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The Status Quo of Electric Cars: Better Batteries, Same Range

We don’t need better batteries, we need better cars.

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Image: The electric car is not new.

Electric motors and batteries have improved substantially over the past one hundred years, but today’s much hyped electric cars have a range that is - at best - comparable to that of their predecessors at the beginning of the 20th century. Weight, comfort, speed and performance have eaten up any real progress. We don’t need better batteries, we need better cars.

The 2010 Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV have exactly the same range as the 1908 Fritchle Model A Victoria: 100 miles (160 kilometres) on a single charge

From about 1895 to the mid-1920s, and following the bicycle craze of the 1890s, electric cars shared the road with petrol and steam powered cars. EV’s were comparatively slow, heavy, and had a smaller range than their alternatives. During the very early years, however, electric automobiles were the most popular option for a short time, mainly because of two reasons.

Firstly, they were easy to start, while a gasoline car had to be cranked up and a steam powered car required a long firing-up time (not unlike a wood gas car). Secondly, there were few paved roads outside the city at the turn of the 20th century, which made the limited range of EV’s not that problematic. The production of electric vehicles peaked in 1912: during that time there were 30,000 EV’s on the road in the United States, two-thirds of these were used as private passenger cars. Europe had around 4,000 electric vehicles.

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Image: An electric car.

By 1912, the gasoline car had already taken over the largest share of the automobile sales (more than 90 percent). They were faster and could drive longer distances - not only because of their better range but also because of a more elaborate refuelling infrastructure. The rapidly expanding paved road network worked in their favour, too.

Internal combustion engines became much cheaper than electrics. In 1908, Ford introduced its mass-produced (and gasoline powered) Model-T, which initially sold for 850 dollars - two to three times less than the price of a similar electric vehicle. In 1912, the price of the Model-T came down to 650 dollars. That same year, the electrical starter for gasoline vehicles appeared, and took away one of the last selling points of EV’s. Last but not least, gasoline had become much cheaper than it had been at the end of the 19th century.

The only advantage left was the (potential) cleanliness and noiselessness of electric vehicles, the reason we want them back today. In 1914, Henry Ford announced the marketing of a cheap mass-produced electric vehicle, but this automobile was never produced. In Europe, electric passenger cars were gone in 1920, in the US they survived for a decade longer. Electric trucks, outside the scope of this article, remained successful for a longer period.

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Image: An electric car.

The manufacturers of early electric cars made several strategic mistakes. For instance, it took them until 1910 to develop a standard for the charging of the batteries. But, at the heart of the failure of the early electric car lay the limited capacity of the storage battery.

Then and now: 100 miles

If today’s supporters of EV’s would dig into the specifications and the sales brochures of early 20th century electric “horseless carriages”, their enthusiasm would quickly disappear. Fast-charged batteries (to 80% capacity in 10 minutes), automated battery swapping stations, public charging poles, load balancing, the entire business plan of Better Place, in-wheel motors, regenerative braking: it was all there in the late 1800s or the early 1900s. It did not help. Most surprisingly, however, is the seemingly non-existent progress of battery technology.

The Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, two electric cars to be introduced on the market in 2010, have exactly the same range as the 1908 Fritchle Model A Victoria: 100 miles (160 kilometres) on a single charge. The “100-mile Fritchle” was a progressive engineering feat for its time, but it was not the only early electric that boasted a 100 mile range. I have only chosen it because its specifications are most complete, and because its range was certified.

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Image: The 1908 Fritschle electric.

The first electric cars (1894 - 1900) had a range of 20 to 40 miles (32 to 64 kilometres), still better than the 20 km “range” of a horse. The average second generation EV (1901 - 1910) already boasted a mileage of 50 to 80 miles (80 to 130 km). The third generation of early electric cars (1911-1920), including larger vehicles that could seat 5 people comfortably, could travel 75 to more than 100 miles (120 to more than 160 km) on a single charge - and this is still the range of electric cars today. (See our overview on early electrics for the specifications of individual vehicles).

100 miles = upper limit

In fact, the range of the Nissan Leaf or the Mitsubishi i-MiEV may be far worse than that of the 1908 Fritchle. The range of the latter was (officially) recorded during an 1800 mile (2,900 km) race over a period of 21 driving days in the winter of 1908. The stock vehicle was driven in varied weather, terrain and road conditions (often bad and muddy roads). The average range on a single charge was 90 miles, the maximum range recorded was 108 miles. (sources: 1 / 2 ).

In fact, the range of the Nissan Leaf or the Mitsubishi i-MiEV may be far worse than that of the 1908 Fritchle

The range of the Mitsibushi i-MiEV and the Nissan Leaf was tested in a very different manner. On rollers instead of on actual roads, and in a protected environment, but that’s not all. Both manufacturers advertise the USEPA city” range, a test that supposes a 22 minutes drive cycle at an average speed of 19.59 mph (31.5 km/h), including one acceleration to 40 mph (64 km/h) during no more than 100 seconds.

Critics blame today’s manufacturers for not displaying the “EPA combined cycle” range, which also includes trips on the motorway (the “EPA highway cycle”). Contrary to vehicles with an internal combustion engine, electric cars are more fuel efficient in cities than at steady speed on a highway - an electric motor uses no energy when it is idling, and regenerative braking works best in city traffic. Darryl Siry, former CMO of Tesla, estimates that the correct range of the Nissan (and other modern electric cars) will be around 70% of the advertised range. That would bring the range of today’s electrics to the same level as the 1901 Krieger Electrolette (68 miles).

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Image: An electrc car.

Even the “EPA combined cycle” figures should be considered as an upper limit. Firstly, with an average speed of 48 mph (77 km/h) the highway tests are outdated. Secondly, the range of a car is also affected by other factors: not only excessive speeding and fast accelerations, but also the use of headlights at night, the use of heating or air-conditioning, the use of other options onboard, driving over hilly roads or in headwinds - or all of these factors combined (the EPA has added new test cycles in 2008 to address these points, but the results are not yet available for the EV’s we are talking about).

Some of these factors not only concern today’s electrics, but also those of yesteryear. However, the Fritchle’s range was tested on varied terrain and in varied weather conditions, which was not the case for the Nissan or the Mitsubishi. Moreover, early electrics had no air-conditioning and few had heating systems - drivers and passengers dressed warm in winter. Mitsubishi warns its clients that the use of the heater might cut the range in half. All in all, the range of a 2010 electric vehicle will be closer to 50 miles (80 km) than to 100 miles (160 km). And that’s to be expected from a battery at the beginning of its life - after 5 years, the capacity will be at least 20 percent less.

Better batteries

In spite of this, the 2010 vehicle has a much better battery under the hood than the 1908 vehicle. The Fritchle Electric had lead-acid batteries, like all its contemporaries, with an energy density between 20 and 40 Wh/kg (early 1900 batteries had energy densities of only 10 to 15 Wh/kg). The Nissan and the Mitsubishi have a more powerful lithium-ion battery with an energy density of around 140 Wh/kg.

The Nissan’s battery can thus store 3.5 to 7 times more energy for a given weight than an average early electric from about 1910. This could have resulted in a vehicle with a 3.5 to 7 times better range (350 to 700 miles or 560 to 1,130 km), but this is not the case. The technological improvements could also have been translated into a 3.5 to 7 times lighter (and smaller) battery, and consequently a lighter and more fuel efficient vehicle, but this is not the case either.

