Alternative energy fans are getting good news this year end, 2012 will be the year of the electric car. No matter what flavor of technology, dual drive train hybrid, true hybrid, plug in electric, there will be something for everybody.
American buyers will be able to buy American hybrid cars. The Chevy Volt will be flanked by the Ford Fusion Electric scheduled to be released for sale in 19 US markets in March of 2012. The Nissan Leaf might be the first production electric, so most commentators will make comparisons regarding driving range, speed and recharge time based on the performance of the Leaf. At present, the claimed performance of the vehicles is very comparable.
It’s all speculation until there are a few units out there and the actual life cycle of the batteries can be measured. 100’s to 1000’s of vehicles will have to be built and consumer experiences cataloged in order to get a handle on how the batteries really work. With all due respect to the development and testing efforts, it’s educated guesswork until there is real world experience.
Will the batteries be able to cycle enough times to make them cost effective? When will they require replacement? What will the price tag be for the battery pack? Hopefully less than the $13,000 Tesla battery pack.
EV’s are coming. But they are, like all the alternative energy technologies, still not cost competitive with Internal Combustion engines. Most vehicles carry a $39,995 starting price tag with a $7,500 Federal rebate. The basic purchase price puts EV’s out of the price range for many people, which fundamentally defeats the purpose. The point of alternative energy technology is that it must become widespread in order for any impact on the environment to take place. High prices are a major barrier to broad adoption.
Meanwhile the internal combustion engine is seeing some revival. New approaches are being built and tested that offer dramatic improvements in efficiency and engine weight. The EcoMotors opposing piston engine has been under DARPA development since 2007. EcoMotors technology has been demonstrated to 40% efficiency, more than double that of traditional ICE. In addition, it weighs less, takes up less space and gives of dramatically less heat.
Recently, the University of Michigan announced a new breakthrough called the wave engine that is expected to increase combustion efficiency to 60%. And the rotor only turns in one direction like a scroll compressor instead of a piston, so there are no reciprocating motions to deal with. This will also lower vehicle weight substantially, so the engine efficiency improvement leads to further overall efficiency in fuel required per transportation mile.
If these ICE improvements translate directly into miles-per gallon, then based on average 20 mpg cars today, we are talking about 53+ mile per gallon in town and possibly 70 mpg highway for EcoMotors solution. At these levels, the equivalent energy cost per transportation mile is at parity with electricity. If the wave engine proves successful, in town ratings of 80 mpg and 100 mpg highway become feasible, making electric options more expensive.
The future is what we make it. Let’s make it the best we can with choices that make sense economically and environmentally.