14 January 2011

Year 2020: "Throw Another EV on the Junk Pile, Harv!"

In 2010, the total number of passenger vehicles sold worldwide is expected to reach 44.7 million units. Of this number, approximately 954,000 vehicles—or 2.2% of the global total—employ some type of battery propulsion system, either hybrid electric or pure battery-driven.

By 2020, global passenger-vehicle sales are expected to reach 70.9 million units, of which 5.2 million units (7.3% of the total) will feature some type of battery-powered configuration. _JDPower

The great global push toward green jobs and green cars is being driven by political institutions and special interests -- not by consumer demand. The electric car is destined to remain a "niche vehicle" for a small minority of auto owners for the foreseeable future.
Consulting firm J.D. Power recently produced a report on the potential for alternative vehicles titled: “Drive Green 2020: More Hope than Reality?” One wonders why they added the question mark. The report notes that hybrid and battery vehicles accounted for just 2.2% of global vehicle sales last year. They predict what appears like a healthy 13.8% annual growth rate over the next decade, but note that this would still mean alternatives representing just 7.3% of total car sales by 2020.

As a technology, the internal combustion engine cleaned the battery car’s clock a century ago. The fundamental problem is that the energy-to-weight ratio of batteries is minuscule compared with that of gasoline. The other problem is that car companies have produced a constant stream of stunning technological advances ever since. Electric vehicles lag conventional cars in every department except creeping up on pedestrians. They lack driving range, refuelling convenience, performance and value.The J.D. Power report claims that “the biggest obstacle” to alternative vehicles is all that relatively inexpensive petroleum. Only in Green Bizarro world would the economic boon that is cheap petroleum be seen as an “obstacle.”

The report concludes that “it is unlikely that global demand will reach the levels that have been widely predicted by the industry.” But there are surely doubts whether demand will reach even the levels predicted by J.D. Power, since the only thing driving it is that unpredictable, Dr. Strangelove-style government boot on the accelerator. Such policies almost invariably wind up with a crash. _FinancialPost
Al Fin has promoted pluggable hybrids in the past. And if you are affluent, live in the city, and drive an average of 20 miles or less daily, a pluggable hybrid can make economic sense. As long as you stay within range of your batteries, an overnight re-charge may be all the "fuel" you will ever need -- until your batteries need replacement.

Most North American drivers fall into a different category, and will require vehicles of greater range and greater value. And budgets in the 2010s will find the massive $multi-trillion transportation infrastructure overhaul required for electric fleets to be a bit difficult.

Electric motors certainly provide great acceleration, and electricity from the grid is less expensive than gasoline. But I have followed advances in battery technology for almost 20 years, and the progress has been incredibly slow. Until we see multiple significant breakthroughs in battery energy density, power density, costs, and sustainability of materials, electric vehicles will perpetually remain confined to a small niche market.

We need 2050s battery technology, but we are stuck with what we have. This means that liquid fuels will be driving most automobiles for decades to come. That is where the focus should be: newer, better, cleaner liquid fuels and vehicles.

See Al Fin Energy for more energy news.

"Gee-whiz!" futurism is fine when relaxing over a fine beverage, but when it comes time to get out the checkbook, a bitter dose of realism is more appropriate.

More 16Dec11: The Problem with the Electric Car Naturally, Al Fin energy experts are not concerned about CO2, the plant's best friend. But "green" thinkers are inherently confused, and apparently unaware of the obvious contradictions in their thinking. It helps to point some of them out in the interest of promoting clearer heads.


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Blogger Max said...

I personally not a fan of battery cars. First and foremost they don't achieve their declared goal of being environmentally friendly. Production of batteries is a very toxic industry, and utilization of them at end of their lifecycle is even much more so

Add to that that most electricity is produced by coal fired power plants (the #1 polluter of air with heavy metals , radioactive particles, the reason behind strip mining etc etc)

Its just a harmful fad -same way windmills are

Real problem is clean energy generation (read nuclear power, maybe solar in some circumstances)

Cars can be solved in various ways - super capacitors seems like better approach . Maybe even still liquid fuels produced by bacteria (stuff Craig Venter is working on)

Friday, 14 January, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

Methanol or methane fuel cells make the most sense to me if you want to run your car with an electric motor.

Supercapacitors plus modest battery packs would make nice adjuncts to the fuel cell for allowing maximum reliability and responsiveness.

A serial hybrid with a fuel cell instead of an ICE, plus supercapacitor for acceleration.

Monday, 17 January, 2011  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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