The purpose of this post is to explain why the electric car is the final type of car and why should we put all our effort into finding solutions for technical obstacles that still hinder wide adoption of electric cars.
The creation of the first electric car was credited to several people at the beginning of the 19th century:
- Ányos Jedlik, a Hungarian inventor, in 1828, invented an early type of electric motor and built a small electric car model.
- Thomas Davenport, a blacksmith from Vermont, in 1834, created a similar model that operated on a short, circular, electrified track.
- Sibrandus Stratingh, from Groningen (Netherlands), in 1835, created a small-scale electrical car, powered by non-rechargeable primary cells.
- Robert Davidson, a chemist from Aberdeen, in 1837, built the first known electric car powered by galvanic cells (batteries). The vehicle weighed seven tons.
- Robert Anderson, a Scottish inventor, between 1832 and 1839, also invented an electric carriage that was powered by non-rechargeable primary power cells.
In comparison, the first internal combustion engine was invented by Nicéphore and Claude Niépce in 1807, but they chose to install it in a boat on the river Saone in France. In 1879, Karl Benz was granted a patent and, in 1886, he built what is now considered the first modern combustion engine car.
Also worth mentioning is that, in 1859, the total US production of crude oil was only 2000 barrels; ten years later, production jumped to 4,215,000 barrels. In 1879, production almost quintupled to 19,914,146 barrels of crude oil.
Electric cars were quickly surpassed, as the limited power from batteries prevented its general use. Rechargeable batteries that provided a viable means for storing electricity on board a vehicle did not come into being until 1859, with the invention of the lead–acid battery, by French physicist Gaston Planté.
Now, almost 200 years after the first invention, electric cars are getting attention again, and the question is why that is.
Since combustion engine cars took over, lot of things have happened. At the beginning, people probably thought that oil deposits are so big and rich that we will never run out of oil, but, after 150 years of usage, we found out that we will eventually run out of oil, and, if we do not find any new source of energy, our entire civilization will slow to a halt.
If we think that the oil we dig is between 5 and 300 million years old, it is not logical to use a source of energy that so old and scarce at the same time, and we should maybe save it, until we find a smarter way to use it.
On top of all this, there is abundant evidence saying that excessive usage of fossil fuels over the years has caused huge damage to our environment (oil spills, plastic garbage, gas leaks...) and the climate of our planet.
Coincidentally with all those environmental issues, our technologically has advanced enough that we could overcome the issues we had with electric cars before.
The following is the list of advantages and some disadvantages of electric cars:
Emissions: Electric cars have zero emission. They do not produce any exhaust or toxic gases.
Perfect source: Electric energy is a perfect source of energy that allows us to transform it to another type of energy with high efficiency, without any significant side effects. It is possible to transform electric energy directly into motion, light, heat, radio waves, and sound, without any side effect. All other sources can be converted into electricity by burning them in conventional power plants.
Efficiency: Electric cars are significantly more efficient (70% tank-to-wheel efficiency) than combustion engine cars (16% tank-to-wheel efficiency). This is a huge difference.
Higher efficiency means that, on a global scale, we will need less energy. Less energy, in planetary terms, means smaller cost and less pollution and environmental damage, when we consider obtaining energy from dirty energy sources.
Although there was news about a new sterling motor, capable of giving cars a range of 100mpg (4 times higher than the current average mileage (24.6 mpg)), pushing the overall efficiency of combustion engine car to 64%. This is not the way to go. There are 1 billion cars in the world; by the time we would replace all existing, inefficient cars with the most efficient sterling motors, we will run out of all oil deposits. Therefore, we need to plan now for the future, and the future of our vehicles is electric. Continue reading to find all the reasons why.
