The electric car: is it ideal transportation if a good battery exists?

First, let me say that I have no ax to grind in this debate. I don’t design electric cars, I don’t own any stock in electric car companies, and I am not in favor of electric cars over other designs just on principle.

But it seems that of all the current, proven technologies, electric cars might be the best vehicle if it wasn’t for the excessive space, weight, and cost of batteries.

For example:

An electric car:[ol][li]Doesn’t need much of the baggage of an internal combustion engine like a carburetor, muffler, distributor, transmission, etc.[]It is quieter than an ICE[]Is less polluting than an ICE (yes, I know that power generation is not pollution-free, but it’s easier to contain it at a single power plant than at a million cars)[]Is vibration-free, so the ride is smoother[]Doesn’t spend fuel or cause vibration at idle[][]The engine is smaller than the same power plant in an ICEThe power plant is more reliable because it doesn’t rely upon hundreds of explosions per second and it is rotary motion, so maintenance is cheaper.[/ol][/li]So, for the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that a good battery or other electrical storage device has been developed; it is cheap, it is compact, it is safe with careful handling, it can be recharged under reasonable conditions (takes little more than the time it takes now to fill a gas tank) and it lasts long enough that replacement cost is not a major consideration.

Under those conditions, is the electric car the best option today?

Under that assumption, I can’t see how there can be any possible objection, until you get into the lunatic fringe arguments like “CO2 is good for plants! Why do you want to kill off all the plants?”. But that’s a pretty big assumption.

The Volt has a range of about 50 miles. More than 80 % of the people drive less than that every day.
It is not suitable for those with long commutes or who have to drive a lot as part of their jobs. But it could cut down on gasoline usage and pollution immediately. I like it.

It’s a bit more then that, it singles out battery technology as the only technical hurdle left. With charging infrastructure also a factor, though not a technical one.

Is it ideal? I sort of like the transporter concept myself, though that seems to be too much a challenge scientist at the moment.

I am an owner of stock in various aspects of the electric car industry, and even I don’t see that as a fair hypothetical - if you could make the technology ideal would it be ideal? Well uh sure.

And if instead you could get biodiesel (algal or otherwise) to scale up to a point that was cheaper than gas and produced minimal net CO2, then that would be the best option.

And if you could find a cheap way to produce hydrogen for fuel cells in a CO2 neutral manner and got FCVs down to a reasonable price, they would be.

That said, yes, EVs are closer to being ready and are already ready for certain market segments.

Yeah, that’s what I was going for. If energy storage is the only option, isn’t the electric car the best choice, at least for now?

Chronos, how does CO[sub]2[/sub] enter into the equation? Electric cars don’t emit CO[sub]2[/sub]. Are you assuming that there would be more if existing power plants had to be expanded to handle the additional load from electric cars?

And as far as charging tech, I know I specified that charging shouldn’t take any longer than filling a gas tank, but I can’t see a big problem if it took me 4 hours to tank up.

That sort of his joking point - much less CO2 … but won’t anyone think of the plants!

Rapid charge (Level 3) chargers an fill up most EVs to 80% in about 20 minutes. That said most people would charge up at home overnight.

Metal air batteries may be the real game changer.

But the current technology is good enough now for most commuters’ needs.

That may be a bone of contention. I don’t travel far or often, but if my max range was 40 miles without a recharge, I will absolutely not be an electric car customer no matter what, because I want that extra cushion just in case.

So even if 80% of my needs are met by current technologies, I don’t want to have to call my wife, call the AAA, or return home to change cars if I grind to a dead halt on 20 days of every 100. So an electric car is not in my future purchase plans, nor is it for 99% of my neighbors (100% of my neighbors within a 3 mile radius do not own even a hybrid).

But I would be first in line if this obstacle were removed.

Sorry, Chronos, I was thinking backwards. :slight_smile:

While for a single, or single with child/children, person it would not be ideal, for a couple with 2 cars it could be, for one of the 2 cars to be electric, but it would require a shift in conventional thinking that one car is one person’s and the other is the others, to both cars being both and a sharing of the cars based on the immediate needs.

Most EVs (not the Volt, which not really an EV as EV’s don’t have tailpipes; the Volt also has an ICE) have about a 100 mile range (YMMV).

The only times I travel farther than that in a day I know it in advance - dropping a kid off at college, things like that - and I don’t do that in my commuter car in any case.

