Energy

Obama's Clean Car Chimera

Battery technology is still not good enough to jumpstart an electric car revolution

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"I am absolutely committed to working with Congress and the auto companies to meet one goal: the United States of America will lead the world in building the next generation of clean cars," declared President Barack Obama this week when he announced his administration's plan to nationalize the American automobile industry. What does he mean by "clean cars"? During the presidential campaign, candidate Obama promised to enact $7,500 tax credit for new plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV) cars, vowing to "put 1 million Plug-In Hybrid cars—cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon—on the road by 2015, cars that we will work to make sure are built here in America." In February, the promised $7,500 PHEV tax breaks were included in President Obama's $787 billion stimulus package.

Americans are already familiar with gas electric hybrid vehicles like Toyota's Prius, which uses nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries to power an electric motor that assists its gasoline motor and increases its gas mileage. The batteries are recharged by both the gasoline engine and by capturing energy used during braking (regenerative braking). For example, the EPA rates the Prius at 60 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 51 mpg on the highway. Introduced in 1997, over 1 million have been sold worldwide, 600,000 of them in the U.S. Despite their improved gas mileage, however, current generation hybrid automobiles, including the Prius, are still essentially gasoline powered vehicles.

That's where plug-in hybrid electric vehicles come in. PHEVs flip the current hybrid formula—instead of gas-powered cars assisted by electric motors and batteries, PHEVs will be electric-powered cars assisted by gasoline motors. Ideally, PHEVs would mostly run on electricity from batteries using their gasoline motors as range-extenders to charge the batteries after they've run out of juice. In a world of PHEVs, gasoline stations would go the way of livery stables since cars would get most of their energy by plugging them in at home at night or at parking garages and meters during work hours.

If most Americans switched to driving PHEVs, imports of foreign oil would fall. So would emissions of the greenhouse gases thought to be warming the planet. But by how much? A 2007 study by the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest Laboratory sketched out a scenario in which 84 percent of cars, light trucks, and SUVs (about 200 million vehicles) were PHEVs traveling an average of 33 miles per day on electric power. In that scenario the country would reduce its consumption of oil by 6.5 million barrels per day—which is equivalent to 52 percent of current U.S. petroleum imports. Greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by as much as 27 percent.

Will our freeways soon be clogged with high-tech cars propelled mostly by electricity? The floundering automaker, General Motors, has promised to bring its Chevy Volt PHEV to market by 2010. Not to be left out, Ford and Chrysler have also announced plans to sell PHEVs in the next couple of years. Big automakers around the world are also promising that consumers will be able to drive their plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles in the next 2 to 3 years. Among them are Nissan-Renault, Daimler-Benz, BMW, Mitsubishi, Toyota, and the Chinese manufacturer, BYD. In addition, numerous startups—including Tesla Motors, Think, Fisker, Aptera, Zenn, and Phoenix Motors—are hoping to do an end-run around the stodgy majors.

However, without a plentiful supply of reliable long-range batteries, all such promises of a glorious electrically driven future are just so much hot air. Conventional NiMH batteries are OK for the quick charge and discharge of today's gas-electric hybrids, but they can't hold enough charge to take a car very far on its own. For more distance, carmakers are looking to the same battery technology that animates our laptops and cell phones: lithium-ion batteries, which hold a much greater charge and weigh much less than NiMH or conventional lead-acid batteries.

Surveying the world, it is clear that foreign manufacturers are currently in the lead when it comes to making lithium-ion batteries. In January, GM announced that it would use lithium-ion batteries produced by the North American subsidiary of the Korean chemical giant, LG Chem, in its Chevy Volt. LG Chem beat out A123 Systems, a lithium-ion battery maker headquartered in Watertown, Massachusetts. In February, Ford announced that the batteries for its PHEV and electric vehicles would be supplied by a joint venture between Wisconsin-based Johnson Controls and the French battery producer Saft Groupe SA. The actual batteries will not be manufactured in the U.S., but in Saft's factory in Nersac, France.

