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Electric Cars and Their Discontents 348

Posted by timothy
from the discontent-is-necessary-for-progress dept.
The most hotly contested issue raised by yesterday's post about the lithium-ion battery-powered Tesla roadster is only tangentially related to the car itself; instead, it's the energy generation and storage required for electric cars more generally to operate. Read on for the Backslash summary of the conversation, including several of the comments that defined the conversation.

A typical comment about the global impact of switching from gasoline to electric cars on a wide scale comes from reader dbIII, who comments:

"Until something replaces Coal power plants as the main method of generating electricity, you're just replacing one evil for the other."

"With better battery storage it doesn't matter much where the electricity comes from and when - the car could be charging up with solar power in the carpark in the day or with wind when it is blowing, or off-peak when the base load stations are running as low as they can but no-one wants to use the electricity."

"Battery power isn't about saving energy anyway, it's often about shifting the pollution to a big facility that can handle it instead of having heavy pollution control equipment to move about. The first hybrid car I saw, back in 1987, embodied this principle and was designed to work at an underground mine. Above ground it ran on fuel, but below ground you wanted to minimize the air pollution as much as possible so it ran on batteries."

The continued existence of the earth as a habitable planet aside, what about the car itself, and in particular its power source?

Jah-Wren Ryel has a quibble with the terminology used the linked article, writing

"This car is not a true Tesla Car. If it were, it would have no batteries at all. Instead it would gets it energy from some kind of wireless source like microwave power transmission or even the Earth's magnetic field."

Many readers worried about exploding batteries; glowworm was "left wondering if this car is involved in an accident if the batteries will vent like the recent Slashdot articles suggest. Exploding Dells, fires on planes, and soon at an intersection near you... cars venting more flame than the Batmobile."

Reader nSinistrad_D provides reason to think such explosions are unlikely:

"Looks like the company that is manufacturing the batteries has replaced graphite with a 'Lithium Titanium Oxide' that they've tested and claim doesn't have the smoking, venting, or explosive problems of normal lithium ion batteries. Here is a link to a rather informative article about the battery technology that will be used in the Tesla. ... I mean, based on the stuff I've read about the founders of the company and a lot of the people who have invested in it (i.e. Elon Musk, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, etc.) I feel I'll wait and see before passing any judgement."

Reader artifex2004 is skeptical: "Here in Texas, where I suspect temperatures exceed battery design, I think this idea will bomb spectacularly. Seriously, though, Li-ion? I shudder to think of how those will get disposed of, eventually."

And Reader Moofie has a tongue-in-cheek solution if the batteries ever go critical: "Maybe you could design a clever little nozzle to get a boost from your on-fire battery packs. That'd be AWESOME."

It's not just safety, of course, that matters to drivers, but practicality for other reasons:

Reader iamlucky13 writes: "15 minutes on the charger might get you another 15-20 miles. And 220 volts at 70 amps is a pretty hefty 15 kilowatts, so to have a dozen cars sitting at the local McDonalds charging is going to be draining about 180 kW from their coinpurse. That is a serious amount of juice. Also, I'm skeptical that you'll be getting 250 miles at 70 mph. If I remember right, electric motor efficiency and power typically increase with load, but fall off with speed, which makes them awesome for say, a 0-60 run in 3 seconds, but marginal at best for high speed cruising. That 250 mile range estimate is probably at significantly lower speeds."

"Big rigs generally run around 5 mpg, but it varies quite a bit around that number depending on the truck, the load, and the speed. Few truckers drive at the most efficient speed because it increases the labor costs significantly."

"If you're suggesting running commercial trucks on electricity, forget it for the foreseeable future. It's definitely been considered. Not only is there the conflicting speed issues I mentioned above, but you run up against the energy density limitations of batteries fast. Assuming the numbers from the article are correct (I doubt it...something isn't quite adding up according to my gut) and unrealistically taking the charge/discharge at 100% efficiency, it's storing up 194 MJ. Gasoline holds about 120 MJ/gallon, so the 1000 pounds of batteries (according to the Tesla website) are equivalent to about 1.5 gallons of gas (6.3 pounds/gal). Divide that an efficiency of around 30% and you've got a 32:1 energy density ratio in favor of gasoline. For a truck to haul the equivalent of 150 gallons of fuel (actually diesel, not gas, but close enough), it would need about 30,000 pounds of batteries. But then you have to go farther and take into account that 2/3's of its cargo capacity has been replaced fuel, so you need to make 3 times the number of trips. And you've got a lot of trucks either sitting idle recharging or having their 30,000 pounds of batteries swapped out every few hundred miles."

"Obviously these are really rough numbers, but other engineers have already looked at the idea in more detail and rejected it."

"I'm not trash-talking the Tesla. It looks like a lot of fun, but like all sports cars, it's a toy and not a good comparison for commercial trucking. Most of a car's weight is itself, be it gas or electric. Most of a truck's weight is it's cargo."

"For the record, I think electric can work extremely well for short range commuting (5-10 miles on city streets), but if you travel far, you'll realistically be looking at gas."

As to the exact number of batteries in the car, reader wbean provides a good reason why it should be exactly 6831: "The motor is going to need a lot higher voltage than a laptop. This means that the batteries have to be organized in series/parallel banks. 6831 is a plausible number since it is 23 x 11 x 3 x 3 x 3. This gives you a lot of flexibility in arranging the banks. You could have 99 banks of 69 batteries in series, presumably giving you something like 345 volts. That sounds about right for a DC motor."

Of course, battery technology is the real crux of the issue; balancing safety, weight, volume and energy density is a tough problem, and as reader loose electron puts it,

"Whoever comes up with a significant advance in battery technology will . Li-Ion batteries have excellent amp-hour ratings for their size, but like all other batteries are still pretty limited."

"Acceleration/Torque for electric cars is not a problem. High performance capabilities are there if you want them. However, you are playing battery energy against performance against distance, and all electrics, or fuel-electric hybrids have been designed to be 'green' in their approach. (Any Hummer owners want an environmentally aware vehicle?)"