I think they are practical for many more people than most people think, but nevertheless, they are not right for everyone right now. If you drive even over 90 in a day with any kind of regularity, where you can’t charge up along the way, like at work, then most current EVs are not for you (the Volt or another EREV/PHEV may be a good choice though). You’ll probably make it most of the time but if conditions are bad you may be sweating it some on a few of those days. And be stranded once out of thousand is too often, to heck with 20 out of 100. If you occasionally drive those distances or more and have another car in the family, then an EV is fine. If you very rarely to never do, then an EV is more than fine.

In certain markets the charging infrastructureis being rolled out fairly quickly, but even then, these are not cars to go cross country in … yet. If you do that often, get a diesel or a hybrid or a Volt.

That article is pretty non-technical- can you explain how those work? What’s the difference between those and conventional batteries?

Well, there are a few other things, but essentially you are right (for instance, the materials to build the more advanced batteries are, afaik, really expensive and fairly rare at this time…which means that they aren’t widely available and present bottlenecks to production). The trouble is that this is a rather large ‘if’. Certainly if you could figure out a way to make batteries charge rapidly like capacitors, make them store a lot more energy (and discharge it slowly, over time, unlike capacitors), make them weigh less and make them cost substantially less, then building the infrastructure to support them would be child’s play in comparison…and this would make EVs the best choice for a replacement vehicle.

If you could do those things, however, you’d be a generation ahead of your nearest competition and probably looking at which countries you wanted to buy to spend your summers in.

Yep…no doubt. Just like if you could make unlimited amounts of cheap oil or direct converted gas and bio-diesel then what we have today would be the optimal choice. Or, if you could make abundant and cheap hydrogen (and figure out ways to store and transport it cheaply and avoid the corrosive effects) then hydrogen powered vehicles (either direct or fuel cell) would be best. Or, if you could figure out how to produce solar panels that could be mounted on a cars roof surface and provide 100% of it’s power needs (rain or shine) then solar would be the best. Or, if you could figure out a safe way to build a small fusion plant that uses garbage and is the size of a food processor, then…


You can make a capacitor charge quickly and discharge slowly: It just depends on what the effective resistance is of the thing you’re hooking up across the capacitor. They’re not ready for powering cars just yet, but currently capacitor technology is advancing far faster than battery technology, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we saw general-purpose capacitor-powered vehicles before general-purpose battery vehicles.

Well beyond 50 miles it’s gasoline engine kicks in and it still get’s crazy good gas millage operating as a hybrid. I like it too. Someday when I’m rich I’m gonna get one, or something based on it.

When I’m rich I’m going to get a Tesla. Now THAT would be truly cool! Plus I’d really love a Segway…

(BTW, I thought the Volt was an all electric vehicle…so, assuming I’m remembering correctly, gonzo isn’t talking about a hybrid there at all)


Has a study been completed to predict what the power grid demand would/will be should they become the “gotta have” transportation?
How many more power plants will be required?
What are the costs of recharging on a daily basis?
What are the costs for battery replacement?
How often will that be necessary?

Personally, 50 miles fits within my commute, but barely. If I had to visit a client or make some other side trip I’d be operating on gas.

Teslas are cool too. The Volt is a series hybrid, or a plugin hybrid, meaning it powers it’s drive train through it’s electric engine just like an electric car, and as long as its batteries hold out, it is an electric car. However if its batteries drain it runs a gasoline engine which generates electricity.
In contrast to something like a Prius which is a parallel hybrid, meaning it powers its drive train directly through both electric and gas engines at same time.

Gotcha…thanks for the clarification. I thought the Volt was an all electric vehicle, but I admit I haven’t followed it too closely since I don’t intend to buy one.


See, that’s where I have a problem. Sure, most families could rearrange their lifestyle to take advantage of a short-range, ecological transportation vehicle. Maybe I could. But it’s a hassle the average Joe doesn’t want to deal with when time and money is on the line. And I can’t afford to have a long range vehicle and a short range one, too, so if my car won’t handle the infrequent, longer trips, it won’t be my first (or second, or third) choice.

But if a particular vehicle could handle more than just a dedicated few, it would have a much larger market. It wouldn’t have to rely upon the Ed Begley Jr.'s to proselytize it; it would have its own inherent advantages and would sell itself. I think maybe only the energy storage is what’s holding the electric car back.

No argument from me. It looks like: If the energy storage requirement were worked out,[ol][li]…for the hydrogen car, then that would be the best, orfor the electric car, then that would be the best, or…[/ol]So what’s holding all of these ideas back is not the inherent engine technology, but the energy storage technology. Perhaps that is the Achilles’ heel of modern transportation.[/li]
Personally, I’m counting on Mr. Fusion in a DeLorean.