To play catch up, the Obama administration's $787 billion stimulus package authorized the Department of Energy to spend $2 billion on grants for advanced battery research. In addition, would-be American battery manufacturers can partake of the $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program launched last September when the panic over the economic meltdown first took off.

Worldwide, this manufacturing optimistically adds up to—at most—enough to produce 1 to 2 million PHEVs per year by 2015. In 2007, automakers globally produced 70 million vehicles powered by standard internal combustion engines. The global fleet currently numbers 810 million vehicles, of which 240 million travel on American roads. Clearly, cars powered mostly by electricity will constitute a tiny proportion of the world's vehicles for some time to come.

What about further down the road? If Europe imposes stringent carbon controls on automobile emissions to address global warming, Wolfgang Bernhardt, a partner at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants in Stuttgart, Germany, told Automotive News in November, "I can see up to 3 percent of all cars being pure electrics by 2020, with a further 19 percent being plug-in hybrids." Alan L. Madian, director of consulting firm LECG, told The Washington Post that even with "heroic" assumptions that by 2030 new electric cars would only make up 50 percent of new vehicles being sold and only 8 percent of cars on the road.

The 2007 Department of Energy PHEV study found that when compared to 27.5 miles per gallon internal combustion vehicles, the break-even premium for a PHEV at $2.50 per gallon is $3,500 when electricity costs are $0.12 per kilowatt hour. At $3.50 per gallon, the premium rises to more than $6,500. Since batteries are expected to boost the average cost of each vehicle by as much $10,000, gasoline will have to cost more than $5.00 per gallon before PHEVs make economic sense to most drivers. Of course, generous federal subsidies can help overcome this financial disincentive. The government could also double or triple gasoline prices by imposing a substantial tax.

In 2006, an activist "documentary" about GM's ill-fated foray a decade ago into battery-powered cars, the EV1, asked, "Who killed the electric car?" The filmmaker offered an elaborate conspiracy theory involving oil companies, but the truth is that clunky inefficient batteries did the electric car in. And unless there is a spectacular breakthrough in electricity storage technology, clunky expensive batteries will likely kill the electric car this time, too.

Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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  1. First again!!!

    Kiss my feet!

  2. … and now that he is running GM, he will be making these “clean cars” himself.

  3. Strange. I can’t access the article. Anyways . . . clogged with hybrid electric vehicles? Where the hell is all this new electricity coming from? Were we building a plethora of power plants while I was on vacation last week?

  4. TofuSushi!!!

    *shakes fist in air*

  5. Were we building a plethora of power plants while I was on vacation last week?

    “I prefer a vehicle that doesn’t hurt Mother Earth. It’s a go-cart, powered by my own sense of self-satisfaction.”

  6. Epi,

    But what about the “smug” produced?

  7. Where the hell is all this new electricity coming from?

    In the case of the VOLT, there is an on-board power generation facility, in which an internal combustion engine (identical to the one which rotates, sans intermediation, the wheels in the Cobalt, I believe), spins a generator to produce electricity for the drive system.

    Three cheers for efficiency!

  8. P Brooks,

    Lies! Alchemy! The power of cold fusion is obviously at work here. Until they set the atmosphere on fire that is, then we are fucked.

  9. Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey discusses the chief obstacle to Obama’s dream of an electric car revolution.

    I haven’t RTFA yet, but let me give it a shot.

    Cost.
    Range.
    Comfort.
    Safety.
    Families of six.
    A/C in the summer.
    Heat in the winter.
    Infrastucture.

    IOW, Reality.

    Now I will RTFA and see how I did.

  10. J sub D,

    I rarely disagree with you but . . . families of six? Even four seems to be a big family these days. Then again I may simply be biased in that all my evidence is roughly 8 friends all with kids but never more than four.

  11. In related news, the White House confirmed earlier today that President Obama has nominated Joe Isuzu as his new Auto Czar.

