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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Kind of electrifying!

Ever since I read The Bottomless Well I've been looking for the signs that we would move away from the use of internal combustion gasoline engines and heavy complex mechanical drivetrains in our cars. Even if a variety of sources for supplying the electricity competed(diesel generator, hybrids, batteries, other?) the car itself was likely to become an electric appliance as Peter Huber predicted. Superior performance and environmental characteristics and improving economics of power chips and electric motors make this almost inevitable. This has already happened in some very large commercial vehicles like earthmovers. Now we are at the early stages of this happening in cars. Here is an enthusiastic review of the Tesla Roadster:
I've always marveled at how long the antique internal-combustion engine has survived. By 2006 standards, my car's power plant is a noisy, heat-blasting, poison-spewing monster with way too many moving parts. One spin in a Tesla made me realize that the gas engine might finally be on its last legs—and not because electric cars will help wean us from Saudi oil and save us from global warming. Rather, the Tesla Roadster is a rolling demo that proves electric cars now outperform their gas-guzzling counterparts in comfort, convenience, and, best of all, speed.

Eberhard says traditional carmakers have failed with electrics for two reasons. First, they market them as "penalty boxes" for environmental do-gooders and gas-mileage-obsessed penny-pinchers. Second, they just don't understand batteries. The Tesla's giant lithium-ion battery pack gives it the power to hit 60 in four seconds, to run 250 miles without a recharge, and to charge rapidly at its home charging base (a one-hour charge will take you 80 miles; it takes a 3.5-hour charge to go 250 miles). You can even plug into a wall socket at a roadside stop in a pinch. That makes the Roadster a viable commuter car and weekend day-tripper. The company claims energy costs as low as a penny per mile.
Check out the tesla website. Here are some pertinent technical points:
When you build a car that’s electric, you start with one built-in advantage: Electric cars just don’t have to be as complex mechanically as the car you’re probably driving now. Sophisticated electronics and software take the place of the pounds and pounds of machinery required to introduce a spark and ignite the fuel that powers an internal combustion engine.

Most of the subsystems in the Tesla Roadster are completely electronic and under direct software control. But unlike all other cars, these systems are not a hodge-podge of independent systems — instead, they are designed as an integrated system, the way complex network and computer systems are designed today.

Top Speed
Battery Life
Way, way cool!!!


Susan's Husband said...

Note how they carefully write "energy costs per mile", thereby avoiding the amortized cost per mile of replacing the battery. I have the replace the Li+ battery on my laptop every year to keep it at a reasonable performance level. Should I not expect to do the same with this car?

Of course, if they get fuel cells to work, that problem goes away. I suspect the real success of electric cars will hinge on that.

Howard said...

Unless Tesla wants a reputation for over-promising... they say 100,000+ miles before battery replacement. That should be 5-10 years depending on annual miles driven.

Hey Skipper said...

It really is amazing how many engineering excrescences are in a modern automobile:

-- poppet valves and all their machinery
-- reciprocal to rotary conversion (and all its machinery)
-- extensive and heavy cooling system (to get rid of all the waste heat)
-- an engine that cannot produce torque at zero rpm, adding the requirement for a clutch
-- an engine with a very limited economic RPM range (roughly 1000-3000 rpm), which means a heavy and complex transmission
-- an induction system that requires significant pumping losses across the throttle butterfly
-- all braking energy lost to heat

All of that goes away with electric motors.

SH is absolutely correct: fuel cells (along with viable room/near-room temperature superconductors) will revolutionize automobiles.

And, by doubling, at least, thermodynamic efficiency, will slash the demand for mideast oil.