Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Shock therapy for petrol addicts"

"Shock therapy for petrol addicts"is the catchy title of an article I ran across today. The author, Philip King, writing or The Australian, follows the push of automakers all across the world for the introduction of the electric car as a substitute to the gasoline-powered vehicle.

The article presents the cars that companies such as Nissan, Toyota, Ford, GM and Daimler Chrysler will be putting into production over the next year or two. The similarities between all these cars are that they are low-powered, high-priced, city-commuters with a limited range and a very high recharge time. The author explains what each of the aforemetioned companies is doing on a technological level, for example, he compares Toyota's "parallel" hybrid to GM Volt's "series" hybrid. The parallel hybrid has both a gasoline and an electrical motor. When the car is moving at a slow speed, it uses the electrical motor, while at high speeds the gasoline motor is utilized. In a "series" hybrid like the Chevrolet Volt, the car is always powered by the electric engine. The gasoline engine turns a generator which charges the batteries and provides power for the electrial motor.

Aside from greenhouse gases and high fuel costs, a major reason behind the push for electric vehicles is expressed by Nissan's head of advanced product strategy, Francois Bancon, who believes that this is the computer age and 80% of the 15-16 year old kids are not even interested in cars. They do not reject the car as a mode of transportation, however these future car-buyers are not interested in the "way the car moves" and the "driving pleasure as we define it". He believes the the car-buyers to be will be much more interested in the way their heads up display (HUD) looks then the way their machine performs.

The author of the article presents a few smaller companies that are becoming players in the electric car market; while they are not putting out original models, they are converting gasoline cars to electric ones by fitting them with electric motors and lithium ion batteries.

The author also presents the problems the electric cars have yet to overcome: they cost more than twice as much as gasoline models, the batteries are expensive, they polute and even though there are companies working on it, there is currently no supply chain equivalent to the gas stations that will be able to service these vehicles

I agree with the author on many of the points he presents in his article, however he fails to foresee some other maor drawbacks.

Electric cars have been around since the 1830's when there were two models developed by Robert Anderson and Professor Sibrandus Stratingh [2]. However the reasons the electric car did not take off then are the same reasons it will be hard for it to take off now: limited range and high cost, mostly due to the batteries. Lithium Ion batteries have major drawbacks when it comes to cost, lifetime and operating conditions. Batteries do not work well when it is cold, and they lose their recharge capacity when it is hot; also they are very hard to recycle.

Also, does Nissan really think that these 15-16 year old kids will not change their mind when they get a bit older?

The most important question is whether people are willing to pay a lot of money for a vehicle an extremely limited use.

References:

[1] http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24984579-13232,00.html
[2]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_car

4 comments:

Divya said...

Well, never does something better not capture the interest and eyes of a person, does it! We make something, use it to the fullest and do the damage and then we come up with something that was already in use ages ago and proclaim that it's going to save the world from the monsters that are waiting to pounce upon us, right now them being the greenhouse gases. Lol.
It is known that the efficiency of electric cars are way better than the ICE ones, but I am a little confused, and please correct me if I am wrong. Doesn't using electric car means we use up more of electric energy and hence we require more production and as far as I know, a greater percentage of it is produced from coal, and now won't that lead to CO2 emission too?? Or is it that on a relative scale, the emission is less or something? But I am sure the percentage of other noxious gases produced will reduce a lot.
And I am not a great driver, but come on, they possibly can't say (assume is more like it) that the future gen won't be too particular about the "conventional driving pleasure".. I am pretty sure 70% of the people (mainly the teenagers) who drive now do it for pleasure. If not we could always borrow some 'floo powder' from our very own Mr.Potter. We all know that mode of transport isn't very pleasurable, and according to Mr.Bancon, looks like we won't mind much (Sorry, couldn't resist the floo powder part :D ).
But the title is just awesome!!

rossen said...

The reasons why electric cars are viewed as more efficient are the following:

1. You have a 1 big generator (at the power plant) that converts all the energy you need to power these 1000 cars, as opposed to having 1000 "little" gasoline engines converting the same amount of energy individually.

2. The big generator is more efficient than the 1000 gasoline engines, and it runs cleaner. One can attach a state of the art cleaning system to the power plant's smokestacks that will catch a lot of the undesirable particles before they go out in the atmosphere, as opposed to relying on the not-as-good catalytic converters used in cars.

3. The generator at the power plant is professionally maintained and it runs at peak performance, while few of the automobiles on the road have the impeccable maintenance necessary to keep them running at 100%.

So no matter what kind of power plant you are running, be it coal or natural gas, the overall emissions resulting from electrically powering 1000 cars are much less than the overall emissions caused by the same 1000 cars if they were running ICEs.

Hope this clarifies things.

rossen said...

The reasons why electric cars are viewed as more efficient are the following:

1. You have a 1 big generator (at the power plant) that converts all the energy you need to power these 1000 cars, as opposed to having 1000 "little" gasoline engines converting the same amount of energy individually.

2. The big generator is more efficient than the 1000 gasoline engines, and it runs cleaner. One can attach a state of the art cleaning system to the power plant's smokestacks that will catch a lot of the undesirable particles before they go out in the atmosphere, as opposed to relying on the not-as-good catalytic converters used in cars.

3. The generator at the power plant is professionally maintained and it runs at peak performance, while few of the automobiles on the road have the impeccable maintenance necessary to keep them running at 100%.

So no matter what kind of power plant you are running, be it coal or natural gas, the overall emissions resulting from electrically powering 1000 cars are much less than the overall emissions caused by the same 1000 cars if they were running ICEs.

Hope this clarifies things.

David Wogan said...

Electric cars are usually viewed as being more efficient than gasoline cars because people focus on the electrical drive train itself. As we saw in class, when you include the generation efficiency, transmission and end-use (in the car) the efficiencies of gas and electric cars are similar. That is not to say that electric cars aren't good. Rossen highlighted some good points about electric cars, specifically decreasing emissions from hundreds of millions of cars to a few thousand point sources (power plants).