Monthly Archives: November 2013

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Hydrogen

Since the Tokyo Auto Show, hydrogen has once again become a hot topic in “green” vehicles. Both Toyota and Honda showed a hydrogen-powered vehicle. Soon, Hyundai is releasing a fuel-cell vehicle to the public.

But what is a hydrogen-powered or fuel-cell vehicle? It’s an electric vehicle that, instead of a battery, uses a specialized fuel cell to fuse atoms of hydrogen with air (specifically the oxygen in the air) to make water and electricity — the reverse of hydrolysis. The exhaust is water vapor. Sounds great, right?

Well, getting the hydrogen from water (hydrolysis) requires electrical power. If this electrical power is from solar sources, then it’s still 100% clean energy. Some of the electrical power is lost during hydrolysis, making the process far from 100% efficient.

Next is the cooling of the hydrogen so it can be transported and stored. Cooling hydrogen to around -432 degrees F takes a lot of electricity. Again, we have a loss of efficiency.

At the fueling station (which also must keep the hydrogen at near 0 Kelvin — another loss of efficiency), pumps have to pump the fuel into the vehicle. Another loss of efficiency.

Finally, the car must fuse the hydrogen and oxygen atoms to make electricity. Another loss of efficiency.

At the end of the equation, we have around 30% efficiency. Still better than gasoline, but far from as good as an electric car. Like Elon Musk said, “Hydrogen-powered vehicles are so bullshit.

Rube Goldberg

Some of you may know who Rube Goldberg is. For those who don’t, I highly recommend learning about this artist. Mr. Goldberg made ridiculous illustrations involving many different steps to accomplish a relatively simple task.

Today, most people are driving around with similarly complex machinery under the hoods of the car — the gasoline engine. Even the simplest engine has over 300 parts. Most of the parts are a point of failure, and even those that don’t (such as a spark plug wire) cause the engine to run poorly.

Statisticians go crazy about what are called “single points of failure”. They love to calculate the possibility of failure based on something’s components.

I’m reminded about this because of a co-worker who complained about a certain “car care” company that did an exceptionally poor job maintaining his car’s engine. And at the time time, I’m reminded about how few points of failure an electric car has.

The drivetrain in a gas powered car has the engine (with its 300+ parts), and a transmission with multiple parts. An electric vehicle has its motor (2 major components: the housing/permanent magnets and the stator which spins) and a reduction gear that doesn’t change ratios. That’s it.

The next question is: What will mechanics and the car service companies do in the future?

VW e-Golf? Could it be a Contender?

Earlier I wrote about the VW e-Golf and the lack of differentiation (other than design) from the Nissan LEAF. Well, VW has a recent press release about the car and guess what? They added technology to differentiate it from the LEAF. Underwhelming.

  • 24.2 kWh lithium-ion battery pack (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • Real-world range of approximately 80 miles (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • 114 horsepower (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • 199 pound-feet of torque (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • 0 to 62 mph in 10.4 seconds (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • 87 mph top speed (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • Drag coefficient of 0.28 (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • Three drive modes: Normal, Eco and ECO+ (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • Four levels of regenerative braking: D1, D2, D3 and B (okay, this is nice; the LEAF has 2 levels)
  • CCS standard in the US (there is exactly 1 charger in the US for CCS; I prefer CHAdeMO)
  • 13-hour recharge on standard 230-volt socket or 4 hours with optional wall-box charger (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • Curb weight 3,090 pounds (slightly lighter than the LEAF)
  • 7.2 kW onboard charger (slightly faster than the LEAF’s available 6.6kW charger)

And that’s it, folks. At this time, we don’t know if the e-Golf will be a compliance car, but VW says availability is for “select states”. That screams “compliance car” to me.

Could it be a contender? Only if it significantly beats the LEAF on features (it doesn’t) or on price (it won’t).

Tesla – Not the Car, the Man

It was mentioned today about Nikola Tesla and his proposed wireless electricity transfer method. Invented in the late 1800s, Tesla’s invention would allow wireless electricity transfer around the entire world. His invention utilized harmonics in the atmosphere around the Earth (also known as the Schumann Resonance) to deliver and amplify electricity.

Tesla showed his invention at the 1893 World’s Fair, illuminating some lightbulbs from some distance from the power source. By combining several inventions, Tesla also showed the world’s first remote-controlled, remote-powered toy boat.

History is a little fuzzy about what happened next. There is speculation that Westinghouse, the same company that helped Nikola Tesla build the hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls, put the kibosh on his wireless electricity transfer invention because there was no way to meter power consumption.

But what if history was a little different? What is wireless electricity transfer became science-fact? Poor areas of the world would suddenly have access to power, and anything, anywhere, could be powered by electricity. Think about our electric cars: Only a tiny battery for “emergency disruptions” would be necessary. Think about shipping: Huge ocean liners wouldn’t need to burn thousands of gallons of dirty “bunker fuel”. Even cell phones could have unlimited talk and usage time.

All because a company couldn’t figure out a way to meter the power. Sad.

EV Conversions Better Than ICE Models?

EV conversion cars. ICE cars converted to electric models. The thought of this sends shivers up the spine of the EV enthusiast. But what about conversions that are better than their ICE donor cars?

Mitsubishi i-MiEV: This is probably the best example of a conversion that is better than the ICE model. The Mitsubishi “i” is a kei car, meaning it has specific size, weight, and engine displacement regulations. The Japanese love kei cars because they’re cheap, small, easy to park, and have copious insurance benefits.

The maximum displacement of a kei car is 660cc. Yes, 0.6 liters. Granted, 660cc of intercooled, turbocharged goodness, but still. Peak output of the ICE: 64HP. Peak output of the electric version: 66HP. Whooo! Big deal! Well, remember electric cars have full torque from 0 RPM. This makes the electric version significantly faster than the ICE version. All without any intrusion into the cabin or other EV conversion badness. (See this article for a comparison between the gas and electric versions of the “i”.)

Fiat 500e: Another conversion gone well, the 500e is actually faster than the non-turbocharged ICE version. With Fiat offering a lease that is the same for the gas model, the 500e is a great choice… if you live in California.

Honda Fit EV: Although the Fit EV loses its “magic seats”, that’s a small price for better performance and zero emissions. With the rock-bottom lease rate (again, only in California) that includes collision insurance and unlimited mileage, the Fit EV is flying off the shelves. Too bad you cannot buy them outright.