The Electric Car Dream

As a kid, I remember a conversation I had with my Dad about the future of cars.  He was standing at my doorway, watching me draw my version of the future (looked like a Dodge Viper).  I loved cars and the more cylinders the better.  Lamborghini had the "it" car, with 12 cylinders burning through a gallon of gas in just 8 miles.  I dreamed of 16 cylinders and later even more, so when my dad suggested that the gas engine would be replaced, I scoffed at him.  

His vision for tiny electric motors housed in each wheel made no sense.  No rumbling exhaust note, no sweetly tuned rev of the engine, no cylinders or camshafts, no valves and carburetors. "Who in their right mind would want that?" I thought to myself.  His vision lacked every detail that I so loved about cars.

Well, time has passed, and my engineering knowledge has grown substantially.  My Dad's words started to slowly sink in, and I honestly began to look at the possibilities, study the new technologies available to us.  Then something amazing or maybe predestined happened.  I caught myself arguing with people about the future of automobiles, sounding very much like my dad did 20 years ago.  The petrol-head had been converted; I was all electric.

It was Tesla that finally got me converted.  The Roadster, small and fun with 250 miles of range, jumped out at me as a viable alternative to a 911.  Instant torque supplied by electric motors has its advantages.  Maybe, just maybe, the sound of "fast" wasn't the rumbling of dirty exhaust fumes.  Maybe instead it was the whirling of an electric motor.  This was a profound realization to me, and my dreams started shifting.  My dream Camaro now contained an electric motor dropped in the trunk.  And what powers that motor?  Not a small block V8, not a fuel cell, not solar cells, and certainly not a little four cylinder hybrid engine running on bio-fuel.  I want to fill that engine bay with batteries.

This brings me to my soapbox. Batteries have a bad rap.  They have been marred by bad implementations, and stereotypes that we need to get away from.  Every article written about electric vehicles is accompanied by comment after comment talking down the use of batteries.  Arguments for fuels cells, and bio-fuels are written without a fundamental vision of what batteries can do for us.  So here is the dream, the vision of the future.

1.     My dream car should refuel at home.  Systems that create extra energy for my car should also multitask and feed my house.

2.     My dream car should eliminate gas stations that litter the landscape.  

3.     My dream car should last.

4.     My dream car should have very little maintenance

5.     My dream car should be able to refuel passively.  No hoses, no wires, no effort

6.     My dream car should be able to drive thousands of miles, not hundreds without stopping

7.     My dream car should not have extra taxes for filling up at a store

8.     My dream car should not create noxious fumes and oil spots in my garage. Imagine warming your car up in the garage.

9.     My dream car should not be filled with dangerous explosive gases.

10.   My dream car should handle well

Batteries are the only technology available that will fulfill this vision of a dream car. 

Fuel cells will always have limited range, less than their gas counterparts.  Batteries, however, already have the capacity to drive 300 miles on a charge, and the energy density of batteries keeps getting better.  If we increase it by a factor of 2, we will match most any car on the road, but there is emerging technology that promises energy densities 10x the current capacity.  That means driving ranges of thousands of miles without refueling, something impossible with fuel cell technology or biodiesel.   Hello. . . non-stop road trip across the country! Due to the limited range, an infrastructure of refueling stations must be put into place and maintained for both Hydrogen and bio-fuel technologies.  Batteries promise a future where stopping on a trip will be optional. 

Fuel cells and biodiesel require manual refueling.  With the advent of inductive charging, cars with batteries could conceivably recharge simply by parking in a designated parking spot in a home garage or hotel.  This method of refueling is much more preferable to having to stand by your car to refuel it, no fumes or danger of leaking gas.  My dream car would be automatically (magically) ready to go each and every day.

Not only could you conceivably park and recharge, but an infrastructure of inductive roads could be made that allowed for constant charging while driving. Batteries packs could be made lighter while still maintaining the ability to drive long distances. It is impossible to refuel a fuel drive vehicle on the go.  This is a major advantage for the battery.

The next generation of batteries promises to last for hundreds of thousands of miles.  Batteries by design, do not need to be manually maintained.  With computers in charge of smart charging, that’s hundreds of thousands of miles without doing any human maintenance to the power system of your vehicle.  Fuel cells require maintenance, as do bio-fuel engines.  The simplicity of the electric motor finishes off the maintenance free life of an electric vehicle.  No other technology promises this.

Without filling stations, taxes on fuel become non-existence.  Hydrogen and bio-diesel bought at filling stations would be very easily taxed by the government, a tax that most Americans overlook out of necessity.

The best part about batteries is that the energy created to run them can come from many different sources, located in plants designed to efficiently extract energy for their source material, whether that be oil, coal, uranium, wind, water,  photons, or hydrogen.  Once created, this energy can be fed right to your home on an existing electrical wire. What simpler method is there to provide energy for your car?

Lastly, batteries can be spread throughout  a vehicle to provide optimum balance and a low center of gravity.  The Tesla Model S is a good example. The battery pack is stored low in the bottom of the vehicle.  This means great handling, and with that instant torque electric motor, those back roads will be a blast, even in taller vehicles.

The future of battery technology has the sole claim of improving the car, convenient recharging, clean operation, longer ranges, low maintenance, low center of gravity and no cold winter days standing by your car pumping fuel. This is a future I can buy into. This is a dream I can get behind.  The longer we waste resources exploring bio-fuels and fuel cells for cars, the longer we will have to wait for the real deal.  We are so close right now to this reality.

Often in an election a dark horse enters the race and splits one parties vote, even though that person would be a horrible candidate.  Well, the incumbent in our energy race is oil, and the candidate we need to elect is battery power.  Let’s ignore all the pretenders and see the dream become a reality.