Fuel: You do not need to pay for gas. Although electricity is not free, some public charging stations offer free charging for your electric vehicle, and, even when paying for electricity, electric cars are far cheaper to run. One of the electric car’s biggest advantages is that you can charge it in your own garage. So, if, along with an electric car, you have your own solar panels or wind turbine power, your cars will be literally free of charge. In comparison, even with the theoretically most efficient combustion engine, you will still need to drive your car to the pump, in order to buy gasoline. So, the electric car can means huge savings in the long run.
Maintenance: Electric cars have fewer moving parts, so maintenance costs over their lifetime should be much cheaper. This also means that, once it reaches production peak, as there is less material use for production, cars will become cheaper. Electric motors do not need lubrication and, therefore, you do not need to send it to a service station as often as with combustion engine cars. The complexity of the car’s engine is simplified significantly, which makes the car much easier to maintain. Reduced complexity also means that it is easier and more cost-effective to educate and train people to maintain different models of electric cars at service stations. To make this argument even stronger, Tesla, for its Model S, gives an infinite mile warranty.
Safety: Usually depends of manufacturer, but it is worth mentioning that Tesla’s Model S Sedan was named as the safest car in history. It was so safe it out-scored the standard NHTSA 5-star overall rating. The scores are pretty impressive for a company that’s only released one car previously. *1
Speed & acceleration: In the past, electric cars were infamous regarding torque, speed, and acceleration, but, with the arrival of Tesla, all of that changed. Nowadays, electric engines are capable of providing a smooth drive, with high acceleration over long distances. The Model S is known as the fastest all-electric sedan; it can achieve 155 mph (250 km/h) in about 29 seconds (Note: the Model S’ top speed is software-limited at 155 mph).
Even more surprising is its high torque: by stepping on the accelerator, power is delivered immediately to the wheels.
- Tesla’s model P85Ds has "Insane Mode," with an acceleration of 0 to 60 mph (0 to 97 km/h) in 3.2 seconds.
- Tesla’s model P90D has “Ludicrous Mode," with an acceleration of 0 to 60 mph (0 to 97 km/h) in 2.8 seconds.
Noise: Electric cars are almost silent; riding in them can be so quiet and smooth that most regular cars seem noisy and outdated. Therefore, they do not create the noise pollution typical of internal combustion engines. Although generally considered an advantage, some people say that silence can also be a disadvantage. People like to hear a car coming from behind them, and the inability to hear sounds can lead to accidents, in some cases. This noise disadvantage can be solved by additional sensors that could sense people in proximity and target them with directional speakers that will target only those who need to be warned, thus avoiding the creation of noise pollution.
Range: car weight, battery, efficiently of the motor, and the recycling of energy are all things that can impact an electric car’s range, and they are all more or less interdependent.
Weight: Let’s use an example for distribution of weight from Tesla’s heaviest Model S: P85D. *10
|Tesla Model S P85D||4936 lbs||2239 kg|
|Aluminum Space Frame||800||363||16.2%|
|Motor / Drivetrain||20.8%|
|Electric motor + inverter||350||159|
|Wheels + tires||250||113|
|Brakes, calipers, discs, lines||120||54|
|Rack and pinion||50||23|
|Front + rear powered seats||200||91|
|Windshield, windows, hatch||190||86|
|Pano glass and assembly||130||59|
|Carpet, padding, mats||80||36|
|Dash, trim, panels||40||18|
|Exterior (doors, trunk, hatch, body)||200||91||4.1%|
|Misc (paneling, safety control units, air bags, steering wheel assembly, etc.)||400||181||8.1%|
Tesla Model S P85D is one heavy car; in fact, it is around 1600lbs heavier than the average combustion engine car (3300lbs (1500kg)) *8. This additional weight will negatively impact the range. The Tesla P85D battery pack can travel 285 miles (460km) before the next charge.
In comparison, the Toyota Avalon, with its 17 gallon fuel tank, can travel 527miles (850km). On a typical 3300 lb car, you might have a 17 gallon gas tank, which is just over 100 lbs when full, or 3% of the weight of the car.