  12. But what about the “smug” produced?

    Naga Sadow: Threadwinner

  13. Consider that much of the marginal demand for electricity is produced via imported fossile fuels, added to transmission losses, and batteries may not even be the biggest reason why this can’t work. Until fuel cells of appropriate energy density are available, this is DOA.

  14. In related news, the White House confirmed earlier today that President Obama has nominated Joe Isuzu as his new Auto Czar.

    How often does one run across David Leisure jokes? Well done.

  15. Naga,

    I preside over a family of six. And a minivan or SUV is required. Powered by my righteous indignation.

  16. I loved him best in Airplane.

  17. Pro Lib,

    Is that counting the only counting the ones you know about? I relegate you as an outlier!

  18. Whoa! How the fuck did I do that?

  19. I drove a hybrid car for the first time recently and I hated it. It felt slow and clunky and the total silence was creepy.

    I mean, the crushing sense of guilt one feels when driving a non-hybrid car (a.k.a. raping Gaia, etc) was lessened somewhat. Tradeoffs!

  20. It felt slow and clunky and the total silence was creepy.

    Are you sure you’re talking about a car?

  21. I fliped off a eletric car driver just last week. The light turned green and up the ramp to the interstate we went. I almost crashed straight into her ass. by the time she reached the top of the ramp, when she should have been clocking 60-70mph she was at 45 and me stuck behind her, she yellled at her rear view for me to stop tailgaiting, i yelled to myself that she needed to pick it up or i am gonna get railroaded by the 18 wheeler with a head of steam coming up the ramp, or trashed trying to merge into traffic going 20-30mph higher than i was at the top of the ramp. Until theese things can actually pick up speed, they are a hazard and should be scrapped

  22. I rarely disagree with you but . . . families of six? Even four seems to be a big family these days. Then again I may simply be biased in that all my evidence is roughly 8 friends all with kids but never more than four.

    Well, four kids is a family of six. Even if we dial back to 2 kids per family, is the Prius acceptable for that family vacation/weekend jaunt? Will soccor moms in their minivans be happy in their new government subsidized microcars?

    Moms and dads, how often do you haul more than two passengers? Will you buy a car just for those occasions in addition to your green commuting machine or will you just say “Fuck it, get the minivan”? A two car family with one Prius type for work and a full-sized sedan/wagon/minivan for all your other needs (I’m going to home depot for some lumber and the garden supply place for a few flats of annuals) I can see. Once you start considering the realities of suburban or rural family life a vehicle that actually can haul people and things is a necessity.

    People who drive F-150s to work do it because they perceive that they need a practical vehicle and don’t want the added expense of a commuting car.

  23. Are you sure you’re talking about a car?

    WHY does bad sex happen to good people? And, no, it can’t all be blamed on circumcision.

  24. Are you sure you’re talking about a car?

    You’re so sensitive. Don’t worry, it happens to everyone.

  25. Let’s put the cost-benefit angle aside for a moment and acknowledge that SpongePaul is grasping at straws. He didn’t get into an accident. People drive hybrids all the time without getting into accidents. However, using his overactive imagination, he has concocted an elaborate hypothetical wherein a hybrid might cause an accident.

    Oh, well. Let’s ban hybrids, then. After all, they’re unsettling to you and cause you to have accidents in the land of make believe. Let me call my senator.

  26. “The 2007 Department of Energy PHEV study found that when compared to 27.5 miles per gallon internal combustion vehicles, the break-even premium for a PHEV at $2.50 per gallon is $3,500 when electricity costs are $0.12 per kilowatt hour.”

    I expect actual premium will be even more than that because electricity costs will be going up – what with Obama stomping all over coal fired power plants with his carbon cap and trade schemes.

    As I recall, nationally we get about 50% of our electricity from burning coal.

  27. And unless there is a spectacular breakthrough in electricity storage technology, clunky expensive batteries will likely kill the electric car this time, too.

    But what about the superdupercapacitors, which charge in seconds, and allow slow, steady discharge (as opposed to a lightning bolt)? I read about them on teh intertubez, so they must be real. And they weigh, like, *nothing* dude!