The battery of the Nissan Leaf is only 1.6 times lighter than the battery of the Fritchle: 220 kg (480 pounds) versus 360 kg (800 pounds). The Nissan vehicle (including the battery) weighs more than the Fritchle: 1,271 kg (2,800 pounds) versus 950 kg (2,100 pounds).

Motor output, speed & acceleration

The most obvious difference between the specifications of the old and new cars is the power of their motors. The 1908 car had a 10 HP motor, the 2010 car has a 110 HP motor. In other words, the Nissan Leaf has the motor output of 11 electric Fritchles. The smaller and lighter Mitsubishi i-MiEV (1,080 kg or 2,400 pounds) has the motor power of 6.5 electric Fritchles.

The maximum speed of the Fritchle was 40 km/h (25 mph), the Nissan does 140 km/h (87 mph) and the i-MiEV is not far behind (130 km/h or 81 mph). Acceleration data cannot be compared, but there is no doubt that the 2010 cars will accelerate many times faster (and can climb hills much more easily) than their early 1900 cousins. Today, fast acceleration times are one of the selling points of EV’s.

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Image: An electric car.

The risks of more powerful electric motors were already recognized in the early 1900s. The Hawkins Electrical guide (1914) states:

Very quick acceleration is an objectionable feature in electric vehicle design, because a vehicle constructed with this feature puts a heavy overdraft on the battery”.

A few years earlier, members of the Electric Vehicle Association of America tried to impose a standard maximum speed of 32 km/h (20 mph) for electric vehicles, because power requirements increased rapidly above that limit. They feared that higher speeds would threaten the all-important range of the automobiles. They did not succeed. Too many manufacturers tried to compete with gasoline cars (and with each other) by designing faster electric vehicles.

A car consumes 4 times more fuel to drive twice the speed, so it seems clear that velocity is the reason why the range of today’s electric cars did not improve in spite of better batteries. However, it is more complicated than that. The “EPA-city” range that the modern EV’s advertise, is based on an average speed of 20 mph or 31 km/h - below the 25 mph top speed of the Fritchle, and almost exactly the same as the speed at which the vehicle could drive 100 miles on one charge.

While high speeds are definitely a significant factor when considering the real-world range of today’s electric cars, it cannot explain the disappointing “official” range. Faster acceleration might play a role, but the EPA-tests described above do not consider aggressive driving either so there must be other factors at play.

Oversized cars & motors

The first is weight. While the battery of the Nissan is lighter than the battery of the Fritchle, the Nissan vehicle including the battery is 321 kg (706 pounds) heavier. Without the battery, the Nissan weighs almost twice as much as the Fritchle: 1,051 kg (2,310 pounds) versus 590 kg (1,300 pounds).

So while batteries became more than 3 times lighter in 100 years time, the weight of the vehicle itself (without battery) doubled. The extra weight of the Nissan already nullifies a significant portion of the progress: a 35 percent higher mass can lead to a 28 percent reduction in range (sources: 1 2).

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Image: Chassis of an electric car.

The second factor is directly related to the massive increase in horse power. Electric motors are (generally) most efficient around 75 percent of their rated load. Their efficiency drops dramatically below 25 percent. The Fritchle was most efficient at a speed of around 20 mph. The much more powerful motor of the Nissan Leaf, however, is most efficient at a speed of around 105 km/h, far above the average speed in the tests. Today’s EV’s consume less energy at low speeds than at high speeds because of other factors, but compared to early electrics with their much less powerful motor they are probably less efficient at speeds of around 20 mph. (source - pdf).

Computers on wheels

The third factor is the electronics. Modern cars have, depending on the model, 30 to 100 microprocessor-based electronic control units onboard (source). These computers add weight but also consume energy in a direct way. Part of this direct energy consumption is not included in the EPA-tests - electronically adjustable windows and mirrors, for example.

However, many other electronics are activated whenever the vehicle is driving. Examples are power brakes, active suspension, safety sensors, dashboard instrumentation and the management of the battery itself (not required for a lead-acid battery but critical for lithium-ion storage technology). All this electrical energy has to be supplied by the battery.

The risks of more powerful electric motors were already recognized in the early 1900s

While a higher performance cannot explain the relatively low official range of today’s EV’s, all factors described above are at least partially a consequence of it. Lower speeds would make most safety-related electronics unnecessary and they would do away with the need for larger motors and batteries which, just like the electronics, add more weight.

Tesla Roadster

Some of you might wonder why I don’t compare the 1908 Fritchle to the 2008 Tesla Roadster. This car has a range of 244 miles (393 kilometres), 2.44 times better than the old timer and the modern Japanese cars - and this according to the “EPA combined cycle”, not the “EPA city” figures. (Although the “EPA-combined” range advertised by Tesla is of course as much suited for a sports car than the “EPA-city” range is suited for a family vehicle like the Nissan Leaf ).

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Image: A Tesla Roadster.

The Tesla Roadster is less progressive than it seems, though. The battery of the sports car weighs twice as much (450 kg) as the battery of the Nissan (220 kg). Since both batteries have a similar energy density, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to calculate that the heavier battery has about twice the capacity: 53 kWh to be exact, compared to 24 kWh for the Nissan’s battery (and 16 kWh for the i-MiEV). Considering the fact that both cars have a similar weight, a 2.5 better range for a battery with more than double (2.2 times) the capacity is far from a revolutionary engineering feat.

Embodied energy of EV batteries

Doubling battery capacity is one way to increase the range of an electric vehicle (see also the Mini E, which sacrifices its rear seat for a larger battery and gets 104 miles), but this option is far from sustainable since it also doubles the amount of energy needed to manufacture the battery. It also doubles the costs, of course. The battery of the \$ 109,000 Tesla Roadster sells for \$ 30,000, as much as an entire Nissan or Mitsubishi vehicle.

Nobody has investigated how much energy it takes to produce a Tesla Roadster battery, or any other EV battery for that matter, but you can get an idea of it using an online tool from Carnegie Mellon University. Corresponding to these data, \$ 30,000 of economic activity in the storage battery sector (including the production of li-ion batteries) equals an energy consumption of 23,222 kWh - that’s almost 6 years of electricity consumption by an average British household. The battery has to be replaced after a maximum of 7 years.

The low “fuel” costs are only half the story if the “fuel tank” itself is that energy-intensive.

These figures suggest that the embodied energy of the battery - not considered in any research paper that investigates the ecological advantages of electric cars - makes up for a substantial amount of the total energy cost of an electric automobile. At the advertised energy use of 21 kWh per 100 miles, 23,222 kWh would take the Tesla 109,938 miles (176,929 km) far. That’s almost 30,000 km (18,600 miles) per year, or 80 km (51 miles) per day. The low “fuel” costs are only half the story if the “fuel tank” itself is that energy-intensive.

Miracle battery

Today, just like 100 years ago, EV proponents are divided on the question of how to market electric vehicles. Some keep emphasizing the fact that most people never drive further than 30 miles per day - therefore the current batteries are well suited to perform their task. Most cars will be charged overnight, battery-swapping stations and fast-charging will do the rest.

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Image: The Babcock Roadster.

Others, however, keep hoping for a revolutionary storage technology that will eventually give EV’s a similar range to that of gasoline cars. This belief is supported by press releases like this: “Nanowire battery can hold 10 times the charge of lithium-ion“. It is interesting to note that the arrival of such a miracle battery has been “just around the corner” for over 100 years now:

A large number of people interested in stored power are looking forward to a revolution in the generating power of storage batteries, and it is the opinion of many that the long-looked-for, light weight, high capacity battery will soon be discovered.” (source, 1901).

