Hydrogen. It's the fuel of the future, and it always will be.
March 28, 2009 5:27 AM   Subscribe

Pics of the new Tesla S-Model have been leaked. With an anticipated price tag of 50K and a potential 45-minute recharge time, will this finally kick-start a true replacement to the internal combustion engine? And if so, where will the electricity come from? What future is there for the fuel-cell vehicle, or will fuel cells remain stationary? Is that really it for hydrogen?

Do we even have enough lithium for everyone to drive cars like this?? Or will we have to switch to something more common, like zinc? Incidentally, we can recycle the used-up zinc (ie ZnO) using solar energy.

OK OK - so the VRB system is technically a flow cell or flow battery, and not simply a fuel-cell, but really it's just an augmentation of the same technology (PEM) utilized in the hydrogen fuel cells that we thought, for a while, would be in our cars of the future.

Previously, previously, previously, previously.
posted by molecicco (68 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hm, I see they assume you want to put two children in the trunk. That sounds interesting. Can children be used a source of energy for transportation?
posted by Laotic at 6:23 AM on March 28, 2009


Does it fly?

No?

Then why did you wake me up?
posted by erniepan at 6:26 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


...Man makes gasoline...only god can make electricity...in fact, as someone recently said, the world could get back intyo decent shape all by itself if only 80% of the world population went away.
posted by Postroad at 6:30 AM on March 28, 2009


Does it even go underwater or on railroad tracks? Bah.
posted by oddman at 6:31 AM on March 28, 2009


The seat thing is to avoid it being classified a sports car (which cost more for some reason.. insurance?)

This isn't a Model-T, it won't change the fundamental dominance of combustion engines, that will happen when a car as friendly as the i-pod for $21k with a 5-minute recharge and 300 mile range becomes available.
posted by stbalbach at 6:36 AM on March 28, 2009


Okay, so this is my wacky pseudoscience idea about hydrogen: one of the things they say is that because hydrogen would need to be pressurized in any distribution and usage system, you'd lose an immense amount of energy to the effort of compression. So I'm thinkin', what if we could manufacture it in the deep ocean where the pressure would already be at the level required, then bring it to the surface in a pressurized pipeline? See, we're all set.
posted by XMLicious at 6:43 AM on March 28, 2009


I'd love to get me one of those. However this tidbit confuses me:
On the big splash page for the model S it says, in big letters, "Model S, Base Price $49,900*"
...
The asterisk is explained in small print, thus, "*The anticipated base price of the Model S is $57,400."

Now which is it, $49,900 or $57,400 ?
posted by Vindaloo at 6:44 AM on March 28, 2009


it's $49900 if you count the $7500 tax credit for an electric vehicle.
posted by alk at 6:48 AM on March 28, 2009


45 Minutes? According to that link, only if you have 480V power, and they don't mention the current.

I don't trust these numbers. I do trust the Telsa Roadster's numbers, they do exist, and it charges in 3.5 hours if, and only if, you have a 70A 240V circuit, so cutting that in half to 1.75 hours with a 70A 480V (that a 36KW line, kids. Do Not Lick.) power feed is "feasible", but cutting it down to 45 minutes?

I'll just go install the outlet. Oh, and the new drop from the transformer, because many houses have 100A feeds, and this bad boy wants 70% of that draw. Oh, and the new transformer, because it only puts out center tapped 240V in the vast swath of the US, so you'll need a different transformer to get 480V, to get that 45 minute recharge.

Hey, there *is* no NEMA 480V outlet above 60A. Custom Connector Time!

You won't get that at home. 240V 30A isn't uncommon -- many clothes dryers and air conditioners use that, so the charge time at home is going to be much longer. Well, I'll just stop for lunch at this place that has installed the custom 70A 480V power feed.

Anyone got the address?

So -- what we have here is an electric car that *claims* to have a longer range than another electric car, despite the fact that it has a curb weight over 1000 pounds more (The Tesla S curb weight is apparently just short of two tons) and is designed to carry more cargo and passengers, so operational weight can be higher. Obviously, there's going to be a bigger battery. Much.

And yet, they're going to be able to charge it in a quarter of the time of the Roadster?

I smell a rat. In the US, you can count on a 120V 15A power drops, and you can probably get 240V 30A without working too hard. Anything above that is going to be rare, anything above 60A is custom wired and rare -- and *dangerous*.

And, hey, have any roadsters crashed yet? I'm really wanting to see what that LiIon battery pack does when you seriously abuse it like that.

I want electric to work, but I don't see how. We either need charging plugs everywhere cars park, or we need charging *times* in gas-station ranges (15 minutes or less, ideally, under 5) which would let us concentrate the high-voltage high-current power supplies in a few locations, just as we concentrate gas fueling points. It would be nice if we didn't have to put so many damn batteries in -- the Roadster accelerates like a Zonda, but turns like a barge, because of the extremely high curb weight, thus, you're spending watts to move that mass. Cut the battery pack in half, and it takes less power to move. But your range goes to hell. And higher energy density batteries are, frankly, starting to get scary. Lithium Ion batteries already have issues with fire and explosion, and as the density increases, that risk increases as well.

The core problem is that replacing gas and diesel are hard. They're easy to ship, have very high energy density, and are easy to move around with simple hoses. Electricity doesn't have the density, Hydrogen is a pain to work with if you want decent density.

