Electric Dreams. Part 3 Why going forward might mean going backwards

Electricity – the common denominator

Electricity is indeed the common currency uniting all these various forms of power generation. So the question then is where does hydrogen or even biofuels fit in if at all? At the moment it appears the capacity of the renewable forms of alternative energy cannot fill the shoes of all the fossil-fuel burning power generation at least not yet though the potential is there and its a guilt free trip.

In its application for cars, keeping the energy resource in its native form and use it as its native form as much as possible is the most logical solution. Using huge amounts of electrical energy to electrolyze H2O into H2 and then using more energy to liquefy H2 and then transport it for distribution at filling terminals is really counter-productive. Especially since it has to be finally downconverted to electricity again via fuel cells to drive the electric motor with each conversion eating into the total energy potential.

This is why the Plug-in Hybrid is such a good idea melding old world with new. Technological advances for the internal combustion engine are already fully mature. There is not a whole lot more that we can squeeze out of it. Electric drive and battery storage is only in its infancy as is power generation from renewable sources. If one’s country or city derives all its electricity from something as green as hydroelectric generators the next generation electric car is the perfect solution.

So who killed the electric car?

We did to be honest. Uninformed consumers swayed by the argument of big oil and their automotive collaborators killed it stone dead. However this recent crisis has revealed the facts of our plight and it is dire.

One of the unsurmountable problems at that time was the availability of Lead for all the lead-acid batteries that would be needed to replace all the fossil fuel internal combustion engines in the world. It might be fairly common an element but not enough for the quantities envisaged for worldwide use.

With advancement in battery technology, storing electricity in a car should not make it a mobile environmental disaster any longer. The Lithium-ion cells hold particular promise for use in a car. And while that is being perfected we have plug-in Hybrids to bridge the time before we have marketable solutions for the all electric car.

The problem with Lithium...

However Lithium which holds out the greatest promise over Lead-Acid and Nickel-Hydride technology also falls victim to the same supply problem as Lead. Most of today's current reserves of Lithium is in Bolivia in South America. It is a country that most of the developed world prefers not to have dealings with at present.

Secondly Lithium is not inexhaustible and it certainly isn't going to be able to fulfill the entire demand for car batteries for all manner of Hybrid or electric vehicles for the entire world. Moreover Lithium is notoriously difficult to recycle given today's technology so while we can make enough batteries for a single generation of cars what of the future generations?

Hybrid cars here now and for the future?

Hybrids will be of two main types, the petrol Hybrid as we have already witnessed from Toyota and Honda and the other is the forthcoming diesel Hybrid which is being readied by the European contingent. These will be fairly complicated electro-mechanical machines but for public transport which will by definition undergo thousands of stop and start cycles each day, it is probably best served by some form of mechanical kinetic regenerative braking device that powers up a heavy flywheel for example and then using it the next moment to help accelerate the bus or taxi. These utilitarian vehicles do not have to fall prey to clever marketing and appeal to the vanity of buyers who turn their noses up at such an ancient mechanical device. However for the thousands of taxis and buses plying our city streets, this sounds like the ideal solution. Now if only someone noble would work on it as a public service.

Is the Internal Combustion engine here to stay?

The internal combustion engine might well be in its twilight save for one possible development- the widespread development of second generation Biofuels or Biomass fuels. While most advanced countries have well established and reliable electric power grids throughout their countries, many other countries do not. The patchy availability of electric power does not bode well for the high tech electric car. In these cases the lower tech petrol or diesel powered vehicles will still rule hence the need of biofuels to replace fossil fuels and this means most large countries of the world where the only proven and logical fuel has been either petrol or diesel, both possible candidates for substitution with bio-fuels.

Understandably built up metropolitan areas would like to have the complete transition to zero-emission vehicles as soon as possible but thanks to the efficient power packed liquid fuel infrastructure, there will be resistance to going zero-emission immediately unless mandated by the lawmakers.

Should the government act or should consumers individually?

In fact if governments mandate that all power generation must come from a renewable energy source it will have a vastly more profound effect than if each “uninformed” individual tries his or her level best to go “green”. By one fell swoop, by switching the major energy source would put the entire population on the green map rather than have individuals slowly decide whether to switch off the water heater earlier or set the air-con at 25 degrees or getting a smaller refrigerator while the power generators are still happily running on fossil fuels.

Of course will help to go green individually but does not eliminate our present problem with global warming green house gases and our true final goal should be looking at ways to move away from fossil fuels as soon as possible and not to pump out more oil so that we can have cheaper petrol.
 

Given the problems with electric cars, to be precise the storage mechanisms or technologies, it it unreasonable to surmise that the demise of the internal combustion engine is premature? The ability of humans to synthisize bio-fuels is wanting but nature has been very clever.  Read Part 4.

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