The demand for a proper automobile storage battery is so crying that it soon must result in the appearance of the desired accumulator [battery]. Everywhere in the history of industrial progress, invention has followed close in the wake of necessity” (Electrical Review, 1901).

Edison himself promised a radical improvement to the lead-acid battery at the turn of the 20th century. It took almost a decade before the Edison battery appeared on the market, and even though it had some advantages over the others, it was very expensive (the price of a gasoline powered Ford Model-T) and far from revolutionary.

The promise of a miracle storage technology reared its head again in the 1960s and 1970s, when electric cars went through a short revival:

The consensus among EV proponents and major battery manufacturers is that a high-energy, high power-density battery - a true breakthrough in electrochemistry - could be accomplished in just 5 years” (Machine Design, 1974).

The range of most electric (concept) cars in the 1960s and 1970s was considerably lower than that of early 1900 electrics. This was because they were still making use of similar lead-acid batteries, while the cars themselves were already much heavier and more powerful.

Realistic electric vehicles - scenario 1

The miracle battery might one day arrive, but history teaches us not to count on it. What would definitely yield results, on the other hand, is to use existing technology and downsize the car. There are two ways to do this, as was briefly noted above. The first is to go back to early 20th century electric vehicles and equip them with modern batteries. This would extend their range spectacularly, as much as a (not yet existing) nanowire battery could.

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Image: Charging an electric car in 1901.

If you were to put the lithium-ion battery of the Nissan Leaf in the 1908 Fritchle, the vehicle would have a range of about 644 km (400 miles). If you put a lithium-ion battery with the same weight of the Fritchle-battery inside, you get about 700 miles (1,127 km) range. Add to this the fact that we now also have lighter and more efficient motors (and other vehicle parts) and the range will become even greater.

Even with the headlights and the heating on, driving home over windy hills and muddy roads, such a car would give a safe and comfortable range, similar to that of today’s gasoline vehicles. Moreover, it would consume less energy: the Fritchle used around 7 kWh/100 km, the Nissan Leaf at least 15 kWh/100 km.

A better range is much more than a convenience for the driver. It would also mean that we need fewer charging and battery swapping stations, which would greatly lower the costs and the embodied energy of the required infrastructure. In short, slower EV’s would make EV’s a whole lot more likely. Interestingly, we don’t even have to streamline them. Early electrics had style, and at low speeds aerodynamics is not an important factor in energy consumption.

Realistic electric vehicles - scenario 2

Of course, slow vehicles with the appearance of a horse carriage will not appeal to everybody. But there is another way. We could also downsize the electric car by designing much lighter and fuel efficient vehicles. This is shown by a concept EV like the Trev. This vehicle’s performance is comparable to that of the Nissan Leaf or the Mitsubishi i-MiEV: it has a top speed of 120 km/h (74.5 mph) and it accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h (60 mph) in less than 10 seconds.

We cannot have it all: range, speed and size. And yet, that’s what we are trying to do.

However, its battery is almost 5 times lighter (45 kg or 99 pounds) and the vehicle itself (including the battery) weighs only 300 kg (660 pounds). In spite of its higher performance, it consumes as much energy as the Fritchle: 6.2 kWh/100 km, half the fuel consumption of the Nissan. Yet, the range of the Trev is similar to that of the Nissan or the Fritchle: 150 km or 93 miles. The reason is of course that if you design a much lighter vehicle, it will also have a much smaller battery that consequently holds less energy. With gasoline powered automobiles, the potential of weight reduction is much larger.

Nevertheless, a vehicle like the Trev would have almost as much benefits as a Fritchle with a 2010 battery. It would still require an elaborate charging infrastructure, but because of its much smaller battery it would seriously relieve the problem of peak demand: fast-charging could become a realistic option without the need to build hundreds of new power plants. It would also have the substantial advantage of holding a battery that is much less energy-intensive to produce.

We cannot have it all

Of course, there are many more possibilities than the two scenario’s outlined here. It would not kill us to drive at speeds of 20 mph, on the contrary, but there is so much potential in downsizing the automobile that we don’t have to go all the way back to the early 1900s to get a decent range.

We could tune them up a bit so that they could get 60 km/h or 40 mph (only sligthly faster than the 1911 Babcock Electric Roadster pictured above) and accelerate just fast enough to leave a crime scene or flee from a mad elephant.

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Image: The Babcock electric roadster.

At 60 km/h or 40 mph a trip of 600 kilometres or 400 miles would take 10 hours, instead of 5 hours at a common motorway speed. This does not sound like the end of the world. It’s definitely a whole lot faster than going by foot (120 hours) or by bike (30 hours). We could also equip the Trev with a somewhat larger battery so that it gets a better mileage at the expense of a somewhat lower speed. Or, yet another possibility: keep the Trev like it is but limit its speed to that of the Fritchle.

If we want more speed, we have to sacrifice range. If we want more range, we have to sacrifice speed. If we want to keep the (energy) costs of the charging infrastructure within reasonable limits, we have to sacrifice speed or size. The lesson to be learned here, is that we cannot have it all: range, speed and size. And yet, that’s what we are trying to do.

© Kris De Decker (edited by Vincent Grosjean)

Comments

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Rhamnus

We may not have it all, but it’s what we want and therefore the industry is working hard to satisfy our demands, even though they do not make much sense sometimes…

Yann Schutter

i would say many of the http://www.zapworld.com/ products meet your criteria (lightweight minimalist construction, cheap, speed limiters..)

People are buying them too.. I know there are several here in philadelphia.

,thank you for the great article

AJS

Is the TRIAC a consideration for the commuting crowd?

http://www.greenvehicles.com

$25K, 100 miles/charge, 2-seater. Not for everyone, but certainly making the electric car a reality today.

kris de decker

@ AJS & Yann Schutter: these vehicles are definitely much better options, although I would like to see more detailed specifications. When manufacturers leave out some information, I am a bit sceptical about their claims (especially in the case of “greenvehicles”).

Personally, I would prefer a 1900 electric. For one thing, it would get me all the girls (I would not be invisible and I would pass slowly).

Jim

According to Wikipedia, the land speed record up until 1899 was with EVs, topping out at 65 mph, so EVs were hardly “comparatively slow, heavy,”

kris de decker

Jim: that’s correct. The “Jamais Contente”, driven by Camille Jenatzy, set a new land speed record of 65 mph over a course of 1 kilometre. However, the batteries were destroyed in the run, and the vehicle had to be towed home. The same thing happened with the other, competing electric vehicles. So, high speeds were indeed possible, but not for practical purposes.

Source: A.J. Wallis-Tayler, 1905 (see the links at the bottom of the article).

See a replica of the “Jamais Contente” here: http://green.autoblog.com/2010/01/12/detroit-2010-electric-landspeed-car-races-onto-the-show-floor/

DC

Thats an important point, how current EV builders are loading up EV’s with energy sucking devices whos only real purposes is to drain the battery that much quicker. The leaf is a perfect example. Check out of all its “connectivety crap” and all the extra fluff it comes with. You could probably remove 1/2 the junk nissan has it comeing with and never miss it. The fact their useing Li-on that requires an elaborate BMS to keep it from catching fire is not helping either (A problem NiHM battery do not share). However, this issue is not confined to EV’s. ICE’s efficency has’nt change much in a century either (even dropped!), for exactly the same reason. Current ICE vehicles are over-built and over-engineered in exactly the same manner.

