Monday, December 20, 2004

Thie Iron Denominator, Interlude

Just in case some of you think I'm pulling your legs about the possibilities of battery-powered electric vehicles (or BEVs), I spent some time googling up some links. This is the Stanford Electric Vehicle project, a one person car designed to get 2000 miles at 45 mph on a single charge. Now, a 4-person car is obviously going to be heavier, but it's also going to have more space for batteries. If anything, the volume available will increase faster than mass in terms of the car's body. I don't think we need to assume that expanding this car necessarily decreases the range.

(Side Question: Does anyone else think that the SEV looks like a tiny Dymaxion Car? Bucky Fuller would approve.)

What will decrease the range is the North American's stubborn insistence on driving faster than 45 mph (70 kph). So let's assume that bringing the speed up to a more reasonable 70 mph (110 kph) halves the range, to 1000 miles. That's still easily a round trip from Ottawa to Toronto on one "tank", or a full charge. Actually, it's almost two round trips, according to MapQuest. A full charge would be roughly 150 kwh, which at $0.055/kwh (Ontario's maximum rate until May 2005) comes to $8.25 for a full tank of gas. Let's re-state that: For less than the price of admission to a movie, you could drive 1,000 miles. And the cost per mile is slightly less than one penny. Considering that I spent $40 for a round-trip gas bill last time I drove from Ottawa to Toronto and back, we can see that rather than limiting people's options, electric cars could greatly expand them.

This doesn't even consider the newer battery technologies that are beginning to be explored because of the explosion in consumer electronics. Sion Power has introduced a new type of Lithium-Sulphur battery whose potential is five times greater than the more common Lithium-Phosphate. And, in the far fringes of unproven science, one European company claims to have developed an aluminum battery that is cheap enough to make long-distance shipping of electricity by batteries profitable. That company Sion Power deserves watching, though - they've already demonstrated a battery at a recent convention that kept a laptop on all day on batteries alone. Multiplying our thought experiment above by five gives some truly staggering numbers - from here to Mexico sound good to you? Well, maybe somewhere nicer. Ever want to see Alaska? Alternately, higher-capacity batteries would mean the same range at lower cost, as batteries are likely to be the major expense to any electric vehicle for some time to come.

I don't want to come off as an evangelist for any particular technology - I don't have a dog in this fight. However, I would find it hysterically funny if, after all the billions put in to ethanol, fuel cells, hydrogen and the assorted technologies that are buzzing around, the "silver bullet" turned out to be a souped-up Duracell.

Coming up tomorrow - why any of this matters!

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