  28. hey jw gacy i was not overimagining and a theroetical. that actually happened, and had i not been paying attention, i would have flattened her at the gun. when i droped it down to get up to highwat speed and she does not, the distance closes fast. now i was at fault, but the cars suck, i was joking about banned. but he preformance needs to come up befroe they are not only economical to drive, but actually are drivable

  29. “People who drive F-150s to work do it because they perceive that they need a practical vehicle and don’t want the added expense of a commuting car.”

    That’s why I take the bus. I use my F-150 on the weekend for home improvement. Just picked up some 10-foot lengths of PVC on Sunday. Big plumbing job. Try hauling that in a Volt.

  30. “People who drive F-150s to work do it because they perceive that they need a practical vehicle and don’t want the added expense of a commuting car.”

    That’s why I take the bus. I use my F-150 on the weekend for home improvement. Just picked up some 10-foot lengths of PVC on Sunday. Big plumbing job. Try hauling that in a Volt.

    I have only once lived somewhere that taking the bis/mass transit was remotely practical for my work commute. I’ve lived in around a dozen domiciles. I certainly consider it when practical, it usually isn’t.

  31. cars would get most of their energy by plugging them in at home at night

    I guess that excludes the millions who don’t live in single-family dwellings with secure garages.

  32. I rarely disagree with you but . . . families of six? Even four seems to be a big family these days. Then again I may simply be biased in that all my evidence is roughly 8 friends all with kids but never more than four.

    There are seven in my family. I guess in the Brave New World of Obama, we won’t have to option of traveling in a single car (van), but will be required to buy a second car. And if we’re going on a long trip together, I doubt those batteries will do much for us other than weight down the cars and decrease our mpgs to the point where we about as much fuel as we would have if we’d just been able to carry everyone in a minivan.

    But maybe the simple fact of having so many children makes me an environmental criminal. I guess if I, my wife, and my surplus three children are interned in reeducation camps somewhere, we won’t be doing much driving of any sort, so it’s all good.

  33. “I have only once lived somewhere that taking the bis/mass transit was remotely practical for my work commute. I’ve lived in around a dozen domiciles. I certainly consider it when practical, it usually isn’t.”

    I’m fortunate (and no longer in Atlanta).

  34. Know it was stated earlier, but electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels. Looking forward to the plan (ha ha) regarding disposal of the depleted batteries!

    Anyways – I guess again that the market shouldn’t tell the automakers what is wanted, we have a much better expert!

  35. Seamus, your large family should be celebrated. We need more hard workers to cover all the financial obligations our masters are saddling us with. Get those kiddies to work!

  36. While battery-powered automobiles might reduce our oil consumption, would they not increase our electricity consumption and, thus, our coal consumption (which, if I am correct, is our primary electricity producer)? I ask because I always have doubted the environmental benefit of a technology that requires us to replace the usage of one fossil fuel for another.

  37. a technology that requires us to replace the usage of one fossil fuel for another

    Small, modern, safe nuclear plants would be the answer, but the viros don’t want to hear the “n” word while they’re saving the planet.

  38. Excellent. Electric powered trabants, coming soon.

    The good thing about this is that will drive GM into bankruptcy even sooner.

    Ford’s decision not to take the money is looking better and better.

  39. While battery-powered automobiles might reduce our oil consumption, would they not increase our electricity consumption and, thus, our coal consumption (which, if I am correct, is our primary electricity producer)?

    Remember that Il Duce has in store for us new, clean renewable energy in the form of windmills and solar panels – which cannot be placed in the most favorable places due to the environmentally-friendly NIMBY factor which will rise the cost of electricity to make running those cars prohibitively expensive, never mind the coal-burning plants which will not be able to pick up the slack.


    I ask because I always have doubted the environmental benefit of a technology that requires us to replace the usage of one fossil fuel for another.

    You are being blasphemous by doubting the wisdom of The Anointed one, our Fearless Leader and expert in Thermodynamics, Il Duce!