As to the ‘why’ EV’s were supersed by the dirty ICE, this line I think needs to be expanded on:

But, at the heart of the failure of the early electric car lay the limited capacity of the storage battery.

While there is some truth to this, it implies the early failure of EV was in main, due to technical issues. This is a very limtied view. The auto industry, then as now, was very much a creation of the Oil companies of the day. They required a product that would vastly increase the use of their toxic product and the ICE was the “horse” so to speak, they were going to back. It was trivial for them to support the construction of purpose-built transportation system of paved roads, paved with oil handily enough, nor was it hard to provide whatever inducements to goverments to promote the growth of the ICE at the expense of all others. The second problem, is the actual EV makers, never had the political savvy or connections that big oil\auto enjoyed. EV makers spent more time competing with each other and engaging in wasteful infighting than prometing the growth of there superior product. In short, they were outmanueverd into oblivion by the oil trusts of the day. The EV makers did not have a “Big Oil” backing them like the ICE auto cartel did. There was no, “Big Electron” :) so to speak to ensure the EV’s on-going sucess. Mores the pity.

Great article over all.

kris de decker

@ DC: you are right to state that the failure of early EV’s was not only due to technical issues. The other issues are very well described in two books you can find in the list of sources: “The electric vehicle and the burden of history” by David Kirsch & “The electric vehicle: technology and expectations in the automobile age” by Gijs Mom. Addressing these topics would have made the article above much too long, so I have summarized them in the sentence “The manufacturers of early electric cars made several strategic mistakes” (they tried to organize themselves, together with electricity companies, but they failed - probably for the reasons you mention).

Besides, the oil industry took advantage of the limited range of electrics to promote gasoline automobiles as “adventure” and “freedom” machines, although most people never drove more than 100 miles from home. If electrics would have had the same range as gasoline powered cars, they could not have done that. So technical and non-technical issues are closely related.

What concerns your first point: indeed, the same thing happened with ICE’s. See for instance: http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2008/06/citroen-2cv.html But the issue is more critical for EV’s because of their limited range.

Mark Mitchell

The recent advances in ICE tech make possible conventional vehicles with embodied fuel consumptions far lower than electrics. Even very light small speed limited vehicles cannot begin to compete on that score with zero emission 60-80mpg conventionally powered vehicles in the near offing. Plus they have none of the limitations of any pure electric either current or contemplated. A small four passenger vehicle with modern safety features and conveniences, high-tech direct-injection small engines, highway mileages in excess of 60mpg, and prices in the range of two thirds to half of any currently contemplated electric are available now in Europe and soon here.

A small upscale ICE vehicle in the same price range as the iMiev would be a hyper-economical zero-emissions luxury vehicle by comparison while suffering exactly none of the Nissan’s limitations. That is one extremely tall order for any electric to match, to put it as mildly as possible, now or in the remotely foreseeable future. Considering how much lower the embodied fuel consumption costs would be for the ICE, and its piddling usage of conventional fuels, it’s a no-brainer for anyone with any serious appreciation of cost effectiveness in any terms one cares to discuss. And these vehicles are not “just around the corner”. They are here right now.

Bob Fearn

The best electric car article I have ever read and I’ve read a lot of them. Thanks.

Michael Murphy

It seems small and hyper efficient internal combustion engines will still be the best alternative. Something along the lines of the http://www.loremo.com

michal

Perfect article, however there is also Scenario 3: slight modification of current EV by adding troley on the top. Then from infrastructure point of view we need only to add the power cables above the main roads and highways.

If the car is using the main road, the power can be taken from above cables and batteries can be recharged simultaniously…

Because the driving pattern for most of drivers is too get on the main road ASAP. This should solve the speed and maximum distance.

Only guestion is overriding or passing the car attached to troley.

kris de decker

@ Michael & Mark: The Loremo website does not give any data, but nevertheless I think you are right. Downsizing the ICE vehicle could save considerably more energy than driving large electric cars. This is not to say that electrics have no future at all. For instance, they would do a good job as small delivery and utility vehicles where the route is fixed (a use that was much more succesful in the past).

Theoretically, they could also serve as small range city cars, but who needs a car to just drive in a city? There are so many more efficient options to organize transport in a densely populated region (and many of these could work even better if there were no cars).

We call the electric car “green”, but it leaves most problems caused by the automobile unresolved: a very inefficient use of public space, a pushing aside of other transport means because of its influence on regional planning, the almost complete elimination of public life on the streets, the limited mobility of children, etcetera.

These are all inherent problems of the automobile, we cannot solve them, no matter how the cars are powered. And since my articles suggest that even the energy savings of electrics are rather doubtful (embodied energy of the batteries, embodied energy of charging infrastructure), it means that we are wasting our time with all our talk on EV’s.

Agreed, they don’t need oil, but they’re going to need lots of coal. Oil spill or coal ash spill, what you prefer?

The solution to the problem called “cars” is not “electric cars” but “less cars” or “no cars”. First step: downsize the ICE-vehicle. Second step: limit its use as much as you can. No other plan would save more energy than this.

Michael Murphy

Here are some specs on the Loremo: http://www.loremo.com/englisch/02der02_varianten.htm Engine/Power: 2 cyl turbo-diesel /28 HP Top speed:106 mph Mileage Rating: 120 mpg Price: 17,000 euros

kris de decker

Thanks, Michael. I think the most striking feature of the vehicle is its lame acceleration: 0-63mph in 20 seconds, in spite of its sporty looks. Now cut that top speed by half and the mileage can only get better.

Seriously, why is the European Union investing in a vehicle that does 106 mph (or 137 mph for the more powerful Loremo GT) while they have set the speed limit far below that? This concept goes in the right direction, but we’re not there yet… (probably what you meant by “something along the lines of”).

Interesting also that the more powerful version (Loremo GT) gets not 120 but 80 mpg, simply because it has a more powerful engine that makes it accelerate twice as fast.

Kris De Decker

More comments at “The Oil Drum”, “Metafilter” & “Reddit”:

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6480

http://www.metafilter.com/92081/The-status-quo-of-electric-cars-better-batteries-same-range

http://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/c5yhk/the_status_quo_of_electric_cars_better_batteries/

internete

¿Cuales son las diferencias entre los coches electricos de 1900 y 2010?

1.- Los coches de 1900 iban a 30 Km/h, los de 2010 a 130 km/h.

2.- El precio del litro de gasolina en 1900 era de 3 centimos de euro actuales. El precio actual es de 1.15 euros

3.- Las baterias de 1900 eran de plomo-acido con una vida media de 500 ciclos de recarga. Las de 2010 son de litio con 3000 ciclos de recarga.

4.- Las baterias de 1900 ocupaban todo un maletero (como puede verse en la foto), y alimentaban coches de 2 plazas, mientras que las de 2010 van en el suelo del vehiculo, bajando el centro de gravedad y dejan libre un buen maletero y 5 plazas para personas.

5.- En 1900 no habia una red electrica como tal. Se estaba empezando a desplegar, pero resultó mas facil hacer millonarios a los gasolineros, porque resultaba mas facil poner una gasolinera, que tirar una linea de alta tension. En 2010 hay electricidad por todas partes. Estos gasolineros millonarios se encargaron durante todo el siglo XX de hacer que cualquier avance en vehiculos electricos no fuera promocionado ni financiado.

