The Electric Car Crapshoot
Klaus H. Hemsath
December 17, 2008
Klaus H Hemsath
Al Gore, Rick Wagoner, Tom Friedman, our President Elect, Barack Obama, and many more celebrities are all heavily favoring and supporting a wholesale changeover from fossil fuel driven cars to electrically powered automobiles.
Their faith is based on the Lithium Ion battery. These batteries are very expensive, are heavy, must be replaced after several years, and require hours for recharging. Lithium is not widely available in the US and must be imported.
Electric cars perform admirably. They do not emit greenhouse gases directly, can be designed to accelerate well, and are very quiet. Electric cars are considered by many as the secret weapon that will reduce our dependence on imported petroleum and will lessen our payments to oil producing countries.
In a good year, US citizens will buy roughly 15 million cars to replenish and grow the US inventory of nearly 250 million used cars. It may take anywhere from twelve to fifteen years to replace most of this inventory with new models. The Volt, the first electric car produced by General Motors, will likely be leased in small numbers initially to stay on top of performance and warranty issues. Optimistically, we can assume that GM and other car companies will sell more than 2.5 million electric cars during the next ten years. Replacing 250 million cars will take a few decades longer.
At the same time the US is looking at a population growth of another 100 million residents during the next fifty years. Under the most optimistic assumptions we can expect to eventually see 150 million electric cars and 150 million liquid fuel powered cars in use by 2050.
Passenger cars are responsible for only 45% of present liquid fuel consumption. Under the most favorable conditions and assumptions, electric cars may be able to save 25% of petroleum imports eventually. Liquid fuel consumption for other uses will certainly increase during this time. Optimistically, we may expect that electric cars can cut liquid fuel consumption by 20% in 2050.
This figure does not bode well for curing the oil import dependency of the US. It certainly will not reduce dollar exports. It is certain that petroleum prices will rise substantially in future years. Additionally, we will have to pay for imported raw materials for batteries from abroad.
All these figures lead to one overpowering conclusion; electric cars will never be able to free us from the yoke of petroleum imports or reduce our balance of payments significantly!
There a few technical complications, too. Electric cars must be recharged regularly with electric energy. Electric energy is produced presently with fossil and nuclear fuels. Solar power is not suited too well because most electric cars must be recharged during the night hours when the Sun is not shining. For the next ten to fifteen years only a limited number of nuclear plants can be installed. Wind power is an intermittent energy, which cannot yet be stored in quantities. Fossil fuel burning has to provide virtually all of the electric energy for recharging the new fleet of electric cars for years to come. Combining efficiencies of coal fired power plants, of electricity transmission, and of battery chargers results in an overall energy efficiency that is not better than the energy efficiency of modern combustion engine inventory. Therefore, electric cars will not lower greenhouse gas emissions! Only very efficient combustion engines can accomplish this feat!
If electric cars cannot save us from a coming energy crisis, what other choices do we have? The answer is sobering. Without the coming of a Deus ex Machina, there seems to be only one and only one rational solution. We must learn how to make renewable fuels from large-scale production of renewable biomass.
The Earth cannot support the use of large amounts of fossil fuels any longer. We will not be able to stop the use of petroleum in the near future. We must outlaw the use of fossil fuels soon to save the Earth from overheating.
Only two other energy sources exist, which can provide the large amounts of energy that modern economies depend on. Sunlight is inexhaustible and available in quantities we will never be able to consume. Several conversion technologies are available for converting sunlight into the two energy forms that our economies depend on; electricity and liquid transportation fuels.
The other large energy source is nuclear fuel. It is likely that nuclear fuels will last for more than one century. Other energy sources such as hydro power, marine power, and geothermal power are not available everywhere and are limited in capacity.
We are left with one conclusion. For the next century or two, we will have to depend heavily on converting sunshine into electricity and into liquid transportation fuels. Energy in the form of sunshine is not very concentrated. Fortunately, biomass has the unusual ability to use sunlight and create energy rich carbohydrates and a few hydrocarbons. More amazingly yet; biomass energy can be stored.
There are a few technical problems we must solve before biomass can become the savior technology. We must grow very large amounts of biomass, we must learn to convert carbohydrates into hydrocarbons, and we must agree to reserve arable lands for food production only. All remaining obstacles can be overcome with existing technologies. It will take about one long decade to develop workable and economically attractive solutions. To be successful we must support exploratory research on a large scale and we must organize and fund an independent Energy Supply Development Agency.
The dismal interference of US Congress in energy matters must be changed. Instead of demanding the ineffective manufacturing of electric cars and regulating fuel consumption of passenger cars, US Congress must change to a new, practicable, and effective energy policy. US Congress and the new administration must demand increased thermal efficiencies from all newly manufactured internal combustion engines and must initiate the fast track development of liquid fuels production from renewable biomass.
Dr. Hemsath recently published the book: CLIMATE CHANGE - GOLD RUSH OR DISASTER? For 50 years he has worked as scientist, process engineer, Corporate Vice President of R&D, Company President, CEO, and Inventor. He holds more than 60 US Patents. He is working on a new book: "THE SOLUTION FOR ENDING GLOBAL WARMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE". Go to http://www.thermalexpert.com
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