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June 10, 2006 8:30 AM   Subscribe

Who killed the electric car? [flash] A documentary film (and flash website) about the mysterious demise of the electric car. The website contains a lot of information about the electric car and other alternative fuel cars in development. The film is coming to a theater near you, if you live in NY or LA. (Ok, actually a few other places.) Watch the trailer. [embedded qt]
posted by jlub (80 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I thought the electric car was inherently flawed because you had to charge it -- which takes time.

I guess that's why the question is "who" and not "why"?
posted by pokermonk at 8:44 AM on June 10, 2006


Who? I'd guess it was quietly strangled to death by Adam Smith and that invisible hand of his.
posted by gregor-e at 8:56 AM on June 10, 2006


This looks like a pretty good movie, kinda on the lines of the Enron movie..
posted by virga at 8:59 AM on June 10, 2006


If it's such a conspiracy, why did GM make any electric cars to begin with? Seems quite silly.
posted by reklaw at 9:04 AM on June 10, 2006


Who killed the electric car?

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Duh.
posted by Cyrano at 9:25 AM on June 10, 2006


Basic plot of the movie: California legally mandated that a certain percentage of new cars sold be zero-emission - fully electric.

Auto companies publicly said, okay, sure, we can do that. Privately they fought it tooth and nail. They produced a few models of all-electric vehicles. Eventually they succeeded in getting the requirement lifted, and immediately ceased producing electric cars, even though there was modest market demand for them. GM had only ever leased its EV1, not sold; and when the lease was up they took them back and destroyed them, although many owners begged GM to be able to buy the cars.

The movie accurately documents a skirmish in the ongoing war between environmentally-conscious Americans and money-conscious automobile corporations.

Flaws: it's pretty strongly activist. Dozens or hundreds of people actually stake out and picket GM's storage lots, keeping a watch on recalled electric cars. I find this pretty nutty - it's a CAR, people - but the moviemakers don't.

It's interesting for what it is, but Al Gore's movie is better.
posted by jellicle at 9:35 AM on June 10, 2006


Only a few reviews on rottentomatoes so far but they're mostly positive. It seems to me that the chief benefit of electric cars would be that they allow the use of alternative energy sources. Between line losses for electricity transmission and battery manufacturing and the environmental impact of battery production and disposal it's not immediately obvious that they're more eco-friendly.

But then again, electric motors are over 90% efficient, generate almost no waste heat, use no power at all when stopped and can recharge by regenerative braking; compared to reciprocating piston engines which are at best 35% efficient (to say nothing of 0% efficient on braking) and discard far more energy as waste heat than they use to impart motion, do nothing but waste when idle, etc.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:42 AM on June 10, 2006


Who holds back the electric car?
Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star?
We do! We do.


On preview: dammit Cyrano.
posted by crawl at 9:42 AM on June 10, 2006


There have been some excellent MeFi threads on electric cars. Like this and this. I think that most sound commentators agree that when you add up the costs and emissions across the board (from the generation of electricity to the manufacture and disposal of the batteries), the overall environmental impact of electric cars is not that much different from that of gas cars.
Everything costs. You don't get something for nothing.
posted by Faze at 9:47 AM on June 10, 2006


Looks interesting. I want one of those, though I love my Prius. I bought my first Prius in 2001 and the level of misinformation about hybrids surprised and still surprises me. Colleagues who listen to conservative talk radio would come to me every week or so with new "facts" about why my car was a mistake. Each time they were absurd.

On preview: Faze's comment sounds very familiar. Part of the technological advance of the hybrid is that it captures and converts energy that would otherwise be wasted. NO. You don't get something for nothing, but you can do a hell of a lot better at getting the most for what you expend. That's what we're trying to accomplish with hybrids and what we could probably do with well-designed electrics.
posted by mmahaffie at 9:51 AM on June 10, 2006


Faze -- it's not a something for nothing proposition if IC cars are discarding energy with both hands and electric cars are not. We're talking utilization of real energy inputs here, not just moving the same energy around. Line losses are significant, but then again, so is the efficiency advantage of power station turbines at the generating end. So call that a wash and just look at the cars themselves.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:52 AM on June 10, 2006


Isn't the fundamental problem with electric cars that $1 worth of residential electrical current is a lot less energy than $1 worth of gasoline? Wouldn't that make the cost per mile obscene? Or is that just a PG&E / California thing?
posted by majick at 9:56 AM on June 10, 2006


Majick -- it's not the amount of energy/$, but the number of miles/$ that matters. Gas might have more energy/$ but most of that goes out the tailpipe or radiator.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:59 AM on June 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'd drive an electric Carver.
posted by craniac at 9:59 AM on June 10, 2006


Why don't hybrids have photovolactics on their roofs? Seems to me it's free energy, aside from the manufacture and disposal of the parts involved. A bigger demand for photovolactics would eventually drive down the cost of solar panels in general.
posted by parallax7d at 10:08 AM on June 10, 2006


Photovoltaics are a poor energy proposition because of the cost and environmental impact of manufacture. And the amount of energy produced per area means that even in optimal full-sun conditions you probably wouldn't get more power than you'd need to run your sound system.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:11 AM on June 10, 2006


I didn't mean to run the car George, I meant to charge a battery. My car sits outside all day at work or at home, seems like I should be able to get a few miles of energy per day from that.

