Many inventions in the world have changed people’s way of life. The invention of the automobile has had one of the most profound effects on people’s lives. Autos began as a status symbol for the wealthy in the society. Today, they have changed urban design, employment patterns, foreign and economic policy and employment. However, despite the huge impact in people’s lives, most automobiles are still run on a combustion engine, the same one that pioneered in 1879.
Comparing Regular Combustion Cars to Electric Cars
Internal Combustion Engine
Regular cars use the internal combustion engine that relies on oil from petroleum to function. The engine burns the oil in a combustion process, releasing carbon IV oxide and water as by-products. Incomplete combustion, which is the case usually, leads to production of carbon II oxide. The chemical enters the atmosphere as a pollutant. High levels of Carbon in the atmosphere have detrimental effects on life.
A Hybrid Engine
A hybrid engine is appropriate to electric engines. Powerful batteries are suitable for power the engine, since they store energy. A car can recharge itself on a plug-in hybrid, which connects an external source of energy such as solar panels or the wind.
The U.S. transportation sector accounts about 30% of emissions. Hybrid cars that burn regular gasoline emit the same greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. A research by the Argonne National laboratory shows that conventional cars release about 500 grams of greenhouse gases per mile, while hybrid vehicles release 340 grams per mile.
Tesla’s mission is to stimulate the world’s transition to sustainable transportation. Tesla hopes to produce sufficient amount of electric vehicles to bring change in the automobile industry. The annual planned production is 500,000 batteries. The Gigafactory will help to run the company successfully.
The Tesla Gigafactory project started in June 2014 in Sparks, Nevada, and will reach its full capacity by 2020. Tesla will start producing cells in 2017. The company is working together with Panasonic and other partners to produce batteries at a reduced cost. The organizations can take advantage of economies of scale to create sustainability and economy. Tesla hopes to cut down the cost of per kilowatt battery by about 30%.
Combustion engines are the complex machines, which operate on a system of opening valves, spark plugs that ignite and move pistons. The combination turns the crankshaft. The technology is inefficient to the extent that much energy is lost due to thermal leakage. Only about 20% of the energy supplied by the engine reaches the wheels. There are about a billion vehicles in the world. Due to an increasing demand from middle class, the number of vehicles will increase significantly in the future. According to statistical forecast, about two billion cars will be available by 2050. Thus, billions of barrels of oil will be combusted, which will translate into emission of tons of harmful compounds into the atmosphere. To the relief of many stakeholders including governments and consumers, change is near. Almost all automakers are concerned about the future of the world. The companies are venturing into the production of electric vehicles. Both giant companies like Toyota and Gm, and startups such as Tesla and Fisker are working on electric vehicles to make the world a better place.
The Global Auto Industry
Many players are present in the automobile industry. However, industrial giants such as GM, Toyota and Volkswagen have major controlling power. Consumer power is in the traditional automobile industry because of low switching costs and the easy availability of substitute products. The capital required to enter into the automobile industry is high. Considering the fact that giant companies enjoy vast economies of scale, it is difficult for new players to penetrate the market. Competition in the automobile industry is high, prompting players to engage in extensive research to produce high quality products to meet market needs. Moreover, research in zero level carbon emission is an ongoing concern. Many companies are prompted to work harder to produce electric cars to meet the standards of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Statistical forecast illustrate that in the coming decades, many consumers will prefer the solar powered cars because they will be cheaper. The initial outlay could be higher but maintenance costs will be affordable to many consumers.
Some of the companies that have been engaged in production of solar powered vehicles are discussed below.
Ford Motor Company will soon unveil its first solar powered vehicle. The C-Max Solar Energy Concept is a hybrid car with inbuilt solar roof panels which allow the car to recharge and power its engine. The vehicle can travel 21 miles powered by solar energy only. Ford believes the sun could power about 75% of all trips an average driver makes. The C-Max uses a concentrator, which behaves like a magnifying glass. It focusses the sun’s rays to 300-350 watt solar cells on the roof. SunPower Corporation is the manufacturer of the car’s roof. The system can track the sun from dawn to dusk. Ford says that the vehicle uses daily sunlight quantities and performs brilliantly like the conventional C-Max energy plug-in hybrid. Normally, batteries can produce charge equal to 8 kilowatts that it can generate.
