Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Electric Dreams

The all electric Gavonator. Courtesy

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney, NSW

While Dennis wants to unplug his home from the power grid I 'll like to plug my car into the grid. Petrol is about 1.35 $AU per liter here at the moment. Thats about $US 3.75 a gallon. According to news reports its expected to reach $1.50 per liter soon.

So I was interested to read that a Silicon Valley company Tesla Motors, has just released a hot little electric sport car. The roadster two seater can do 0-60 in four seconds, has top speed of 130MPH and is supposed to have a range of 250 miles. At $100,000 it's way out of my price range but I'm sure movie stars and millionaires will love it. Its powered by 6800 lithium ion batteries similar to the ones used in mobile phones. Despite the hype the batteries remain the big problem with electric cars. While the new batteries provide much better performance then the old heavy lead acid batteries they are still limited by cost and cycle life. After a few years those batteries are going to burn out and need to be replaced. Replacing 6800 batteries won't be cheap.

There has been much research in longer life batteries and companies like A123 Systems and Altairnano claim to have the technology. I'll believe it when I see it but some of the batteries have already began to appear in power tools.

Of course hybrid cars have been available for several years. They are a favorite with A-list actors, the socially aware elite, Green Party members and global warming believers which should make everyone else suspicious. Surely a car that has both electric and an internal combustion engines is going to be more unreliable. But its good for the environment right? Nope. researchers have looked at the total energy cost to manufacture and drive a hybrid and compared it to a large car like a Hummer. Surprise, surprise, the Hummer uses less energy. It might be a gas guzzler but its far easier to manufacture and will last a lot longer then a hybrid.

Oh well, looks like I won't be driving electric cars just yet. I'll just have to keep using Cityrail's electric trains.