Any non-gas car is going to be a very different beast. Thinking about that, that may be the problem. We're trying to replace the gas fueled car. That may be impossible. We may just have to accept that, and rebuild our world.

I'm not sure which is the harder problem.
posted by eriko at 6:49 AM on March 28, 2009 [29 favorites]


Please check out the other links too! Electric vehicles are great and all, but it's only a minor improvement over gasoline & diesel if we're still relying on coal and nuclear to provide the electricity. The vehicle is only one part of a greater shift towards a sustainable future.
posted by molecicco at 6:51 AM on March 28, 2009


XMLicious: Sorry, you don't get something for nothing. Extracting hydrogen under pressure means you have to put in extra energy to push back against the weight of all that water. You don't save anything compared to just compressing the stuff with a pump up here.
posted by teraflop at 6:58 AM on March 28, 2009


Aside: Is it just me, or are they really shoving a 17" touchscreen monitor into the center console?

I hate that sort of interface in cars.* I should not even need to *look* to do almost any task I need to do while driving. Setting up the radio? Fine, I can park to do that, it's a once-ever-year sort of thing. Changing stations? Nope, I should be able to reach and push a button *without looking*.

Seat positons? Yes, that can require looking -- indeed, should, because you shouldn't be doing that while driving. Cabin Temp? NO.

Sigh. Effing Computers.


* Dear BMW. Blow iDrive out your iAss.
posted by eriko at 6:58 AM on March 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


it's $49900 if you count the $7500 tax credit for an electric vehicle.

Well, there's apparently two models as well, one with a 150 mile range, one with 300 mile range (and apparently a bigger motor, because of the battery pack issues.)

Which leads me to believe that the 45 minute recharge will be with ~75A 480V on the 150 mile pack.
posted by eriko at 7:00 AM on March 28, 2009


eriko: yeah, I would imagine most people charging at home would be charging overnight, and the 45-minute recharge (if it is indeed true) would only be occuring at stations equipped with such a device. So you would stop to recharge and say, eat a meal or something. Accepting long charging times like that, may be a part of rebuilding our world (or at least, our expectations of the world). Alternatively, we may come to accept much smaller ranges.

I'm certain that Tesla is smart enough to install recharging stations all over the area where the car is sold. And as far as safety is concerned, you are either driving around with a barrel of explosive fuel, or a lithium battery. I don't believe that one is inherently safer than the other.

But you're absolutely right: diesel and gas are phenomenal fuels with power and energy densities that are unmatched. They're really really hard to compete against. But I don't think we really have an option. So I'm still interested to watch every development in alternate technologies as it comes up.
posted by molecicco at 7:01 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can children be used a source of energy for transportation?

Much like plants needing water, fuel-children require constant threats pertaining to the turning around of the car.
posted by mannequito at 7:16 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I want electric to work, but I don't see how. We either need charging plugs everywhere cars park, or we need charging *times* in gas-station ranges (15 minutes or less, ideally, under 5) which would let us concentrate the high-voltage high-current power supplies in a few locations, just as we concentrate gas fueling points...

The core problem is that replacing gas and diesel are hard. They're easy to ship, have very high energy density, and are easy to move around with simple hoses.


is it really necessary that there be a charging station within 15 minutes when your vehicle has a 150 mile range and you can charge it at home? how often do you drive 150 miles without stopping at home? or for that matter, 300 miles? and do you really think the charging station infrastructure will be that hard to implement relative to the gasoline infrastructure, given that we already have a developed infrastructure for electric power?
posted by alk at 7:16 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, one way to get around those long charging times would be as Better Place want to do it - the whole battery pack is swapped for a fresh one at a changing station. It was here on the blue and I thought it was an idea worth developing - the company owns the batteries (and the cars, in this case) and you pay for the usage.

Hopefully, they communicate with Tesla on the design of the new cars to at least make them compatible with the charging infrastructure which is being developed.
posted by Laotic at 7:18 AM on March 28, 2009


honey, i'm off to the recharging station! to get a massage :P
posted by kliuless at 7:20 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


With a price of $50K in a down economy? Who do they think they're kidding?
posted by crapmatic at 7:21 AM on March 28, 2009


where will the electricity come from?

From the holes.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:31 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


It is purty but I don't really see it as a paradigm shifting vehicle. It still costs too much and has lots of limitations as eriko points out above. Still, if someone gave one to me, I'd be totally chuffed (that's a good thing). Though I'd rather have a Zero X from Zero Motorcycles.
posted by fenriq at 7:48 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Honestly, the charging time will drop significantly if this pans out. I imagine that technique could be applied to other sorts of batteries, as well.
posted by adipocere at 7:48 AM on March 28, 2009


XMLicious: Sorry, you don't get something for nothing. Extracting hydrogen under pressure means you have to put in extra energy to push back against the weight of all that water. You don't save anything compared to just compressing the stuff with a pump up here.

I was thinking in terms of high pressure electrolysis of seawater, perhaps with some sort of osmotic filter to alter the chemistry of the seawater and only let desired electrolytes through. It doesn't take any more energy to electrolyse at pressure, does it? I know that most of the hydrogen on the market is made from hydrocarbons but that's not what I was thinking of.

(And I realize that you have to generate the electricity in the first place to do electrolysis, but the objective is to create a high-density fluid energy storage medium that will fit into our existing distribution and usage infrastructure - the pipelines, the tanker trucks, the gas stations, etc. - at a price equivalent to whatever petroleum will cost at some point in the near future.)
posted by XMLicious at 7:49 AM on March 28, 2009


where will the electricity come from?

