Friday, April 9, 2010

Why electric car is no magic bullet

When we talk about EVs we can’t miss the mention of fossil fuels – the vital sources of energy so far that are running out with each passing day. Electric powered vehicles come as an alternative, but the so called eco-saviors come with hefty...

electric car

When we talk about EVs we can’t miss the mention of fossil fuels – the vital sources of energy so far that are running out with each passing day. Electric powered vehicles come as an alternative, but the so called eco-saviors come with hefty price tags and aren’t as powerful as their fossil fuel counterparts are. Ok, we leave the efficiency and affordability parts aside for a moment and focus on environmental concerns and the next question you may ask is – are they eco-friendly?

Well, the coin has the other side and this issue is no exception. EVs might be having lowest or rather say zero tail-pipe emissions, but the emissions are produced in the power stations, generating electricity. The only difference is conventional cars do it directly through exhaust pipes and the EVs indirectly. On the other, a study proves that an electric car that covers the same distance on single charge would emit more CO2 than diesel vehicles, for it’s heavier and demands more energy.

• The race for electric cars

The rising prices and decline in the levels of fossil fuels have always encouraged automakers to think about alternative sources of energy, which can propel our lives in the future at a pace we would all like it to be. Whenever the question of alternative sources of fuel strikes, automakers mostly come up with concepts and prototypes that rely on a cleaner fuel that is electricity. Whether it is produced by electric batteries or fuel cells, these manufacturers aren’t afraid to use the much touted “Zero-Emissions tag” with their vehicles. The rise in demand for electric vehicles has also made researchers figure out better systems that can propel these “Green Rides” at a faster pace for a longer duration.

While researchers at the MIT are finding solutions in batteries that are made from non-toxic materials such as viruses and in lithium-oxygen batteries, which promise a threefold increase in energy densities, there is no dearth of designers who’ve come up with concepts that rely on renewable energy to fuel these electric cars on the move. Some others are however more dependent on easy technology that allows the user to simply replace the depleted battery with a fully recharged one to carry on the journey.

The race is definitely on, where all manufacturers want their vehicles to be better than all other predecessors and competitors. Moreover, when the engine compartment is empty and is simply filled with wires connecting the in-wheel motors and the battery banks, automakers also make good use of this space in giving their rides a futuristic look so as to attract the attention of a broader audience. For others who still believe that electricity isn’t the much needed fuel of the future, there are some who cater to such needs with engines that rely on the power generated by hydrogen fuel cells – again they come with a “Zero-Emission” tag.

• Affordable electric cars: A pipe dream?

Be it lithium-based battery banks or hydrogen fuel cells, the price of these electricity generating systems is definitely more than their petroleum counterparts. And even after spending those extra dollars, the end user mostly gets a vehicle that runs out of juice midway. Swappable battery technology can make you believe that your next-gen EV can make you reach your destination, but considering the extra money that one may spend in purchasing additional battery packs and the lack of proper infrastructure to replace discharged batteries with charged ones on the move, most would still love their cheaper, polluting vehicles.

Moreover, since lithium too is a finite resource, which might end like petroleum, chances for a low-cost electric vehicle that performs similar to its counterparts are bleak. It’s simple, if you don’t want to visit a gasoline station ever again in your life, you’ll have to pay big for it. Talking about hydrogen fuel cells, the situation is quite similar. Though hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, bringing it to usable form requires energy and technology, both of which don’t come cheap. Add that to the systems required to store hydrogen and mix it with oxygen to get a few volts, your fuel cell vehicle won’t be inexpensive either.

• Not as green as we believe

EVs pollute and that’s proved. Production of lithium-ion batteries is pollution-intensive and for recharging the batteries we need electricity which is mostly generated from coal and in gas-fired power plants, emitting massive green house gases. And if we compare the emission done while producing that extra electricity for recharging car batteries against the savings from burning less gasoline, it will be at least equivalent, if not more.

EVs may reduce reliance on the foreign oil and gas but how about the post scenario when the dragon’s juice comes to an end. Does it mean no more fuel, no more fun? Well, it’s too early to think about as technology is developing fast. However, with the advent of electric cars more than a century ago, there are a few advances that automakers can boast except claiming it’s more efficient, lasts longer, but it’s basically the same.

Nevertheless, EVs are the viable options in the absence of fossil fuel guzzlers, but they aren’t the best and a lot more remains incomplete before the automakers come up with more powerful, more efficient, long lasting yet cost effective electric cars. So, those of you who love electric cars but couldn’t shell out those extra dollars (for buying car and new battery packs), keep you fingers crossed till automakers knock.

1 comment:

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