Phase 1: The Past
Who invented the very first EV is uncertain and several inventors have been given credit. In the early 1800’s, Hungarian, Ányos Jedlik invented a small-scale model car powered by an electric motor that he designed. In mid-1800’s, Robert Anderson of Scotland invented a crude electric-powered carriage. In 1835, another small-scale electric car was designed by Professor Stratingh of Groningen, Holland, and built by his assistant Christopher Becker. In 1835, Thomas Davenport, a blacksmith from Brandon, Vermont built a small-scale electric car. Davenport was also the inventor of the first of the first American-built DC electric motor.
By the turn of the century, America was prosperous and cars, now available in steam, electric, or gasoline versions, were becoming more popular. The years 1899 and 1900 were the high point of electric cars in America, as they outsold all other types of cars. One example was the 1902 Phaeton built by the Woods Motor Vehicle Company of Chicago, which had a range of 18 miles, a top speed of 14 mph and cost $2,000. Later in 1916, Woods invented a hybrid car that had both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor.
Electric vehicles had many advantages over their competitors in the early 1900s. They did not have the vibration, smell, and noise associated with gasoline cars. Changing gears on gasoline cars was the most difficult part of driving, while electric vehicles did not require gear changes. The only good roads of the period were in town, causing most travel to be local commuting, a perfect situation for electric vehicles, since their range was limited. The electric vehicle was the preferred choice of many because it did not require the manual effort to start, as with the hand crank on gasoline vehicles, and there was no wrestling with a gear shifter.
While basic electric cars cost under $1,000, most early electric vehicles were ornate, massive carriages designed for the upper class. They had fancy interiors, with expensive materials, and averaged $3,000 by 1910. Electric vehicles enjoyed success into the 1920s with production peaking in 1912.
Decline of the Electric Vehicle
For the following reasons the electric car declined in popularity. It was several decades before there was a renewed interest.
- By the 1920s, America had a better system of roads that now connected cities, bringing with it the need for longer-range vehicles.
- The discovery of Texas crude oil reduced the price of gasoline so that it was affordable to the average consumer.
- The invention of the electric starter by Charles Kettering in early 1900’s eliminated the need for the hand crank.
- The initiation of mass production of internal combustion engine vehicles by Henry Ford made these vehicles widely available and affordable in the $500 to $1,000 price range. By contrast, the price of the less efficiently produced electric vehicles continued to rise. In 1912, an electric roadster sold for $1,750, while a gasoline car sold for $650.
Electric vehicles had all but disappeared by 1935. The years following until the 1960s were dead years for electric vehicle development and for their use as personal transportation.
The 1960s and 70s saw a need for alternative fueled vehicles to reduce the problems of exhaust emissions from internal combustion engines and to reduce the dependency on imported foreign crude oil. Many attempts to produce practical electric vehicles occurred during the years from 1960 and beyond.
Battronic Truck Company
In the early 60s, the Boyertown Auto Body Works jointly formed the Battronic Truck Company with Smith Delivery Vehicles, Ltd., of England and the Exide Division of the Electric Battery Company. The first Battronic electric truck was delivered to the Potomac Edison Company in 1964. This truck was capable of speeds of 25 mph, a range of 62 miles and a payload of 2,500 pounds.
Battronic worked with General Electric from 1973 to 1983 to produce 175 utility vans for use in the utility industry and to demonstrate the capabilities of battery-powered vehicles. Battronic also developed and produced about 20 passenger buses in the mid-1970s.
CitiCars & Elcar
Two companies were leaders in electric car production during this time. Sebring-Vanguard produced over 2,000 “CitiCars.” These cars had a top speed of 44 mph, a normal cruise speed of 38 mph and a range of 50 to 60 miles.
The other company was Elcar Corporation, which produced the “Elcar”. The Elcar had a top speed of 45 mph, a range of 60 miles and cost between $4,000 and $4,500.
United States Postal Service
In 1975, the United States Postal Service purchased 350 electric delivery jeeps from the American Motor Company to be used in a test program. These jeeps had a top speed of 50 mph and a range of 40 miles at a speed of 40 mph. Heating and defrosting were accomplished with a gas heater and the recharge time was 10 hours.
They were popular for a while back then but ended up too expensive and not fast enough to keep up with the fuel-burning car.
The biggest blow to them was probably the mass production of Henry Fords’ petrol powered cars which cost about half of what the electric cars did.
The electric car put up a good fight though because at one point they even outsold internal combustion engine cars and amazingly held the land speed record until 1899!
Also if you think the Toyota Prius was the first hybrid car, think again as the first hybrid was made in 1900.