It is obvious that, just by reducing weight, we would gain on the range we can travel, as, currently, a significant portion of energy is used to transport/move the weight of the car on its own. By using ceramic parts, composite materials, and carbon fibers, instead of an aluminum body and frame Tesla could create a lighter car, although the question is how much will that increase the overall cost.
Battery: by size, weight, ability to store energy, and charging time, the battery is the single component that hinders the electric car’s range the most. First, the battery is the heaviest part of the electric car. While the fuel tank in a combustion engine car is only 3% of the total car weight, the battery in an electric is 33% of the total weight of the car. A significant amount of the car’s energy is wasted just to move the car, without any payload.
Lately, electric car range is significantly improving, but this is still not perfect. The current Lithium-ion Tesla battery has an energy density of around 140Wh/kg; in comparison, the Lead Acid battery that can be found in most cars has an energy density of 30-40 Wh/kg. The widespread NiMH battery has a density between 45-60 Wh/kg.
But, the good thing is that batteries are constantly improving, and new technologies are emerging rapidly, such as the new Lithium-sulfur, Solid-state lithium metal, and Lithium-air batteries that all promise higher energy density (200-900 Wh/kg) and also faster charging times. Just for comparison, gasoline has an energy density of 12200 Wh/kg.
If density would improve to the promised 900 Wh/kg for the Lithium-air battery, without changing the current Tesla Model S weight, just replacing battery pack would provide an impressive range of 1700 miles (2735km), or the distance equivalent with traveling from Santa Monica State Beach (California) to Huston (Texas) on a single battery charge.
Along with poor energy density, current batteries have a few more issues.
First, there is limited lifespan. Information from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory indicates that today’s batteries may last 12 to 15 years, in moderate climates, and between 8 and 12 years, in more harsh environments, before they need replacement. Tesla gives a Battery Limited Warranty for a period of 8 years, or for the number of miles/km specified for your Battery configuration (in the case of the 60 kWh battery pack, it is 125,000 miles (200,000 km)), whichever comes first. This replacement battery does not come cheap: for the 60 kWh battery, it is US$10,000, and for the 85 kWh battery, US$12,000.
Additionally, charging car batteries is currently slow, especially if you do not have a supercharger. With the Supercharger, to charge the 90kWh battery to 100%, it will take 75 minutes. At home, the situation is bit different: with a standard US 110V outlet, it would take 52 hours to fully charge the battery, but it is possible to install a Tesla outlet that will cut the charging time to 9.5 hours. This is not fantastic, but it is not bad, either, when driving standard routes from home to work and back. This is not an issue, as the car will be parked most of the time, anyway. Charging time is something that must be considered, when planning longer trips.
Even while slow, the ability to recharge your car at home without the need to go to the pump, especially if you have your own solar panel array, is especially attractive to the average consumer, as it means thousands of dollars of savings on fuel.
Also, there is already an alternative, with the constantly-improving capacity of super capacitors; recently there was a breakthrough in nanoporous graphene materials, pushing their energy density to the impressive figure of 131Wh/Kg. Although this is somewhat short of an average lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery (200Wh/Kg), it is an exciting prospect when combined with other technologies. What is really exciting about super capacitors is that they can charge and discharge 33 times faster than lithium ion batteries, which means that, instead of waiting hours, it could be possible to charge the car in minutes. *11
Before, there were not a lot of places one could go to on a daily basis for charging an electric car, but this is changing. Although charging points are still in the development stage, the situation has improved significantly. While writing this article, there are 69,986 charging stations across 41,022 locations in the world, and, each day, new charging stations are becoming available.
Also, there are new, fresh ideas about how we are going to charge our cars in the near future, one of which is “electric highways,” where, just by driving your car on a specially-built road, it will be possible to charge your car wirelessly. ICAR's first test of its wireless charging station demonstrated an overall efficiency of greater than 85%. *12
If we combine “electric highways” technology with the “super capacitor battery,” your cars will get “unlimited range,” as you will never need to stop to charge your car again; your car will be charged on the fly.
