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One Gallon the Achilles' Heel of Electric Cars
Muny Dews Blog ^ | 2-20-12 | Muny Dews

Posted on 02/20/2012 10:28:53 AM PST by Brookhaven

The Chevy Volt's batteries hold the same amount of energy as one gallon of gasoline—one single gallon.

Would you buy a car that held only one gallon of gasoline? Neither would I. Yet, we've invested billions of dollars developing and promoting a car with an “electric gas tank” (the batteries) that only holds one gallon's worth of energy.

I've heard that new super batteries are just around the corner. All we have to do is invest enough money and they'll appear. Just like computers (in the 1950's they were the size of rooms, today they can be held in the palm of your hand), battery development is whizzing along at a blurring pace. Unfortunately, that isn't true. The development pace of batteries is nothing like that of computers.

A better analogy for battery development is radio. In the 1950's most people listened to music on AM radio. In the 1970's, FM radio became the standard for listening to music. Digital radio was introduced in the 2000's. Each of these was a step up in quality, but they weren't such a huge step that they made the old standards obsolete.

Alkaline batteries were commonly used in the 1950's, and they still are today. Plug a C, D, or AA battery into any device; odds are it's the same alkaline battery technology they were using back in the 1950's. Nickel batteries appeared in the 1970's. Lithium batteries appeared in the 1990's, and have three times the capacity of 1950's alkaline batteries. Truth is, the change in battery technology is slow, slow, slow.

The Chevy Volt battery pack weighs 435 pounds. That's what's required to store the energy found in one gallon of gasoline. If you wanted to create a Volt that had a “five gallon” energy tank, it would require at least 2,175 pounds of batteries—literally over a ton. Even if batteries suddenly became dirt cheap, the weight alone makes creating a car that holds more than a couple of gallons of energy unfeasible.

When Consumer Reports tested the Volt, they managed to get 28 miles on a full battery charge; which sounds about right for one gasoline gallon's worth of energy. The desingers at GM knew that also. That's why then ended up putting an internal combustion engine in the car to burn gasoline to produce electricity to power the electric motors. The Volt was meant to be an all electric car, it was sold to the public and the government as an all electric car, so why did they include an internal combustion engine? Because, the best battery pack they could come up could only hold the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline.

When Poplular Mechanics tested the Volt, they found that even with the battery assist the Volt only got 32 mpg in the city, and 39 mpg on the highway. This is not an improvement over conventional cars (in fact, it's less than some conventional cars get). The truth is, when it comes to miles per gallon, the Volt is not as "green" as many conventional vehicles. And, the reason is the Volt has to carry 435 pounds of weight (the battery pack)--a battery pack that becomes dead weight after it expends its one gallon's worth of energy. The battery pack made the car less green.

The Nissan Leaf did a little better. Consumer Reports got 68 miles out of a full charge (about two gallons worth of energy). Nissan didn't use more advanced technology than the Volt. The Leaf has a larger battery than the Volt (660 lbs. Vs 435 lbs.) and the non-battery part of the car weighs less (2,694 lbs. Vs 3,346 lbs.). Nissan just put more batteries in the car, and made the rest of the car lighter.

This might still be workable, if you could refill the “electric gas tank” in just a few minutes. Unfortunately, it takes at least 8 hours to fully recharge the batteries in the all electric Leaf. A drive from Atlanta to Birmingham (about 150 miles) takes about three hours (I drive slow and like to make a couple of stops along the way). If I tried to make that trip in the Nissan Leaf, it would take at least 20 hours, because I would have to make two 8-hour stops to recharge the battery.

So, why isn't just adding more batteries and making the car lighter a solution? Look at the Tesla Roadster. It gets 211 miles on a full battery charge (that's what Tesla claimed in a lawsuit against the show Top Gear—who said they only got 55 miles per charge—so we'll go with that over the 250 plus miles Tesla claims in their advertising). 211 miles is still a great range, but how did they achieve it? They increased the battery pack to 992 pounds (557 pounds more than the Volt) and decreased the non-battery weight to 1,731 pounds (2,053 pounds less than the Volt). The Tesla Roadster is a small, small car. I'm sure it's fun as a sports car, but if ask it to do any of the mundane tasks in life (carry a family, or bring home a load groceries) it's not anywhere near to being up to the task.

