Monday, November 04, 2013


"Who killed the electric car?  Reality."

As I've stated in the past, I like the idea of the electric car in principle, but due to our present level of technology and perhaps the limits of what can be done with the car, they aren't feasible as a product.  The main problems as I see them are these:
  • Recharge time is too long to be useful as a regular vehicle
  • Cost of technology prices the car out of practical use
  • Low power of batteries results in sub-par performance
  • Batteries are very expensive to replace, nearly as much as the car
  • Environmental damage from collisions and damaged batteries a serious concern
  • Rechargable batteries have reduced reuse; each recharge reduces maximum charge level
  • Batteries have much more limited range than gasoline, limiting travel distance
  • Greater weight and cargo load significantly reduces battery charge duration.
This means no matter how fancy the car is, like say a Tesla, you still have an overpriced car with limited performance and utility that has massive hidden costs.  I didn't list this because it isn't a significant concern to me, but the rare earth and dangerous chemicals used in creating the batteries also presents a notable environmental risk and "carbon emissions" problem far greater than ordinary gasoline cars.
The cost of an electric car is so great that it obliterates potential gasoline expense savings and puts it out of the range of most people's purchase for a limited-use town car, which is the best you can hope for one.
However, there's a new technology out that largely deals with one of these concerns.  A lab has developed a new superconducting battery which they claim recharges at an astounding rate of speed.  Ben Coxworth reports in Gizmag:
"This system that we have gives you capacitor-like power with battery-like energy," said U Illinois' Paul Braun, a professor of materials science and engineering. "Most capacitors store very little energy. They can release it very fast, but they can't hold much. Most batteries store a reasonably large amount of energy, but they can't provide or receive energy rapidly. This does both."

The implications for electric vehicles are particularly exciting. "If you had the ability to charge rapidly, instead of taking hours to charge the vehicle you could potentially have vehicles that would charge in similar times as needed to refuel a car with gasoline," Braun said. "If you had five-minute charge capability, you would think of this the same way you do an internal combustion engine. You would just pull up to a charging station and fill up."
It can take 5 minutes or so to refill your tank, depending on how many people are there.  You can't include payment time, because that would be unchanged with an electric car.  At present the battery allegedly recharges ten to one hundred times faster than established batteries, which is a great leap forward.
This doesn't deal with the other concerns, of course, but it is a possible solution to one of the main problems, providing it works as advertised.  This would be very useful for applications such as laptops and cell phones, as well as medical devices such as defibrillator paddles.
But until the problem of duration of charge and diminishing recharge capacity are dealt with, and the concerns over cost are addressed, this will never be a really useful product.  Which would you rather buy: a car that gets you where you want to go when you want it, and can go hundreds of miles without refilling for 10 grand... or one that can't go as far and can go less distance every recharging for 30 grand?
At present these cars are somewhat useful to someone as a town car, something they use to go to work and home only and not very long distance either way.  You can leave them to recharge while working and use them for short trips.  But they're so expensive that few people can even consider buying a second or third car just for this use unless they are celebrities or politicians looking to make a statement and not actually drive.
And since the environmental damage and "emissions" are actually greater in the manufacture of these vehicles by far than ordinary gas ones (even including harvesting fuel) they don't do anything at all for helping the environment, despite their usual publicity.
So we're not there, yet.  Maybe we won't ever be with this technology.  But this seems like a good step in the right direction.


JoelAT said...

I would be interested to see what the actual drop off is per recharge for the different kinds of batteries, I feel that that would be something that could probably be addressed without too much trouble. I don't think the drop off is too precipitous though.

mushroom said...

Hybrids are different, but an electric simply moves the source of power from the engine to the power plant -- from gasoline to coal or nuclear. Most electricity is generated by coal. (Wind and solar are not efficient enough to power a grid because of transmission distances. They can be feasible as backyard or homestead power sources.)

Fat Man said...

My great-grandmother owned a Baker Electric back around the time of the Great War, when one third of the cars on the road were BEVs (Battery powered electric vehicle). They won’t be coming back, for the same reason they went away — they were not very useful compared to ICE.

Not to worry, though. The BEV is, one of those shiny technological baubles that the watermelons (environmentalists green on the outside, but really leftists red, on the inside) love to wave around hoping to distract the bitter clingers from the truth, which is that the watermelons are trying to impoverish and demoralize them.

The BEV is a technology that held great promise at the beginning of the century — the 20th, 100 years ago. It has always been the case that a BEV requires many fewer moving parts than a ICE (internal combustion engine powered vehicle). And it would work very well and beat the ICE, were it not for the batteries.

Batteries have all kinds of problems: e.g. weight, size, voltage, charging time. There have been a lot of improvements in battery technology in the last century, although some common battery types are still in use, such as the lead acid car battery. But, battery technology is old technology — the first batteries were built by Volta more than 200 years ago. And, there is very little technological head room for them. They are based on inorganic electrochemistry, which is a well ploughed field.

Then there are recharging problems, the ability of the battery to absorb the current flow is not an issue with the batteries used in cars. The real issue is that all recharging is limited by the inbound flow of current.

The fundamental law is that Watts = Amps x Volts. Therefore, an ordinary household line of 120 volts at 15 Amps, can charge a battery at a maximum rate of 1.8 KWh/h. If an electric car requires 1 KWh to travel 5 miles (and 3 is more like it), then you are charging at the rate of 9 mph. A dryer line, 240V 30A, can make road speed — 36 mph. but, even that line would need almost 14 hrs. to charge a 100 KWh battery. Home at 6 p.m. for dinner — don’t leave for work until after 8 a.m. nice schedule huh?

Christopher R Taylor said...

Well in theory this new tech greatly reduces the recharge time, but not the total power capacity. Cars are always tested without any passengers on rollers for their mileage, and each person you put in lowers that. With electric cars, that means less range, and it goes down pretty noticeably because there's just not as much power in those batteries as there is in gasoline.

And as Mushroom pointed out, you're getting your power from the same sources, its just generated at a remote location and transmitted electrically to your EV. So its not nearly as efficient a method of transferring power to your wheels. Yet, at least.

JoelAT said...

How about approaching it from the method used by locomotives, small diesel engines that power electric motors that provide impetus to the wheels. Eliminate the need for the battery altogether.