Regenerative braking: theoretically, if all brake energy could be regenerated, with no loss in the regenerative system, fuel consumption would be improved by 33%. *4 Most of the new electric cars have regenerative braking — depending on the style of driving (speed of driving, frequency of braking), configuration of terrain (flat versus hills), and manufacturer’s configuration of the system can give significant extra mileage.
Roof solar panels: Currently, there is not much value in installing them, as the total surface and output would not give much yield. If we would install photovoltaic film, for instance, on the hood, trunk, and roof, we would, at best, get around 3-4 square meters. With 20% of solar film efficiency on a sunny day, we would get only around 600-800Wh, giving us a total of 5KWh for an entire day. Keeping in mind that the battery can be 85Kw, an entire day of charging would give us only 5% of what is needed. The only use for solar cells would be if we are stuck somewhere in the middle of desert, without electricity or a charging station.
Eventually, electric cars will be coated with solar paint (e.g. Perovskite) *14 that will come cheap. Considering that most of the cars spend 95% of their lives in parking lots, if under the sun, it is imaginable that the electric cars of the future may not need to be plugged in at all.
For now, it is more feasible to invest in garage solar panels, and then use the simple electricity exchange schema, where you put your electricity directly into the grid, swapping it with the place where you work, for instance. You will generate electricity and give it to your company, so you will be able to charge your car over there during working hours.
Cost: Today, electric cars still have a very high cost: Tesla Model S P85D has a price tag of $115,000, and it is not very affordable for the general population. However, the newly-released Tesla Model 3, as it was stated in the press release, will be priced on average close to US$42,000. Currently, a large portion of the cost is due to the battery; with more technological advancements, mass production of batteries, and available tax incentives will lower the cost, making electric cars much more cost-effective and available to larger numbers of people.
A gallon of gasoline has average price of $2.30-$2.70 in the US (depending on place), but, in Europe, the same gallon is much more expensive: in the United Kingdom, the price is around $6.90; in Norway, $7.70. *15 Currently, the average car can travel around 25 miles on a single gallon of gasoline; the cost of driving a Tesla Model S for 25 mi, on average, will cost US$1.20 *16. That means that the annual cost for 15,000 mi (24,000 km) will be around $700. Depending on where you live, you will save between 1 to 5 times of the money you have spent; over 10 years, you could save between $7,000 to $35,000. If you have your own solar panels, the amount of savings will be significantly higher. Also, the more miles you drive, the more money you will save. Many owners of electric cars have already reported positive savings of up to tens of thousands of dollars a year.
A staggering 400,000 people have already pre-ordered a Tesla Model 3, regardless of the fact they know that there is no chance they will get the car by the end of 2020. They were still willing to put down the $1,000 deposit required to be in line for the new Tesla model. This tells us that electric cars are gaining popularity. With popularity, new types of cars will be produced, providing customers the variety of choices necessary to move the industry forward.
Electric Grid: The increased number of electric cars can create a problem, especially for those towns that have old networks and are already facing power shortages. The increased consumption of power would negatively impact their daily power needs. But, this is not something that should prevent people from investing in electric cars; while investing in electric cars, power companies have to adapt and meet demands by modernizing electric grids to be in line with new requirements.
Along with this, there is one more interesting ability of electric cars. When combined with solar panels, it is possible to use the electric car to power your house during night hours. Generally speaking, most of the renewable energy sources have the issue of not being constant; in order to make them more reliable, it is necessary to store generated energy somewhere and then use it when needed. Electric cars can serve as a storage battery that will power your house and all appliances; instead of investing in the Tesla Powerwall Battery, if you have an electric car, you can use electric car’s battery to do the same job. Also, it is possible to use the same principle on a global scale, “dumping” the surplus of generated energy into all existing cars and then taking that energy when it is needed in the network.