As far as them being a poor energy proposition that's the first I've heard of that. Is there a neutral website that has some analysis on that point?
posted by parallax7d at 10:15 AM on June 10, 2006


Who? I'd guess it was quietly strangled to death by Adam Smith and that invisible hand of his.
posted by gregor-e at 8:56 AM PST


As if markets in the US of A operate under such a hand.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:15 AM on June 10, 2006


Photovoltaics are a poor energy proposition because of the cost and environmental impact of manufacture.

As opposed to taking 1500 lbs of organic material, buring it for tousands of years and extracting the gasoline?
posted by rough ashlar at 10:16 AM on June 10, 2006


In reply to majick, $1 will buy you almost the same amount of energy whether you choose to spend it on residential current or gasoline, i.e. somewhere in the region of 40 MJ.
posted by popkinson at 10:21 AM on June 10, 2006


I would assume that photovoltaics use some of the very same organic material in their construction.
posted by zabuni at 10:23 AM on June 10, 2006


Why don't hybrids have photovolactics on their roofs?

Electricity from the mains is cheaper. And you'd get enough to run a hair dryer.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:30 AM on June 10, 2006


The wikipedia article (a bit of a cheat going to that, I know) calls the energy recovery issue a myth, but in practice solar cells are mainly used to power devices with small energy requirements, where a steady energy supply is not essential, where other means are just not practical. Like Mars rovers and weather measuring stations in remote areas. It might be a net energy gain overall, but it depends a great deal on the application and there's still a huge manufacturing impact for the trickle of energy you get, and you don't get it all the time. Wind and other kinds of solar (such as passive solar for heating homes) are a much better value proposition).
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:37 AM on June 10, 2006


parallax7d: Why don't hybrids have photovolactics on their roofs?

It's been tried by at least one or two hobbyists.

That article doesn't get into empirical specifics, but I belive I have read that it just doesn't make sense from a cost perspective. The solar gear is very expensive, and there are other areas where the cost and engineering effort could be invested for a bigger payback, by making the car lighter or more aerodynamic, for example.

There are rumors that the next model of Prius will be as much of a radical leap forward as the first model was over an ordinary car. Which could be, in a roundabout way, a move toward a part-solar-powered vehicle - as the basic car becomes more efficient, the trickle of energy from a solar panel becomes more significant.
posted by Western Infidels at 10:37 AM on June 10, 2006


> Who killed the electric car?

You did, by not buying or renting or building electric cars, which have always been available if you really wanted them, and by not opening or patronizing service stations for electric cars. Because gas was cheaper.

Or does someone reading this actually drive an electric car? Other than on the golf course.

You probably also killed buses and trains and trams. Proud of yourself?
posted by pracowity at 10:44 AM on June 10, 2006


Keep in mind that there have been electric cars since near the beginning of the car. The 1900s and 1910s featured more electric cars than the 1990s. It didn't make much sense then and doesn't make much sense now.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 10:46 AM on June 10, 2006


I just read an article about plug-in cars on economist.com that plugged this movie. count me in. bastards.
posted by Busithoth at 10:49 AM on June 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'm posting far too much in this thread, but I just wanted to mention the the steam hybrid, and the six stroke engine, both concepts for utilizing the waste heat by converting it to steam pressure. The latter gives much better energy gains but involves discarding the water, where the former is a closed loop system. The six-stroke seems like a bigger win, but electric is probably still better.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:50 AM on June 10, 2006


Who Killed the GM Impact?

GM did.

It cost more to produce than they could sell it for, and it never worked very good as a car (two seats, short range, poor performance).

It's like asking who killed off the Honda Insight (Honda's hybrid which is being discontinued this year).