  40. I guess in the Brave New World of [Il Duce], we won’t have to option of traveling in a single car (van), but will be required to buy a second car.

    You’re mistaken – in the Brave New World that our Fearless Leader has in store for us, your 5 kids will be taken from you and allocated to good and obedient leftist families, since you are obviously not able to take care of all of them if you require a big Global-Warming-inducing vehicle to move them around.

  41. There are new lithium-ion batteries coming out that charge in 10 minutes. They use “nano-titanate” instead of graphite.

    http://www.azonano.com/News.asp?NewsID=2937

  42. As I recall, nationally we get about 50% of our electricity from burning coal.

    Oh, where we could possibly be today if it hadn’t been for the Three Mile Island bullcrap.

  43. get up to highwat speed

    Rc’z Law thanks you, SpongePaul.

  44. Seamus | March 31, 2009, 1:45pm | #

    There are seven in my family. I guess in the Brave New World of Obama, we won’t have to option of traveling in a single car (van), but will be required to buy a second car. And if we’re going on a long trip together, I doubt those batteries will do much for us other than weight down the cars and decrease our mpgs to the point where we about as much fuel as we would have if we’d just been able to carry everyone in a minivan.

    But maybe the simple fact of having so many children makes me an environmental criminal. I guess if I, my wife, and my surplus three children are interned in reeducation camps somewhere, we won’t be doing much driving of any sort, so it’s all good.

    “It’s Irish Catholics! Soylent Green is made out of Irish Catholics!

  45. Right now we have eight in-house, counting Dad and the kid whose dad’s been locked up the last two months (thanks WOD). The Expidition will hold us, but if we ever all go somewhere we take two cars.

  46. There are new lithium-ion batteries coming out that charge in 10 minutes. They use “nano-titanate” instead of graphite.

    And commercially feasible controlled nuclear fusion is only a decade away!

  47. The best response to WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? was from columnist Paul Jacob, who laid the blame squarely on California regulators. They demanded, at that time, a certain percentage of cars be of a certain efficiency, then way beyond what was economically possible. GM destroyed its fleet of experimental electric cars because the company wanted to fight the regulation in toto. Understandably, GM execs didn’t want to be forced to sell cars at a loss. I mean, more than they were, already.

    Were it not for California regulation, GM would have likely have not broken the line of its experiments, and battery life would have improved.

    We are still at the early stage of battery development. New breakthroughs happen all the time. In time, we will almost certainly have viable electric cars.

    And yes, nuclear power can indeed take up the slack. Modern nuclear technology has greatly advanced since the late ’70s. And with getting rid of Carter’s paranoid regs about reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, the waste problem would be even less of a problem than it is now. But Bailey, of course, has written about this already.

  48. I’ll drive my F250 where I want and for as long as want. Obama and his wimpy metro-sexual ass, green ass, fake ass fanatics can fuck off.

  49. I thought it was an April Fool’s joke but it was a day too early: Ikea announced that they are going into the clean automobile business. Crazy idea, but, unlike GM, Ikea has competence.

  50. Just a minor correction to the article: Beginning in 2008 (under the new EPA guidelines), the Prius is rated at 48/45 mpg (city/highway) (not 60/51). Those new guidelines were put in place partly to rectify the gap that hybrid owners were seeing between the EPA numbers and their real-world numbers.

    In fact, in 2008 they adjusted down the MPG numbers of ALL conventional cars by 12-15% to account for A/C use and faster driving today. Oddly enough, I found the 2007 and earlier standards to be overly conservative as I was always able to regularly beat them in every car I owned. Now, the new numbers are even less informative to me. I see 21/29 and know that I’ll probably get 34-35.

  51. I rarely disagree with you but . . . families of six? Even four seems to be a big family these days.

    If you have two infants/toddlers the accompanying baggage makes up for two additional kids. If you have two elementary kids they’ll each have a friend who wants to go along. If you have even one teenager he’ll want to drive five friends somewhere. True four-person cars just don’t cut it until you have an empty nest. Then you’ll have to upsize again when either your kids move back in or your parents come to stay.

