All-electric vehicles are considered the best long-term solution for both reduction of our dependence on oil and reducing the level of air pollution that our society produces. By moving the actual energy production problem outside the vehicle, we eliminate a wide range of constraints on energy production having to do with weight, safety and scale. Large energy producing facilities can be designed to use fossil fuels at very high efficiency and can be outfitted with high performance scrubbers to reduce pollution below that one can get from portable automotive power plants. Nuclear electric power sources which produce no air pollution at all simply cannot be done at the vehicle level. Remarkably, at today’s electric power prices, it is actually cheaper to run a car off of utility electricity than to run it off of gasoline on a dollars per mile basis.
The fundamental problem with all-electric vehicles is that we have not come close to making batteries that have the energy storage capacity that one can get from fossil fuel – on either a volume or weight basis. Current electric vehicles support perhaps 40-100 mile ranges before needing a recharge cycle, a process that can last up to 12 hours. It is for this reason that the predicted market for the all-electric vehicle is considered less than 5% of the total vehicles to be produced in 2015.
They hybrid car is considered to be the winning technology by providing a primary mode based upon electric power, but providing the ready backup of an internal combustion engine and fossil fuel to ensure the nominal range of 300 miles between fill-ups, and the quick “recharging” capability we all enjoy by going to the gas station. The downside of the hybrid is fundamentally cost – supporting two power generation systems in a single car can never be as cheap as either a gas powered car or an all electric.
The need for extended range, however, is not an everyday requirement – over 90% of daily vehicle travel is less than 70 miles. Assuming that all-electric vehicles can be designed for these kinds of distances, the added “feature” of the fossil fuel based backup is a disadvantage in cost, weight and complexity.
There is an opportunity for innovation by recognizing that the need for extended range is not an everyday requirement, and that if we had a way to “bolt on” an extended range power source only when needed, we could have a vehicle truly optimized for the majority of nominal use without sacrificing our current expectations from existing vehicles – the ability to travel long distances with fast refueling.
A straightforward solution would be to build an electric generator and fuel tank into a roof mountable unit that could simply be attached when needed. Since this would be a pure electric generator, the internal combustion engine could be optimized for maximum fuel efficiency running at a constant RPM and would be a lot simpler than a standard automotive engine. The unit could be stored in the garage or rented as needed, the mounted on the roof and simply plugged into the cars through a convenient power port provided on the rooftop.
This approach is much simpler than the ill-fated “battery replacement” system where cars batteries were to be removed and replaced at the equivalent of filling stations. These systems were inherently impractical as each vehicle has a custom battery configuration and unique chemistry.
Addressing the issue of extended range is one of the fundamental barriers that is needed to be overcome before electric vehicles will see mass deployment. It is believed that this is a very practical and attractive approach to solving this problem given the current state of energy storage and recharging technology.
For more information contact steven <dot> warwick <at> innovationscommercialization <dot> com