6.- En 1900 habia cuatro gatos investigando el coche electrico, al igual que practicamente durante todo el siglo XX, porque los gasolineros convencieron a la gente de una “verdad absoluta: los coches electricos no son viables”. Verdad absoluta que aun siguen repitiendo como loros algunos foros pro-fosil. En 2010 se calcula que hay alrededor de 30.000 investigadores, cientificos y tecnicos afinando el coche del futuro.

7.- La prensa del siglo XX dejo claro que el coche que molaba era el de gasolina, y este es el que la gente compraba. Si surgia alguna noticia sobre coches electricos, se la silenciaba a golpe de talon. En 2010 tenemos internet y no se pueden silenciar las noticias.

internete 1234567

PD: ¿Sigo?… Creo que no, que no hace falta, porque los que han escrito este “articulo” sin duda conducen hoy un coche de gasolina, contaminando innecesariamente el aire que respiran sus hijos y los hijos de los vecinos, pero tienen tan claro como yo, que el proximo coche que adquieran, sera un coche electrico.

kris de decker

I think it would be more useful if you publish comments in English. Most people here don’t read Spanish.

Anyway, to start with your last paragraph, where you write that “those who wrote this article obviously drive a gasoline powered car”. You are wrong. I stopped driving cars altogether since I started this blog. I also don’t fly. I walk, I bike, I take the metro and I take the train. And it takes me everywhere I want to go.

You did not get the message of the article. I wrote that there is no future for electric cars if we stick to the heavy, fast and gadget-loaden vehicles of today. If we want EV’s to be a reality, we have to downsize the vehicles. But that is something that you obviously are not prepared to do.

Concerning your other points.

  1. 1900 cars drove at 30km/h, 2010 cars drive at 130 km/h”: True, and that’s what the whole article is about. It’s better performance that has impeded any real progress.

2, 3 & 5: this is all mentioned in the article.

  1. Wrong. The Fritchle only took two passengers, but as you can read in the text, a few years later electric cars appeared that could seat 5 people comfortably and still had a similar range to that of today’s EV’s. See the overview on early electric cars.

  2. You underestimate the efforts that went into developing EV’s in the early 1900s. I came across at least a hundred different companies that sold them. Though you’re probably right that even more people are researching them today.

  3. And you can’t silence the critics of EV’s either.

I took a look at your website, and your plans to equip Spain with a charging infrastructure in a kind of open-source way (people offering their house, company or property to be a charging point on the map). It’s a good idea, but I think in this country the need for lighter vehicles is even larger than anywhere else. People drive like maniacs, and most inhabited parts of the country are mountainous or at least hilly (not to mention that Spanish have the habit of designing very steep roads). Range will be extremely short if we don’t downsize the cars.

DC

I’ve noted a number of negative comments on your article(elsewhere) that run along the lines of, “He expects to stick modern batteries in cars that go 20kph, have no windshields, seatbelts, or even doors.” These types of comments are typcial of fossil-fuel shills. Im pretty sure you are NOT endorsing modern EV’s drop doors, seatbelts, windshields or bumpers or other things we consider important. I cant help notice as time goes on, that despite what people think, there has been little real progress in either ICE’s or EV’s. Problem is, try to convince most people of that. Most people in industrial civilization are programmed practically from birth to assume(uncritically) this years model is better than last years, thus by extension, models from 10 or 20 years must have been death-traps by comparison. There is very little innovation in ICE’s these days, because the industry has no desire or need to innovate. Heavy, carelessly driven ICE’s consume nearly as much fuel today as the simpler iron clunkers of decades ago. This suits the Oil side of the Auto-Oil Cartel just fine. They load there gas-powered trash-bins up with DVD players and MP3 players, GPS or keyless entry -and then call the vehicles advanced and “safer”. The problem is, once mechanically simple and robust saftey features are incorporated, you really do hit a point of dimishing returns rather quickly. For example, seatbelts are a cheap, simple and effective safely device, but since most (americans) view selt-belt laws as a violation of their civil rights, someone came up with the air-bag. A complex, costly and ulitmately no more effective device, simply because ameicans were too lazy to put on a simple belt that could save their lives.

Most people are simply unable to distinguish “innovation” (however defined) from “marketing”.

But the foolish, often promoted idea that your article promotes simply sticking modern batteries into ancient vehicles aside, I myself have decidely mixed feelings about EV’s. For one, I think they are a good idea, we should have had them right from the very beginning. At this point in the game though, I have almost come to conculsion that it may be too late for EV;s. Not because of there “shorter” range, or they are “too quiet” and will lay waste to the blind population as some oil-shills suggest. Nor is it even because of the higher up-front cost over a gas-powered trash bin. It’s simply because we wasted too much time and energy building a society that cares more about its gas-guzzling trash bins than people. We’ve wasted over a century on the ICE and I’m no longer certain that EVs, no matter how many we get out there,can ever neutralize, much less reverse the negative impact of the ICE. That aside, I most likely would buy one, (if it were even possible) and would get to work ripping out all the worthless junk modern companies are convinced that “consumers demand”. I myself dont ever remeber demanding gas-powered vehicles.

Lighter, slower, simpler will overcome complex, heavy and over-built ever time. Unless of course, all your allowed to buy is heavy complex and overbuilt….

Joe Viocoe

Great article

A couple points that I believe are in error:

1) “The “EPA-city” range that the modern EV’s advertise, is based on an average speed of 20 mph or 31 km/h - below the 25 mph top speed of the Fritchle, and almost exactly the same as the speed at which the vehicle could drive 100 miles on one charge.”

You downplay the term “average”… which is a very important part of the city cycle. THe Fritchle could not complete the city cycle at all because of the acceleration needed past 45 mph during parts of the cycle. It is important to realize that the 1901 EV cannot compete at all with 2010 standards for driving.

2) You exaggerate the electrical needs of microcomputers, displays, and power accessories. You did not give any voltage or amperes. If you did, it would show how little power they consume. In the Leaf, these accessories can be powered by a small photovoltaic cell panel on the spoiler. Heating, Headlights, and A/C of course are significant consumers of power

3) Using the Tesla Roadster claim of a $30,000 battery is nonsense! It is an figure that has nothing to do with actual cost of producing the battery. Tesla sells a 53 kwh Roadster replacement pack for $12,000. That price is based on a projected cost of production. Then you equated the selling price with an arbitrary consumption value. Not using actual data from the Tesla factory (which doesn’t exist yet since Roadsters are hand built).

The Carnegie Mellon web tool is nice… but you cannot get accurate information since battery factories are not at volume production. I will spare you the lecture of economies of scale because I am sure you are knowledgeable. The only difference is that you don’t seem to think they apply to automotive batteries. They don’t yet, but Nissan, Panasonic, and Toshiba are all going to increase battery production soon. When they are produce on assembly lines, like cars are, instead of hand built, the Carnegie Mellon will have to revise their models.

4) Since you used Tesla, an American company, please know that U.S. Households use about 11,000 kwh per year. So even if each pack used 23,000 kwh of energy to produce… that would be only 2 years in the U.S. However, if you use $12,000. The result becomes about 9 months. See how you can make arbitrary numbers mean anything.