"Right now the weakest link in many electronic systems is the energy source. A good solution there and you can be a very wealthy person."

hotspotbloc suggests " a different type of hybrid," one with:
  • "enough batteries for ~50 miles.
  • a small (100cc) biodiesel engine running at a fixed and preset RPM connected to a small generator. The engine would be set to run at the peak of its power curve.
  • a small ~10L fuel tank
  • and
  • an AC charging circuit"
"This would allow the driver to run on electric most of the day and charge on the road when needed. One could also use a gasoline engine instead of biodiesel and still see big fuel operating savings since some wall recharging would take place. It would also greatly decrease the number of batteries needed."

"This is a really old idea. I saw something like this (on a much larger scale) on an USCG cutter (WLB-389) that was built in 1943. Two diesels -> two generators -> one electric motor. Worked great and it could double as a light ship."

Finally, several readers' comments focused on the merits of the particular electric car, rather than only as the embodiment of its constituent technologies.

fermion was one of a handful who talked about the car as a sportscar per se, writing:

"I would wager that this vehicle is more like a Lotus Elise, or a Corvette, or even a S2000, all of which can be had for under 50K. Any performance benefits over those sports cars can be attributed to the natural advantage of this car, namely that you can go from 0-60 without switching gears, and it is easier to get it perfectly balanced without an engine. Anyway, The true test of a sports cars, as opposed to just a fast car, is the handling, which was not mentioned in review. Without proper handling, it becomes a Mustang at 30K."

"Which is to say we are still in the same world, in which low volumes and other issues cause electric cars to be 50%-100$ higher than traditional cars. All that seems to have happened here is that an electric car has been targeted to the high end market and priced accordingly. It is kind of like taking the hummer, putting a cheap truck base on it, calling it an H2, and pretending that it still has the dubious value of the original."

"Oh well, I suppose if they can build a sedan for 35K I would be impressed. We would also have to look at maintenance cost of the vehicle, which would be dominated the battery replacement. A sports car car easily run 20 cents/mile in maintenance. Knowing that laptop batteries can only handle a couple hundred charge cycles, one can image where the long term maintenance cost could approach three or four time that amount."

"I wish we had electric cars. I think the technology is there, and the pricing could be reasonable. But even companies that could be using the electric car to revive themselves, for instance Mazda and Ford, still seem to be married to the antiquated internal combustion engine."

ChronosWS largely agreed with this, writing that "cars like the Porsche Carerra and the Bugatti Veyron (mentioned in a related article) are consummate sports cars -- they exemplify not only speed but styling, handling and quality expected of a car with their price tag. Cars such as the Corvette, especially the most recent incarnation, do so relatively inexpensively. But regardless, 0-60 acceleration is not the most important statistic, and often isn't an important statistic at all except to people who don't know better (I refer the undereducated to the more useful 0-100-0 or 0-150-0 tests, as well as relevant agility tests such as emergency lane change, slalom and skid pad.) Electric cars will be desirable when they meet the following conditions met [by] existing cars:"

  • "price (under 30k)
  • features (styling, interior, gizmos)
  • convenience (fueling in under 5 minutes)"
"This car does not appear to meet any of those."


Thanks to all the readers who took part in the conversation, in particular those quoted above.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Electric Cars and Their Discontents

Comments Filter:
  • Tesla roadster article [slashdot.org].
  • by Angostura (703910) on Friday July 21, 2006 @02:18PM (#15759232)
    The most hotly contested issue raised by yesterday's Backslash was the gratuitous number of Backslashes that have now appeared. In today's Backslash we look at the most insightful comments regarding this issue, and ask; will we find an answer, which we can summarise in tomorrow's Backslash?
  • by ScottLindner (954299) on Friday July 21, 2006 @02:21PM (#15759263)
    "Battery power isn't about saving energy anyway, it's often about shifting the pollution to a big facility that can handle it instead of having heavy pollution control equipment to move about. The first hybrid car I saw, back in 1987, embodied this principle and was designed to work at an underground mine. Above ground it ran on fuel, but below ground you wanted to minimize the air pollution as much as possible so it ran on batteries."

    That's really naive. Batteries allow for greater efficiency and decoupling between the power plant and the car. How much innefficiency is there in having lots of tiny little combustion engines zooming all over the place with a bunch of ignorant car owners (I imply we all are ignorant to some degree with our cars) compared to a couple hundred regional power facilities that can use whatever fuel and power generation necessary? They can change to new power and fuel types without affecting the auto industry and consumers. They also can be heavily regulated and monitored to make sure those couple hundred catalytic converters actually work and they are performing proper maintainence to make sure efficiency is maximized and pollution is minimized. I mean.. how many car owners actually care if their cars are a couple of percent off from max efficiency? How many will change their driving style to match the size of engine they bought to squeak out another two miles?

    How many of you have been behind a car that makes you gag and you can see the trail of soot in the air for a quarter mile behind it?

    People that use such sophmoric arguments are... well.. sophmoric.
    • Thank you for bringing this up. If you go to this page and scroll to footnote 27 (http://www.sonyclassics.com/whokilledtheelectricc ar/pages/footnotes.html) you will see that if everyone in California had electric cars that there would be a 67% decrease in greenhouse gas emmisions.
      • Wow.. that's staggering.

        Of course I'm not going to advocate (or deny) that by driving an electric vehicle the global warming will be corrected. But that's another discussion. What it certainly does do is gives us far more control over how we manage our energy production pollution related to it. Plus as the article notes, everyone can put solar panels on their roofs and at least shave a pinch more efficiency. We all gotta have a roof so it isn't wasteful of space.
      • I was left with the over all impression that the electric car fanboys in the film generally attributed the demise to the same shadowy global industrial-gummint conspiracy that no doubt saps and impurifies their Precious Bodily Fluids.

        I'm not saying electric cars are a bad idea. But huge corporations are in business to make money, not suck up to corspiracy theorists.

        There are lots of "mom and pop" sized operations making electric vehicles, and it's almost trivially easy to MAKE you own electric car, so just
        • Well I wasn't advocating for the film in general. It blaims a lot of people when really it was just a dumb move by GM's part and that plus a million other dumb moves will probably bankrupt them. They did have good sources to advocate for Electric Cars though and thier website even conceded that a plug-in hybrid might be the best choice for people in this particular point in history.
      • that if everyone in California had electric cars that there would be a 67% decrease in greenhouse gas emmisions.