The Chevy Volt was sold as an electric vehicle. The early advertising for the car (including while GM was asking for money in the bailout) was all about the Volt being an electric car. GM put every engineering brain cell it had behind the Volt. There is no doubt the Chevy Volt is state of the art, best in class as far as electric vehicles go--and it has a gasoline engine as a crutch. It must have that crutch, because the batteries in the Volt only hold the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline—one single gallon.

Would we be calling a regular car with a gas tank that only held one gallon of gasoline “the car America had to build?” Would we have spent billions of dollars developing that car? Would we be offering $7,500 tax credits to encourage consumers to purchase that car?

Yet, that is what we've done with the Chevy Volt. We've put all our money and efforts behind a car with an “electric gas tank” that holds the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline. The Chevy Volt, or any other electric car, will not be the answer to our energy problems until we can equip a car with a battery pack that can hold the same energy equivalent as the gas tanks in current cars. Given the history of battery development (tripling capacity every 40 years), that will be somewhere between 120 and 160 years from now.

Buying an electric car today is the same as buying a regular car that only holds one gallon of gasoline. Building one is, well...I'll let you answer that one yourself.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Government
KEYWORDS: volt
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This is a slightly different version than the one posted yesterday.
1 posted on 02/20/2012 10:29:04 AM PST by Brookhaven
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To: Brookhaven

What does it cost to replace a Volt battery and the cost to set up a 220v charging station.


2 posted on 02/20/2012 10:34:31 AM PST by duckman (Go Newt...)
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To: Brookhaven

The only way electric cars will ever be practical when you can get power from the road.

Production of these cars is nothing more then graft.


3 posted on 02/20/2012 10:42:11 AM PST by The Free Engineer
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To: Brookhaven

The best evidence that hybrids are all hype is that they use gasoline instead of diesel. Serious diesel electric vehecles, to wit locomotives and submarines, use diesel engines. The reason consumer hybrids avoid diesels is because that would shatter the myth that they are somehow “clean”.


4 posted on 02/20/2012 10:42:23 AM PST by Lonesome in Massachussets (Ceterum autem censeo, Obama delenda est.)
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To: Brookhaven
Eight hours on the charger! Where do people think the electricity comes from? A current bush?

Most people completely disregard the fact that the majority of our electricity comes from burning coal. And it is not cheap -- an 8 hour charge on 220v is like running your dryer all day nonstop. Every day. I'd love to see that bill each month.

How can people (and governments and corporations) be so stupid?

5 posted on 02/20/2012 10:45:54 AM PST by Semper911 (When you want to rob Peter to pay Paul, you'll always have the support of Paul.)
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To: Brookhaven

It’s also worth noting that there has been a huge market-based incentive to improve battery technology throughout its history.

Everybody who uses battery-powered devices — which is to say virtually everybody — wants longer battery life. There are few potential products that would have comparable instantaneous demand if they could only be invented and commercialized.

It is foolishness to think that, if government would only spend more money on research, it would accomplish a technological breakthrough in battery technology.


6 posted on 02/20/2012 10:47:15 AM PST by Skepolitic
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To: Skepolitic

Could try capacitors, though. They can hold large amounts of power and they charge up very quickly.

The problem is, though, that they are made to discharge all at once. If there was a way to regulate the discharge to a set amount over time... it might be more feasible that trying to figure out a better battery.


7 posted on 02/20/2012 10:53:58 AM PST by gogogodzilla (Live free or die!)
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To: Semper911

Because the government is subsidizing with large tax breaks..


8 posted on 02/20/2012 10:57:34 AM PST by Michael Barnes (Obamaa+ Downgrade)
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To: Semper911

>> “How can people (and governments and corporations) be so stupid?” <<

.
Simple: - The sole purpose of electric cars is to destroy the mobility of the common man. (cue-up Jimmah Cahta’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”)
.