  52. Ronald Bailey.

    You should check out this super capacitor story. Leo Laporte and Steve Gibson are excited about it on their computer security radio show/podcast.

    There is already a cordless screwdriver that uses this technology.

    http://www.colemanflashcellscrewdriver.com/

  53. LarryA | March 31, 2009, 5:55pm | #

    I rarely disagree with you but . . . families of six? Even four seems to be a big family these days.

    If you have two infants/toddlers the accompanying baggage makes up for two additional kids. If you have two elementary kids they’ll each have a friend who wants to go along. If you have even one teenager he’ll want to drive five friends somewhere. True four-person cars just don’t cut it until you have an empty nest. Then you’ll have to upsize again when either your kids move back in or your parents come to stay.

    Not very creative, are we?

    Two infants? Kids in the back, junk in the trunk.

    Two elementary kids + a friend? They can all fit in the back of any sedan, with ease.

    Teenage son wants to haul five friends? He will have to settle for a cozy four.

    Until you have your third kid, you do NOT need anything other than a small sedan for regular transport. Even then, most families will need to have at least two cars, one of which can be small and the other mid-sized.

    Will there be occasions where you need a big vehicle or a truck? Sure. Everyone has one once in a while. That’s what borrowing and renting are for.

  54. It costs a lot and takes a fair amount of time to spin up or spin down a large, utility-grade electric generator, so energy producers try to avoid doing that. As a result, there is a relative glut of energy available at night. Clearly, the transition to all-electric vehicles will not happen overnight, but through overnight CHARGING, the existing power-grid can accommodate a big chunk of the early-adopter curve before anyone has to start talking about new generating capacity.

    One of the great things about companies like Tesla courting the deep-pocket customer first is that they can also interest such people in installing solar panels that nearly or completely offset whatever power they derive from the grid for charging their EVs. This results in “trickle-down” popularization of combined EV/solar-panel sales, and seed capital for expansion of solar panel capacity, leading to the eventual discounting of such installations, on behalf of the more common consumer.

  55. Batteries now included: The missing piece of the electric-car jigsaw has just turned up

  56. Also, missing from the discussion of electrical cars is that current battery technology has pretty much maxed out the theoretical limits of battery technology.

    Batteries rely on chemical reactions to store electricity. Chemicals can only store so much energy in a given volume and we’ve pretty much reached that. Electronic manufactures are researching non-battery power sources for just this reason.

    I don’t think lithium batteries will become a big player unless we develop new sources of lithium. Most of the world’s lithium comes from one little patch of Bolivia.

    Super-capacitors look promising but they are still a laboratory technology a decade or more away from mass production even if they pan out.

  57. When they say:

    “Greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by as much as 27 percent.”

    Does that take into account how the electricity that charges the car batteries is generated?

  58. Lithium-ion batteries have a serious, glaring flaw. Their capacity deteriorates 20% per year. Even sitting on a shelf. After 2-1/2 years the range of the vehicle decreases 50%.

    This means that over a 15 year life of the vehicle you’d need at least 6 batteries. At a current cost of $6,000 (Volt) that means $36,000 for batteries alone.

  59. The ignorance contained in some of these comments is striking. The li ion Volt batteries will last 10 years, at which point they will have lost 20% of their capacity and are still very usable, even if they remain in the Volt, which they will likely do, should nothing happen between now and then with respect to battery technology (impossible). Already we have an astounding adbvancement from MIT with respect to the ability to quickly move juice into (and out of) li ion batteries. This solves completely
    the recharging speed issue and makes battery-only electrics FUNCTIONALLY practical vehicles. It will not increase the costs of li ions, whose third gen batteries (like the Volt’s) are running at roughly $700 per kilowatthour, and will increase their longetivity, allowing a car like the Volt to use fewer batteries, or possibly batteries only.

  60. Lithium comes from Nevada, right?

    Where does lithium come from, anyway?