        But that's bogus, because you can choose where the electrical power comes from in order to get whatever % change you want. There's no spare power in Cali to run any electric cars in te first place, so it all depecds on what you build. Build all nuclear, and CO2 emission goes away entirely. Build all coal and it will get far worse.

        If the goal is to reduce CO2 emmissions, just replace coal power
        • Sorry but you are wrong. While there is not a surplus of power in California right now that does not matter. The report looked at all the sources of power in the California Power Grid. In addition most electrical vehicles would be recharged during "Off-Peak" times which means that surplus energy actually produced in California could be used. Even if you did not assume this however, the report too into account all the sources of electricity that California now uses and the pollution they generate. It points
          • vehicles would be recharged during "Off-Peak" times which means that surplus energy actually produced in California could be used

            America as a whole would have to *triple* the power generation and distribution infrastructure to move all cars to electric. The peak/off-peak difference is small compared to this. Cali is a net importer of power, so it's worse. Also, one reason Cali power is clean is Hoover Dam. There's no where to get any more clean hydro power *from*, so the addidional power generation woul
    • Batteries allow for greater efficiency and decoupling between the power plant and the car.

      Actually the entire thing is about efficiency. A gasoline engine is what, 25% efficient on a good day? An electric motor can be 90% efficient even without superconductors. So having half the energy density is not so serious. It's also about efficiency of cleaning up pollution, which not only works a lot better when it's a large system in a fixed location, but is also more efficient: consider the total mass of all t

      • by nasch (598556)

        A gasoline engine is what, 25% efficient on a good day? An electric motor can be 90% efficient even without superconductors.

        That 90% probably doesn't account for the losses starting with actual source of energy. That would probably be coal in the US. Include energy loss in the power plant, and transmission and charging losses, and it's no longer at 90%. I know power plants are more efficient than cars, but how much more? Are they at 50%, 80%? I'm sure a coal power plant/battery car is more efficient th

        • That 90% probably doesn't account for the losses starting with actual source of energy.

          That's very true. It only counts the power source -> output of engine trail. Of course, if you don't need to shift (some electric systems have gears, some don't) then you get to eliminate damned near all the loss after the motor, all you have is a little for some CVs and the rolling friction.

          On the other hand, if we actually start building breeder reactors and reprocessing used fuel, then we can decrease our fue

          • Not to mention cars can have their own solar panels mounted on the roof. Won't provide masses of power, but if you leave it parked during the day (As many of you doing work commutes will) then it's still a noticable quantity trickle charged into the batteries.
      • A gasoline engine is what, 25% efficient on a good day? An electric motor can be 90% efficient even without superconductors.

        First that electicity has to be generated - usually by boiling water which involves some lost energy, then running the steam through a series of turbines which turn a generator, and energy is lost in each of these steps. The high voltage electricity then has to travel to near where you want it and energy is lost in the process. The electricity is then run through a transformer to get

    • by Fhqwhgadss (905393) on Friday July 21, 2006 @03:31PM (#15759771)
      How many of you have been behind a car that makes you gag and you can see the trail of soot in the air for a quarter mile behind it?

      If any of these memories involve a blue Volvo and occurred in 1994, I am sorry.

    • The one thing I fail to see responded to over and over by electric zealots is the idea of long range trips. If I want to travel in a few days cross continent, how many times would I have to stop and recharge batteries? With gasoline/diesel, if I need more, I fill up in 5 minutes and am on my way. If I need more electricity, am I supposed to take a multiple hour recharge break? Yes, I could trade out batteries, but having "community" batteries that get traded at stops would be terrible, and hauling your
    • Indeed. One of the critical problems we have now is that all the cars need to run on a specific forumlation of petroleum. You can't make gas from a nuclear reactor, wind turbine, solar panel, or big pile of bird poo. So as oil supplies fluctuate, there's no way to compensate by changing over to alternatives.

      Electricity is the long run best bet for distribution of energy because it's agnostic. You can generate it in countless ways depending on what's the most cost efficient at the time. As pointed out a
    • More than that, not everybody gets their power from coal. The Province of Quebec, for example, where I live, gets its power entirely from hydroelectricity, with the exception of a single experimental nuclear power plant built decades ago. The government-owned power monopoly, Hydro Quebec, is the world's single largest producer of hydro. While the environmental impact of hydroelectricity is a matter of some debate, it IS a renewable energy source with negligible long-term emissions.

      So, in a place like Quebec
    • That's really naive. Batteries allow for greater efficiency and decoupling between the power plant and the car.

      Unfortunately it isn't that simple and does not work that way. Consider the inefficiency involved in generating the power THEN getting it to the charger THEN charging up the battery THEN running your electric motor and using it to carry heavy batteries around as well as your payload. You need to consider a longer chain of inputs as well as the output it you are comparing it to a more simple input

  • by drewzhrodague (606182) <drew.zhrodague@net> on Friday July 21, 2006 @02:22PM (#15759267) Homepage Journal
    I'd like to see more posts on Slashdot -- discussions distilled down into their component topics, some useful information, and a rehashed go at it again. I hope to see more of these.

    On the Tesla, I'd like to see more of those as well. Especially discussion on turbine/electric hybrids. Why are we still using rubegoldberg-styled piston-based engines, with so many moving parts? I would like to see something effective and efficient for my morning commute.
    • No one licensed Mazda's rotary engine, which is better than your typical car engine in most respects. Less moving parts, less strain and more efficiency as the rotor kept some momentum. It was a great design but never caught on. Either they were asking for too much money from other manufacturers or other manufacturer weren't interested.
      • by DuckDodgers (541817) <keeper_of_the_wolf@@@yahoo...com> on Friday July 21, 2006 @02:39PM (#15759408)
        I'm a big fan of the Wankel engine. But the RX8 weighs 3050 pounds, has 232 horsepower (it used to be listed at 238, but the Society of Automotive Engineers released a stricter standard of measurement last year), and is EPA rated for mileage 18/24.