9 posted on 02/20/2012 10:59:00 AM PST by editor-surveyor (No Federal Sales Tax - No Way!)
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To: Brookhaven

Liberals...play at building cars...play at building housing..play at having families...play at being mortgage brokers...play at being traders ...and play at being doctors...and play while presidentin’!!!

they don’t REALLY DO a DA*% THING useful...except to provide a contrast to reality!!!


10 posted on 02/20/2012 11:00:27 AM PST by mo
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Please Donate Toward The Purchase And Keep FR Up And Running!


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11 posted on 02/20/2012 11:02:58 AM PST by DJ MacWoW (America! The wolves are here! What will you do?)
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To: Brookhaven

It’s a perfect analogy to help people understand the concept of energy density, which has always been the holy grail of all battery designers. Go back to the days before we had alkaline cells, and your typical flashlight might last a few hours. Lithium technology has brought a new level of performance, and batteries will continue to improve and new technologies such as miniature PEM fuel cells will come into widespread use. I’ve seen models of fuel cells that can be recharged in a few seconds and will run a laptop, for example:
http://www.gizmag.com/at-last-an-affordable-portable-pocket-size-fuel-cell/15425/

Why it’s become fashionable on FR to bash new technologies, I don’t quite know. We’re not typing on Underwood portables, you know? So rather than belittle these developments, we should focus our frustration on GUMMINT involvement, and let the free market and private investment determine which are winners and which are losers. It will be some time before other energy sources come close to the energy density of a gallon of gas - but the market will be the first to tell us when it does.

Government over-reach is the real outrage when it comes to energy.


12 posted on 02/20/2012 11:05:49 AM PST by bigbob
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To: Brookhaven

Well, that battery may only hold one gallon of gas, but the Volt pays a lot of UAW wages and thus Democrats. Instead of measuring by gallons of gas, it should be measured in dollars of Democrat campaign donations. There’s the real metric.


13 posted on 02/20/2012 11:11:59 AM PST by blueunicorn6 ("A crack shot and a good dancer")
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To: gogogodzilla

“The problem is, though, that they are made to discharge all at once. If there was a way to regulate the discharge to a set amount over time... it might be more feasible that trying to figure out a better battery.


Ah a little correction is needed here. Capacitors are not DESIGNED to discharge all at once. They can if desired or can be discharged over time if desired.

It is known as an RC time constant T=RC where T=Time in seconds, R= Resistance in ohms, and C= Capacitance in Farads. While in the olden days a one Farad capacitor would have been huge that is no longer the case but you still need many, many Farads to power an electric vehicle. A one Farad capacitor, connected to a resistor of 100 ohms to discharge to approx 60% of its full charge in 100 seconds. See the problem? The resistance in an electric vehicle will be very low to get enough current into the motor therefor you will need copious Farads of capacitors for any appreciable drive time.

As far as batteries, if people are really interested spend a few hours researching the Edison Battery used in the first electric cars. Lighter than Lead Acid, they are an Alkyine battery and the fluid does NOT destroy the electrodes so the life expectancy can be up to 100 years and no that is not a misprint. Jay Leno has a Baker electric car with the original Edison Battery and it still works.

The Edison battery can be fully discharged without damage (try that with some batteries) and can be over charged and the only thing which needs to be done is topping off the lost water with distilled water. It is also much less toxic than Lead Acid batteries.

These batteries do lose about 1% of their charge per month if not trickle charged but for an electric vehicle that is not much of an issue.

Why are we not using them? Well for one Exide purchased the rights for the current methods of manufacturing in the mid 70s and proceeded to halt production. On the surface it would seem they did not want a 100 year battery on the market.

They are being used as backup supplies for solar or windmill system and of course mainly manufactured in China.

One of the posters on this thread did touch on a real issue even if there is a PERFECT battery it has to be charged from some source.

Can you imagine millions of cars all plugged into the grid everyday while at the same time we have a POS of a president who is doing his best to reduce our ability to produce energy.