    It’s going to feel *so good* to tell the Saudis to take a hike, and deal directly with Evo Morales. I’ll bet there won’t be any multinat corps, commodities speculators, or local corruption involved in that at all.

    It’s free! Like magic pixie dust!

  61. If the majority of the US auto fleet moves to electric cars, the total production of electricity needed by the US will rise. No one is doubting this. The reason that this is still desirable is:

    1. Electricity production is more efficient at the power plant.
    2. ECar manufactures assume (probably incorrectly) that people will plug in their cars mostly at night when energy demand is low.
    3. Have you seen how much it costs the US to import oil?
    4. We make electricity out of coal, which is mined in the US.
    5. Screw the Middle East. We wont need OPEC countries any more.

  62. 1. Electricity production is more efficient at the power plant.
    2. ECar manufactures assume (probably incorrectly) that people will plug in their cars mostly at night when energy demand is low.
    3. Have you seen how much it costs the US to import oil?
    4. We make electricity out of coal, which is mined in the US.
    5. Screw the Middle East. We wont need OPEC countries any more.

    But is it cheaper?

  63. There are two electric cars being readied for production which use the Altair Nanosafe battery linked by bill. One is the Phoenix SUT/SUV; the other, the UK’s Lightning, is taking the same route as Tesla – a high performance sports car. The Lightning also uses a new design electric motor, also British. Check it out:

    http://tinyurl.com/czx6q3

    Here’s another approach to improving lithium battery anode performance:

    http://tinyurl.com/stanfordnanowire

    As for where we will get the electricity, I’d like to see some heavy R&D into thorium reactors. India has made a major commitment,and the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor seems to offer safety, low yields of radioactive waste, plus the ability to consume our current nuclear waste. Kirk Sorensen is one of the main advocates – here is his website:

    http://thoriumenergy.blogspot.com/

  64. Good article. Consider that a gallon of gasoline weighs about 8 pounds and will propel even the most inefficient vehicle at least ten miles. There is no 8 pound battery anywhere in the world that will move your car much past the end of your driveway.

    Nor is there likely to be a battery capable of that kind of energy density any time soon. Batteries store electrons and the electrons have to be stored on something. Improvement of the storage media will be marginal.

  65. On the Tesla (and similar)…

    If the feds can afford a $7500 credit for PHEV, how about $15000 for a vehicle that is twice as efficient and (directly) produces no CO2? Only makes sense to me.

    And while they’re at it, why aren’t they directly subsidizing costs of getting cars like the Tesla (and similar) into production?

    Oh wait. I know. And it has nothing to do with where the electricity would come from.

  66. Gas cars have a “premium” too, 19.4 lbs of carbon dioxide emissions per gallon, many billions in tax subsidies for oil companies, already the most profitable business in history- due to the fact that the “costs” of gas such as carbon emissions, military interventions, human health effects like asthma- are all treated as “externalities” and paid by everyone who lives and breathes.
    Why continue to dig up decayed vegetation from millions of years ago and burn it when we can now harness clean energy directly from renewable sources and use it for transport? Oh yes, that’s right, it’s “cheaper and more efficient?”

  67. Clunky, inefficient batteries? I’ll show you “clunky, inefficient batteries!” I have been driving an all-electric production RAV4 EV for eight years (representing 1990’s battery technology) with minimal maintenance and no trips to the gas station. I now also drive a dependable 2008 Tesla roadster. Zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds and a 220 mile range. Beats anything on the road. Both cars”run on the sun” since my house and autos are powered by a grid-connected solar array. Let’s see. Minimal maintenance, no gas pump hook-ups required, incredible silent, fast non-polluting smiles and smiles to be driven. Exactly WHAT is clunky and inefficient about THAT?

  68. What a biased article, and written by someone who clearly is either naive or paid off. In case you forgotten Rav4 EVs are STILL on the road today running off their original NiMH batteries.

    With the advances made to NiMH the Volt can be out today, 150+ mile range, 15 minute recharge time and then have a small generator for extended range. Instead they spend millions on lithium which everyone knows does not hold a charge after only a few years.