        Compare that to the 2006 Toyota Camry V6. 268 horsepower (under the same SAE standard), a several hundred pound weight disadvantage, and EPA mileage 22/31 on 87 octane fuel. The Chevy Corvette weighs 200 pounds more than the RX8 and has a huge 400 horsepower V8, and its EPA mileage rating is 18/26.

        Now, Toyota can chew up Mazda and spit them out with the amount of money Toyota spends on research and development each year. So it's at least possible that future research will product Wankel rotary engines that offer superior power and efficiency versus piston competition. But right now, there's no efficiency advantage to the Wankel.
        • "The Chevy Corvette weighs 200 pounds more than the RX8 and has a huge 400 horsepower V8, and its EPA mileage rating is 18/26."

          Yup..and the Vette looks and handles MUCH better than those (ugh) little 'family' cars......

          I'm actually starting to get excited about the possibilities of electric cars, but, like was alluded to before, they're gonna have to be more stylish like a normal sports car, and have the performance AND miles per charge equivalent to miles per gas tank fill, before they get my at

          • I think the RX8 looks cool. It's on the verge of cartoonish, but I like it. And it's supposed to handle superbly. The Wankel has two big performance advantages. Its small size lets them put it closer to the center of the car, giving it better stability, a lower center of gravity, and lighter weight. It also revs right to 9000 RPM, higher than even the new BMW M5. For people big on high-revving engines, that's a nice bonus.

            Not that it's a better performance car than the Corvette. It isn't. But it'
            • "The Wankel has two big performance advantages. Its small size lets them put it closer to the center of the car, giving it better stability, a lower center of gravity, and lighter weight."

              I think they still used that in the last incarnation of the RX-7....and man, that was a great little car. Twin turbo...very fast and a very good handling car.

              Trouble was...they priced themselves out of the market with that thing, but, sure was a good looking and performing car...I drooled over them while they wer

        • Wankel (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Bob_Robertson (454888)
          Another problem is "rings". The rotor has flat barriers at the points of the triangle, and rings around the two faces of the rotor. These wear very quickly, and need to be replaced.

          Imagine if you had to have a "ring job" every 50k miles. That's serious $$.

          When Mazda introduced the rotary engine in America, the gas milage was better than what is listed here now, but it used an afterburner to reduce emissions rather than a catalytic converter. Just a data point. Even though they use catalytic converters now,
          • Something else that may be related is that the current RX8 engine has anemic low end torque. They offset that with very short gearing (i.e. the engine is making weak power, but maybe it has to spin 12 times to turn the wheel once, so the force multiplier to the ground is high). For example, from Wikipedia the 2004 Corvette Z06 has a 2.97 first gear ratio and a 3.42 differential ratio, for a 10.16 multiplier at the wheels. The 2006 RX8 has a 3.76 first gear and a 4.44 differential ratio, for a combined 16
        • The RX-8 Wankel rotary engine has a volumetric displacement of 1.3 liters. Given the workings of that engine, its power output and fuel economy is similar to a V-6 engine three times its size (two rotors in two compression chambers--each chamber occupying three of the four phases of a piston engine). To compare it to the engine in a Corolla, which some people do, is rather absurd. Your Camry and Corvette engines are much better examples for comparison.

          The V-6 engine in a Camry has a displacement of 3.3

      • The Wankel is cool, but I'd like to see some development in 2-stroke technology for automobiles. No, not your bad old oil-burning gas-out-the-exhaust 2-stroke, but one with a closed crankcase and direct injection. Rather than using crankcase pressure to scavenge the exhaust, you use a small supercharger and/or turbocharger so the oil stays in the crankcase just like a 4-stroke. Instead of an air/fuel mixture whistling through the engine and out the exhaust when both valves are open, you only charge the cyli
    • Especially discussion on turbine/electric hybrids. Why are we still using rubegoldberg-styled piston-based engines, with so many moving parts? I would like to see something effective and efficient for my morning commute.

      The last time I researched this, in fuel efficiency (work out per work in), the piston engine beat the turbine. In weight effiency (power out per weight engine), the turbine beats the piston. Turbines have less moving parts and can generally be less complex, but the materials and tolerance

    • "On the Tesla, I'd like to see more of those as well. Especially discussion on turbine/electric hybrids. Why are we still using rubegoldberg-styled piston-based engines, with so many moving parts?"

      We're using piston based engines for the same reason that cars are still being made with steel instead of lighter, and in some cases more durable materials - it breaks down well. Unless one happens to be obsessive about caring for a car, the steel parts eventually wear down and rust out, generally leading to repl
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 21, 2006 @02:24PM (#15759284)
    Why should the McDonald's pay for charging up your electric car? There's no reason why someone who arrived at the McDonald's by foot be paying some cost of charging up someone else's car. The driver or owner of the electric car should be paying McDonald's (or whomever McDonald's subcontracts or franchises the electric car parking spot) for the electricity. I would expect that any parking spot that would support charging up an electric car to also have some way to charge the driver for money for the electricity, since the whole concept of an electric car is basically going to obsolete the notion of a gas station or e85 station or hydrogen station. Heck, this could even be marketed as a time saving scheme -- you no longer have to go to the gas station because your car will always be ready to go. Unless electric cars start using disposable or at lest removable batteries that can be changed quickly at a 'battery station' for long trips, there's no need to refuel for short-trips.
  • by digitaldc (879047) * on Friday July 21, 2006 @02:27PM (#15759312)
    Just like we wanted to put a man on the Moon and orbiters on Mars, if we want to accomplish a scientific feat badly enough, we will find a way to do it.

    We already have the resources, technology and brains to make practical electric vehicles, we just have to have the willpower, patience and know-how to make them.

    Does anyone really believe that a practical electric car or truck is an impossibility?
    • Exactly!

      It's like everyone thinks they are smart enough to design the system and already see the flaws in their personal designs, so therefore the entire concept is stupid and cannot work.

      Let engineers do their job. Our current approach is definitely a bit outdated.
    • We already have the resources, technology and brains to make practical electric vehicles, we just have to have the willpower, patience and know-how to make them.

