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Wednesday 2 May 2018

Electric cars or not

For the last few months perhaps a couple of years the Diesel car has been hounded by some of the press and clean air pundits. Now the UK government is taking notice and setting policies for new cars to discourage further Diesel purchases.

This got me thinking about how practical it might be to run an electric car and can I get an electric Land Rover. It led to an idea which, I now know, others are already working on.

Everything EV

It's fairly openly stated that the pressure to move away from Diesel cars is more to do with air quality in cities than a more wider care for the environment. It's not mentioned very often but the increase in petrol cars will almost certainly add more greenhouse gases. Electric cars just move the air pollution to the point of generation. Until we get more wind, water and nuclear, power generation the total pot of electrical use still pollutes somewhere.

EV West

For the moment, to get cleaner air, the drive is towards electric cars. I am keen on electric cars. In most ways, an electric motor is a far more suitable power source for a car than an internal combustion engine. High torque at low revs, wide rev range, less complicated and therefore more reliable, virtually no environmentally unfriendly fluids to leak or be disposed of and no fumes. Even the freedom to position the motor at any angle and have multiple motors synchronised to work together are all ideally suited for cars.


If we ignore the currently very high cost of electric cars, the big technical disadvantage of electric vehicles, as everyone knows, is the battery. At the moment, the limitations of battery technology mean it is only suitable for smaller lighter weight vehicles which only need to travel a few hundred miles between long stop overs to recharge.

The long stop over is the problem. The bigger the capacity of battery the longer it takes to charge or the higher power you need to feed it. There are limits to how big the electricity cables can be in most public situations. Typically a home in the UK has an incoming supply of up to 100Amp. Some, usually older properties, only have a 60Amp supply. Those capacities are the limits of the power available to the fast charging stations cropping up round the country. It's not very practical, in a home, to dedicate all you electricity supply to just charging the car!

There is nothing stopping the scaling up of designs for longer ranges and larger vehicles but the already high costs become completely unaffordable and the charging takes longer!

Range Rover PHEV

As can be seen from my many other posts on this blog, I like my Land Rovers. These are not small vehicles and generally get worked hard. That could be carrying large families and friends, lugging lots of equipment, towing big and small trailers and, in our case, harrowing the fields, to name just a few uses.

I've done some research and there are a number of companies that will convert cars to electric. Usually only valuable classics because the costs range from £12,000 for a simple small car to £50,000 for a large 4x4 like a Range Rover.

It's obviously a large enough DIY market that the same companies sell kits of parts, starting at about £7,000 for a small vehicle.

Even if a car is converted, it will still suffer from a comparatively short range which gets dramatically shorter if you use any of the luxuries we have become used to, heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer for example. Electric windows, stereo and any other gadget, like entertainment systems for the kids, all kill the utility of an electric vehicle.

I even thought the other day about what happens when we get those snarl ups on the roads, in the depths of winter, that last hours with queues of stationary cars and lorries. An internal combustion engine, at tick over, can keep the heating running for many hours and still drive home when the jam is cleared. An average electric car, from full charge, would leave the occupants frozen in less than two hours.

Land Rover

This is where hybrids step in. They have a smaller electric range but can swap to a normal combustion engine when the batteries get low. I think it is a disappointing solution to the problem. Either you are lugging a big hunk of metal alloy about all the time reducing your battery powered range or you are running on fuel which brings back the air pollution!

The question that occurred to me was, is there a lighter weight way to generate enough electricity directly from consuming fuel within the car without the need to have that heavy internal combustion engine?
It did not take me long to find that this is the same thing that many organisations have been thinking about for many years. On the face of it, fuel cell technology should be a good solution. This uses a chemical reaction, such as hydrogen and oxygen, to produce electricity. There appear to be lots of difficulties making this work for cars because it is not as widely touted as I would have expected.

It's clear from my limited research that a lot of people, a lot more knowledgeable then I, are already actively working on this. I hope they come up with a viable solution soon.


Reference links:

New developments in flow battery technology are looking promising. Flow batteries are a bit like fuel cells. They use two liquids stored separately. When brought together either side of a membrane, they generate an electric flow. The usual problem persists, which is the amount of power produced for the weight.


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