Changing Gears

MrFusion

Today, we're exploring my personal background in Electric Vehicles (EVs), and why my position on EVs has changed over a period of about 25 years.

For me, the interest in EVs was sparked by a movie: Back to the Future III.

I was 11 years old at the time, and I wanted to better understand how Mr Fusion could power a time machine. So I dug into the history of electrical technologies...I dug until I stumbled across the genius of Nikola Tesla's alternating current machines.

The Split

My parents had split by now, and money was very scarce. We avoided any significant travel, my mother would often say "...gas is too expensive...", as she increasingly withdrew from the world; taking her two sons with her. I didn't like where things were going, and so I searched desperately for a less expensive means of travel. It didn't take long: to a child, the math made perfect sense. With an EV, it seemed you could travel for miles on mere cents. This, I believed at the time, was a solution.

Gifts

I quickly made the leap from mobility scooters and golf carts, towards the "what ifs" of an electric car. Without an adult to help guide projects, I drifted between various goals. With the few tools left behind after my father's departure, I designed and built various gas and electric powertrains for a 1970's go-kart, I restored seized/non-running motorcycle engines gifted by my cousins, rebuilt pedal bikes, and scavenged broken household machines to assemble radio controlled car and aircraft motors. Goodwill was a favorite store of mine; I loved their discount bins.

By the age of 14, I'd settled upon the idea of building an EV in time for my 16th birthday, My sole 15th birthday wish was for a book titled Build Your Own Electric Vehicle, by Bob Brant. It was a wish fulfilled; while the book is very ragged today, it's still on my bookshelf.

Looking Back

I grew up in an auto wrecking yard, so access to vehicles was easy. Much to the dismay of those cranky men renting the yard from my grandfather, I taught myself the ins-and-outs of a typical automobile's major components. With a firm grip on EV math and engineering, I was ready to get started. Now, I just needed an old car from the lot, to draft specific plans, gather and assemble a few parts, and we'd be on the road!

It was around this time, that my withdrawn and very lonely mother called-up her High School sweetheart; a talented mechanic. He was well-known in the local community - primarily by his very lengthy police record. Our home quickly made the police precinct's Top 10 Nuisance Homes list, and it stayed there for years. Before the arrival of this drunken and extremely abusive man (whom quickly became my step-father), I don't think I had ever talked to a police officer...his presence changed that. Needless to say, my EV ambitions stopped-cold.

A couple months after high school graduation, I moved out overnight. I distinctly remember unpacking the book a few days later...it was well-worn now, and I was in survival mode; it went back on a shelf.

The Engines

For each vehicle I've ever owned, I can tell you exactly what size motor, speed controller, and battery pack I planned to install. How the vehicle was expected to perform, where I'd mount each component, and I even maintained a list of sources for each necessary part. My desire to build an EV never died, but life demanded survival.

The Past Repeats

In 2007 I took a new job. A Narcolepsy diagnosis quickly followed, as did a sudden decline in hearing. This unexpected sequence of events opened a door...

Enabled by the new job's commute need, and tiring of the daily bus rides, I turned to cycling...only to be told I couldn't operate a bike, or I'd risk a perilymph fistula. Well, that sucked! Again, borne out of necessity, I turned towards electric-assist vehicles.

I was one of the first to purchase Matt's eDrive mount, and I didn't hesitate to build a wickedly-fast adult-sized scooter. Ultimately, I began designing a power-assist kit for my recumbent bike.

To this day, my recumbent bike still has a gasoline/electric/human hybrid drivetrain. The gas engine gets in excess of 246 MPG, while the electric side pushes me along at about 12Wh/mile (or, if using the EPA's very silly measurement: 2,783 MPGe)

It was time to start eyeballing my little Smart Car, I was growing so very tired of its manufacturer-intended lurching transmission.

It Doesn't Fit!

I wanted a 200-300 mile EV range, and I wanted the batteries to fit in the back of my Smart Car, with cargo space too. Unable to find a sufficiently-dense battery design, I explored range extension trailers...and then explored diesel vs gas generator options. I quickly realized the incredible energy density of diesel fuel, compared to the dismally poor capacity of chemical batteries.

A Turning Point

It was a this point, that I decided to focus on not just reducing energy consumption, but reducing CO2 emissions. After-all, my ultimate goal was to reduce my personal contribution to today's global warming crisis.

This is where a lifetime of effort started to fall apart. The idea of a full-sized vehicle becoming an EV simply doesn't make any sense. Whether it was factory-designed, or built by enthusiasts. Actual lifecycle CO2 emissions of even a 100% solar-powered EV is far worse than today's best diesel vehicle options.

EVs Grossly Waste Resources

Even when considering the most optimistic of numbers, if you stay true to the math, you'll find that EVs waste at least 38% of generated electricity, and that EVs contribute far more environmental pollution than an internal combustion vehicle. Worsened by this fact, is that we already have in mass production today, diesel vehicle technology which is ~70% more efficient than your average car: no conspiracy theories or mystical future technologies required. This means, that your average 35MPG vehicle could be doing upwards of 60MPG, after a single overnight shop visit, and with no overall performance compromises.

On a longer-term path, EV efficiency will drop from its current (Tesla Roadster) best-case ~62% efficiency to well under 40%. Largely as a result of electrochemical and energy conversion losses.

Sure, there's various "experimental" EV concepts in the works, many of which claim greatly improved efficiency. Although these designs cannot currently be viably mass-produced, it would be irresponsible to consider such novel future assertions as anything but an appeal to novelty. Otherwise, we might as well start wishing for tabletop cold fusion too.

Make no mistake: on a smaller scale, electric-assist options make perfect sense, it's when we attempt to apply such concepts towards automobiles, when we're making a gross mistake.

Stay Tuned

Its taken me over 25 years to realize that EVs were a poor decision...it's a realization that did not come lightly. I'm working to better convey an understanding which has emerged over the past few years. I'll post additional articles, with substantiating facts, citations, and thoughts.