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Electric Vehicles: How Far Have We Come in 100 Years?

An Edison storage battery in test setup, from the 1916 monograph 'The Edison Alkaline Storage Battery,' by the technical staff of the Edison Storage Battery Co.
An Edison storage battery in test setup, from the 1916 monograph "The Edison Alkaline Storage Battery," by the technical staff of the Edison Storage Battery Co.

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Beth Stackpole
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How far we haven't come
Beth Stackpole   11/8/2011 12:26:28 PM
While the Times article and Chuck's coverage point out the impressive gains EVs have made over the years, it strikes me that the advancements are really diminished when you look at other technology industries like computing, the Internet, consumer electronic devices, and medical equipment. I can't imagine that in 1911 anyone could fathom what's possible today with smart phones or smart grids. When you look at those advances, particularly as recent as the last 25 years, it seems EV battery and vehicle progress pales in comparison.

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Battery advances
Tim   11/8/2011 9:57:20 PM
It seems that battery technology only advances when there is a good market. Battery powered power tools have been around a long time. However only recently have they become more powerful at a lower weight. As the demand went up, the supply followed

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Battery advances and electric vehicles
BobGroh   11/8/2011 10:17:36 PM
While far from an expert in the battery world, it certain seems safe to say that there certainly have been improvements in batteries over the years - cost is way down and performance (cost per kwhr or any measure you would care to make) is way up. However it is equally true that the rate of progress has been .... well, slow.

This rather slow rate of change along with improvement in motors, chargers, and converters/controllers (the blocks that act as the interface between the battery and the motors) have, over the years, created new application areas that are now becoming quite common.  To name a few: battery powered tools (e.g. drills, saws, etc) and electric powered model airplanes.

I suspect the same thing will happen with electric cars and trucks. They are, at last, reaching some level of practicality and, as the future unfolds, they will continue to develop.

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Re: Battery advances
Ratsky   11/9/2011 9:24:32 AM
You forgot one point: the COST of those "new" batteries is nearly TRIPLE the cost of the old for about a 40% improvement in capacity.  Buying a replacement battery (which NEVER are on sale at a reduced price) is now usually more than the cost of the original tool whcih often included one battery (sometimes two!), charger, case, and accessories.

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Re: Battery advances and electric vehicles
philipp10   11/9/2011 9:25:30 AM
Batteries and electric cars in general will improve as long as gasoline stays expensive.  At the current price of oil, EV's are just starting to compete and without subsidies, really can't.  As we run out of cheap oil (remember 1 billion new drivers in China and India) gas prices will rise making EVs practical and necessary.

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Re: How far we haven't come
electronic   11/9/2011 9:57:44 AM
It's all a question of money and returns. Where returns potential are considered as high, cash is spend in R&D and industrialisation, progress are rapidly made and because of mass volume, technology costs decrease. If not, only few Labs can work on the subject leading to slow technological progress and high costs. Strictly talking about EV, mass market potential and returns on investement cannot be considered as short/mid term. That's why investements are just NIL despit the fact that new EV battery technologies for the future with great potential exist (Li-Su ; Li-Air, AL-Air...)

As long as man will act in priority for short term money return and not in term of long term welfare and earth protection, we will face such nonsense. Petrol ressource should be perserved right now for where it can't be replaced (plastics, some industries...etc)

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Future of cars as I see it.
PPihkala   11/9/2011 10:28:15 AM
We all know that 100 years ago and still today the problem with EVs is the battery performance. There is not enough stored energy per kg or per liter or per dollars. Until we get 5x or better battery tech, it is not going to be for mainstream.


What I personally see as the possible future of car power plants is as follows:

Build a hybrid that is like Toyota Prius, having quite a small battery and replace the ICE with steam engine powered by let's say 100kW Rossi E-Cat. Steam engine does not necessarily need transmission, but that battery probably is needed to start that E-Cat and move the vehicle while the E-Cat is starting and stabilizing. Assuming of course that it is desirable to turn the E-Cat off after reaching destination. It could be kept on always, if the released heat is not a problem or at least until the battery is again fully recharged.

This would be a zero emission car (if heat is not counted) and it would need fueling up only maybe twice a year. Assuming that possible filling up of water lost in steam cycle is not too much. Maybe later in future steam engine can be replaced with direct-thermal-to-electric materials powering the EV side. Fueling up could be made by exchanging the whole E-Cat with one that has fresh nickel powder. This could be very similar what has been proposed to EV battery swap, but only needed some times per year, not daily or weekly as with batteries. Therefore this fueling could be made in normal car repair/maintenance shops, like maintenance is today done for regular ICE cars.

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rosek   11/9/2011 10:31:23 AM
It would be a mistake to discount the efficiency & performance gains offered by electrically powered vehicles just because batteries are lagging on the development curve.  That's why a vehicle like the Volt and other hybrids are such an important step in fully electrifying automotive drive-trains.

It seems to me that the paradigms that most everyone is comfortable with need to shift.  EV's would make a lot more sense if interstate highways had embedded power systems whereby the vehicle uses said power for long trips.  The battery energy would be more than adequate for everyday activites (work, shopping, errands) but long trips could be enabled by the highway infrastructure itself.

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Re: Battery advances
BobGroh   11/9/2011 10:48:36 AM
You are 100% correct about the outrageous cost (IMHO) for replacement batteries for power tools and the like. The last time I purchased replacement batteries for my Ryobi 18V set, I just bought another set!  For about $30 more than just the batteries would have cost, I got another charger, 2 batteries and two 'replacement' tools.  Actually I use the (now) two drills quite a bit - e.g. one with a pilot hole bit in it and the other with a screw driver bit.

But I guess my main point was that we even have these battery powered tools which, frankly, work pretty good.  20 years ago the battery performance was just not good enough.  Now good battery powered tools are readily available and accepted by even the professionals.  And that trend continues with the new line Li Ion powered tools.

Another similiar revolution took place in the model airplane field.  Folk's back in the 80's were flying planes with batteries but performance was marginal (due to battery weight and motor performance) and frankly only done by a few people who did it just for the heck of it.

But today, with the advent of Li Ion (and similiar lithium chemistry) batteries, better chargers, advanced brushless motors and controllers, electric flight is becoming very prevalent. In fact, I have totally switched over from the old internal combustion engines.  No more mess! No more fuel cans, no more starters - ah, the future is now!

I think that the automobile market will also develop - it will take more time and we have lots to learn. And the replacement batteries will cost a LOT!  $3,200 for a replacement Prius battery is a number I have heard. Still

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EV vs Gas
BrainiacV   11/9/2011 11:37:52 AM
For heaven's sake, yes, let's keep pouring petrochemicals into the tank because they are faster, cheaper, and more energy dense.  Too bad they are not renewable (Unless we go to biofuels, which aren't efficient, but carbon neutral).


Let's not start develpment and testing of EVs until the last drop of oil has been sucked out of the ground or tar sands processed at increasing cost due to availibility. We can learn to ride bikes while the billionaires breeze past us in their cars.  We can learn to scale down our travel expectations until a 100 mile range sounds like nirvana.


EVs should be expected to spring fully developed and cost effective from day one of their existence.  Anything else is a waste.


Why the same should have been said about personal computers, I wasted too much money over the years spending $5000 for a computer I can buy today for $50 (equivalent processing power).

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