After that, however, it was all downhill for quite a while. The Electric Car really vanished on the roads from the 1930’s until resurfacing again in the 1960/70’s when the need to an alternative to petrol-powered cars started to become obvious again.
Zero emissions, quiet economy, minimal maintenance … electric vehicles (EVs) is quite appealing. While one of the biggest current limitations of EVs is limited driving range (and recharge time), these issues are being worked on as we speak. And until there are more all-electric production vehicles available, this growing list of gasoline to EV conversion companies will continue to expand.
Phase 2: The Present
What Is An Electric Car?
An electric car is powered by an electric motor instead of a gasoline engine. The electric motor gets energy from a controller, which regulates the amount of power—based on the driver’s use of an accelerator pedal. The electric car (also known as electric vehicle or EV) uses energy stored in its rechargeable batteries, which are recharged by common household electricity.
With the all-electric Leaf, Nissan is taking the lead in pure electric cars in the United States. The Nissan Leaf is a medium-size all-electric hatchback that seats five adults and has a range of 100 miles. The purchase price is around $25,000, after federal government incentives. It started to roll out in select cities in late 2010.
Unlike a hybrid car—which is fueled by gasoline and uses a battery and motor to improve efficiency—an electric car is powered exclusively by electricity. Historically, EVs have not been widely adopted because of limited driving range before needing to be recharged, long recharging times, and a lack of commitment by automakers to produce and market electric cars that have all the creature comforts of gas-powered cars. That’s changing. As battery technology improves—simultaneously increasing energy storage and reducing cost—major automakers are expected to begin introducing a new generation of electric cars.
Electric cars produce no tailpipe emissions, reduce our dependency on oil, and are cheaper to operate. Of course, the process of producing the electricity moves the emissions further upstream to the utility company’s smokestack—but even dirty electricity used in electric cars usually reduces our collective carbon footprint.
Another factor is convenience: In one trip to the gas station, you can pump 330 kilowatt-hours of energy into a 10-gallon tank. It would take about 9 days to get the same amount of energy from household electric current. Fortunately, it takes hours and not days to recharge an electric car, because it’s much more efficient. Speaking of convenience, let’s not forget two important points: charging up at home means never going to a gas station—and electric cars require almost none of the maintenance, like oil changes and emissions checks, that internal combustion cars require.
Electric motors develop their highest torque from zero rpms—meaning fast (and silent) zero-to-60 acceleration times.
Note: In the illustration, we show the relative features of electric cars and gas-powered cars. However, it doesn’t have to be an “either-or” situation. Plug-in hybrids offer many of the benefits of electric cars while mitigating most of the drawbacks, such as limited driving range.
2010 the year of the Electric Car?
The big year for electric cars seemed to be in 2010. There were plenty of big manufacturers planning to bring their electric cars to the masses and the future was looking bright!
However most of these plans either fell through or got pushed back which seems to always be the way it is with electric vehicles.
A few things did get through though like the Nissan Leaf which went on sale for the first time in the USA in December 2010. The Chevy Volt also went on sale around the same time in the US. The Mitsubishi MiEV went on sale in its home country of Japan in 009.
These are the first major manufacturers to really come through with their promises of delivering their electric cars on time. The one thing that really feels like progress is when I can go to a local mainstream dealer like Nissan where I can order a real electric car and not just get a promise for the future!
A full 12 years after Toyota sold its first Prius in the United States and came to pretty much dominate the U.S. market for environmentally friendly cars, drivers in America will have two more options for green transportation: Chevrolet’s Volt and Nissan’s Leaf.
The Volt is a gas-electric hybrid, but unlike the Prius, the gas is not used to drive the power train. Instead it has an electric engine that can propel the car 40 miles on one charge. If the car needs more range, a gas engine kicks in to power a generator that creates additional electricity for the electric motor. The Leaf is an all-electric car that has a 100-mile range on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that can be fed using a standard three-prong household electrical outlet, and lacks even a tailpipe.
At first it would seem that the Leaf, or any all-electric car for that matter, trumps its internal combustion-carrying counterparts. With conventional cars, this is pretty much true. Combustible engine cars are noisy, burn gasoline – and grossly inefficiently at that – pollute and emit chemicals that are bad for the atmosphere. Electric vehicles are quiet and spew no emissions.
But the difference in environmental impact between combustible engine cars, hybrid vehicles and all-electric ones isn’t quite as large as it first appears.
It all comes down to carbon emissions, and even though electric vehicles spew zero emissions, they aren’t necessarily carbon neutral. So that begs the question, are they better for the environment than ones powered by fossil fuels?