14 posted on 02/20/2012 11:27:12 AM PST by Wurlitzer (Welcome to the new USSA (United Socialist States of Amerika))
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To: Wurlitzer

ZI’m sure the Exide people deliberately suppress the 100 year battery for short-term profit;such behavior is typical business. Buy out the competition and then shut down the product has happened many times.

It is why a real patent reform that would void any patent simply held or hoarded and patenents and copyrights would expire after the limited time of as originmally set up,that is, within a decade or two of the grant.


15 posted on 02/20/2012 11:48:25 AM PST by hoosierham (Freedom isn't free)
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To: Wurlitzer

ZI’m sure the Exide people deliberately suppress the 100 year battery for short-term profit;such behavior is typical business. Buy out the competition and then shut down the product has happened many times.

It is why a real patent reform that would void any patent simply held or hoarded and patenents and copyrights would expire after the limited time of as originmally set up,that is, within a decade or two of the grant.


16 posted on 02/20/2012 11:48:39 AM PST by hoosierham (Freedom isn't free)
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To: Semper911

I ran the math one time on the cost to charge vs. gasoline, based on numbers from a Motor Trend article and my own electric bill. It did look like you’d save a fair amount to use electricity, everything being equal. I don’t remember exactly but it seemed like electricity was about 75-80% cheaper than $3 gas. But if I recall, those numbers assumed better performance of the Volt than I’ve heard about lately. And it didn’t account for battery replacements. Also, it doesn’t count the in-elasticity of supply of electricity. If electric cars were widely adopted and electrical demand shot up in a short period, not only would the cost have to increase, but we’d see blackouts and probably some kind of rationing like they do with AC in the summer. Government should have learned from the CA 1990 ZEV law that just because you pass it doesn’t mean the technology exists to get you there.


17 posted on 02/20/2012 11:57:07 AM PST by JTHomes (Free markets now!)
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To: Brookhaven

There is no doubt the Chevy Volt is state of the art, best in class as far as electric vehicles go--and it has a gasoline engine as a crutch. It must have that crutch, because the batteries in the Volt only hold the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline—one single gallon.

Ironic that GM put their "green" car in front of a wind farm. Not only does the Volt need a crutch so does every other source of "alternative" energy (except tidal and hydroelectric). Because of the quixotic nature of the wind every single watt of wind generated power has to be backed up with conventionally generated power (coal, oil, NG, or nuclear). The same is true for photovoltaic (solar cells). Hydroelectric makes sense as it is dependable, renewable, nonpolluting, safe as churches, and of course the "tree huggers" are demanding that we remove our dams to return the rivers to their "free and natural state".

This country has too many people making too much money out of lousy engineering.

GtG

18 posted on 02/20/2012 12:12:16 PM PST by Gandalf_The_Gray (I live in my own little world, I like it 'cuz they know me here.)
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To: duckman
What does it cost to replace a Volt battery and the cost to set up a 220v charging station.

That's an interesting question. Since the car causes the fire which burns down the garage, would the auto policy cover both, so you only have to pay the deductible on your auto policy, or would you have to pay the deductible on your home policy as well?

19 posted on 02/20/2012 12:16:39 PM PST by Darth Reardon (No offense to drunken sailors)
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To: hoosierham

I cannot argue one iota on your opinion regarding patents. A patent was not intended to deprive the world a product or invention but to give an inventor a chance to profit from the invention before it could be produced by anyone else.

Given the pluses of the Edison Battery I would think it would be a great jumping off point for electric vehicles until something better came down the pike. It is proven, less toxic, much longer lasting, less susceptible to damage via over/under charging, less weight than lead acid.

Exide could only have bought a patent on a method of manufacturing as I do not believe a battery from 1900 could be still protected by a patent. If I put on a tin foil hat I could imagine battery manufactures conspiring to NOT manufacture a 100 year battery.


20 posted on 02/20/2012 12:17:25 PM PST by Wurlitzer (Welcome to the new USSA (United Socialist States of Amerika))
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