Electric Cars and other Green Alternatives

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April 5, 2008

Fill ‘er up: Will that be electric or air, sir?

OK. I’m stretching it about pulling an electric car into a re-fueling station (gas station to you petrol users) and telling the attendant to “fill ‘er up.” But maybe it isn’t that far off. Wheelbarrows full of $$ is flowing into start-up technology think tanks to be first on th block with the “next big thing” in fuel technology. And one of these would be a battery that will recharge in 20 minutes or so, making a bathroom and snack stop long enough for a recharge.

We all know that with a new administration in the White House, whether it be Hilary, Obama, or McCain, there will be a surge of energy toward “green” and a diminished dependence on foreign oil. One of the developments will be in storage batteries, so that plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles can go longer without needing to recharge the batteries.

At the forefront of development is A123Systems whose lithium ion batteries now power urban electric busses and the new Think City Car (mileage between plug-ins of 100-120 miles) from the Norwegian carmaker, Think. Think City car

Ford once owned Think and sunk in a bunch of development expertise, but lost interest and sold it off. Now GE has sunk in about $4 million–as well as $20 million into A123Systems. Big bucks makes the difference in the amount and speed of development of these break-through technologies.

Detroit and Japan are also on the fast lane for battery and electric car development and you can expect to see major advances unfolding rapidly. In addition to batteries, other companies (with lots of venture capital) are also working on electrical storage units (they may not be called batteries) that will use other than lead acid structures with reduced weight–one of the problems with current batteries.

Another promising development is the use of non-polluting, readily available, storable, compressed air for vehicle propulsion from a company called The Air Car Factories. Think of refueling with an onboard air compressor, and the life span of a compressed air tank will be longer than a battery with fewer disposal problems at the end of its life. And how much can air cost?

The development right now is going into small to medium sized cars, but as the technology develops, can eco-friendly RV propulsion be far away?

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  2. For more information on the feasibility of using Nuclear power, go to the March 08 talk, Nuclear Power: No Climate Change Solution, given by Rinaldo Brutico (author of “Freedom from Mid-East Oil”) and see what he reports on the viability of using nuclear power. You can find it at: http://www.worldbusiness.org/

  3. still hoping

    I’m from the camp that says: there are many more ways to produce fossil fuel equivalents, that have not had the success of scale as the easily accessible oil burners that replaced the original electric cars.
    There is an excellent book, written by Edwin Black, on the history of the internal combustion problems.
    You would do yourself well to read it.
    Now, back to the alternatives; algal produced oil=pond scum, methane from enzymes=cow farts, those are but two that have promise.
    The simplicity of the cow stomachs, on an industrial scale, that digests celostic detritus, as well as the algal products are very much promising, and readily tweaked, even as I write this.
    Most of the other suggestions are very precious materials intensive, not to mention the byproducts, and disposal problems.
    So, as I sit here next to a contraption that gets eight miles to a gallon, and bar-b-que dinner over cng, and prepare to run the a/c this summer, I am willing to ponder, and offer enthusiasm, for the inventors currently laboring on my behalf.

  4. Ron

    That might be neat to tow behind my motorhome, but I still need petroleum products to run my mh. The Prius is a ‘feel good’ vehicle, because the energy required to produce the batteries offsets the lesser pollution of the gas. No real reducton of pollutants. Not to mention, after 4-5 years it will cost you Prious owners about $4500 to replace the batteries.

    We need to build non-polluting nuclear power plants and begin extracting the billions of barrels of oil yet untapped here in the US.

  5. Leo Everitt

    I don’t know where you get your data from but here is info from EIA which isn’t so rosy. Nuclear and coal are only real alternatives. Wind power will not make up more that a small proportion of power. In short, I disagree with your assumptions.
    Demand for electricity is increasing.

    According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), annual electricity demand is expected to increase by 1.5 percent per year through 2030. Overall, electricity consumption is expected to increase by at least 40 percent by 2030.

    Increasing Electricity Demand, 1970-2030

    New power plants are needed to ensure adequate electricity supplies for the future.

    According to EIA, 258 gigawatts (GW) of new generating capacity will be needed by 2030 to meet the growing demand for electricity, at a cost of approximately $412 billion (in 2005 dollars). This is equivalent to approximately 250-500 new baseload power plants (rated between ½ GW and 1 GW each).

    Capacity margins are declining.

    Capacity margins are used to measure the amount of “extra” generating capacity that electric companies maintain to meet emergency demand situations. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) forecasts that most U.S. regions will see the reserve margins they need to meet demand decline through 2015.

  6. Richard

    Studies have shown that our current electric grid can handle up to 80% of 220 million electric vehicles, if and when that happens. Since solar panels are making great strides lately towards not only efficiency but also in price per watt, the “overloaded grid concerns” have been debunked. Also, we are never going to not produce fossil fuel vehicles. There are vehicles that fossil fuels are best suited for, and alternative fuels would simply not work, like trucks. America still produces quite a bit of oil, it’s just that our cars use more than we produce. Nuclear power should NOT be an alternative since we have yet to figure out what to do with the spent reactive fuel! Wind is coming along just nicely, as well as wave power, we need not concern ourselves with running out of electric capacity to making irrational choices. Also, practicing conservation is something we should all get used to. Electric vehicles are a wonderful alternative that I look forward to. I wish they were available today.

  7. Bilmo

    A couple of comments. Electrical energy production is only a problem becuase no one wants to admit that we have to use Nukes. Think that France produces about 2/3s of its electricity with nuke plants. Time to be realistic about our energy needs vs. resources. (We also need to start drilling our own oil.)

    As slow as the government works, they better start figuring out what they are going to do to replace fuel taxes which are now on gas and diesel fuels. Someone still has to pay for the roadways and bridges. Sure that they will be able to dial into the vehicle computer and debit your credit card for KW used recharging the all electric vehicle.

  8. Leo Everitt

    I think the whole electric car thing is going to run into major problems of energy availability. The electric utility industry is right up against capacity and similar to crude oil is running into major problems trying to build new generating facilities. One has to look no further than the last couple of weeks and the actions of the Kansas state Environmental executive and Governor in rejecting the construction of two coal fired generation stations in their state because of concern for emissions. And no wind power won’t do it.

  9. bob

    Perhaps you are not aware but the Toyota Prius which is an electric first with gas assist hybrid has a switch in European models which allows it to operate electric only. The gas is always there if needed as a backup or for charging purposes. The switch is not on American cars because of a regulation regarding warranty of the battery. Those of us with the Prius know that we can drive without the gas engine when we run out of gas and that is easy to do as we really don’t think much about fill ups. If you drive the Prius exercising fuel economy techniques recommended for regular vehicles and concentrate on economy it is not difficult to average 55 mpg in normal driving conditions (not hilly and temp around 70) In normal city driving 45 is more realistic. This is good hybrid technology and I am shocked at how slow the rest of the American industry is moving to get to the 40-50 mpg on a mid size car.