The Nissan New Leaf
The company introduced the Nissan Altra in 1997. It was mainly used as a fleet vehicle for electric utility companies. It also produced the Nissan Hypermini. The EV-11 prototype electric car was designed like the Nissan Tiida. The conventional gasoline engine was replaced by all-electric drive train. It incorporated an 80 kW electric motor, 24 kW lithium ion battery and a remote controller working with a cell phone connected to the vehicles data center.
A front mounted electric motor which drives the front axle operates the Nissan. The motor is powered by a 24 kWh lithium battery rated up to 90kW. The battery pack comprises air cooled battery cells with lithium manganite cathodes and 48 modules. Each module has four battery cells. Automotive Energy Supply Corporation assembles the batteries together. The battery is located below the seats and back foot space. The battery pack can retain 80% of its charge capacity even after 10 years. Environmental factors affect the battery life span. In addition, driving patterns may affect the battery life. A backup 12-volt acid battery acts as a buffer. It powers the cars computer and accessory systems.
Australia’s Contribution to Zero Level Carbon Emission
In Australia, plans are underway to use solar panels to generate more clean energy, which is a sustainable and less polluting energy source. Two large scale centralized solar panels are available to meet the objective. One is the concentrating photovoltaic solar (CPV). The other is the concentrating solar-thermal power (CsT). Both panels can play an invaluable role in providing clean energy. CsT is highly reliable; thus, has higher demand in the world in terms of installation. It operates by concentrating sunlight onto a focus. The focus is irradiated and heat is produced to warn water, thereby creating steam which can run engines. The process results in electricity generation. Statistics show that in the past 20 years, there has been an upsurge in the installation and use of CsTs in the world. More electrical megawatts of CsT are yet to be commissioned. They will be dispatched into the Spanish grid. The California energy commission in the United States has intends to produce 4800 electrical megawatts. US BLM has intends to license many more companies over the years for active solar applications. The projected capacity is to generate 97,000 electrical megawatts. In Italy and UAE, many solar thermal projects are in progress. Other countries that have joined the bandwagon include Algeria, Morocco, Israel and Egypt. In Spain, 417 electrical megawatts of CsT plants work through electrolysis of molten salt storage. 8 parabolic trough plants have been installed with molten salt storage. Each can release an output capacity of 50 electrical megawatts, and uses trough technology together with molten thermal storage. ACs cobra has invested further by building more parabolic trough plants which can store energy internally that has been collected during the day. It can dispatch electricity continuously for 7.5 hours if operating at full capacity of 50 electrical megawatts. The plants can operate for a period longer than 7.5 if set back to lower output at night. The solar panels are flexible and automobiles companies can take advantage of power peak prices in the course of the day.
During sunlight hours, the mirror on the panel collects enough energy to run the turbine. The energy is then stored in the molten salt storage tank. As evening approaches, the hot salt tank releases energy, which generates steam to run the turbine. Salt is then pumped back into the cold tank for future use.
Scalability of Electric Technology
The electric revolution on automobiles should be extended to other areas. Tesla should consider working on electric trucks as well. Engineers should initiate a new platform from scratch to incorporate the new development. While the mechanics and powertrain used at the moment by tesla could be easily adapted for the heavy trucks, the unibody adapted in the Model S will not support it. It is a good idea to consider the possibility of electrifying short haul and delivery trucks. Trucks with predictable routes can work excellently on the system too. Tesla should consider further research into the supercharger network to power the long haul trucks.
In addition to road-going vehicles, other modes of transportation such as ships, trains and aero planes should be considered. In actual sense, scalability is a function of energy storage required to power an automobile. A jet consumes a lot of energy, which cannot be practically stored in batteries. However, battery capacity improves by about 8% every year. If the progress is compounded annually, batteries should double their capacity every ten years. Based on the assumption, a 500 mile battery could be available in 5 years in Model S’ life. Phinegery is an Israeli technical firm that has developed an electric vehicle which can travel 1000 miles when charged once. The vehicle uses the lithium ions battery which works with an aluminum energy system. The reaction between aluminum and oxygen is exothermic; hence it releases energy. Tesla has been committed to a plan similar to the Israeli firm. It has filed eight patent applications since inception that relies on a dual source.