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Monday, May 26, 2014

The electric car



There's something about electric cars that fascinates me. I want them to be practical, really I do. For decades I've followed their development, both home brewed and commercial attempts.

Clean, quiet, environmentally friendly, simple -what's not to like?

Batteries, that's what.

Batteries are the Achilles heal of the electric car. The rest of the car is easy to do. Energy storage is the issue. Most people do not appreciate the vast amount of energy in liquid fuels like gasoline and diesel. It's immense. Even the best batteries, pound for pound, have only a fraction of the energy of petroleum products.

To make up for heavy batteries often the rest of the car is made as light as possible. That helps, but a light aerodynamic car with a gas engine gets great mileage, and costs less to produce. The numbers just don't work out.

It's a niche vehicle, suitable for short trips in a mild climate. Short, because the range, while getting better, isn't quite there. A mild climate because heating or cooling the car uses energy that cannot be spared from the main drive unit.

That being said, I've come close to converting a gas car to electric a time or two. The last time I'd lined up a donor car, the motor, batteries, control circuitry, -even a welder and machine shop to do the bits I didn't have the tools for. In the end I just could not justify the effort for the end result. After months of work I'd have a slow short range car that would struggle up hills and lose much of its range in cold weather.

Commercial engineering has come a long way. If someone gave me a Tesla electric car I would not refuse it. It's a piece of high end engineering, pushing the envelop of what's possible. Too bad I can't afford to own one. Heck, I can't afford most regular cars -never mind high end niche vehicle.

In spite of all the drawbacks, we will be seeing more electric cars. Battery technology is finally making some big strides. Better batteries are no longer just scientific curiosities in some lab somewhere. Factories are being build to put new technology into mass production.

Now combine that with falling prices for renewable energy sources and you've really got something. For once the trends are going in the right direction. An electric car charged up from a coal fired plant isn't a green vehicle. One fueled by the sun or wind, however, is a different animal entirely.

-Sixbears

15 comments:

  1. I've always felt that the ideal vehicle would be a cart pulled by a milk cow.

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  2. I have questions about electric cars. The big one being why is such a big battery so necessary? Once you have the wheels rolling, why is the vehicle not self-propelled? If you had a generator attached to each wheel, why would that not supply the power to keep the vehicle moving and the battery charged? Like I said I don't understand the engineering behind an electric car.

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    Replies
    1. One word: friction. There are losses all along the way that make what you suggest impossible.

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    2. Gravity still has an affect even on a "level" service. Go check out Newton's laws of motion.

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    3. Both gentlemen are correct, with friction being the most noticeable culprit. Friction comes in many forms. Any moving part wastes energy especially tires on the road, that's what causes your tires to heat up with all that energy in motion is being eaten up and converted to heat in your tires. Wind resistance, I think is probably the biggest energy suckage in this situation. Hold your hand out the window of a moving car and you get an idea of what your car is always pushing against.

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    4. Kinda hard to fill in a lot of science in a short paragraph isn't it?

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    5. Been gone a couple days. Thanks guys, I can see the logic of what your saying.

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  3. Living as you do in a rural environment, why don't you get a mule, make yourself a covered cart and use that to go into the nearest town or to see your family nearby?

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    Replies
    1. Do I really want a "vehicle" that has a brain more stubborn than my own?

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    2. Come on Sixbears,
      You're a pragmatist, you're not ego driven.
      Simplify simplify simplify...

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  4. I knew a guy a few years ago that had an electric/gas car. Used it as electric when in towns and used the gas engine on highways. He had trouble with pedestrians because when running on electric it was so quiet they didn't hear it coming and would not get out of the way.

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    Replies
    1. I think an electric motorcycle would be cool too. Great for hunting.

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  5. put two bicycles in tandem with a wide carryall basket with gelcell batteries powering a twenty four volt motor savaged from a kids scooter might fit your bill

    add a solar charger station and yoiu would have a "third world" transport


    or hook up a dozen yuppies to pull your van

    Wildflower

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  6. Some years ago I did a stint as a fork truck operator in an assembly plant. I see no reason that the drive train could be adapted to a small pickup truck with more than a 40 mile range. I used the electric fork lift for a 10 hour shift on a single charge and had it way above 30 miles per hour for most of the shift. (possible if you have the admin codes) I have never been able to afford a used one with the battery pack intact.

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