Joe Viocoe

Regarding the article as a whole:

The problem with the electric car is “ECONOMICS”. You do reference it quite a bit and are correct in many of the statements made. But I need to point out that your overall conclusion is not quite accurate.

The biggest problem with EVs now and today is the fact that it has an “alternative” product the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE). Since EVs do not exist in a vacuum, it must compete in the marketplace against gasoline power. As you point out, the limitations of EVs is the cause of it’s failure to compete. The EV must be priced LOWER than a comparable ICEV to account for those limitation. But the costs of batteries have always been too high.

Progress has been made. Both EVs and ICEVs have progressed and so has the market demand for faster, safer, heavier cars. So it seems that both drive trains have not gone far in comparison. And if everything stays the same… that trend will continue, as you have written, and EVs will not mature.

My point can be described by a line that you have quoted:

Everywhere in the history of industrial progress, invention has followed close in the wake of necessity” (Electrical Review, 1901).

The problem has been this… The ICE “invention”, and subsequent improvements, could always handle the “necessity” of the market. Convenience of infrastructure, power, reliability, freedom, etc. And all for a low cost car and very low cost fuel.

But, in the 21st century, we have some NEW “necessities”. Emission standards, national security, and the rising price of Oil. The tables are flipping. And if you don’t believe me, take a look at the oil prices. The cost of production of Battery Electric Vehicles are dropping, the cost of electricity has remained relatively stable, and the cost of operating an EV has gone down. This trend will continue… while the cost of ownership of a gasoline vehicle will start to climb faster and faster.

If this makes no sense to you, take a look at the number of people who traded in gas guzzlers for hybrids in 2008 alone. This is NOT 1901! The days of the Beverly Hillbilies finding cheap and easily extractable oil are long gone. The tables and the tides have turned. A new economic model is being written as we speak. Since “necessity” is begining to out pace the capabilities of the ICE, the BEVs will finally rise.

The commitment that the major automakers are showing now is not confined to flyers, show cars, demo vehicles and concept cars… they are tooling factories, opening battery manufacturing facilities, taking orders for hundreds of thousands of buyers. They are not just “talking” about building charging infrastructure (like hydrogen highways), but the chargers are being installed. Sure, they are concentrating their efforts to select markets like Nissan is doing, but they are getting the message that this next decade will NOT be like the others. They are laying down some serious investments.

The success of the Hybrids has shown that there IS a Path to Electrification of the automobile. In the early days, there was either EV or ICE… but nothing that had both benefits. The Plug In Hybrid (PHEV) is the bridge that will finally close the gap. People who want to drive electric and save on gasoline can still have all the security of an ICE. The early 20th century DID NOT HAVE THAT!

In closing, you clearly identified many of the similarities of THEN and NOW…. but you ignored the many differences. And these differences are the primary reasons why Automakers and policymakers are finally taking EVs seriously and begining to invest in the change. It has been a long pregnancy with several “false labors”, but the baby is almost ready to be born!

kris de decker

@ DC & Joe Viocoe: thanks for your thoughtful comments. You make very good points.

Joe, there is one thing I would like to discuss further. It is correct that the Carnegie Mellon tool is not the most suited to calculate the embodied energy of a battery, as you note and as I stated in the article. I used it because I thought it was the only way to calculate the energy needed to manufacture the battery.

However, in the meantime, a commenter over at The Oil Drum gave me a link to study that includes an LCA of an Li-ion battery.

http://www.transportation.anl.gov/pdfs/HV/458.pdf

After translating their figures to the 450 kg battery of the Tesla Roadster (and following a mail to the study’s authors to get more information on their calculation methods), the result turned out to be 23,000 to 29,000 kWh, depending on the assumed lifetime mileage of the battery. This corresponds to the figures we get by using the Carnegie Mellon tool.

The discussion starts here (until they start a lengthy discussion about kWh versus Joules): http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6480#comment-625755

And continues here: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6480#comment-626871

If you find any flaw in the calculations, or have another study that sheds more light on the issue, let us know. I am very interested to know the correct embodied energy of electric car batteries.

Note that my comparison between the embodied energy of an EV battery and household electricity consumption turns out to be misleading, since both are stated in kWh but to be correct the household figure should be multiplied by three (because in an electricity plant around 65 percent of energy gets lost). I will correct this paragraph (and some other minor mistakes) once the comments at the Oil Drum are closed.

Joe Viocoe

continued discussion on Autobloggreen

http://green.autoblog.com/2010/05/24/milburn-unveiled-1-000-ev-with-100-mile-range-swappable-batter/#comments

Joe Viocoe

I think the reason why he picked the roadster… is very simple.

It is a VERY expensive car… quoted to have a VERY expensive battery…

and is hand built using 6800 laptop batteries cells.

So he was able to use the most extreme case of battery production to justify his point. Ignoring the fact that automotive batteries will not be built in the way Tesla has been producing their Roadster packs.

Factories with serial production in high volume (Nissan, Toshiba, Panasonic, etc) will be making batteries in a completely different way than before. And his Carnegie Mellon University tool cannot anticipate that.

Automobile engines and gasoline production is a well known process. A process refined (no pun) over 100 years. And yes, it is VERY energy intensive. But being a mature industry, it is as efficient as it is ever going to get.

Batteries for the 21st automobile, are just now going through labor pains. Hit the epidural, spread the legs, and push baby, push!

Kris De Decker

Joe, I did not pick the Tesla Roadster to make a point about the embodied energy of batteries. The subject of my article is the range of electric cars, then and now. Since the Tesla Roadster has the best range of all electric cars available today, much better than that of the Nissan Leaf or the Mitsubishi, I cannot afford not to talk about this car.

I did not claim that the embodied energy of batteries makes electric cars by definition a bad choice compared to ICE cars. It all depends on the size of the battery.

The high embodied energy of the Tesla Roadster battery further supports my claim that it is important to downsize electric vehicles if we want them to be less damaging to the environment than ICE cars. When I talk about the TREV vehicle some paragraphs later, which has a battery weighing only 45 kg (compared to 450 kg for the Tesla), I note that this car has “the substantial advantage of holding a battery that is much less energy-intensive to produce”. There is no doubt that this car will be a better choice than any ICE vehicle.

On a side note: you keep criticizing the Carnegie Mellon LCA tool while in the meantime I gave you another link that shows that the embodied energy of a 450kg battery is as high or even higher than what the tool says. And this study does not deal with a Tesla Roadster battery, but with a much lighter battery from a plug-in hybrid car. I just multiplied the data to make them correspond to a weight of 450 kg. So your comment about the energy-intensive manufacturing methods of Tesla misses the point.

I also want to make clear that I have published all comments you submitted here. In the comments at Autobloggreen you seem to suggest to have sent me many more.

NM64

You missed one pretty major thing about the Tesla: http://www.teslamotors.com/blog4/?p=70

If you drive 20 mph, you get 400 miles of range. If you don’t trust that chart, remember that the current EV land record (set by a Tesla) is 313 miles, and the driver stayed around 35 mph - this matches the chart very closely.

