Friday, September 11, 2009

Dan Rather Reports, 8 September 2009

This week veteran journalist Dan Rather investigates the possibilities and future of the electric car in the United States.  Some very interesting issues are brought up in this program, such as pointing out how battery life will suffer when temperatures fluctuate beyond a comfortable 20-25C, such as in the northern plains or arid south-west desert.  I highly recommend this program for all people interested in learning more about the electric car revolution and when iTunes posts it I'll try to provide a link to the program here.

And here's a link to the program in the iTunes Store!  You'll want Episode 63 for the Electric Car story.

That's all for now.

Whirr Whirr Bye Bye!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Defining the Parameters

It is important, when one talks about things with generic concepts like affordable to understand just what is meant by the term.  Just what does affordable mean when it comes to an electric car?  Although it's hard to put an exact figure on the maximum value that an affordable electric car should cost, one can compile a list of reasonable requirements and performance criteria and judge the ideal price based on different sets of attributes.  In other words, the maximum price for a car that can go 100 mi (161 km) would clearly not be the same as a car with a range of 50 mi (80 km).  For me, only the former car is affordable in so far as I don't expect to charge my car at work, and I have a work commute of about 37 mi (60 km) and thus round trip of a bit under 80 mi (129 km).  Thus, a car with only 60 mi (97 km) range, as proposed for the Chevy Volt would just not cut it for me if I want to go all electric.  With that in mind, I propose the following list of requirements.

  • 80 mi (129 km) range at 80% charge [100 mi (161 km) preferred]
  • 8 hours charge time for 80% charge [6 hours preferred]
  • Regenerative Breaking [preferably using Ultra Capacitors]
  • Safety features such as air bags, ABS, vehicle stability and traction control
  • Ideally, 4-wheel independent motors, similar to the Eliica design so that power is not lost running a drive train
  • Ideally, carbon-fibre frame and body to make the car both light-weight and structurally sound
  • Ideally, mountable electrovoltaic solar panels to charge the car when at rest as well as turn some of the solar heat into thermal energy to keep the car cool in the summer
  • Batteries that don't break the bank, either by mass-production of much cheaper Lithium-Ion batteries, or a different battery type, such as Sodium-Ion, that would be one-time use and recyclable at a service station1

Of all of these attributes, the most noisome is by far the current cost of Lithium-Ion batteries.  Li-ion batteries represent a full third of the retail cost of the Tesla roadster, about $33,000.  And that, in my oh, so humble opinion, is the reason we are still waiting for that mythical affordable electric car.  When you can buy a car with all the attributes I've listed, including the batteries, for $33,000, we may finally have that dream car I long for.  Until then, I repeat my mantra:

Affordable Electric Car NOW

1The Sodium-Ion battery though would not be ideal as part of the joy of not having to go to a service station every week to fill up the tank would only be replaced by doing the same perhaps daily replacing the Sodium-Ion battery.  Maybe if the batteries could be removed and charged in the home with multiple battery packs on reserved so that one can be used while the others are charging would be the appropriate solution here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Electric Cars only for the Rich and Famous?

Let's start out with a basic rundown of what exists today for the aspiring electric car enthusiast from a few car companies you may never have heard of:

The Tesla Roadster lists for $109,000 (US) and goes approximately 224 mi (360 km) highway per charge.
The Eliica is an 8-wheel car designed by Professor Hiroshi Shimizu and is one of the fastest cars in the world, combustion and electric combined!  The Eliica can go about 200 mi (320 km) and can reach speeds of 230 mph (370 kmph).  It uses an innovative design where each wheel has its own electric motor and thus no torque is lost in drive train transmission.  But, now for the sticker shock: the Eliica is estimate to cost a staggering $255,000US if a retail manufacturer can be found, though as yet Professor Shimizu has yet to find a manufacturer in Japan willing to make his prototype into a practical choice, all be it again for the Rich and Famous.
Tata Nano-E
Tata Motors of India is renowned as the makers of some of the smallest and most inexpensive cars in the world.  The Nano, a concept car which is to be Tata's smallest and least expensive offering, is proposed to have an electric model, the E-Nano which is to have a fully electric drive train.  Though not on the market yet, the likely range of the Tata E-Nano will not make it practical for daily commutes in the U.S., which for me is about 75 mi (120 km) round-trip.  It remains to be seen whether the Tata may make the first affordable electric car in the world, or will it just be a grocery-getter no good for anything more than puttering around town.
The Zenn car of Québec, Canada, is an around-town, short trip car with Lead-Acid batteries that allow it to go 35 mi (55 km) per charge and have a maximum speed of 25 mph (40 kmph).  Ironically, these cars were until recently only street-legal in the U.S., and not in their home of Canada.  Of course, with a maximum speed of 25 mph (40 kmph), the Zenn car isn't good for much of anything except keeping to roads where the speed limit never exceeds 35 mph (55 kmph), meaning that again we do not have a practical electric vehicle.

A number of major automobile manufactures have also proposed electric cars or series hybrids with a fully electric drive train, and I shall provide a rundown of those in a subsequent post.  But for now, chew on this: imagine the Eliica's axle-free drive-train with the Tesla's batteries at a Zenn-car price?  Alas, the Lithium-Ion batteries used by the Eliica and Tesla are what make these cars beyond the average consumer's budget, but we can dream!