When will we be ready for electric cars?

Are we finally ready for the electric car?

Boy are we advancing in leaps and bounds:

Here is the Roberts electric car, built 1896.

It gets 40 miles to the charge.

Let us see, where does our electricity come from? In 2017 the sources were:

Coal, oil and gas 62%, Nuclear 20%, Hydroelectric 7%, Wind 6%, Solar 2% and all other sources, geothermal, wood and other biomass 3%.

Coal, and natural gas are the staples of electricity generation and will remain so for the foreseeable future until a suitable replacement has been developed.

Hydroelectric power is mostly built up and will not provide much more generation capacity. However, many dams can be augmented with peak storage capacity to even out the supply. Many of these improvements are highly profitable since they buy surplus power at low cost and sell back peak power at peak power price.

Wind power is at 7%, but there is a cost associated with that. The annual bird kill associated with wind turbines is about 1.3 million birds, the bald eagle and other large birds may again be threatened or endangered if we increase wind power substantially. Already some rare bats are endangered. The Audubon society has given it its blessing, after all, in their opinion climate change is more of a danger than the extinction of bird species.

Solar power shows some promise. The large solar concentrator power plants kill all birds that come near the hot spot, and have some other problems. Photovoltaic cells on the south facing roofs fulfill an important role. In a case of failure of the grid they can provide a limited emergency power and  they are already important for people living off the grid like the Amish and mountain dwellers. Putting up large solar farms in the desert seems like a good idea, but they need a good supply of water to be cleaned or they will be dirtied up, lowering their efficiency. Fully built up solar power can supply up to 10% of the electricity needs but that is about the practical limit.

Geothermal provides less than 1/2% of our power supply. Unfortunately geothermal energy is most abundant in geologically unstable regions.

Wood and biomass power is no real solution if you are concerned about CO2 emissions. It is better to build houses from wood, trapping the cellulose forever.

There is an old technology we can learn from the North Koreans. They enclose the cow dung and other compost and use the generated Methane for stove fuel. Recovering Methane from landfills can produce 0.1 to 0.4% of our energy.

Why am I down on electric cars? First, the energy to drive the car must have been produced somehow. As long as we use coal to produce electricity there will be more CO2 in the air with electric cars than with diesel powered cars. Second, electric cars are heavier than corresponding gasoline powered cars and have less room. Third, it takes an awful lot of mining to produce all the rare materials that goes into a modern battery. The energy used  to mine and refine all the raw materials that goes into an electec car is more than can be saved during the lifetime of the car. This too takes a lot of energy and leaves scars on the landscape. Finally, batteries last only so long and are expensive, leading to a much more expensive car to purchase and maintain.

The same arguments can be raised against solar and wind power. It takes more energy to mine and refine the materials than the equipment generate since they generate the electricity when they want, not when the need is there.

Are we doomed? Not at all. As oil and gas is becoming depleted, we should build up the nuclear power plants, not with old Uranium based nuclear plants with all their nuclear waste, but with small, distributed Thorium based plants.

Why Thorium?

We are a net importer of Uranium, even before we sold 20% of our Uranium ore to Russia. With Thorium there is a million years supply available, and it requires no extra mining since it is found in rare earth metal ores, which will bear the mining costs. They have 0.01% as much nuclear waste as uranium based plants and are earthquake safe and much less vulnerable to sabotage. They also respond much better to demand fluctuations. As the plants would be more distributed it would lessen the need for an expanded electric grid, which is unbelievably vulnerable to sabotage. The long and short of it: Go Thorium and when that is fully built up, then develop Electric cars!

In the mean time develop trucks with electric backup so they can accelerate faster in stop and go traffic and regenerate energy when braking rather than use jake brakes. In confined spaces they could then use only electric for maneuvering. . Other candidates: Buses, trolleys and delivery vehicles would also benefit from this technique.

Published by

lenbilen

Engineer, graduated from Chalmers Technical University a long time ago with a degree in Technical Physics. Career in Aerospace, Analytical Chemistry, and chip manufacturing. Presently adjunct faculty at PSU, teaching one course in Computer Engineering, the Capstone Course.

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