Also, about batteries, you completely forgot about the actual motivator behind their improved development - the electronics industry, something that has only existed for 20-30 years now, and is only going to get bigger. This is providing the push for battery technology development that could be seen as a parallel to ICE development.

kris de decker

You missed one pretty major thing about the Tesla”

No, I didn’t. You have to compare apples to apples. You are talking about a hypermiling record. So you have to compare it to the hypermiling records of the early 20th century:

Already in 1899, two American engineers covered 100 miles (160 km) on a single charge. In 1909, Emil Gruenfeldt of the Baker Motor Vehicle Company covered 160.8 miles (259 km) on a single charge in his Baker Electric Roadster. Two years later, he beat his earlier mark by travelling 201.6 miles (324 km) without recharging the batteries. Data of French record runs name a range of 190.76 miles (307 km) as early as 1901, set at an average speed of 17 km/h by Louis Krieger, a record that stood until 1942. So, again, even though the Tesla shows progress, it is not as spectacular as you would expect.

Concerning your second point, the electronics. It’s interesting you mention it, because it makes today’s batteries look even worse compared to their predecessors, not better. Lithium-ion batteries can only exist thanks to electronics. Lead-acid batteries did not need them. This is not doing the embodied energy of today’s batteries any good, because electronics are very energy-intensive to produce. See this article for more info:

http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2009/06/embodied-energy-of-digital-technology.html

Joe Viocoe

Thank you for continued discussion. All I said is that my comment was “yet to be posted”. I knew you were going to get around to it eventually. I did not doubt you, although others may have.

you have to compare apples to apples.” -Kris de decker

But you through in a pomegranate. Mileage usually equals miles per gallon… or some measure of fuel “economy”. The Tesla Roadster does NOT have the best “mileage”. It has one of the farthest “ranges” of any EV. The 244 mile range of the Roadster is a secondary effect. Tesla’s primary goal was acceleration. 0-60 in less than 4 seconds. If you remember, before they took themselves too seriously as an automaker, they were simply trying to show that a super fast sports car can be zero emissions too. The Power density of the batteries that were available to them (18650 cells from laptops) was low. So they needed over 400 kg worth of them to push the Roadster’s 215 KW AC induction motor.

It just happened that when you have over 400 kg of Li-ion power, you also get a range of over 200 miles. They did not care if these sports car / environmental enthusiasts would need over 200 miles. These guys were putting down $100,000 per car. They could afford a second car to do their 100+ mile trips with. The benefit of the long range, is that Tesla owners can go to faraway Tesla rallies. They designed the pack to be a Porsche killer on the track…. and you want to use THAT as a baseline for all production EVs to show how “energy-intensive” the manufacturing process is. And they have no plans to put either it’s 53kwh pack or the car on an assembly line. If you what to compare the Tesla Roadster to something… compare it to a similarly priced and volume super car…. like a Bugatti or something. How much energy does it take to hand-make a Bugatti?

The Nissan Leaf gets just as good “miles/kwh” and is nearly ready for volume production. If you re-calculate the numbers for a 24 kwh pack at $8,300 USD… what do you get? Which “plug-in hybrid” car? Because none of them have actually reached serial production.

My argument was NOT that the Carnegie Mellon (or the other) tools were inaccurate or bad in anyway. Just that using those tools BEFORE full scale manufacturing even begins is “misleading”. The manufacturing of test, prototypes, concepts and “less than 1,000/yr volume” cars is not suitable for comparison! At the very least, you must use the projected costs when full production is reached.

Joe Viocoe

Agreed that the Li-ion batteries require additional electronics to control temperature and charging parameters. The comparison between low-cost Lead Acid (PbA) batteries is, again, misleading. People convert their gas cars into EVs in their garages all the time. And they are very willing to talk about their mistakes and triumphs.

So Lead-acid batteries are cheap… is that all this “lowtechmagazine” cares about? What about quality, performance, longevity? Lithium Ion battery users do have to spend additional $$$ on advanced control electronics… but the batteries last SO much longer than Lead-Acid. They perform SO much better too. If you have to replace those lead acid batteries too often, then it winds up costing more over the lifetime.

Sure, you can get away with it if you limit speed to 25 mph, and cut other corners. But some things are worth the extra “embodied” energy costs. But if “low tech magazine” is only about “reductionism”, then you’re on the right track. It seems the final point of this article is to convince people to accept slower vehicles with less performance.

Just don’t expect people to go for it. Nobody wants to go backwards.

Kris De Decker

It seems the final point of this article is to convince people to accept slower vehicles with less performance.”

Exactly. Slower, or lighter.

Just don’t expect people to go for it. Nobody wants to go backwards.”

Speak for yourself, Joe. Both in the comments below and in the comments elsewhere there were people who agreed with my point. You might be a majority, but you’re not everybody.

They designed the pack to be a Porsche killer on the track…. and you want to use THAT as a baseline for all production EVs to show how “energy-intensive” the manufacturing process is.”

You’re not listening to what I am saying. I refer again to comment #25.

The Tesla Roadster does NOT have the best “mileage”. It has one of the farthest “ranges” of any EV.”

Corrected. But you’re nitpicking here.

Joe Viocoe

Okay… I shouldn’t have used an absolute such as “nobody”. I will retract that. The “majority” is more accurate.

As an Engineer, I don’t value “minimalism” but I do efficiency. Rather than try to convince people to reduce speed, performance, or safety… I find ways to meet the consumer’s demands with as little waste as possible. We probably agree on matters such as weight. Drivers don’t need mass, just safety and cargo capacity. And that may add a little weight, but drivers don’t inherently demand the weight. Speed, on the other hand, they want more. I agree, up to a safe standard. Highway speeds. Performance, well, they demand more as well. That argument is more of a philosophical one. I want to focus more on mass market, not dreams of enthusiasts.

Your choice of the Tesla Roadster was a VERY far stretch from reality, regardless of your intentions. What is the “embodied” energy of the Nissan Leaf pack (24 kwh @ $8,300 USD)? Which is closer to the topic of this article since it is about a 100 mile car with a top speed of 25 mph, and not a $100,000 racecar meant to beat out a Porsche.

I don’t think it is nitpicking to clarify the difference between range and economy. For an EV, “range” is a premium like “horsepower” is for a gasoline car. The automotive industry will not produce EVs with “range” similar to gas cars. You will not see 300 mile EVs. It will not happen because the paradigm of refueling is opposite (charge everyday for just that day, instead of fueling for a week’s use). PHEVs will be the solution for longer range needs.

The proper analysis will be for 100 mile EVs with costs reflecting “FULL” volume production. Which has not been done.

DC

RE #29: “Lithium Ion battery users do have to spend additional $$$ on advanced control electronics… but the batteries last SO much longer than Lead-Acid. They perform SO much better too.”

I just couldnt just let this nugget go. Li-on is so much better compared to what exactly? Li-on did NOT become the auto-cartels battery of choice because it is a ‘better’ or cheaper or longer-lasting chemistry. It was chosen precisely because it is expensive, environmentally hazardous, impossible to recycle in any meaningful way, and has a very short shelf-life. Does any of this remind you of anything? Li-on is a designed-to-fail battery. Claims that Li-on EV packs will last 5-10 years are based entirely on fantasy.

Li-on has all of the attributes the auto-oil cartel deems acceptable. Li-on has a short life cycle, thus it will provide a constant revenue stream to auto-makers in much the same way the 1000’s of largely unnecessary mechanical parts or electronic fluff do in current ICEs. They are expensive. Li-on is an inherently expensive chemistry due to all the safely controls that need to be built into it.