The Prius killed off the Insight because it was a much better answer to the question, in much the same way that hybrid cars killed off the Impact.
posted by Relay at 11:01 AM on June 10, 2006


spiggot, that six stroke engine article is awesome and inspiring.
posted by Busithoth at 11:10 AM on June 10, 2006


Who killed the electric car? Just a hunch, but if I were to research the answer, I would spend some time analysing the response of the consumer credit industry toward the technology. If you don't get their backing, your market is limited to rich people who want an expensive toy.
posted by mischief at 11:17 AM on June 10, 2006


A couple of malls and public transit stations in Atlanta reserved premium, highly visible parking spaces for electric cars and had chargers installed for them. The only ones I ever saw were driven by the Southern Company (electric utility). I rode in one of the GM ones and it was quiet and had great acceleration, but I think it went something like 60-80 miles between charges.
posted by Frank Grimes at 11:29 AM on June 10, 2006


Keep in mind that there have been electric cars since near the beginning of the car. The 1900s and 1910s featured more electric cars than the 1990s. It didn't make much sense then and doesn't make much sense now.

One could also say that it doesn't make much sense for the worlds most successful economy to completely rely on an energy source that is known to be depleting fast.
posted by Raoul.Duke at 11:33 AM on June 10, 2006


Have any of you ever actually ridden in or driven an EV1? It was a nice little car, very fast when it needed to be, with plenty of storage for going to the grocery store and perfectly fine for a daily 100-mile round-trip commute. Aside from an occasional vacation, it would be more car than I'd ever need--and I live in an increasingly sprawled Twin Cities. It's a shame that the technology has been around for so long, but that average people don't have access to it.

(I had a coworker who had an EV1 for a number of years. He had he charger in his garage hooked up to some solar panels on his roof. Pretty nifty.)
posted by mrbula at 11:40 AM on June 10, 2006


It didn't make much sense then and doesn't make much sense now.

It made perfect sense back then, and even more sense now. Capitalism doesn't select for the best technology, just the most aggressively situated. So we got VHS instead of Beta, cotton instead of hemp, and more than 80 years since Ford, we have the same old internal combustion shitbox, with a much prettier shell.
posted by slatternus at 11:46 AM on June 10, 2006


Jellicle, I respectfully disagree. An Incovenient Truth was 'good', but this one looks like it actually might have some teeth and be a far more interesting story to tell. True, some people do get fanatical about their favourite products, but some products, brands and companies are worth being loyal to - and in this case, our future ecological security depends on some alternative choices all around.
posted by rmm at 11:53 AM on June 10, 2006


I think that most sound commentators agree that when you add up the costs and emissions across the board (from the generation of electricity to the manufacture and disposal of the batteries), the overall environmental impact of electric cars is not that much different from that of gas cars.

Well, if most mefites agree, it must be true.
posted by delmoi at 12:07 PM on June 10, 2006


I would assume that photovoltaics use some of the very same organic material in their construction.

This is what's so absurd about various debates about these things. People talk about the energy needed to build a hybrid, but not the energy needed to build a regular car, to see if it's, you know, less.
posted by delmoi at 12:14 PM on June 10, 2006


And electric cars are becoming gradually more useful because battery technology is gradually improving. Battery technology has been the difficult part of electric vehicles for quite a while. That's why things like hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles compete: the main energy storage is in a dense chemical form, not in the battery.
posted by hattifattener at 12:16 PM on June 10, 2006


Imagine if a push had been made in the direction of electric vehicles back during the oil crisis of the early 70's. By now, batteries would be far more efficient than they are today, because the automobile industry would have applied the same innovative creativity to improving them as they have towards polishing the turd of the dino-engine. Recharging one's car would no longer be considered an "incovenience" because everyone would have adapted to it. It would simply be a daily ritual that everyone's lives would function perfectly well around.
posted by slatternus at 12:25 PM on June 10, 2006


Hopefully, electric will make a comeback - Tesla Motors is building a fully-electric sports car for the monied set. The goal is to build the technology within an independent company with the early-adopter types funding the research. Eventually the tech will trickle down to less expensive vehicles. They just got a 40 million dollar investment round from a group of very smart people. (including elon musk, sergey brin, larry page, Nick Pritzker, and jeff skoll).
posted by jba at 12:30 PM on June 10, 2006


Capitalism doesn't select for the best technology, just the most aggressively situated.

Capitalism selects for the most ROI. If GM found a car design that went 100,000 miles between dealer servicing I have no great confidence that it would see the light of day.

As for the above points, CostCo gas yesterday was $3.11/gal.

PG&E's E-9 rate for charging EV is ~6c/kwhr, or $2.16/gal of energy-equivalent

But note that a kwhr goes a lot (2-3x?) further in an EV than an IC-powered car, so the effective EV rate is $1 or less per gallon.

Interestingly, now that natural gas prices have fallen you can power your car with NG for about 0.75 per "gallon".
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:39 PM on June 10, 2006


You cannot sell a car that only goes 80 miles, and then requires 2-3 hours for a "refill."

Hummer H2: 32 gal. fuel tank, ~10mpg.
Toyota Camry: 18.5 gal. fuel tank, ~28 mpg.
Toyota Prius: 10 gal. fuel tank, ~55 mpg.

See a pattern? Here's the distance/refill ratio for each:

H2: 320 miles per refill
Camry: 518 miles per refill
Prius: 550 miles per refill

And the time it takes to refill each? Maybe a minute or two. That's why electric cars are doomed. Distances in the U.S. are too extreme to support the average American commuter. As for the Europeans, they have mass-transit, Vespas and bicycles for short commutes. For longer trips into the country (that might necessitate a big car), you're back to the miles/refill problem.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:39 PM on June 10, 2006


jba is probably on to something here. I'm not a monied person, but I do get a charge out of the techie-ness of my Prius. That's part of why I bought the first one, part of why the second generation Prius was so cool to me, and why I'll happily pay a bit more for the next. If the next version of the Prius is as cool a step-forward as the current one, sign me up now. And if someone comes out with a mid-sized all electric that is at least as cool. I'll be buying one.
posted by mmahaffie at 12:44 PM on June 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


In transportation, the ox cart and the rowboat represent the first stage of technology.

The second stage might well be represented by the automobiles of the middle twentieth century just before the opening of interplanetary travel. These unbelievable museum pieces were for their time fast, sleek and powerful—but inside their skins were assembled a preposterous collection of mechanical buffoonery. The prime mover for such a juggernaut might have rested in one’s lap; the rest of the mad assembly consisted of afterthoughts intended to correct the uncorrectable, to repair the original basic mistake in design-for automobiles and even the early aeroplanes were "powered" (if one may call it that) by "reciprocating engines."

A reciprocating engine was a collection of miniature heat engines using (in a basically inefficient cycle) a small percentage of an exothermic chemical reaction, a reaction which was started and then stopped every split second. Much of the heat was intentionally thrown away into a "water jacket" or "cooling system," then wasted into the atmosphere through a heat exchanger.

What little was left caused blocks of metal to thump foolishly back-and-forth (hence the name "reciprocating") and thence through a linkage to cause a shaft and flywheel to spin around. The flywheel (believe it if you can) had no gyroscopic function; it was used to store kinetic energy in a futile attempt to cover up the sins of reciprocation. The shaft at long last caused the wheels to turn and thereby propelled this pile of junk over the countryside.

The prime mover was used only to accelerate and to overcome "friction"—a concept then in much wider engineering use. To decelerate, stop, or turn the heroic human operator used his own muscle power, multiplied precariously through a series of levers.

Despite the name "automobile" these vehicles had no autocontrol circuits; control, such as it was, was exercised second by second for hours on end by a human being peering out through a small pane of dirty silica glass, and judging unassisted and often disastrously his own motion and those of other objects. In almost all cases the operator had no notion of the kinetic energy stored in his missile and could not have written the basic equation. Newton's Laws of Motion were to him mysteries as profound as the meaning of the universe.

Nevertheless millions of these mechanical jokes swarmed over our home planet, dodging each other by inches or failing to dodge. None of them ever worked right; by their nature they could not work right; and they were constantly getting out of order. Their operators were usually mighty pleased when they worked at all. When they did not, which was every few hundred miles (hundred, not hundred thousand), they hired a member of a social class of arcane specialists to make inadequate and always expensive temporary repairs.

Despite their mad shortcomings, these "automobiles" were the most characteristic form of wealth and the most cherished possessions of their time. Three whole generations were slaves to them.

—Robert A. Heinlein, The Rolling Stones
posted by nlindstrom at 12:48 PM on June 10, 2006 [2 favorites]


Distances in the U.S. are too extreme to support the average American commuter

"At an nationwide average drive-time of about 24.3 minutes..." [1]
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:48 PM on June 10, 2006


C_D, do you really believe those problems are not solveable, or do you just not want them to be solveable?

Range is a matter of number and capacity of batteries -- extremely amenable to engineering solutions.

Charging time could be reduced to less than that of a gas refill with a simple technique: battery swap stations instead of charging stations. You can charge your batteries at home, overnight, or you can stop at a station and they'll pop out your batteries and pop in ones they've kept on charge.

But if 'doomed' is the conclusion you want, close your eyes and go for it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:49 PM on June 10, 2006


slatternus, I disagree. Plenty of money goes into battery technology already (and has been for ages). It is a genuinely difficult task to make a battery with the energy density of gasoline, because gasoline has a very high energy density to start with.

C_D: Most of my car trips are less than 20 miles. I'm not unusual in that regard, since I don't live in a Los Angeles-style exurb. Ideally, I'd own one gasoline car with a long range, which I wouldn't need to drive very often; and one electric car like the Tango which would satisfy 95% of my car needs. (I would also own a mansion and a yacht.)
posted by hattifattener at 12:53 PM on June 10, 2006


Civil_Disobedient: The average one-way commute in america is 25.5 miles (from a quick google search), so even with an 80 mile range the EV-1 seems like it should have more than enough range for those who drive to work. Figure in parking spaces with electrical outlets and it becomes even less of an issue.

There's a whole market for people who use their second car as purely a cheap commuting vehicle - it seems that something like the EV-1 could have had a wide enough market potential for GM to continue the project.

Looking at battery capacities and the rumours about the Tesla Motors car (range in excess of 250miles), i think the range concerns are going to become less of an issue. (recharging is perhaps another).

Maybe they need to standardize on a battery system format, so "fueling up" is no more than rolling a battery pack from underneath your car and swapping it with another one (stored and charged at fuel-up stations). Yeah, they are heavy and unwieldy, but its not unreasonable to think that someone could build a system to quickly change them in less time than it takes to fill your tank with petrol. (ok, now i'm really straying from the topic).
posted by jba at 12:56 PM on June 10, 2006


Faze: Everything costs. You don't get something for nothing.

But there are differences. For instance, you can generate hydroelectricity at a central plant and ship the electricity relatively cheaply by wire. The water was going to run down that river whether you used it or not, and the water will still run down that river after you send it on a short detour to run a turbine. The emissions, counting heat, are pretty low.

You can't get those kinds of economies with internal combustion. You have to find the fuel, refine it, ship it, and then burn it in millions of separate little engines. Very inefficient, and you force everyone to ride along with a smoky little engine wherever they go instead of isolating the heat and smoke of generation somewhere far from people.

Of course, people are avoiding the real problem, which is that they should get their asses out of their inefficient (regardless of fuel) cars and into mass transport (economies of scale), micro-transport (like the Segway), and human-powered transport (muscle).
posted by pracowity at 12:59 PM on June 10, 2006


a preposterous collection of mechanical buffoonery

Just thought I'd have the courtesy to let you know I totally intend to plagiarize that sentence someday.
posted by slatternus at 12:59 PM on June 10, 2006


Phil Karn's EV-1 page
posted by hattifattener at 1:03 PM on June 10, 2006


If GM found a car design that went 100,000 miles between dealer servicing I have no great confidence that it would see the light of day,

Northstar engines?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:13 PM on June 10, 2006


Darelldd's EV page

i just went to the store and back in my prius. i have done the EV switch mod, so i was able to go almost all the way there without starting the ICE. it's rad, and i would have definitely paid a little more for a larger battery and the ability to plug it in.

right now i am averaging about 52MPG on my 90mi round trip to work. obviously an EV-1 would be pushing it for this trip, but if i could get my hands on one, i'd be driving one for my short neighborhood trips.
posted by joeblough at 1:22 PM on June 10, 2006


Heywood: Thanks for some real numbers!
posted by majick at 1:26 PM on June 10, 2006


Just some more data points regarding commute times/distances (my above info may have been pessimistic, but heywood's numbers are probably spot-on):

Life for commuters can be heaven or hell. They report an average one-way commute time of 26 minutes (over an average distance of 16 miles). But the variance is huge: On the best days, the average commute is 19 minutes; on the worst days, 46 minutes. That means traffic, at its worst, can double the average commute time, adding 27 minutes each way.

Source.
posted by jba at 1:36 PM on June 10, 2006


George_Spiggott: ...I just wanted to mention the the steam hybrid, and the six stroke engine, both concepts for utilizing the waste heat by converting it to steam pressure...

I'm very skeptical about the six-stroke. Water injection isn't new, it's old. Cooling the engine with a burst of steam just ensures that the next fueled stroke is extremely inefficient, putting lots of heat back into the engine itself.

The article points out that "Despite its lack of a conventional liquid cooling system, his bench engine is only warm to the touch while it is running," as if that were a good thing. But an efficient engine is one in which the difference between the engine's internal temperature and the exhaust temperature is as large as possible, which is why current-tech engines have theromostats; to let them heat up and run as hot as possible, before the cooling system kicks in to save the engine from a complete meltdown.

The simplest, most direct way of snagging a little extra power from the hot exhaust gasses is to use the Atkinson cycle, as some hybrid automobile designs do. Another might be to scavange some more heat with a turbo of one kind or another.
posted by Western Infidels at 1:46 PM on June 10, 2006


yeah the prius uses atkinson cycle, but its "modified" atkinson. they just hold the intake valves open on the first part of the power stroke such that some of the air-fuel mixture goes back into the intake manifold. rather than using an asymmetric stroke as the "true" atkinson engine would. they also offset the piston from the center of the cylinder to avoid lateral forces during the power stroke. the prius ICE is represents the state of the art in ICE engineering.

the next prius is supposed to have a turbocharger, for precisely the reason WI mentions - to capture some more of the waste heat of the engine. it's supposed to get 100mpg, which would be awesome... but its unclear if when toyota said this, they were talking about the standard japanese government test. in this test the existing prius already gets something like 75 or 80mpg, which is of course nowhere near reality.
posted by joeblough at 3:09 PM on June 10, 2006


mrbula wrote:

(I had a coworker who had an EV1 for a number of years. He had he charger in his garage hooked up to some solar panels on his roof. Pretty nifty.)

I'd hazard to guess that's this notion is reason they killed the electric car. The thought of even a small percentage of Americans bypassing their tolls and going directly to the sun for their transportation energy has got to get them shaking in their boots.

To believe there has been no conspiracy about keeping America hooked on oil is to believe in fairy tales. From the days of Robert Moses Big Oil / Auto has been doing everything it could to fight mass transporation, get Americans as spread out as possible and driving big gas guzzling cars. Didn't GM buy up the trolly systems and shut them down? Do a little research into what the Republicans have been doing to Amtrak in the last decade to the point that is has become a shadow of its former self and then tell me that these people aren't just stealth oil company lobbyists in cheaper suits.
posted by any major dude at 3:18 PM on June 10, 2006


Water injection isn't new, it's old.

Your link goes to an article that has nothing to do with the idea of creating an additional power stroke; you might have well have linked to a water clock, squirt gun or saline IV drip for relevance.

But an efficient engine is one in which the difference between the engine's internal temperature and the exhaust temperature is as large as possible,

You're talking about relatively minute values of efficiency from an engine whose very operating principle onlly allows it to be 30-odd percent efficient at best, precisely because it discards most of the energy as heat. The six-stroke engine recovers a huge percentage of that. It doesn't sound remotely comparable.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:22 PM on June 10, 2006


Surely video killed the elec-ter-ic car.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:34 PM on June 10, 2006


I just ordered my first Toyota Prius today, which will probably arrive around the end of the month. I'm really looking forward to it, as I've been admiring my neighbor's Prius for a few months.
posted by mike3k at 4:00 PM on June 10, 2006


Your link goes to an article that has nothing to do with the idea of creating an additional power stroke...

That's true. My point was that WWII era water-injection achieved the same ends (flashing water to steam to get more cylinder pressure, and thus more work for each unit of heat) in a simpler way. I'm not a physicist, but I don't see how separating the combustion stroke and water-injection stroke achieves anything. All you're doing is using the engine's mass as a sort of heat battery. Why not "eliminate the middleman," as it were, and move the heat directly from the hot exhaust gasses to the water?

You're talking about relatively minute values of efficiency from an engine whose very operating principle onlly allows it to be 30-odd percent efficient at best. The six-stroke engine recovers a huge percentage of that. It doesn't sound remotely comparable.

The "efficiency = ratio of internal temperature to exhaust temperature" is a somewhat corrupted version of the Carnot limit, which applies to all heat engines, the six-stroke included.

I don't think there's any fundemental reason why internal-combustion engines are limited to 30% efficiency. Large marine diesels claim as much as 50%.

I'd love to see some hard numbers on the six-stroke, but the article only has guesses. That makes me suspicious.
posted by Western Infidels at 6:05 PM on June 10, 2006


Mike, I'm on my second one. You will love it! (Our first one went to our daughter in Buffalo.)

I'll never buy an ICE-only car again.
posted by DesbaratsDays at 6:19 PM on June 10, 2006


Why not "eliminate the middleman," as it were, and move the heat directly from the hot exhaust gasses to the water?

I think that's what the BMW in the other link does. The thing is, now you have to turn it into work. Taking the heat from the cylinder on a compression stroke gives you the perfect opportunity to do that, because you can send that piston right back down again and Bob's your uncle.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:52 PM on June 10, 2006


wow there's a lot of disinformation going around on this topic. the auto industry and the petroleum industry are running scared. they're advertising everywhere to make their brands more warm and friendly because they are realizing that they have been marketing useless giant behemoths for the last 50 years and it's about to come crashing down on them.

the automotive industry colluded to destroy public transportation in the early 30s by destroying the trolley system. it's quite believable to think they might try to destroy the electric car.

and solar panels are not completely useless with cars as they've made panels to power cars across the US. The size required for those test vehicles is a bit oversized for common cars, but it could certainly help power the vehicle.
posted by destro at 8:48 PM on June 10, 2006


What killed the electric car? The miserable energy density, failure rate, and operating properties of batteries. I'm pretty sure no purely electric car has ever been produced which is not in many ways dramatically inferior to normal vehicles, usually while being a lot more expensive at the same time. They're slowly closing the gap as battery technology starts to suck a little bit less, but there's quite a distance to go.

Hybrids work, of course, but you lose a lot (in extra costs and lost storage space) in carrying two power systems. The efficiency gains of this approach are not overwhelming either, so it is not terribly surprising it remains somewhat marginalized. It doesn't help that a lot of people who want them can't afford them.

I tend to put a lot more hope in fuel-cell operated cars, myself. They should have energy densities comparable to the fuel in conventional engines, while hopefully raising efficiencies and reducing polution. Flywheels looked promising for a while, but I haven't heard any news on them lately.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:04 AM on June 11, 2006


... but you lose a lot (in extra costs and lost storage space) in carrying two power systems.

I don't think this is true. Speaking as a hybrid owner. Father of two growing girls. Golfer. Guitarist. Drummer. And wide-bodied, heavyset man.

I never have a problem fitting what I need into my very comfortable, snappy, fast, wicked cool car.
posted by mmahaffie at 4:49 AM on June 11, 2006


I don't get why the car companies should want to kill the electric car. Shure, I can see why the oil companies would want to, but the car companies?
posted by spazzm at 5:45 AM on June 11, 2006


C_D, do you really believe those problems are not solveable, or do you just not want them to be solveable?

You're joking, right? Surely you've been a member of Mefi long enough to recognize my generally leftist, and occasionally anar-centric slant in my posts. I would like nothing more than to see the world's top oil executives covered in their own muck and set ablaze.

That said, battery technology is not yet up to the challenge. If the "average" commuting distance is 26 miles, what about those who live in cities and use public transport? For every city-dweller who "commutes" a few blocks to their workplace, that means you've got some shmuck in Nebraska driving 50 miles in both directions for theirs.

And it's not the city-dweller that you need to convince, since they'll already have alternate means of travel available to them. You've got to convince the people who don't live in the cities, who commute a thousand miles a week.

You still haven't addressed the "refill" problem, either. Look, if I get 100 miles on a charge, that means I can go to and from work (taking the above averages at face value) twice before recharging. Great. So what happens when I forget to plug the car in before going to bed? I get fired for being 3 hours late to my job, because I had to wait for the car to charge up.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:46 AM on June 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


This whole 'average commute' argument is fundamentally flawed:
If you drive 20 km (12.4 miles) to work every weekday, but 200 km (124 miles) to visit gran on the weekends, that gives an average daily 'commute' of less than 43 km (26.7 miles).

That means an electric car with an 80 mile range would we useless to you, since you would have to recharge it twice on your round-trip to gran.

The battery-swapping scheme proposed by others in this thread would surely fix this, but it's just not there yet. It would require car manufacturers (who, as the linked site shows, can't even work out IP rights to the batteries among themselves without strife) to agree on a standardized battery format that all cars, regardless of size, would use.
Then there had to be a distribution network for these batteries, which would have to be in place before anyone will buy the cars. This distribution network would have to be built from scratch or rely on the cooperation of the oil companies, who have nothing to gain from electric cars.

I'm sure GM and Ford are evil organizations, but to suggest that they are behind some gigantic conspiracy against electric vehicles so that they can sell more air filters is, to put it mildly, flaky.
posted by spazzm at 6:30 AM on June 11, 2006


If the "average" commuting distance is 26 miles,

Then that means EV cars are up to the task


You still haven't addressed the "refill" problem, either.


Actually, yes it has. Make the battery pack a standard item that can be swapped in/out of the car. The 'fuel station' is a battery depot.

Or go with the RUF

(none of this addresses the need for short-haul heavy trucking, because we'll happly assume rail goes everywere.)
posted by rough ashlar at 6:44 AM on June 11, 2006


I'm sure GM and Ford are evil organizations, but to suggest that they are behind some gigantic conspiracy against electric vehicles so that they can sell more air filters is, to put it mildly, flaky.
posted by spazzm at 6:30 AM PST


Let me point you to some Ford and Rockafeller history.

There is a 'conspiracy' - and it was about becoming an oil monopoly. Throw in paper-mogols and you have actions that might be a conspiracy - or just people with a large pile of money working to make their pile bigger.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:47 AM on June 11, 2006


That's an interesting article, rough ashlar, but it does not contain any proof of a conspiracy against electric cars - it talks about the history of alcohol-gasoline mixtures as car fuel.

Also, there's a calculation error in my previous post - the average daily commute is 72 km (45 miles), not 43 km.
posted by spazzm at 7:15 AM on June 11, 2006


Actually, yes it has. Make the battery pack a standard item that can be swapped in/out of the car. The 'fuel station' is a battery depot.

All good in theory, but intil a network of such depots are in place buying a car with a swappable battery pack won't make sense. And building a network of depots won't make sense until there is a customer base of cars with swappable battery packs.

Catch 22.
posted by spazzm at 7:24 AM on June 11, 2006


rough ashlar: Actually, yes it has. Make the battery pack a standard item that can be swapped in/out of the car. The 'fuel station' is a battery depot.

Wouldn't work. First of all, if electric cars cut everyone's range into about a quarter, people are going to be swapping them out a LOT. A busier battery depot could be doing hundreds of swaps an hour (not at all an unusual rate for a filling station now during peak hours.) That means they have to keep hundreds of battery packs around. That's a huge amount of storage, and a huge amount of carrying batteries around (which are heavy and full of dangerous acid.) Furthermore, that's a huge amount of battery production; making all that lead and sulfuric acid isn't exactly good for the environment, and neither is disposing of it when the batteries eventually fail for good. Also, you'd have to build a lot more battery stations (since a lot of places, like Wyoming and Montana, have lengths of highway between towns longer than one electric car range.)

It's also going to cost a fortune. Batteries aren't cheap, they fail quite fast, and maintaining huge warehouses of batteries is going to be difficult and expensive for these battery depots. Making a building where 1000 sets of batteries can be stored, recharged, maintained, and quickly swapped out is no trivial task!

In the end, this proposal relies on people caring so much about the environment that they're willing to trade in their current cars for an electric car with some small fraction of the range and a huge cost in battery changes. It's never going to happen. Alternative technologies have some hope, but battery pack exchanging is just ridiculous.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:40 AM on June 11, 2006


Make the battery pack a standard item that can be swapped in/out of the car. The 'fuel station' is a battery depot.

This idea is loooodricrous for so many reasons, (most already addressed by Mitrovarr). Do you know how many batteries an electric car takes? Something like half the weight of the car will be in its batteries (~1000 lbs.). You think you can just "swap out" a thousand pounds of batteries in a minute? No way. Not to mention the "general bad idea" of keeping thousands and thousands of pounds of batteries on-site (better be sure to keep 'em dry, too).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:11 PM on June 11, 2006


Furthermore, that's a huge amount of battery production; making all that lead and sulfuric acid isn't exactly good for the environment, and neither is disposing of it when the batteries eventually fail for good.

Not neccesarily. There are other battery types available than the traditional 'car battery' lead/acid type.
NiMH, LiIon an LiPoly type batteries are more environmentally friendly and has higher energy density than lead/acid batteries.

The real solution to the problem may be in new rechargable batteries that can be charget to 80% capacity iin 60 seconds.

Until such batteries are cheap and long-lasting, there's no hope for the electric car.

posted by spazzm at 3:40 PM on June 11, 2006


spazzm: Not neccesarily. There are other battery types available than the traditional 'car battery' lead/acid type.
NiMH, LiIon an LiPoly type batteries are more environmentally friendly and has higher energy density than lead/acid batteries.


Lithium ion batteries are something of a fire hazard if improperly charged, maintained, or overheated (for example, if you left a bunch inside your car in LA for a few days.) Lithium ion polymer batteries address this safety concern, but making a car-worth of them would be hideously expensive (that's what the Ipod uses, for example.) Both kinds fail permanently after several years whether they are used or not. Also, lithium is not the most common element and could conceivably limit supply.

Nickel-metal hydride is not dangerous or limited, but fails after a number of charging cycles (it varies, but it is usually something like several hundred to a thousand with gradual loss of capacity during the lifespan.) It's probably the most practical of the technologies you listed, though. Still, I bet enough NiMH batteries to run a car would be REALLY expensive. Lead acid technology has the redeeming property of being fairly cheap.

The new technology you linked to looks interesting, but I wonder about the cost of it and whether or not the lithium-ion safety concerns have been addressed.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:01 PM on June 11, 2006


From a column in Automotive News by its Los Angeles bureau chief (pay site, sorry):
"Who Killed the Electric Car?" ... [is] a film rife with political posturing, unsubstantiated allegations and flat-out errors.

Don't get me wrong. The public needs to learn that massive consumption of fossil fuels is dangerous. We rely on unstable Middle East nations to sustain our economy. And burning oil contributes to global warming.

However, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" is a ham-fisted effort that ignores the realities of the free market. Instead, it rests on half-baked left-wing conspiracy theories ...

Not that "Killed" is without credible zingers ... But "Killed" plays way too loose with the facts.
posted by pmurray63 at 8:35 AM on June 28, 2006


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