“Zero-tailpipe emissions unfortunately don’t necessarily mean zero emissions,” says Dennis Ruez Jr., the environmental studies department chair at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
Carbon-neutrality refers to emissions of carbon dioxide that are released during any point in the life span of the vehicle, from the earth-moving machines used to mining the lithium for the car’s batteries, to the plant where the car is built, to the power plant that feeds the electrical source the car is ultimately plugged into. None of those can emit carbon dioxide. If any do, the electric vehicle isn’t carbon-neutral.
Attaining complete carbon neutrality is virtually impossible, or at least so unattainable it’s akin to holding out for a vehicle that runs on cold fusion. Instead, researchers are chipping away at problems in smaller sizes, with a specific focus on the power plant — the source of most EV emissions.
“The well-known issue here is the source of the electricity,” says Ruez. “If the electricity is from a coal- or gas-fired power plant, then there are still carbon emissions from that vehicle’s use.”
There is about a 50-percent chance in the United States that the electricity that’s used to charge the batteries of a plug-in electric vehicle is generated by burning coal. Since the burned coal used to power an electric vehicle emits carbon dioxide to power the electric car, it goes on the car’s emissions tally.
“The general consensus is that if you power an electric vehicle from coal, the net carbon emissions are about the same as a gasoline vehicle,” says Paul Denholm, senior analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. “But that’s the worst-case scenario; anything that is a cleaner source is an improvement.”
Such a problem can also provide solutions; at the very least, energy researchers looking to make improvements on net carbon dioxide emissions have a clear picture of their point of attack.
Investigating ways to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions of power plants that generate electricity through fossil fuels can lead to sweeping reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, especially as sales of plug-in electric vehicles rise. Influencing the source, in other words, can have a metastasizing effect elsewhere along the electrical grid.
“Using a centralized energy source would facilitate future environmentally friendly steps,” says Ruez. “It’s easier to add carbon scrubbers to a single power station than to 100,000 vehicles in an area.”
Ultimately, both Ruez and Denholm agree that electric vehicles are better for the environment than cars that run on fossil fuels, as they represent an important step toward reducing emission. As the number of electrical grows, utility companies will have more incentive to upgrade the electrical grid and make renewable energy sources more practical. And that is good for everyone.
Phase 3: FUTURE CHALLENGES FOR ELECTRIC VEHICLES
From failure to the future
What will your children drive 20 years or more from now? According to one analyst, many of them are likely to take the wheel of an electric car. The primary argument for electric vehicles is overall efficiency, said Philip Gott, director of automotive consulting for industry analyst Global Insight, at the firm’s annual Detroit conference. Why? Because electric cars simply consume less “wells to wheels” energy than do the alternative.
Introduction of battery management and intermediate storage
Another improvement is to decouple the electric motor from the battery through electronic control, employing ultra-capacitors to buffer large but short power demands and regenerative braking energy. The development of new cell types combined with intelligent cell management improved both weak points mentioned above. The cell management involves not only monitoring the health of the cells but also a redundant cell configuration (one more cell than needed). With sophisticated switched wiring it is possible to condition one cell while the rest are on duty.
Faster battery recharging
By soaking the matter found in conventional lithium ion batteries in a special solution, lithium ion batteries were supposedly said to be recharged 100 times faster. This test was however done with a specially-designed battery with little capacity. Batteries with higher capacity can be recharged 40 times faster. The research was conducted by Byoungwoo Kang
Why isn’t plug-ins in production?
Automakers cite the high cost of lithium-ion batteries. Ford and Toyota have announced active interest in plug-ins, but for now they are sticking by their hybrids. DaimlerChrysler is currently testing a plug-in hybrid version of its Sprinter delivery van. Progress, maybe, but no one’s making production commitments. GM has taken the biggest leap, awarding contracts to battery makers to produce lithium-ion packs for its Saturn Vue Green Line. The more radically designed Chevy Volt — which has a gas engine that recharges the batteries, and never powers the wheels — will have to wait. It needs a 400-pound battery, which GM estimates won’t be feasible until 2013 at the earliest.
There are two significant problems. Battery prices need to be shaved at least in half and range needs to be improved by at least 100%. Then the problem of battery depreciation rolls in – batteries are unlikely to last much more than eight years, which will destroy the trade in value of the first electric vehicles. It’s a “wait a minute” time for prognosticators.
All that is not to say that pure EV has a place in close up, urban, and short distance use. But very few people can justify the investment in another vehicle for only short range. Hybrids could work, but the emphasis has to go to the series hybrid with less battery and far more combustion efficiency to the wheels.