In recent years, the debate over gasoline vs electric cars has gathered momentum with the recent success of Tesla Motors. It’s been very difficult for the eletric car because they are usually too expense, not sporty enough, and have limited range. But that isn’t the case anymore.
Strangely enough, the first electric car was created in the year 1828 by the Gungarian, Ányos Jedlik. Crude in nature, it was very slow and was very impractical. In 1899, a Belgian by the name of Camille Jénatzy built an electric racing car called “La Jamais Contente” that set a world record for land speed at 68 mph, which was extraordinarily fast at the time. Electric vehicles looked promising. Batteries were improving and so were the vehicles. They didn’t smell, they were very quiet and they didn’t require any shifting. But be it as it may, the gasoline internal combustion engine won the hearts of the People, and the electric vehicle went into dormancy.
For the next 100 years, we decided to improve upon drilling and refining capabilities to quench the insatiable apatite for oil. Think of where we’d be if we had spent the same time improving upon the electric car instead of the internal combustion engine. Electric vehicle costs would be much lower, battery technology would be vastly superior than today, and we would have improved upon all the technologies that generate electricity due to necessity.
Most vehicles run on gasoline or diesel fuel, the only source of which is oil. As we all know, oil is a limited resource, although newer technologies make extracting the oil much more efficient. But at some point, we’re going to run into period of time when oil is shard to come by, and when that happens prices are going to skyrocket.
What are our alternatives? Some like natural gas, some like ethanol, others like hydrogen. None of these are any different than oil though, for the reason that most are limited resources and come from a single parent source. There are some who say hydrogen is the fuel of the future because it’s the most abundant element in the universe. While that may be true, hydrogen isn’t all that easy to collect here on Earth. The two major sources of hydrogen are from hydrocarbons (fossil fuels) and electrolysis (splitting of water), which takes large amounts of energy.
If we were to convert our vehicle fleet to electricity, there’s no question we would need orders of magnitude more electricity to meet the demand. But the benefit to electricity as an energy source is that we can generate it from a myriad of sources, some of which are renewable:
- Nuclear Power (Uranium)
- Natural Gas
- Wind Power
- Solar Power
- Geothermal Power
- Hydro Power (Tidal and Dams)
It’s also a modular and scalable. Unlike gasoline and diesel fuel which only come from oil, electricity can be generated in a number of ways (as mentioned above). All these sources of electricity can tie into the electrical grid and ship the electricity anywhere it needs to go at nearly the speed of light. This is very different than trying to rebuild our motor fleet with natural gas, biodiesel, ethanol, or hydrogen because all these fuel sources would require a whole new infrastructure to be put in place.
This brings us to another benefit of electricity; distribution supply lines are already in place. The electric grid runs all across the country. It’s everywhere! You can set up a windmill farm in Texas and transport the electricity nearly instantaneously to Illinois. A nuclear power plant can instantaneously ship electricity from North Carolina to Iowa. A coal plant in Colorado could ship electricity to California. No more tanker trucks to refill tens of thousands of gas stations all across the country.
The other benefit to electricity is, the national infrastructure would have to be upgraded out of necessity, something we desperately need to do. But, at least every building in America has electrical power. If we were to use natural gas, bio-fuels, ethanol or hydrogen, the entire transportation infrastructure would have to be created, modified, or retrofitted to fill the gas tanks of our vehicles.
Another benefit to electricity is it’s really quite efficient. Unlike the internal combustion engine, in which 80% of the fuel is wasted generating heat, electric motors are just the opposite. They are about 85% efficient in which 15% of the electricity is lost to heat. New and improved batteries are coming out each and every year, while the technological advances in gasoline haven’t improved in decades (since the removal of lead). In fact, an argument could be made that they are worse with all the emission control systems now in place that greatly reduce fuel efficiencies which require us to burn more fuel.
Then comes the environment debate. Yes, most of our electricity comes from coal and nuclear power plants. Yes, they pollute in order to create electricity, but which creates more pollution? Sucking the oil out of the ground, shipping it to refiners, refining the oil, shipping the gasoline all across the country, then burning it? Or digging up coal, shipping it, then burning it? Perhaps electric vehicles are not as “green” as they sound, but they are much greener and far more efficient than the internal combustion engine.
Lastly, oil creates pollutants and so do most sources of electrical power plants, but there is no pollution generated by using electricity whereas there is with gasoline and diesel fuel. Just imagine if we had spent the last 100 years improving upon Ányos Jedlik’s electric car instead of the internal combustion engine? I wonder what we’d be driving?