Saturday, December 16, 2006

Why We Don't Need the EV1

A Diesel engine built by MAN AG in 1906

The EV1 was an all-electric car designed to avoid the emissions problems with traditional gas engines. Canuckistani has a good article about it on her web site. This article is partially a response to her post, though it staggers off in its own direction before too long :-)

The problem with the EV1 was simple: it used batteries. Batteries simply cannot store the amounts of energy that are required by cars, therefore the EV1 failed. I think that this, more than anything else, caused it to fail.

While I suppose you can find people who don't mind having to spend 8 hours recharging the EV1's batteries every 100 miles, the fact is that most people would prefer to use a gasoline engine.

Current sales of gas/electric hybrids demonstrate that you can sell a vehicle similar to the EV1. Newer battery technologies like "nickel metal hydride" allow for greater range (150 miles as opposed to 100), but also make them more expensive than straight gas powered cars.

The big problem with things like the EV1 is that they miss the point: we already know how to cause less pollution or to gain better efficiency in transportation; it's just a question of making the required sacrifices.

How can we make a more efficient car? Use a train instead. A train requires roughly 1/3 less fuel than a car because it exploits economies of scale.

How can you get less pollution? Use a renewable fuel like ethanol or biodiesel. Either of these alternatives are much cleaner burning and their production consumes at least as much CO2 as is created by using them.

Things like trains, buses and renewable fuels are not new. Trains predate automobiles, but people switched to cars because they are more convenient.

With a train or a bus you have to wait around for the thing to arrive. If it's raining or snowing that's your problem, and there's not a whole lot you can do about it. With a car, you leave when you want to. If it's raining or snowing, you stay nice and warm.

Housing, stores, health care, etc. all have to be designed around mass transportation. Having a house that is 2 miles from the nearest train station is a major problem. With cars, the layout is much more flexible.

Renewable fuel sources have been with us for quite some time. The original diesel engine, for example, ran on peanut oil instead of a fuel derived from a fossil fuel. Fossil fuels were chosen over renewable fuels because they were cheaper.

Nevertheless, renewable fuels are still in wide use. In order to reduce car emissions during the winter months, about 10% of the fuel used in the US is ethanol. Ethanol is made from plant sources like corn so whatever CO2 a car produces by burning it, will be consumed by the plant making the fuel. The original diesel engine used peanut oil rather than fossil fuels.

So why are fossil fuels used at all? Simple: they are cheaper. It is currently estimated that using mostly ethanol would cost about 20% more than gasoline. In the past the difference was even greater.

More efficient engines or cleaner fuel sources are not the problem. The basic issue is whether or not people are willing to sacrifice convenience and flexibility in order to get less pollution and more efficiency. When ocean levels have risen 10 feet and gas costs $10 a gallon the answer will be "yes." For right now, the answer is "no."

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7 comments:

Nancyrowina said...

They do say we should use public transport more to be environmentally friendly, I don't have a car and only use public transport if I'm going anywhere I can't walk to. Really driving any car isn't environmentally sound, no matter what it runs on, as it would still contribute to congestion which makes the other cars slow down and pump out more smoke while they stuck in traffic jams.

And to answer your question, yes Yule is celebrated on the winter solstice. :) which is normally the day before Christmas or some time just before it.

Nancyrowina said...

They do say we should use public transport more to be environmentally friendly, I don't have a car and only use public transport if I'm going anywhere I can't walk to. Really driving any car isn't environmentally sound, no matter what it runs on, as it would still contribute to congestion which makes the other cars slow down and pump out more smoke while they stuck in traffic jams.

And to answer your question, yes Yule is celebrated on the winter solstice. :) which is normally the day before Christmas or some time just before it.

Nancyrowina said...

They do say we should use public transport more to be environmentally friendly, I don't have a car and only use public transport if I'm going anywhere I can't walk to. Really driving any car isn't environmentally sound, no matter what it runs on, as it would still contribute to congestion which makes the other cars slow down and pump out more smoke while they stuck in traffic jams.

And to answer your question, yes Yule is celebrated on the winter solstice. :) which is normally the day before Christmas or some time just before it.

Whatever said...

Either you really, really agreed with me or good ole blogspot is showing us its dark side. And to think they want people to switch to their beta software...

stev said...

o/t: i just switched to beta :P

interestingly mind-boggling yet fun to someone who isnt all that digging into things with wheels in motion ;)

CyberCelt said...

Stopped by for BYB Sunday.

We have the technology to make cars that run on any substance.

The EV1s were destroyed because they worked. No one was allowed to buy them. People wanted to buy them. I was one of them.

Whatever said...

stev: how has the beta version worked out for you so far?

cybercelt: I really need to get organized and post my BYBS articles on time :-(

On a different note, assuming for the moment that the EV1 really did work well, what do you think about the bigger picture? Do you think that we need to sacrifice convenience to reduce pollution, etc. or do you think that cars like the EV1 will solve those issues?