      Does anyone really believe that a practical electric car or truck is an impossibility?

      I am not going to say it is impossible, but, depending on your definition of "practical", I don't think we have the technology today. Battery technology is such that electric vehicles will have severely limited range.

      If battery powered vehicles are possible, t

      • Now, we still need to solve that pesky problem of from where is the energy actually going to come? Nuclear?

        Solar-cell roof shingles will collect the Sun's energy, then store it in massive batteries in your basement which will lead to a charging station in your garage.

        Either that, or go buy some peanuts and hang them on strings just out of the reach of squirrels on conveyor belts.
      • The hydrogen can be created through electrolysis and the energy density of hydrogen is far greater than batteries. Hydrogen comes with its own set of problems, but I believe they are all easier to solve than the problems associated with battery powered vehicles.

        Argh. It takes electricity to seperate Hydrogen from water. Then you ignite the hydrogen and regerse the process. It's a lossy inefficient process. You're better off storing the electricity and using it in a motor than you are seperating the hydr
        • Argh. It takes electricity to seperate Hydrogen from water. Then you ignite the hydrogen and regerse the process. It's a lossy inefficient process.

          And what efficiency do batteries have? And all the conversions that are required to get the energy from the power station to the wheels of the car? It's a lossy inefficient process.

          Furthermore, who the hell would want to drive around in the hindenberg?

          Actually, I believe that hydrogen tanks can be safer than gasoline tanks? [nasa.gov]

        • It takes electricity to seperate Hydrogen from water. Then you ignite the hydrogen and regerse the process. It's a lossy inefficient process. You're better off storing the electricity and using it in a motor

          Maybe, maybe not. Efficiency needs to be measured from cradle-to-grave for the particular system, not just for one's favorite agenda. Hydrogen may be less efficient to separate, and even less efficient to "burn", but the overall effect to the enviornemnt, and the actaul sunk and operating costs over
        • The advantage of hydrogen over chemical batteries for energy storage is thee-fold.
          • The energy density of metal hydride storage is huge compared to chemical batteries - you just can't make a practical electric car with any kind of range because chemical batteries are just too heavy for the power they store.
          • If you make the metal into suitably small glass-encased spheres, you can transport it using the existing infrastructure for gasoline. Building the additional electrical distribution infrastructure to rep
    • A "practical" electric vehicle for the commuter market could be nothing more than a Smart car with a battery pack. The main desirable features are that it carry one or two occupants and provide shelter during inclement conditions. Gearing things more toward the performance end of the spectrum is fun and it will increase the appeal to the buyers - and that's important! Given the choice, most folks would rather drive a cool-looking fast car than a slow box. I'm not slamming the Smart car here - I actually thi
    • Does anyone really believe that a practical electric car or truck is an impossibility?
      There are very large trucks in open cut mines that run on electricity. They get their electricity from overhead lines instead of batteries.
  • "backslash" (Score:3, Funny)

    by zephc (225327) on Friday July 21, 2006 @02:40PM (#15759414)
    sounds like some weird Southern food
    "Y'wan inny mower backslash, Jim Bob Billy Ray Bob?"
    "Shore. Thanks, ma. Thar inny trackback left, teww?"

  • There are folks [millenniumcell.com] working on battery tech, and the latest focus is on Fuel Cell and Hydrogen.

    This backs up to *where does the energy come from in the first place* since a battery is not a source of energy, just a carrier. With that, there are no good sources. Consolidating on electric borne of nuclear sources is perhaps the highest volumetric consolidation of waste, but the willpower isn't there yet.

    Regardless of battery tech and applications, the side-effects of the current energy production infrastructure
  • by Chanc_Gorkon (94133) <gorkon@@@gmail...com> on Friday July 21, 2006 @02:49PM (#15759474)
    This is a GREAT use of Backslash and the post even had a different look to it.....

    Now on to my comments....

    We all should want electric cars. The reasons are is they are not just cleaner to operate, they are also cheaper to maintain. There are less moving parts in a electric car and even the parts that are similar also get less use. The brakes don't need to be used near as much because of the regenerative braking the motor does. There's also no belts and no transmission.....no oil changes! I want a car like this. Electric cars CAN be more reliable then ICE cars. Th eoli companies just need to look at buying up some electric plants!

    • "We all should want electric cars. The reasons are is they are not just cleaner to operate, they are also cheaper to maintain"

      Well, if it is cleaner, I'm ok with it, but, that's never a concern of mine when I buy a car. It has to have good performance, look stylish and most of all, be FUN to drive!! And...it is fun to work on cars, even though it is a bit more difficult to work on todays car, say, vs the older 60's - 70's ones...a user can still get in there to tweak, change thing out...put perform

      • It's not a question of who does the maintenance with electric cars. It's a question of whether maintenance is even necessary. Internal combustion cars are notoriously complex, with countless different systems that can all fail in myriad ways. Not so with electrics. The parts that will require maintenance are things like the suspension, brakes, tires, etc., which will remain largely the same.
      • I own a Lotus Elise, on which this Tesla Roadster is based. Believe me, it's a lot of fun! That's the number one thing I like about it. It's also very stylish (a serious head turner; I've had people driving by take pictures) and has excellent performance characteristics.

        The Tesla's electric drive train is a lot less complex than an internal combustion engine, so it should be easier to work on. On the other hand, it's probably so simple that there isn't much you can tweak.
    • by geekoid (135745)
      Almost no one cares what powers there motor. They want a nice looking car with good umph and in a good price range.

      If you had to identical cars, and said "This one will cost you 25 dollars a week ingas, and this one will cost you nothing to run" That is when it would be a consideration.
  • efficiency (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SuperBanana (662181) on Friday July 21, 2006 @02:50PM (#15759479)
    Also, I'm skeptical that you'll be getting 250 miles at 70 mph. If I remember right, electric motor efficiency and power typically increase with load, but fall off with speed, which makes them awesome for say, a 0-60 run in 3 seconds, but marginal at best for high speed cruising.