    Final analysis, this writer is clueless.

  69. First off, get real. How many days of the year do you ACTUALLY drive the car full with the family? Less than 12 I’ll wager. How many work days do you drive ALONE in your gas burner between house & work? Every one, I’ll bet. Electric cars won’t sell as long as there are SELFISH PRICKS who insist on hogging frewways in cars designed for 6 but contain only 1 passenger. People need to buy cars FOR WHAT THEY NEED THEM FOR, not what Madison Avenue tells them they MIGHT need them for. Sure, You MIGHT need to carry 6 people… You MIGHT need to tow a boat… You MIGHT need to drive a truck up the side of a mountain. In reality YOU DO need to get from work to home every day. Why not get a car for what you actually do every day, and rent a truck or SUV on those weekends when 2 or 3 times a year YOU ACTUALLY NEED IT!

  70. Why not get a car for what you actually do every day, and rent a truck or SUV on those weekends when 2 or 3 times a year YOU ACTUALLY NEED IT!

    Acck! Don’t say such things. You might confuse them.

  71. Tesla Motors and their new Model S might disagree with you on the point of electric cars. Granted they’re too expensive to be in range of the average consumer right now, but a 300 mile range on 4 hours charge time plus a 15 minute quick charge option for shorter trips in a 7 seater sedan (with a 10 year average battery lifespan) is not exactly cripplingly impractical. It won’t take you on a cross-country road trip, but the vast majority of people would find their day-to-day needs satisfied by a car like that.

    As these kinds of cars become more popular economies of scale will drive down cost; due to the lower complexity and manufacturing costs eventually small electric cars will be vastly cheaper than gas guzzlers. Technologies on the horizon like cheap ceramic hypercapacitors will probably solve this problem in the next couple decades permanently, and it’ll all happen without any ‘help’ from the government as long as they don’t come in and start mandating what are and are not good ideas.

  72. Oh also, batteries do NOT store electrons. They store the components of a chemical reaction that produces a current. Rechargeable batteries are really just reversing that process so it can happen again. Electrons are not being gained, lost, created or destroyed. Energy density in batteries has been steadily improving over time, and nano-manufacturing techniques will really revolutionize storage capacity in the near future, by switching away from a chemical process entirely.

  73. Two infants? Kids in the back, junk in the trunk.

    Spare diapers, wipes, burp towels, snugglies, snacks, bottles, distraction toys, etc. are not “junk” and will not end up in the trunk. Not unless you want to pull over and pop it every two miles.

    Two elementary kids + a friend? They can all fit in the back of any sedan, with ease.

    “Becky gets to bring a friend, so I get to bring a friend, too.”

    Teenage son wants to haul five friends? He will have to settle for a cozy four.

    Five teenagers is either two guys, three girls or two girls, three guys. Not gonna happen. And five teenage boys won’t fit in a small sedan. Neither will five teenage girls if they’re dressed for an event.

    OTOH you can get five guys at an all-male school in a Mustang for a two hundred mile road trip, and they can get five gals in the car with them for short periods around town. It’s all a matter of incentive.

  74. Eletruk. For towing you can not rent a truck and tow with it. The next time you rent a vehicle, look at the contract, no towing, going off paved roads is banned, and only passengers and their luggage are allowed.

    Even though I drive a car for commuting and keep the truck for when I need it, the savings even when gas was above $4 gallon did not even cover the additional insurance and license plates.

  75. Nobody killed the electric car. It isn’t dead.

    You’re wrong about the hybrid being a gas-powered car. It is an electric car with an onboard generator.

    This is an important difference, and the reason that the hybrid is the technology of the rest of the 21st century.

    The hybrid, like any electric car, is powered by an electric motor. The motor doesn’t care where the electricity comes from — and that’s the cool part.

    Given a few years, we can expect to see improved power systems come along, new ways to supply electricity. When they do, we only have to pull out the old one, put in the new and connect the wires.

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