In the process of storing and retrieving electric energy into the battery, there is a complaint that batteries have their own efficiency and that a significant amount of energy is lost in this transfer. First, we need to remember that 5,000 tons of gasoline a day is lost, due to evaporation. Secondly, technologies are advancing; although the Tesla Powerwall has a 92.5% round trip efficiency *18, some other technologies, like super capacitors, have reported efficiency up to 97.94% *19.
Politics & Economy: All wars in the last two centuries were fought for land, resources, or both; oil was the crucial resource in most of them, and that is not surprising. When a country relies on foreign oil, its entire economy is susceptible to fluctuations of oil prices, combined with other resources on which they are relying. The only way to insure a stable economy is to use whatever means possible to avoid a volatile market. Often, this mean controlling another country’s resources, and the only way to accomplish this is by controlling those governments. When they are not willing to “cooperate,” destabilize them and use military interventions and wars. Using electric vehicles, instead of conventional vehicles, can help with reducing reliance on imported petroleum and increase energy security, decreasing needs to intervene in other countries’ politics and wage wars.
Additionally, electric cars are a democratic technology; by allowing the average citizen to have and produce his or her own “fuel,” electric cars help spread wealth, instead of accumulating it in the hands of a few. In the process, electric cars can have a huge positive impact on the environment. Running an electric car is more efficient, even when electricity is produced from dirty technologies, like oil and coal.
Renewable sources, like wind, solar, hydro, and tidal are constantly improving, and, soon, the cost of electricity from those sources will be lower than oil or any other non-renewable fuel; moreover, energy produced in this way is inexhaustible and 100% clean.
We have to think about future fuel availability, as oil reserves are coming to an end; we need to plan for adapting our technology to meet the future needs and phasing out our reliance on resources that will disappear. We need to carry out a tremendous piece of work: replacing existing vehicles and oil-based technology, and, at the same time, we need to improve the electric grid, so that it will be able to withstand a much higher power load.
Electric cars are coming, and, this time, nothing will stop them.
Notes & References:
1. Tesla’s Model S Sedan Named Safest Car In The History Of Carshttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/20/tesla-model-s-safest-car_n_3786294.html
2. The Tesla Model S Is Almost Maintenance Freehttp://cleantechnica.com/2013/09/27/tesla-model-s-almost-maintenance-free/
3. Tesla’s Cheaper Model 3 Could Strain Charging Infrastructurehttps://www.technologyreview.com/s/601063/teslas-cheaper-model-3-could-strain-charging-infrastructure/
4. A Review of Regenerative Braking Systemshttp://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/2118/1/ITS105_WP471_uploadable.pdf
5. Solar Roofhttps://forums.teslamotors.com/forum/forums/solar-roof
6. New material claimed to store more energy and cost less money than batteries (09/2011)http://www.gizmag.com/energy-storage-membrane-created/19996/
7. Tesla P90D Ludicrous Modehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpaLgF1uLB8
8. List of Car Curb Weightshttp://cars.lovetoknow.com/List_of_Car_Weights
9. Fuel Economy Versus Masshttp://www.wired.com/2012/08/fuel-economy-vs-mass/
10. Model S Tesla Model S Weight Distributionhttp://www.teslarati.com/tesla-model-s-weight/
11. Nanoporous graphene materials by low-temperature vacuum-assisted thermal process for electrochemical energy storagehttp://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378775315004310
12. Off road trials for “electric highways” technologyhttps://www.gov.uk/government/news/off-road-trials-for-electric-highways-technology
13. Open Charge Maphttp://openchargemap.org/site/
14. Nanoscale Discovery Could Push Perovskite Solar Cells To 31% Efficencyhttp://factor-tech.com/green-energy/23404-nanoscale-discovery-could-push-perovskite-solar-cells-to-31-efficency/
15. Gasoline prices in selected countries worldwide as of July 2015 (in U.S. dollars per gallon)http://www.statista.com/statistics/221368/gas-prices-around-the-world/
16. Tesla Model S & 3https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesla_Model_S