    Electric cars are much more efficient compared to internal combustion engines- much of the inefficiencies and losses pale in comparison to ICE's. Turbines are around 40-45% (BIG turbines), and ICE's are about 30%. I don't have a figure handy for the current state of the art in electric AC induction motors, but it's very high, comparatively. Modern chargers are better, and modern battery packs are more efficient as well (ie how much juice is lost to heat during charging.)

    Battery pack technology is a big restraint; one poster in the old thread idiotically said "we don't need better technology, we need stations where you pull up and swap packs!"

    Wrong. 1)Lead acid batteries are pretty much the cheapest W/$, but they are HUGE and they weigh so much the vehicle suspension has to usually be modified; they also don't last very long unless well taken care of. NiMH batteries are superior in many ways, except the current patent holder on NiMH packs won't allow companies like Panasonic to sell large NiMH packs for cars. Busses, great, sure. Mid-size sedan? Nope. Why? Probably they want to get nice plentiful royalties.

    NiMH is about to be completely eclipsed by Lithium Ion-like technologies. NiMH batteries loose a substantial amount of energy during charging to heat. At least two companies have figured out how to make LiIon more stable (able to withstand charging abuse, physical abuse like getting punctured with a giant steel rod, etc) and charge faster. One of the companies has packs that can be recharged in a few minutes, provided you have a powerful enough charger. Density is better, and they're finding cheaper materials to make them with.

    The other big advance has been with motor controller technology and brushless motors; before, people were using industrial-application DC motors which were brushed (which meant PITA maintenance- brushes have to be replaced, you have to have a blower to keep carbon dust from building up inside the motor, etc), inefficient, low-speed, and VERY heavy. Now you've got AC induction motors that produce a TON of power, and really nice inverter systems with regenerative braking and charging built-in.

    The main problem with electric cars has always been, and always will be, that nobody is willing to SHARE, and everyone is hideously greedy. Half the industry thinks they'll be the next Henry Ford; the other half thinks someone will figure out how to make a mass-produced vehicle and license their technology for astronomical prices (NiMH patent holders, Tzero with their integrated drivetrain.) Instead, the industry has skipped to LiIon, and Honda/Toyota/GM/Ford have done their electric drivetrain (for hybrid vehicles) development in-house, or worked with industry giants like Siemens.

    If you think the new crop of vehicles are different- look in the history books. Every 10-20 years someone gets a bunch of dough, and slaps together an electric vehicle for limited production. It has been going on since the 60's. Even big companies like Solectra have struggled. ZAP! has survived by diversifying, though they're pretty much gone now from the commuter car market now that Mercedes is re-assuming SMART importing in a year or two.

    Things seem a little different now though- technology has leap-frogged some previous barriers. The two remaining challenges are market adoption/acceptance, and power generation. MA tried to get a wind farm planted in the middle of a shallow bay, and the fucking environmentalists screamed blue-bloody-murder about everything little thing...from a small diesel tank (1000 gal) for maintenance equipment which was portrayed as the next Exxon Valdeez, to birds hitting the things, to sounds supposedly transmitted into the ocean that woul

    • Re:efficiency (Score:5, Insightful)

      by booch (4157) <slashdot2010@craigb u c h e k . c om> on Friday July 21, 2006 @04:25PM (#15760128) Homepage
      MA tried to get a wind farm planted in the middle of a shallow bay, and the fucking environmentalists screamed blue-bloody-murder about everything little thing...from a small diesel tank (1000 gal) for maintenance equipment which was portrayed as the next Exxon Valdeez, to birds hitting the things, to sounds supposedly transmitted into the ocean that would 'confuse' whales. They even claimed the things would interfere with radio communications, making them a threat to national security...or some such bullshit.

      And those are the very worst kinds of "environmentalists". Not only can they not see the forrest for the trees, but the small issues they whine about aren't even legitimate problems. I guess they'd rather see whales dying from heat exhaustion than getting "confused".

      As some are starting to understand, to truly fix the environmental issues, we have to think "in the large". Like choosing nuclear power over fossil fuels. Nuclear technology has advanced quite a bit in the past 30 years. And with environmentalists pushing for even more safety, it would help solve our energy problems (pollution, foreign dependence, prices) tremendously, without causing significant impact to the environment. The push for only using "perfectly safe" technologies (solar, tidal, geothermal, perhaps wind and hydro) is just helping to maintain the status quo.
  • What about those new "capacitor" batteries [slashdot.org]?
  • by DuckDodgers (541817) <keeper_of_the_wolf@@@yahoo...com> on Friday July 21, 2006 @02:56PM (#15759525)
    ChronosWS largely agreed with this, writing that "cars like the Porsche Carerra and the Bugatti Veyron (mentioned in a related article) are consummate sports cars -- they exemplify not only speed but styling, handling and quality expected of a car with their price tag. Cars such as the Corvette, especially the most recent incarnation, do so relatively inexpensively. But regardless, 0-60 acceleration is not the most important statistic, and often isn't an important statistic at all except to people who don't know better (I refer the undereducated to the more useful 0-100-0 or 0-150-0 tests, as well as relevant agility tests such as emergency lane change, slalom and skid pad.)

    Even skidpad, 0-100-0, slalom, and other tests don't paint the whole picture. The best way to judge is driving experience. The 2006 Corvette is a spectacular performance machine. But I've met people who just find the BMW 330 or the base trim Porsche Boxter (both substantially slower) much more fun to drive. People spending $100,000+ for a Porsche 911 or a Ferrari actually are getting more than just a badge. (Maybe not $150,000 worth in sport, but a lot.)

    0-100-0 (Accelerate from a standing start to 100 mph, then slam on the brakes to a full stop) tests will rule out things like a performance truck. The RAM SRT-10 can accelerate like a beast, but it is too heavy to stop in a short distance like a sports car. That's a good start. But a Mustang GT 500 will ace that test without offering a driving experience like a Porsche or Lotus.

    Slalom tests are weight towards smaller, narrower cars. If one car is 65 inches wide and the other is 82 inches wide, the former will have an easier time weaving around cones. It has 34 inches less of lateral movement to handle as it goes forward. That's a big deal around cones, but it may not reflect their comparative handling on a road course.

    At the end of the day, drive what you like.
  • The thing that nags me -- and I know it's no fault of the electric car designers -- is that electric cars are completely, utterly, useless to folks who live in apartments. That's a lot of people, and we're not all poor. I'd buy an electric NOW if I could get one in the ~20 to 30k range. But how do I charge it? Do I dangle an extra long extension cord from my balcony?

    Someday we might see roadside chargers like in _The Watchmen_. But until then, no dice for the majority of urban populations around the world.
    • The thing that nags me -- and I know it's no fault of the electric car designers -- is that electric cars are completely, utterly, useless to folks who live in apartments.

      The thing that nags me -- and I know it's no fault of the petrol car designers -- is that electric cars are completely, utterly, useless to folks who do not live in gas stations.

      Yes, I'm being frivolous, but what you say must have been true when petrol engines first appeared in cars.

  • From the Tesla FAQ:

    Are there any toxic chemicals in the battery?

    All Lithium Ion batteries are classified by the federal government as non-hazardous waste and are safe for disposal in the normal municipal waste stream. These batteries, however, do contain recyclable materials that make recycling a good idea.

  • Lithium Ion and Lithium Polymer are very closely related. I think the only major difference is the packaging.

    From my model airplane experience, LiPo has been a pretty dangerous battery when used improperly. Here is 1 [utahflyers.org] 2 [utahflyers.org] 3 [utahflyers.org] video's of small Lipo's (3 cells is the biggest) exploding.

    As you can see from the videos, just a small lipo cell can create a big 6 foot fireball. LiPo explosions are like a chain reaction, if one cell blows, you can almost bet that any ajacent cells will explode as well.

    Over at [rcgroups.com] there
    • Erm, but you are willing to park 10-40 gallons of liquid explosive next to your house? Do you have any idea the size of the fireball that a single vehicle's worth of gasoline can make?

      Just because something is potentially dangerous does not make it inappropriate to use as a fuel when proper safety measures are observed.

      Your assertion that LiPo batteries are the same as Li-Ion batteries is incorrect. Advance Li-Ion cells use a variety of different materials in their construction and generally have a very d
  • No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.
  • Can anyone explain to me why we haven't gone to diesel electric hybrid cars?

    The advantages seem obvious to me

    • Diesel engine runs at an efficient speed when needed
    • You lose the transmission/drivetrain complexity
    • You get gobs of low end torque
    • 4 motors = AWD = you could do funky traction control stuff with four independant motors
    • You get regenerative braking built in.
    • We've got 50+ years of experience building them for very high demand applications [getransportation.com]. We know they can handle abuse.

    So what gives? It seem

    • Pollution. Diesel is much worse emission wise than cleaner burning gasoline and still produces a lot of nasty particulate emissions, although it is getting better. Weirdly the US has some of the toughest regulations for cars (not trucks) making diesel cars hard an oddity in the US market.
      I think I did hear talk of diesel hybrids being produced though, but it was for the European market.
    • by AaronW (33736)
      As far as I know there still is no effective solution to the amount of NOx smog produced by a diesel engine. A lot of this is due to the high compression ratios used, not necessarily the type of fuel.

      If this article [austinchronicle.com] is accurate, biodiesel can actually produce more NOx and ozone pollution. It may significantly cut down on the soot, which is considered highly toxic. As I type this, there is another spare-the-air day where I live and all public transit is free. Most of this is due to NOx and ozone.

      Di
  • Coal power (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Friday July 21, 2006 @03:43PM (#15759857) Homepage

    Whoever was objecting to using coal power plants to charge electric cars is overlooking several issues. One, would you rather keep sending billions of dollars to Bin Landenland to power our cars, or to places like Wyoming and Kentucky that have more coal? And that assumes we couldn't offset some of the additional demand with solar, wind and ethanol fueled power plants. Lift the 100% tarrif on sugar from Brazil and free up some of that for ethanol production. Take over part of the Sonora Desert and start using to cultivate oil producing algae. There are a million things we could be doing that we're not.

    Kind of reminds me of those rich people back east who opposed a wind power farm because it messed up their view. I was aghast at that. Here we are dependent on a thin line of oil tankers that terminates in a crapass part of the world where people hate us and a lot of the money we spend on oil is quietly funneled to people who want to kill us. Our highest national defense priority should be developing and implementing alternative energy sources and those fat asshats are worried about their freaking view! And some of you are worried about electricity from coal? J*** H Tapdancing C**** what's it going to take before people get a clue? Instead of making energy indepedence a priority our government is spending their billions on a dead-end war in Iraq, finding new ways to spy on Americans and making damn sure a handful of gay people can't get married. Un-f'ing-real.

  • by kinglink (195330) on Friday July 21, 2006 @03:44PM (#15759872)
    If I was to buy a battery car, it should work as well as a ford focus, or neon, or some other car I personally wouldn't want to drive. If such a car existed that would drive in a similar style to the Prius Hybrids that's is so "hip" now, and at the same time cost similar, meaning approximatly around 5K more or less including fuel expenses for 3-4 years (Aka if you have to replace your battery each year vs. a year of moderate gas use.) Then it's a viable car.

    People expecting a "sports" car out of it is ridiculous. I currently drive a cavalier, I love my Cavalier, but I don't even expect that much power. The reason you drive a first gen battery power car is to save the planet or avoid expensive gas. Would I? Nah, I'm not into the enviroment (don't bitch at me, I'm honest at least), and I want a sportier car, maybe a Camero, but at the same time I'm hopeful that as the first gen battery cars get older, and the technology gets investigated more each year we might get camero's that rocket along the roads without gas, and then vettes that do it.

    The point is people who expect cars like Vettes or Veyrons to be similar to the battery cars have to also take into account that the Vette can do something like 18 miles per gallon in the city. My Cavalier can do around upwards of 25-27 and highway I easily can get 30. If the first gen cars can beat vettes and S2000's great, but no one is going to pay 60K just for a car because it can do that, those of us who want the "sports" car won't adapt as easily as those of us who already are buying Prius Hybrids and such. Their aim should be at making the system work and give decent performance in that range with out costing an arm and a leg in price. Then when the concept is proven thinking about developing a higher end car.

    It's the same as any new technology it'll take time for everyone to adapt, but those of us who are looking at a car as more of a power symbol arn't going to be as easy sells to jump on the electric bandwagon.

    Simply put those of us who'd buy cars that have lower and lower miles per gallon, will not be as keen on saving the planet as other folks who might have families and sedans, and aiming on making cars that will make the sports car fans happy in the first round of cars will be too expensive and possibly break the technology's finacial back too early and fast.

    As for Ford and Mazda, if you think they haven't done any R&D on this then you're misguided, but at the same time to develop an entirely new engine themselves will put them in an even more precarious position then they are now.
  • Why are we reinventing the wheel?

    "If you're suggesting running commercial trucks on electricity, forget it for the foreseeable future. It's definitely been considered. Not only is there the conflicting speed issues I mentioned above, but you run up against the energy density limitations of batteries fast.
    If you have a steady flow of trucks, make them powered by electricity from overhead wires. Sure it's expensive to maintain, but for corridors like the I-5, the 580 in the bay area or the 110 in LA it may be worth it. Why not take it a step further and electrify train networks here in the US like smart people in Europe have done a long time ago!

    Oh and we already have electric buses. They're called trolleybuses - developed along with the streetcars but used in the US mostly during the era of streetcar abandonement. Europe still uses them with great success. In case you never saw one and live in the US just visit San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Boston (actually Cambridge) or Edmonton.

    The longest trolley bus line runs from between Simferopol, Ukraine [google.com] and Yalta, Ukraine [google.com] in Crimea - about 50 miles long (just that one line, not including local networks in both cities).

    This goes to the point of another batteries not being reliable. I was seriously looking at the new Camry Hybrid, but was turned off of it for two reasons:
    -It's less than the 45 MPG required here in CA for solo carpool lanes
    -It's not a plug-in hybrid (although Toyota is working on one AFAIK)

    I would LOVE to get a plug-in hybrid and be able to charge it from the 600-volt trolley bus network in San Francisco. Now THAT would be a cool mod!

    In any case - we either need to invest in electric transportation (network of electric wires, rail electrification, trolley buses) and/or we need to invest in plug-in hybrids until a better technology comes along that can provide cheaper, more effective energy storage.

    There I've used up my RANT points. :D
  • Why is there no mention of fuel cells or hydrogen in the article? Weren't these supposed to give the greatest energy density?

    10L of water + (electricty from an outlet) -> lots of 2xH + 0 -> convert to electricity via fuel cells -> 10L of water goes back into the car's reservoir for another recharge.

    rinse repeat?
  • but it's tiring on the eyes to read so much italic text. But probably my headache today is not helping it either.
  • I have had enough of this “the electricity has got to come from somewhere” canned, red-herring argument against electric cars. It should not be hard to understand why replacing several hundred million gasoline engines with a significantly fewer number of power plants, coal or otherwise, is a benefit. Power plants, aside from being highly specialized for the task of generating power and open to fuels with more energy per volume than gasoline, have a major benefit in their economies of scale [wikipedia.org]. L

  • by RomulusNR (29439) on Friday July 21, 2006 @04:35PM (#15760202) Homepage
    "For the record, I think electric can work extremely well for short range commuting (5-10 miles on city streets), but if you travel far, you'll realistically be looking at gas."

    I'm inclined to think that this isn't so terribly damnable. Most of the places where one can drive at "highway speeds" are places outside dense areas, where the highways are straighter, there is lots of vast land, and I'm betting that no matter how you slice it, any square section of suburban or rural land containing a highway or interstate has less car travel (and therefore emissions) per sq. mi. than any given urban area.

    Meanwhile, smog is a problem in dense areas where cars hardly ever can go at highways speeds except in the middle of the night, due to urban traffic congestion. Thousands of cars idling and not moving are dropping stagnant pollution in the same place for a longer period of time, on a near-daily basis.

    An electric mode for low speeds and city driving, and a gas mode for higher speeds and highway driving wouldn't be a bad idea. It wouldn't be perfect, but it would probably go far to reduce urban air pollution.

    I have to admit, pure-electric cars sound like they wouldn't work well for anyone who uses their car for anything other than commuting and in-town driving, and for anyone who doesn't own their own home (which is not most urban drivers). Driving any distance over half your one-charge capacity would be fraught with danger, since in current EV cars you have to have a special 220V-fed charging station (which requires having your own garage). If you drive over 150 miles away, where exactly are you going to recharge? Better haul out the trusty old gas guzzler for that weekend trip. (To be fair, this is probably also true of ethanol, CNG and hydrogen vehicles, for the foreseeable future.)

  • If you want to conquer the market then hit it where it makes the most sense.

    Small cars already get great mileage, some regular cars get better mileage than hybrids (Civic)

    No, make it a SUV, Explorer size or bigger. They have the space underneath so you don't have to cram or take trunk space, they usually are truck based suspensions, and they get hideous mileage so the change in perspective would be much greater.

    If you sell it to the public in a USEFUL package they might just surprise you.

    Till then, keep yo
  • No, no, NO! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by crhylove (205956) <rhy@leperkhanz.com> on Friday July 21, 2006 @10:17PM (#15761576) Homepage Journal
    The obvious solution to the whole debate is to get a hold of the US flywheels we are currently using on the ISS. There's no reason we can't mass produce them and replace batteries with a more efficient electrical storage system. Other than of course a few patents, which is of course why I'm in the Pirate Party.

    The needs of humanity and the planet are more important than any patent.

    rhY
  • by Shanep (68243) on Saturday July 22, 2006 @01:17AM (#15762043) Homepage
    Also, I'm skeptical that you'll be getting 250 miles at 70 mph. If I remember right, electric motor efficiency and power typically increase with load, but fall off with speed, which makes them awesome for say, a 0-60 run in 3 seconds, but marginal at best for high speed cruising.

    The major loads involved here are due to weight and drag. Weight mostly hurts acceleration and drag mostly hurts top speed. To double your top speed, you must quadruple your power. That should be a clear indication that there is plenty of load near the top speed of a vehicle.

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