Nothing in the history of the automobile compares to today's frantic effort to breathe life into electric cars and hybrids.
In the following slideshow we've gathered together 15 images, which touch recent developments emerging from the auto industry's ongoing efforts in alternative power train technologies. Our vehicle choices range from Toyota's hybrid gas turbine concept car of 1969, to polished production hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius and Ford Explorer, to backyard electric conversions, such as the drag-racing Crazy Horse Pinto. Our emphasis is on the delivery of electric power, with or without a gasoline counterpart.
Click the image below to view a slideshow of alternative energy vehicles:
Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive is an evolution of the hybrid powertrain that powered the game-changing Toyota Prius. The Synergy Drive replaces a traditional geared transmission with a drive unit that includes an electronic continuously variable transmission. The system allows power to be split between the wheels and an electric generator. (Photo courtesy of Toyota)
To keep up with our Chevy Volt coverage, go to Drive for Innovation, and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director, Brian Fuller. On his trip, sponsored by Avnet Express, Fuller is driving a Volt across America to interview engineers.
Nice under-the-covers snapshot of the component and architectural evolution of these electric and alternative power train vehicles. I didn't realize how far back some of the early development goes. Seeing old-fashioned looking cars from the late 60s and 70s that have a so-called electric or hybrid heritage is quite surprising.
Electric vehicles go a LOT further back than that! Try way over ONE HUNDRED years ago. Some of the earliest cars were all-electric. There's a full site dedicated to this on Wikipedia. They didn't last very long because of the same issues they face today: limited range, lack of supporting infrastructure, and costs.
Beth, the technology does go back more than 100 years. My grandmother had an electric car in 1909 that she liked very much. It would take her to church, a friend's house, to the store and home again. No steering wheel, it had a lever that you could turn to the right or the left to steer. It had to be charged frequently.
Since then battery technology and electric motors have been improved but you still need a power plant to charge it and batteries still are not as efficient in extremely cold weather or the heat of summer. Just try to start your SUV in a sub zero winter with a weak batter. Most of the range stats are based on level ground. Electric cars don't do as well on hills.
A gas/electric hybrid car would be better because the gasoline motor can generate all or part of the electricity.
Perhaps we could see an analytical version that would help people understand the fundamental misconceptions of the electric car (EV). There is no question that the EV will serve to shift from oil to coal, and that has merit related to geopolitical energy issues. It might offer economic advantages to motorists, depending on the whims of electric price regulators.
However, it will not accomplish the reduction of CO2 which is often advertised or implied in connection with electric vehicle promotions.
A constructive analysis would recognize the economic reality of marginal response to new loads, which will generally fall to coal fired generating facilities, given the available reserve capacity and nearly dirt cheap fuel. Thus, the CO2 released in burning coal is the relevant global warming consideration. Quantifying this CO2 using actual efficiency numbers for the various generation, transmission, controllers, battery effects and electric motor efficiencies could be an objective of great importance in an article that would supplement this present slideshow.
A general fact is that the heat engines used in coal fired power plants run around 31% efficient for the United States. When this is taken into account in calculating equivalent MPG (MPGE) the idealizations of electric vehicles show to be falsely promoted by the EPA and their formula for that MPGE parameter that is officially approved for the window sticker presented to potential buyers.
This official formula asserts that a gallon of gasoline is equivalent to 33.7 kWhr of electricity, which it most certainly is when making heat from the electricity, but most certainly is not when making electricity from heat. The lie is important because it misleads by a factor of roughly three. This destroys the meaning of the CAFE standards, since electric vehicles count in the averages as about three times higher MPG than a similarly efficient hybrid.
It's been 40 years since we went to the moon, I'm a bit disatisfied that we've not yet travelled to the stars?
Technology development takes time and a consistent market. We've had no consistent market in the automotive world. Fads and trends come and go. Government mandates this and that. It's gettign harder to keep one's eye on the ball as expectations become more outrageous as the populace of the US become less and less technically knowledgable and the consequences of failure become more and more punitive to companies.
Even now, it seems that early adopters are signalling their boredome with cars such aa the Cehevy Volt, I am concerned that our daliance with EV's will fade and we'll be buting Hummers once again soon.
As an Electrical Engineer, I really like the idea of an electric car. But I agree that making a serious reduction on atmospheric carbon should start with replacing coal as an energy source. Two approaches come to mind which could offer costs competitive with coal, on the order of a penny per kiloWatt-hour. These are fusion and Space Based Solar Power. Both have serious challenges, which are well discussed elsewhere (for example, see Wikipedia). My point is that such a low cost energy source will make it economical to synthesize gasoline using Carbon extracted from atmospheric CO2, thus making gasoline (and other transportation fuels such as Diesel and jet fuel) carbon neutral. This allows continued use of the extensive existing liquid fuel infrastructure, as well as taking advantage of the greatly superior power and energy density of liquid fuel over electric batteries. So, there is currently a brief window of opportunity for electric car advocates to grab some market share before a true solution to the energy problem enables the synthesis of carbon-neutral transportation fuels and lets us keep using these marvelously effective combustion-powered vehicles. Ultimately, I think the proportion of transportation provided by electric propulsion in the 21st century will likely be about the same as in the 20th century (which is a lot more than most people realize, but still relatively small).
Beth: About 100 years ago, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford are said to have decided they would lick the electric car battery problem within five years. We're still waiting...There was a great article about this last year in Wired.
I think Astrobuf summed it up aptly when he said engineering fads come and go, regulatory mandates change, interest rises and then wanes--it's the lack of consistency that makes perfecting EV technology so elusive.
Then again, if you look at how far the Internet and information technology sector has advanced in 25-plus years, it's crazy to think we can't enjoy similar progress on the EV front. Again, it boils down to lack of consistency and focus. Well said.
I consider myself a proponent of electric vehicles however there seems to be a lot of new hydrocarbon sources. One book I studied indicated that no matter what happens politically with the AGW issues, the world is going to use all available hydrocarbons. Coal oil and gas will be burned to create the energy we need to fuel the electric power plants and provide the fuel for our cars.
Battery technology is almost ready to give us the same range and convenience we expect from our gas fueled vehicles but it will still be a few more years. Until then, we might have some hybrids, some vehicles powered by apparently abundant natural gas and some electric vehicles.
It seems the transition to electric might never be complete and the availability of cheap hydrocarbons will extend the life of vehicles with these fuels.
If we assume for the purposes of discussion that electric vehicles are much better for most drivers, the economy and the environment perhaps the best way to accelerate the shift to electric vehicles is to raise the hydrocarbon costs significantly. Anyone for extra taxes on gas to promote electrics?
More often than not, with the purchase of a sports car comes the sacrifice of any sort of utility. In other words, you can forget about a large trunk, extra seats for the kids, and more importantly driving in snowy (or inclement) weather. But what if there was a vehicle that offered the best of both worlds; great handling and practicality?
Science fiction author Isaac Asimov may have the best rules for effective brainstorming and creativity. His never-before-published essay, "On Creativity," recently made it to the Web pages of MIT Technology Review.
Much has been made over the potentially dangerous flammability of lithium-ion batteries after major companies like Boeing, Sony, and Tesla have grappled with well-publicized battery fires. Researchers at Stanford University may have come up with a solution to this problem with a smart sensor for lithium-ion batteries that provides a warning if the battery is about to overheat or catch fire.
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