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Electric Car Technology - Electric Hurdles - Resonator

Les Bidrawn
Apr 2, 2010 SHARE

Occasionally I find myself doing incredibly stupid things. I'm talking seriously stupid, death stupid.

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A few weeks ago I found a 12-gauge shotgun shell in the garage. It had fallen from the ammo cabinet and was rolling around the floor. I wondered what would have happened of it had landed brass-down, right on the primer button. If I were a cartoon, a great big exclamation point would have appeared over my head. A few hours later I had fixed the shell to the end of a carbon-fiber arrow shaft, grabbed a compound bow and went up to the ranch. Explosive-tipped arrows... how incredibly cool.

The physics of the experiment never came to mind. All I could think of was the awesomeness of exploding arrows. I could be like a new superhero or something. Taking aim at a distant boulder, I loosed the first bolt. I can't recall much of the next few seconds except for the distinct whistling sounds near my head. The shell had ignited, but it had also directed its energy straight back at me, all three feet of splintered arrow. It penetrated the front fender of our Yamaha Mule and peppered the windscreen. Pops is going to kill me.

OK, exploding arrows ain't such a good idea. But they sure sound cool.

Electric cars sound cool as well, awesome even. Just plug it in, juice it up, and drive away. No mess, no smell, no noise. Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? That's probably because it is.

Every eight years or so electric cars surface on the grid. From the last few auto shows , you'd think the internal combustion engine is in full cardiac arrest. Words like "sustainable" and "footprint" waft through the halls like new-age incense. It's just a matter of time until electric cars fill millions of driveways.

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Not so fast, turbo.

The technical hurdles facing electric car technology are formidable at the least. Take batteries for instance. The lead-acid cells found in conventional cars are based on technology more than 100 years old. You'd think that after a century we'd be further along. Newer (10-year-old technology) lithium-based cells, though powerful, are expensive and extremely volatile. I know this from personal experience, having punctured a 2200 mah li-po battery (about the size of a candy bar) just to see what would happen. The results scorched a good chunk of my back yard. It also smoked out my neighbors. While gasoline is flammable as well, its energy output remains consistent, while battery cells have a finite number of charges. It's going to get ugly when all these power packs need replacement.

As an RC enthusiast (radio controlled planes), I keep a close eye on battery technology. Better batteries equal more power, longer flight times, and reduced weight. Lithium batteries have addressed those issues. As planes get larger, however, lithium batteries begin to lose their luster. Big planes require big motors and big, expensive batteries. Flight times are reduced to less than five minutes, with cell packs costing upwards of $500. At this scale, it makes more sense to use fuel. It's much cheaper and has much more range. It's the same issue for electric cars.

I get the distinct feeling the OEMs feel compelled to make some sort of electric tribute just to say they're "thinking green." Nevermind the fact that said vehicles are insanely expensive or not yet available at all. Take Audi's E-Tron. A production run of 100 will be available to a select group-a select, wealthy group. These cars will remain electric exotica. Joe Average need not apply.

What we need is a manufacturer with big, brass balls to come forward and release smaller, lighter, high-efficiency gas or diesel models. Volkswagen is considering its 65-mpg Polo for North America, a car that could put electric and hybrid cars to shame. No, it's not as trendy as an e-car, but its total cost of ownership is better than hybrids and electrics.

I'm not anti-electric car; I'm more a realist. The technology cannot support the product, not yet anyway. While I'm fairly certain we will find a way to cram huge amounts of energy into small spaces, I'm not going to build a 20-foot B-17 for this non-exsistent power source. I want to fly now. Plus, I have this great idea to drop shotgun shells from the plane so they explode on impact.

Another seriously stupid idea.

Les Bidrawn
Editor
european.car@sorc.com

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