Haven’t you ever wondered why laptop replacement batteries are so expensive? Same idea. The high cost of Li-on also insures it is less of a threat to the ICE. Li-on powered EV’s will always be expensive, thus keeping the market safe for cheap, gas-powered trash bins. Li-on batteries cannot be recycled, only disposed of. Yet another moderately toxic substance that will clog our waste disposal stream.

Li-on’s alleged superior preformance has NEVER been demonstrated in any real-world conditons over an extended period of time. By this I mean at least one decade or more of reliable proven service. If you want to know what the future of your Li-on EV holds: just look at your laptop as an example. You can take a Li-on battery out of a notebook, store it according to recommended guidelines, and within a few years, it will be worthless, compeletey unable to hold a charge, even if NEVER used.

THAT is why the industry loves Li-on so much. It is a battery made to fail. Proven reliable, long-lasting chemistries like the NiHM or NiFE are nowhere to be seen. Either subject to patent hinderance by companies like chevron or simply buried or forgotten, instead were told Li-on is the battery of the future. A future that looks exactly like the past strangely enought. Planned obsolence for the battery age.

The other thing some of you dont seem to grasp or even question, is why Tesla had to hand-wire thousands of laptop batteries togther in the first place. That is not something a engineer or manufacturer imo, would go out of there way to do, just to prove it could be done. I would think, if Telsa could have simply bought large-format NiHM or even the technically inferior Li-on packs on the open market to power its car, why wouldn’t they just do that instead?

Of course, that gets you get into the murkey, surreal world of just how hard it is to actually source large-format battery packs on the so-called “open market”. What companies do make battery packs virtually to a one, refuse to sell them to anyone for auto-motive applications, or provide such impossible conditions of sale that almost no one can, or will bother. That subject alone is worth an article.

Joe Viocoe

I just couldnt let this nugget go. Li-on is so much better compared to what exactly?”

I said Lead acid. Read please.

It was chosen precisely because it is expensive, environmentally hazardous, impossible to recycle in any meaningful way, and has a very short shelf-life.”

3 out of 4 wrong! You must be trying for a record. You have obviously been led astray by lies. These are NOT laptop batteries. When you connect those Battery management electronics, the lifespan is increased more than double. Li-ion batteries have been thoroughly tested and 10 years for automotive batteries is proven. Costs are coming down to $350/kwh which gives the Nissan Leaf an $8,000 pack… which cost about the same as a 180 hp engine + 6sp auto transmission.

why Tesla had to hand-wire thousands of laptop batteries togther in the first place”

Because the Roadster was designed in 2004, when nobody had any Li-ion for EVs yet. They had to take what WAS available, and cheapest.

Li-on batteries cannot be recycled, only disposed of.”

Every automaker that produces an EV with Li-ion batteries will have a life cycle replacement program to properly recycle the pack. So far, no automotive Lithium packs have been thrown away. Nissan just announced that their packs will still have 70% - 80% capacity after 10 years of normal use. And they plan to utilize used packs in power backup systems for years after that. Then, they can be recycled for their Lithium.

It is not a conspiracy! Stop trying to scare people just because you wear a tinfoil hat. Lithium Ion batteries for automobile applications are fairly new. Less than 10 years. We have to start somewhere. Lab tests are very conclusive regarding the degradation rates. Automakers are making warranties for 8 - 10 years for these packs. And Laptop batteries have little in common with car batteries. Lithium Ion cells that sit right next to a high temperature CPU, HDD, RAM, and GPU (if you’ve got one). And no BMS to control proper charge and discharge. You are very uninformed about the latest technology… probably because you ignore what is happening in the field and prefer to only see things that conform to your conspiracy theories.

NoProblemAtAll

we simply use green energy to manufacture and power batteries and they are green. and concerning the range: as the company state, we don´t drive long ways. therefore most people would rather choose a modern car with limited range than a more “basic” car with higher range, cuz they don´t need that much range.

EV´s rule!

concerning the embodied energy of a battery: Using the same tool you mentioned I got a very different result. About 2 tones of co2 for 30 thousand US Dollar. Which means that EV´s (when recharged with green energy)are still extremly environment-friendly!

http://www.eiolca.net/cgi-bin/dft/display.pl?hybrid=no&value=2155682221&newmatrix=US430CIDOC2002&second_level_sector=335911&first_level_sector=Storage+battery+manufacturing&key=3438115367&incdemand=30&demandmult=.001&selectvect=gwp&top=100

Rudi

I can’t help but wonder how many gallons of fuel is needed at the generating plant to drive an electric car one mile. With all the conversion losses from low to high to low voltages, delivery distance losses, and charging inefficiencies, not to mention battery and motor inefficiency, I bet it doesn’t look all that good. By the time the rubber meets the road IC engines may actually be far more efficient. The industry has been remarkably reticent about this issue.

Polly

Thank you for this article. This is something most “green” consumers don’t know; automotive history. They think we’re making progress with petrol-powered cars that get the same mileage as a Model T and electric cars that can’t beat 120 year-old records.

Don

I can do 20mph on my bicycle, range limited only by physical ability.

Kris De Decker

@ 35: Then you must have made a mistake. Or, explain me how you got your result…

Achmed Khammas

Maybe the best complete review on electric mobility (also solar and electrical boats, airplanes and airships) is in German. Starting here: http://www.buch-der-synergie.de/c_neu_html/c_11_01_mobile_anwendungen_geschichte_1.htm

Jim Coffed

Speed, size, range. Pick any 2 Better, faster, cheaper. Pick any 2 Airspeed, time, altitude. Pick any 2

Seems that there’s an engineering principle at work here

Kris De Decker

Finally, a life cycle analysis of electric cars:

http://www.notechmagazine.com/2012/10/life-cycle-analysis-of-electric-cars.html

Conclusion: Manufacturing one electric car takes as much energy as manufacturing two conventional automobiles:

In contrast with ICEVs, almost half of an EV’s life cycle global warming potential (GWP) is associated with its production. We estimate the GWP from EV production to be 87 to 95 grams carbon dioxide equivalent per kilometer (g CO2-eq/km), which is roughly twice the 43 g CO2-eq/km associated with internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEV) production. Battery production contributes 35% to 41% of the EV production phase GWP, whereas the electric engine contributes 7% to 8%. Other powertrain components, notably inverters and the passive battery cooling system with their high aluminum content, contribute 16% to 18% of the embodied GWP of EVs.”

Myrtonos

The only advantage left was the (potential) cleanliness and noiselessness of electric vehicles, the reason we want them back today.

Acutally, that wasn’t quite the only advantage that was left, then as of now, electric vehicles only needed one gear, and gearchange was the hardest part of driving, automatic transmission had not yet been invented, and the manual transmissions of the time were non-synchronised and requried double-declutching. And like most manual tranismission even today, each gearchange necessitated a pause in acceleration.

Furthermore, electric cars could be charged at home, and in praking spots, wheres petrol ones need refueling at dedicated service stations.

Also, electric cars were well suited to city driving, as there were no cold starts and the range of the batteries was sufficient for shorts trips, yet petrol cars still replaced them outright.

anders

Why not combine an Electric car with a trailer with a Wood gas driven Engine powering an Electric generator feeding the car att all times, even while driving, while burning gasfumes. There would be no need to put out the fire while parking since the charging is Active as long as burning is Active. This would improve range of car and efficiency of Wood gas burner.

Myrtonos

Perhaps the ability to charge at home and being easier to drive (no gear changes) were other reasons for the initial success of the electric car.

Sources (in order of importance):

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