Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Short Trip, EV Transportation

In a recent post, Brian Wang discussed the use of light electrical vehicles in China, and recent light EV technology developments. The unwritten mission statement of Nuclear Green foresees the electrification of society as a consequence of the adoption of a large scale nuclear technology in a post carbon age. The use of electrically powered surface transportation would be a major component of this technology.

In the near future electrical powered light vehicles such as bicycles would be more practical for short trips, than electrical powered autos. In a world of increasing gasoline prices, electrical bikes represent a lower cost transportation option for every day errands. Many of my personal errands involve round trips of less than 5 miles, and it is absurd to use a 3000 pound, automobile to make such a trip. Yet time savings, comfort and convenience point to the use of a car. Alvin Weinberg, in his debate with Amory Lovins, pointed out that freedom to control personal time is an important motive for energy use. Energy is used in order to save time. Personal comfort is another consideration. Trips that would be uncomfortable to make if walking, are much more comfortable to make in an auto. No one would walk a substantial distance in the heat of a Dallas summer afternoon, if he or she had an air condition car as an alternative. Walking in rain can be uncomfortable, while walking in a thunderstorm can be down right dangerous. Cold weather can also pose comfort issues. Beyond the comfort issue, walking may impose an inconvenience. For example, a trip to the grocery store may be difficult to manage on foot, if one purchases several bags of groceries.

Light electrical vehicles, such as electric bikes and scooters, represent a step up both in terms of time savings, comfort and convenience. Light electrical vehicles are by no means entirely satisfactory even for all small trips. An electric bike or scooter is still going to be comfortable in the rain, and will carry only a limited weight in addition to a rider. Also people with balance problems would probably avoid electric bikes and scooters. There are three wheeler electrical bikes imported from China, but when I looked at them, they appeared heavy and awkward. I am not sure that an older person would want to ride one on a regular basis. The advantages of electrical bicycles is that they are cheap and trip costs with them would be very low. Electrical scooters though faster than electrical bikes, are more expensive and pose like electrical bikes some comfort, safety and convenience issues.

Short trip EVs should be cheap. The GEM, while cheaper than conventional autos, is ten times more expensive than an electrical bike. Well it is cute, and you can get one with a mini truck bed, and you can carry all the groceries you would wish to with that, but in its current iteration the GEM, with a top speed of 25 MPH, may not be street legal on many of the urban streets I would wish to drive it on. The GEM has an adequate thirty mile range between recharges, and it uses conventional, low cost acid lead batteries.In addition to its low speed, the GEM would present safety issues. Imagine a collision between a GEM and a Hummer. The GEM would be sent flying like a bowling ball. Despite its small size the underpowered GEM would not be nimble in traffic, and its diminutive size and light weight, do not suggest structural safety. Before you run out to buy a GEM, you need to make sure that it can be legally put to the use you intended for it.

The GEM could be designed to be safer, and to have more power. A 30 horsepower electric motor, would offer adequate speed. Magnets made with rare earth alloys would improve motor performance, but future low cost rare earth supplies must be assured. Before it could be adopted for street use, a vehicle like the GEM would have to be made safer. Race car technology could be adopted to rider protection, but of course race cars are expensive, and their safety technology would require modification to lower costs.

Thus the real question for the future street legal GEM would have to do with its price. If a car like this can be made legal and safe, would it still be cheap enough to attract buyers who are looking for low cost errand transportation?


Laurence Aurbach said...

In regards to your design parameters, there are a number of neighborhood electric vehicles available in addition to the Gem. Low-speed cars like the Zenn or the Miles ZX40X are designed for most weather conditions and have reasonably good range and safety specs.

But the low-speed car market seems to be a niche, because pretty soon people start wanting a laundry list of improvements such as the one you've made. And then the price becomes equal to a standard gasoline car. That's why major manufacturers like Chevy, Ford, Nissan, Toyota, Volvo, and others are bringing highway-capable plug-in cars to market for the 2010-1012 model years. The prices will be comparable to mid- to upper-range gasoline models.

The US market leader for an all-electric car at this point in time seems to be the Nissan Leaf, but this industry is highly dynamic and conditions could change completely by the time the Leaf is rolled out in 2012.

Naturally, India a leader in low-cost electric cars, and the Reva sells for $7,000 in India. In Europe and the US, Reva prices are much higher because of safety regulations and required testing.

In regards to rare earths, this line in a recent New York Times article was interesting:

Companies want to expand production outside China, but most rare-earth deposits, unlike those in southern China, are accompanied by radioactive uranium and thorium that complicate mining.

Drivers Ed Georgia said...

Good article, when we think of environment, future transportation there are many model will come into picture like electrical bikes, electric small cars etc... but as per a common human mentality every one want more if we build an small electric car for small distance transport, then people start wanting it may run on high way, then it may have stereo system, then video, then GPS etc.. list goes on. I think we need some solution in the form of fuel rather than car.
We need an fuel which is recycled, environmental friendly, affordable, more mileage one which can only solve the problem.


Blog Archive

Some neat videos

Nuclear Advocacy Webring
Ring Owner: Nuclear is Our Future Site: Nuclear is Our Future
Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet
Get Your Free Web Ring
by Bravenet.com
Dr. Joe Bonometti speaking on thorium/LFTR technology at Georgia Tech David LeBlanc on LFTR/MSR technology Robert Hargraves on AIM High