From "clean" coal-burning power plants, natch!

Huzzah for sustainability!
posted by Joe Beese at 7:49 AM on March 28, 2009


Man makes gasoline...only god can make electricity.

Given a magnet, a coil of wire, and a wheel, a hamster can make electricity. So only god and hamsters then.

Some comments on the economic and environmental benefits of PHEV's. With current battery tech, maybe they'll make some economic sense once gasoline costs $6/gallon. We have until then to come up with some better options for portable energy storage, or transportation will not be so convenient as it is now.
posted by sfenders at 7:57 AM on March 28, 2009


Joe Beese: yeah, unfortunately that's going to happen. However, progress in fusion, dry rock geothermal, and large scale concentrating solar technologies hold great promise. And really, coal is cheap, but the extra cost of making it "clean" brings it into a price range that other actually clean technologies can compete with.
posted by molecicco at 7:59 AM on March 28, 2009


@adipocere - Honestly, the charging time will drop significantly if this pans out. I imagine that technique could be applied to other sorts of batteries, as well.

The problem is not with the batteries' ability to accept charge quickly (which is what your link addresses), the problem is with our electricity-distribution infrastructure's ability to supply the charge quickly enough.
posted by kcds at 9:28 AM on March 28, 2009


Something that might surprise some: The Model S car actually fit seven people. 5 adults and 2 children in rear-facing seats under the hatch. Since there's storage space under the hood, the Model S will rival much bigger vehicles when it comes to cargo space.

I'm for any vehicle that reincarnates the opportunity for children to sit in the "way back" facing the traffic behind them. I have many happy memories of those times in the old family station wagon. But I thought that phased out due to safety and it is hard to believe this form factor is safer than those old steel boxes...

With that said, I think the obsession with charge time is mostly due to trying to address current expectations about cars. If you know your range and do a minimal amount of planning it is no big deal. My friend has an electric car with about 50 miles range and hours of charge time. If he can get somewhere and back he uses it, otherwise gasoline is the answer. With over 200 miles of range I could cover 95% of my driving days and 80% of my driving distance with a vehicle like this.
posted by meinvt at 9:53 AM on March 28, 2009


from the 3rd link: By recharging their car while they stop for a meal, drivers can go from LA to New York in approximately the same time as a gasoline car, Tesla claims.

Since I was pretty suspicious of this number, I decided to crunch it! Maybe other people did and discovered the same thing, but I'm posting this to save the rest of you the trouble. (And I'm hoping my math all checks out...)

In general, your actual travel time in a Tesla is increased by ~30% at a conservative highway pace. (150 miles per charge @ ~65mph = 2.3 hours. Add a 45 minute charge time for the Tesla.) But by diluting out the blocks of traveling with practical excuses (i.e. meals), you can obviously eliminate that recharge penalty. The question is how far do you have to dilute it? While refueling does take time, it's a very small amount and has a huge amount of flexibility because of that... Also, because the goal is to fit fueling/charging into a schedule, neither the refuel or recharge penalty actually factors in.

For the 2790 mile drive from New York (City) to Los Angeles, you're looking at 44 hours of travel. And the 150-mile-per-charge Tesla is going to need 19 recharges (an additional 14.25 hours).

To make the trip the same time by including meals, you'd only have to restrict the travel time per day to 10 hours, which isn't totally unreasonable. You'd get up, drive 150 miles > Breakfast/Charge > 150 miles > Lunch/Charge > 150 miles > Dinner/Charge > 150 miles > Charge/Sleep/StripClub. 600 miles a day at just under 5 days.

Of course if you tanked it and drove a few extra hours a day, you'd gain a few hours in a gas guzzler. And the faster you're able to drive, the greater a fueled-car's time efficiency is going to be. (Since the Tesla essentially has a constant 40-minute penalty per 150 miles.) There's also a lot less flexibility, as you're on that schedule: you can't skip breakfast, hit a drive-thru for lunch, or stop for the night after dinner. Plus, the penalty can only be factored out in very long and very short drives... Drives--particularly with round-trips--in that 1.5-3.5 hour range are where you get burned.

And we don't really know the difference between the Tesla's performance in traffic versus open highway... which, because of the charging penalty, could throw off the numbers quite a bit.

But otherwise, yeah, it seems to line up.
posted by pokermonk at 10:00 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


in bc we're having a debate over "run-of-river" hydro projects: "small" dams on small rivers that may or may not have a reservoir. there are hundreds planned and their much-ballyhooed greenness is not at all assured. the provincial utility has been forbidden to get in on the action, probably as a union-busting exercise.

imagine the demand on the system if we all switched to electric cars and the leverage that would place on the governments (hare-brained, i think) plans. the implications are staggering.
posted by klanawa at 10:04 AM on March 28, 2009


There is a vast untapped electric energy source in America, able to assist in charging cars directly with little relative waste. It's basically a recumbent exercise bike hooked up directly to the car batteries. Up to now, it was problematic to tap into this source, but not with a bank of rechargeable batteries in the garage.
posted by Brian B. at 10:28 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Someone was asking about a Tesla Roadster crash, and here's an example. Flipped while swinging around a turn at 100MPH but both passenger and driver walked away without serious injuries. That doesn't mean any were sold in France, this was actually a test drive.
posted by delmoi at 10:31 AM on March 28, 2009


Oh by the way valleywag is skeptical that this car will ever make it to production.
posted by delmoi at 10:32 AM on March 28, 2009


I think the whole idea of a car like the Tesla is that they don't have all the kinks worked out. They do, however, have a pretty sexy car that has some amazing specs for $50k. Right it is almost impossible to make a cross country trip in this car. I mean you could it, obviously, but it is infeasible without a lot of planning a strict time table, that's assuming you could recharge at every 150 mile stop.

0-60 in under 5 seconds? That puts it in the league of a Porsche 997 GT3 at a price of $100,000. A Porsche Boxster will do 0-60 in what, 6-7 seconds at about half the price? Sure there are other metrics, but you really don't see people doing multi-day races in these sports cars. I would reckon that most of them are weekend cars, or at the very most, commuter cars. In fact if I was in the market for a second sports car, this would be very, very cool. It is electric, no one else has it, gets a lot of head turns and is $50k less than something comparable on pure acceleration.

No this isn't a replacement for commuter cars, and I doubt that in the near futures electric cars will be there. What they can do, due to the nature of electric cars, is provide amazing performance, comparable to exotics. Who has the highest profit margins of any car company? Porsche. I would guess that other big name sports car companies have profit margins way above Toyota, Honda and the mainstream competitors. This is great, you get to deal with Jay Leno types who garage their cars all the time, baby them and have gobs of money to throw at it if something goes wrong. Do you really want to be the first electric car out on the market and get all kinds of bad press? That a gizmo on the inside needs to be replaced and all the cars need to be garaged until they can be fixed, or worse if they're at of warranty and this costs $5k to do? This is what happened to the Ford GT, didn't hear about that, did you? Because the people who drive these kinds of cars don't give a shit about that, and certainly aren't going to complain to the press.

So yes, they're specifically targeting the enthusiast market. No the car isn't mean to be a replacement for gasoline engines. What is very important, is the experience gained in manufacturing and operating a company selling electric cars. You now have down market battery vendors who now have the opportunity to make large batteries, for cars. You have similar experiences gained all along the various parts of production. As others have stated, homes aren't built to recharge this in under an hour, but you now have (presumably) rich people wanting to do this. So they pay electricians who've never wired a home for an electric car gain actual knowledge on how to do it, and on someone else's dime. And in 10 years when you want to wire your home for your 300 mile electric car that can recharge in 15 minutes you have a known cost, known liabilities and more important, technicians who started doing this 10 years ago.

So yes, this is great as an evolutionary step. This is sort of like saying the Internet will never work because a 14.4k modem can't load video or audio. Sometimes you have to start at a 14.4k to get your 15mbps pipes.
posted by geoff. at 10:33 AM on March 28, 2009 [12 favorites]


One week old, and the Tesla S already wants a government bailout. (In fact, without $700 million from the government, it'll never be built at all.)
posted by william_boot at 10:40 AM on March 28, 2009


If one wants an electric car today there is the tango
Tango Ordering info

As far as 'changing' how we've done things - the RUF design - but I only see that as a possibility if man develops 'outdoor temp' grade supercondutors. Why? A new grid would have to be built - so why not make it a transportation grid also.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:04 AM on March 28, 2009


I've been following Tesla for a while and it's become increasingly tiring to watch people - and especially self-proclaimed "car guys" - queue up to list all of the reasons why Tesla will fail.

Maybe, maybe not - but what I will point out is that the people involved do not appear to be completely stupid, seem to be well aware of the limitations the technology places on wide adoption, and as far as I can tell are following through on exactly the roadmap they have been talking about for the last three years (despite a number of well publicized problems and changes of management along the way.)

Personally, I am rooting for them - I honestly do not understand the mindset of people who seem to want to see these guys fail (not pointing fingers at anyone here on that last score, but anyone following Tesla will be aware that they have a *lot* of haters.)

The car is beautiful IMO, somewhat derivative of the Jag XF at the back and a Maserati coupe at the front. These are not bad things to be derivative of. I hope it makes it.
posted by pascal at 11:15 AM on March 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


One week old, and the Tesla S already wants a government bailout.

Fine with me -- I'm much happier giving money to a company that's going to move the tech forward and get us a step closer to zero-emissions cars with centralized power generation, than I am giving money to GM & Chrysler. (That and it's a lot less money).
posted by wildcrdj at 12:15 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is sort of like saying the Internet will never work because a 14.4k modem can't load video or audio.

Who's saying what now? People do often say that, for the foreseeable future, electric cars are likely to be capable neither of replacing everything we use gasoline for, nor performing quite as well at as low a cost in their particular favourite uses of cars.

That might be more like saying fusion power will never work commercially. Not necessarily true, but not exactly looking as if its about to finally be proven wrong, not any more so than it has for the past twenty years. We've had hybrid-electric cars in mass production for nearly ten years. There have been people making all-electric cars and other vehicles for more than a hundred years. So far, this does not appear to be the kind of technology that improves at Internet speed.

EVs do better than petrol-powered cars for some applications, of course. As do bicycles for some others. That range of applications will expand thanks to the efforts of Tesla, and of GM for that matter. But still it will continue to expand only slowly for now.

Unless something better does come along with unexpected speed and force, such as hydrogen maybe, or cold fusion, or maybe EEStor will turn out to be for real... I suppose that despite slow progress on battery EVs there will eventually come a time when they reach a threshold of utility and affordability that allows them to take over a much larger part of the market for transportation. But unless something unexpected happens, it will be thanks to rising prices of other fuels, or perhaps a big "carbon tax", not any great advance in technology at all comparable to switching from 14.4k to 1.55mbps, that pushes them farthest into mainstream use. If things continue going the way they've gone so far, it could be the first time in hundreds of years that personal transportation gets (slightly) more difficult and costly from one generation to the next. Hardly the end of the world, and obviously there are bigger things to worry about, but I for one find that prospect a bit disappointing.

As the Tesla Motors website says: the battery. Its complexities are clear: it's heavy, expensive, and offers limited power and range. Yet it has one quality that eclipses these disadvantages and motivated us to keep working tirelessly: it's clean.

It's otherwise not as good as what we've got, but it's clean. I'm a big fan of increasing the abilty and performance of our applied technology and of environmental cleanliness both. It irks me when they conflict, and when EV enthusiasts seem to pretend that they don't. Ah well, there's always a chance they'll eventually come up with a battery more potent than petrol, or something. Hope it's soon.
posted by sfenders at 1:00 PM on March 28, 2009


Sorry sfenders, but I believe the Tesla S-Model demonstrates that battery vehicles are more likely than hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to replace petrol vehicles. Much more time and energy has gone into developing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and their accompanying infrastructure over the last 30 years - then suddenly out of nowhere battery vehicles have bested these efforts. I think that's pretty remarkable. And there's still a lot of room for improvement (different materials, combinations with supercapacitors etc).

But what I think we need to acknowledge right off the bat is that nothing will ever be better than petrol vehicles. The likelihood of any alternative, even in the long run, being better (more powerful, as good a range, as fast a refuel, etc ad nauseum) is not worth even considering. We all lucked out and got to live during that part of human history where we had ample fossil fuels and sophisticated technologies that made use of them. Now we have to figure out what's going to be good enough to replace this fantastic fuel that happens to be both running out and destroying our planet.
posted by molecicco at 1:17 PM on March 28, 2009


some people are going max nerd on the numbers and missing the point. i noted that their "45 minute" recharge time was on a 480volt circuit. presuming it even scaled linearly, that's three hours on a normal US circuit. you can stop there and call the numbers BS. figures regarding hair dryers were not needed to make the point.

anyways, this is one of those "next ten years" things. they're more after PR and buzz than sales. they sling some BS because the tech isn't quite there, and they don't know the details of zinc or lithium either. they are just betting that it will fall into place in due time, and faking it until they make it.

i, for one, hope they make an immensely awesome automobile. wouldn't it be nice to replace GM with a competent, inspiring automobile manufacturer? "Model S" indeed.
posted by RTQP at 1:51 PM on March 28, 2009


Oh by the way valleywag is skeptical that this car will ever make it to production.

Well, if the TMZ of Silicon Valley is skeptical, then that's all there is to the story ;)

Tesla is a real company with real cars, but they are also running somewhat of a Ponzi scheme. There's a long waiting list of paid customers waiting for the Roadster. And there will no doubt be a waiting list for this car. Their money will help pay for the earlier customers' Roadsters.

But it isn't a Ponzi scheme in the sense that they are getting rich. They are just trying to stay afloat. What it will take to become a real, profitable, company without a Ponzi debt is another question. When a company runs like this you wonder if the price of the vehicle has any relationship at all with the production costs.
posted by eye of newt at 2:31 PM on March 28, 2009


Tango v Tesla
posted by homunculus at 4:20 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Eye of newt: "Ponzi scheme" is a much abused term and you are one of the people abusing it. Please stop.

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment scheme. Tesla is not an investment scheme and neither is it fraudulent. So Tesla is not a Ponzi scheme in any sense.
posted by pascal at 4:27 PM on March 28, 2009


Colour me (very) sceptical. By their own admission, Tesla doesn't have the production facilities yet: in such circumstances, rolling out what appears to be a very production-ready prototype, even quoting prices, seems at the least overoptimistic, if not downright misleading.

Tesla doesn't build the Roadster: Lotus does. The Tesla Roadster is a Lotus Elise with different plastic panels on top, an electric motor and a shitload of laptop batteries in the engine bay. Presumably, Lotus had a number of empty frames lying around after GM discontinued the Opel Speedster/Vauxhall VX 220 (a similarly badge-engineered Elise with a GM engine), and Tesla bought them up.

I actually have an Opel Speedster (BTW, it's on sale, if anyone is interested, please drop me a MeFi-mail), and, while loads of fun, it just isn't a very practical car. It only seats two intimate friends, and ingress and egress are, well, complicated. It has a very peculiar aluminium box-frame which would be completely inadequate for a family car. The Tesla S is a very different beast. Its engineering must have about as much in common with the Roadster as with a Hummer H1.

Also, if I'm not wrong, the Roadster retails at USD 100K, of which about two-thirds must be for the electric drivetrain alone (the Elise is sold for less than USD 50K in the US). Considering that the Tesla S is going to need a much bigger battery pack, either Tesla is robbing the Roadster buyers blind, or there's a snowball's chance in Hell that they'll be able to break even selling the S for anything like 50K.

In short: VAPOURWARE!
posted by Skeptic at 5:02 PM on March 28, 2009


I want electric to work, but I don't see how.

A couple paragraphs before that: I do trust the Telsa Roadster's numbers, they do exist

There you go.
posted by DU at 5:46 PM on March 28, 2009


Relevant feature length movie.


For those who haven't' watched that. Do it. As soon as you can.
posted by 5imian at 7:28 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I'll just go install the outlet. Oh, and the new drop from the transformer, because many houses have 100A feeds, and this bad boy wants 70% of that draw. Oh, and the new transformer, because it only puts out center tapped 240V in the vast swath of the US, so you'll need a different transformer to get 480V, to get that 45 minute recharge."

This is a child's play requirement in any medium commercial or light industrial area. Commonly found along freeways across the country. Probably cost less than a gas pump + underground tank. Ya, you won't have this at home but at home you'll plug in over night. Of course if this car or others like it take off then you'll need to scale up concurrent connections.

Now if everyone converts over the grid will have a problem but that is a long term problem regardless of how you cut it.

In 1990 I drove from the interior of BC to southern California in a straight propane fuelled Dodge Aspen. With the tank size limit imposed by a sedan I had less range than this car (about 300-400 kilometres depending on the mass of one's right foot). Propane was both scarce (I'd be surprised if even one in a hundred gas complexes had it) and of limited availability (8-4 M-F most places or even out right disbelief you could fill anything but a 20lb tank some places including a very memorable Chevron station on the 101). We didn't have any serious problems getting around.

And that for something that required certification to operate (the Tesla can just be plugged in) and expensive capital and ongoing costs to maintain (tanks and pumps require annual certification) where as a transformer and cord is essentially fire and forget. And propane tanks pose an explosion hazard which even the beefiest transformer can't hope to aspire to. An incremental roll out to select eating locations is going to pose no real problems. And I'd bet it'll be helped along greatly by some chain instituting it California and later country wide as a selling feature and draw if Tesla manages to produce these in any great number. Just like Wal Mart does with the free camping or McDonalds does with those kids play places. Heck it might even be Wal Mart. They have auto service centres, lots of parking, lots of power available and they pretty well have the US covered.

"No this isn't a replacement for commuter cars,"

I don't see why not. With even a little co-operation from your employer (and if you're travelling 150 miles one way to that job you should be able to get that co-operation) the only thing that makes this unreasonable is the cost of the car. In cold areas (IE: most of Canada) it's fairly routine for employers to provide 15A receptacles for every parking space. That alone will get you half a charge in 8 hours (going by the roadster's requirements). Be a simple matter to wire up a cheater cord to grab 15A at 240V.

And if you're travelling a much more reasonable 70 miles each way or less you can just plug in at home every night. Places like California the grid already services A/C load during the day in summer so the capacity is there.
posted by Mitheral at 7:29 PM on March 28, 2009


We need big-capacity super capacitor technology. Fastest possible recharge time.

The essential root problem is that we've set up our cities, employment, and housing in the dumbest possible way. We have designed our system to fail. A hundred years from now our future generations are going to slap their hands to their foreheads in astonishment at how flabbergastingly stupid we were.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:52 PM on March 28, 2009


geoff. wrote: No this isn't a replacement for commuter cars

Aside from the cost issue, which time and volume will solve, as it does with every technology, an electric car is by far best suited for commuting use for the vast majority of people. 150 mile round trip commutes are not common in most of the country.

Heck, a smaller (say Civic or Corolla sized) car with a battery good for 70ish miles would be enough for the vast majority.

I'm one of the few who wouldn't be served well enough by even a 250 mile range..most of my driving is highway miles between here and work a couple of times a month. I'd need 300 miles (or a quick charge station at my friend's house there!) to even consider it at the price the S is going to cost. I just couldn't justify having it plus another car for the highway driving at that cost..I'd be more likely to buy a Roadster, honestly.

That said, if I ever have enough money to buy a 300 mile S, I might just consider it, as I usually only need more range when I'm staying over there for days and have time to charge at a snail's pace.

And how can someone think the harder part of building this thing will be engineering on the sheet metal and frame? The electric side seems like it would be much more of a challenge. The car part is a solved problem.
posted by wierdo at 9:22 PM on March 28, 2009


Obviously electrical cars will have no problems if the government seriously subsidizes the necessary infrastructure creation.
posted by delmoi at 9:25 PM on March 28, 2009


delmoi: Are loans really a subsidy?

That is, if they are actually repaid...
posted by wierdo at 10:09 PM on March 28, 2009


Electric vehicles are great and all, but it's only a minor improvement over gasoline & diesel if we're still relying on coal and nuclear to provide the electricity.

No, they're a major improvement. Orders of magnitude better in terms of emissions and energy use.

This persistent idea that electric cars just burn coal instead of gasoline is stupid - the quantities are not even remotely close to equivalent. Every step of the way, the electric system makes more and more savings in efficiencies, and by the time you've taken everything into account, the net emissions can be a hundred times smaller even when coal is the source of your power. Combustion engine cars really are amazingly dirty and inefficient compared to electric+coal.

Besides which, much (most?) of the world doesn't rely primarily on coal for electricity the way the USA does. It would be a mistake to judge the environmental cost of electricity by the standards of the USA.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:03 AM on March 29, 2009


Electric vehicles are great and all, but it's only a minor improvement over gasoline & diesel if we're still relying on coal and nuclear to provide the electricity.

Wrong. Watch the movie I posted. Now. Go. Remedy your wrongness immediately.
posted by 5imian at 2:11 AM on March 29, 2009


I'm really enjoying the movie - I didn't realize it was almost entirely about the EV1 and California regulations. As far as coal goes, a quick check with the IEA says it is one of the most important energy sources for electricity production - think China, central Europe, India, Australia and South Africa. All major coal-whores. Can't get a decent number now, but that page says that coal makes up 81% of all fuels used to produce electricity (caution! that's a funny number, because its based on the calorific value of the fuels!). But still, you get the idea that coal is a pretty major energy source around the world.

I'm not quite done with the film, but I am fully aware that due to no-idling and better conversion efficiencies, electric vehicles produce fewer emissions (even when fed on coal electricity) than petrol cars. However, my understanding is that there simply are savings, but that they are not a gigantic savings. I will search out some numbers on comparative efficiencies (some well-to-wheel efficiencies and CO2-emissions/kg-km would be nice). But if you have a good resource, please post!
posted by molecicco at 4:50 AM on March 29, 2009


It's interesting that battery life for these electric cars is always measured in miles. What about hours? If you're creeping in traffic, how long (in minutes) is the charge?
And does a lot of starting and stopping eat into the battery life equation?
And what about headlight, radio, and A/C motor drain on the battery life or is there a standard car battery for the electrical options? On the hypothetical drive across the country would I have to stop more often to recharge at night?
And do you get better 'mileage' at 70 mph or at 35 mph?
And how 'clean' are the used battery packs? Will we need to dig a cave a mile beneath Utah or Nevada to dispose all the dead Tesla batteries the way we store spent uranium rods or will there be stinking heaps of used batteries like old car tires in our future?
And why only test these cars in California? How do they perform in snow, rain, at altitude, in extreme heat or cold, with snow tires on, at full carrying capacity, on sand, tailgating?
posted by birdwatcher at 5:13 AM on March 29, 2009


Here we go, 41% of global electricity produced in 2006 came from coal, another 20% from gas, 2% from non-hydro renewables and most of the rest being hydro and nuclear. My GoogleScholar search for a comparison of the overall efficiency of a coal-electricity EV to a hybrid or a sedan or even an SUV are coming up thin. But I've done some rough calculations before, and if memory serves, the battery vehicles produce fewer emissions than a hybrid, but not by much (if the electricity source is CO2).
posted by molecicco at 8:31 AM on March 29, 2009


molecicco: Elon Musk did a great post on comparative well-to-wheel efficiency on the Tesla blog back in 2006. Consider the source as always but his numbers made sense to me at the time.

birdwatcher: Electric vehicles, like hybrids, do very much better than regular IC vehicles in stop-start traffic because there is no penalty for shutting down the engine at a stop (that said, IC "micro hybrid" engines with beefed up batteries and starters are closing the gap a little.)

Regarding battery recycling - this one has been answered over and over by both Toyota and Tesla - here is a useful blog post from Tesla on their plans.

Air conditioning will drain the battery some, but I have no data on how much - but I would imagine it is comparable to AC's effect on gas mileage in IC cars. What most people don't realize is that the AC in their car is not directly powered by the battery. Instead the AC compressor is driven by the car's engine (which of course is always running.) In the first version of the Prius, the AC would be shut down when the gas engine was - this is something they fixed in the 2004 car.

The Tesla Roadster also has working AC without a gas engine. I think this is an interesting data point because it is indicative of all the tiny things that commentators miss when they talk about Tesla "just shoving some batteries in an Elise": AC for pure electric cars basically did not exist before Tesla.
posted by pascal at 9:58 AM on March 29, 2009


Thanks pascal! The Tesla numbers seem to add up OK, except that they are assuming all electricity comes from the most favorable fossil fuel source - CC natural gas. I think a more realistic emissions/km number will be about double what he predicts. Which is abotu 70% that of a Prius. But I echo his statement that "a world 100% full of Prius drivers is still 100% addicted to oil".
posted by molecicco at 10:15 AM on March 29, 2009


Agreed about the effect of coal on those numbers. I'm pretty sure Musk has acknowledged this elsewhere too, and that I'd read something written by him that said that even the worst case (coal) efficiency is at least as good as a prius, but my google-fu failed me on that one.
posted by pascal at 10:29 AM on March 29, 2009


There you go.

If your answer is posited on installing outlets at every parking space *AND* the cars are going to cost upwards of $60K per copy, you don't have an answer.

Period.

The killer problem is charging. Even if we had ideal batteries, it's hard to charge them fast, because we're talking a truly scary amount of energy.

Telsa Roadster, again. 3.5 hours, if you have a 70A 240V power feed. That's 16.8KW, over 3.5 hours, that's 58.8KWhr. I just checked my electricity bill, I average about 375KWhr per month -- so my entire electrical consumption for a month will charge this car six times. It looks like I pay about $.17 KWHr, so roughly $10 per charge. You get roughly 150 miles -- 55 miles if you're driving like you're on Top Gear, but I don't. So, roughly $30 for 450 miles. I pay about $22 right now for that, and I need one fuel stop, taking 5 minutes. This needs three, at 3.5/hr per.

And that's in the ideal world. Obviously, my electricity bill will go up just a bit if I'm charging one of these. Indeed, if I drove 900 miles a month, I'd double it.

And those outlets? Easy in the suburbs -- hell, in the northern tier, they're already there.** Now, let's say you live in Chicago, and you park on the street. How do you plug in the car? Who's meter is that outlet connected to?

Get charging times down to 5 minutes, and it *works* -- because I can pull into Mr. Zap and charge up while getting a cup of coffee. But for all of us without a garage or private driveway, we can't charge at home, and we damn well can't afford to wait 3.5 hours every time the car gets low.


** Question: What happens to the batteries when the air is below freezing for months at a time? Current draw will drop, resistance will rise, and I know LiIon batteries rapidly die if frozen. Is there a heater in there? What power does it draw? How does that affect my range? Do I need to plug in my car *every* time the temp falls below a certain temp just to keep my battery pack alive?
posted by eriko at 6:02 PM on March 29, 2009


If your answer is posited on installing outlets at every parking space *AND* the cars are going to cost upwards of $60K per copy, you don't have an answer.

Is there a better solution that does not involve gasoline? That's really what it comes down to, regardless our personal feelings about the value of $60K and the value of a car.

Personally, I think the sole practical solution will be to live closer to where we do the tasks that earn our income. Travel is expensive: it's a natural physical law.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:48 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]



eriko writes "I pay about $22 right now for that,"

How much was it last year?

"And those outlets? Easy in the suburbs -- hell, in the northern tier, they're already there.** Now, let's say you live in Chicago, and you park on the street. How do you plug in the car? Who's meter is that outlet connected to?"

Yep no car, NO CAR, is going to be all things to all people. It's why I've got a two seater sports car, a minivan, and a 1 ton dually with 12' stake body.

I wouldn't be surprised to see combination charging and parking meters appear once electric cars take off; if not on the street then at car parks for sure. Pull up to the meter; swipe your AMEX; plug the cord into the locking socket; come back an hour later to a full battery. It's the great advantage of electricity; cheap and fairly safe wide spread distribution.
posted by Mitheral at 9:31 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


eriko, pointing out that a gasoline vehicle is better than an EV achieves nothing. I mentioned it in an earlier post: gasoline and diesel are remarkable fuels and it is almost certain that no alternative technology will ever be "better". Better in quotations because your criteria are clear. But if you started to include in your criteria for example, fewer CO2-emissions per km, or say, using sustainable energy sources to power automobiles, then these Tesla vehicles are pretty good right now meaning that in the near future electric vehicles can only improve. What small compromises to petrol vehicles will we accept in order to combat climate change, smog, and survive in a world of dwindling petroleum??
posted by molecicco at 1:28 AM on March 30, 2009


That a gizmo on the inside needs to be replaced and all the cars need to be garaged until they can be fixed, or worse if they're at of warranty and this costs $5k to do? This is what happened to the Ford GT, didn't hear about that, did you? Because the people who drive these kinds of cars don't give a shit about that, and certainly aren't going to complain to the press.

I recall Jeremy Clarkson complaining endlessly about his Ford GT. It was such a disaster, from the moment he placed the order, that he made bashing Ford a regular part of his show. As far as I can tell, his Ford GT was nothing more than a voucher for an endless stream of nondescript courtesy cars from his Ford dealer.

Anyway, his experience definitely put me off buying one.
posted by ryanrs at 4:05 AM on March 30, 2009


What happens to the batteries when the air is below freezing for months at a time?

Tesla is supposed to start selling the Roadster in Canada next year, so we may find out soon.

And do you get better 'mileage' at 70 mph or at 35 mph?

Best range closer to 20mph, lower than the average car. The "range" for marketing purposes is based on EPA test cycle I think. It'll be somewhat less on the highway. And of course much less after the battery is a few years old.

Is there a better solution that does not involve gasoline?

It's hard to say, but some people still like hydrogen. I think there's an argument to be made for hydrogen ICE. Everyone (except BMW) concentrating on using fuel cells has been a setback for hydrogen, as it's looking unlikely their cost will come down sufficiently unless some miracle occurrs. It'd take three times more energy than battery EVs, if you're making the hydrogen from some renewable electricity source as proponents tend to suggest; but that could still leave it reasonably cheap without all the disadvantages of batteries. If they were produced in volume today, at present energy prices, I would guess that the total lifetime cost per mile could be at least be made lower than the Tesla. The lack of hydrogen fuel distribution infrastructure probably rules that out for now, but if nothing else changed I would bet on hydrogen eventually winning over batteries. It depends on the overall scarcity of energy. Most electricity (and most hydrogen of course) still comes from non-renewable sources. To use either hydrogen or battery EVs as much as we presently burn gasoline, you're going to need some large new source of energy once the fossil fuels are gone, or there's going to be a lot less transportation going on. It's in that more pessimistic case that the batteries win out in the long run.
posted by sfenders at 7:48 AM on March 30, 2009


sfenders: I think hydrogen ICE is pretty interesting too, and another company to watch in this area is Mazda. It turns out that Wankel engines and hydrogen are a pretty good match, and it's relatively simple to make them duel-fuel compatible.
posted by pascal at 8:48 AM on March 30, 2009


One thing which is often overlooked in promoting Hydrogen as energy storage medium is that the efficiency of storing electricity in batteries is 3 times more efficient than using hydrogen. The round-trip efficiency for Hydrogen: Electrolysis (92%) x storage (52%) x FuelCell (52%) = 26%. Compared with batteries which have a round-trip efficiency of 75% with charging and discharging.
posted by jeroen8 at 2:25 PM on April 21, 2009


« Older When the Shuttle program nearly ended - in 1988   |   Animal behaviour: Grape expectations Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments