technologies offer 15,000 or more charge/discharge cycles.

But what about recharge time? True it takes maybe 10 minutes to fuel up a ICE car. But if it takes all night to charge your EV, that kinda puts the ICE car by itself for long distance travel. Well, the final nail in the coffin for ICE vehicles is in place. Today's newest battery systems can be charged in less than 10 minutes! And of course, they can still be charged overnight in your home.

4. Electrics aren't safe enough. Oh, and hauling around 20 or 30 gallons of highly flammable
and explosive liquid isn't? The exploding SONY laptop battery is not the "State of the Art" in battery technology. The newest and most practical batteries for EV's do not have this problem.

5. We don't have the infrastructure developed to charge electric vehicles. Wah wah. Rome wasn't built overnight. We didn't even have an infrastructure for roads when the automobile was first built.

In fact, it's time to turn the tables on the ICE car and show the dinosaurs out there why they better get with the program on EV technology! Here is what today's EV technology can do the ICE cars will never be able to do:

1. Assuming it were possible to make a 100% efficient ICE car, it would still only be 1/2 as efficient in travel as an electric. Why? Because when you turn power into to speed of the vehicle, that costs energy. When you then step on the brakes to slow the vehicle back down, that energy gets wasted as heat on the brakes. But, an electric car can convert that energy back into electricity and store it and use it again for the next acceleration (regenerative braking). An ICE would literally have to be able to manufacture its own gasoline when braking to accomplish the same thing.

2. It is not possible to to set a device out next to an ICE car in a parking lot which converts sun or wind into gasoline. But it is possible to convert solar or wind energy into electrical energy and charge the batteries of an EV. A clever person can even put the energy wasted from his exercise bike into charging his EV. EV's are basically powered by whatever is generating the electricity that goes into them. If your power comes from hydroelectric power than your EV is hydroelectric powered. If it comes from Nuclear power than, yes, your EV is Nuclear powered. If comes from geothermal, then... you get the idea. And, if it comes from coal, like most power in the USA then, it is coal powered.

3. Pollution. ICE's produce it, EV's don't. Now, some may argue that coal produces pollution and therefore an EV charged by a coal power plant is producing pollution. No. The coal plant is producing the pollution. And, it is infinitely easier to scrub and purify the smoke from a few thousand large smokestacks than to do it on 200 million tail pipes.

4. When today's ICE cars come to a stop at a light or any other thousands of reasons it may be halted but left running, it is still burning fuel. This is not only an energy waste, it generates unnecessary pollution. When an EV stops. It stops using energy too. In fact, many of us have learned to "warm our engines up" because of improved performance and it improves the longevity of the engine. EVs need no "warming up". Get in them and go.

5. ICE's are complicated and messy. They have hundreds of moving parts. They have lubrication systems, cooling systems, transmissions, transmission cooling systems, emission control systems, performance control systems, fuel systems, intake and exhaust systems and probably a few others I've forgotten. An EV is vastly simpler. Almost the difference between an insect and an amoeba. An EV's motor has one moving part. Consider the cost of all the systems in a ICE vehicle. Consider the maintenance and consumable chemicals for all these systems. Then, consider the how much more these systems can and do fail. One of the biggest challenges for the American Cro-magnon car companies is figuring out how to make money on the service of EVs when they require so little of it. More than likely, when they do finally commit to EVs, they will have to figure out some sort of artificial limit or failure to design in on their EV's to compensate for this.

Finally (at least for this post), assuming the destruction of the world doesn't happen in the next few years, there's still the matter of a little country called America. America used to be the home of the greatest automobile manufacturers on earth. But, America pushed its industrial base over to China in favor of higher taxes, more regulations and less opportunity. So when the next wave of automotive revolution occurs (the electrics), our Asian neighbors will not only be the first to try the new machines, the first to develop and acquire the infrastructure and technologies, the first in line for the financial benefits and jobs, but also the dictators of the designs.

This is the first in my series on Electrics. For my past Rants and blogs - see: