An automobile powered by electricity. For some time (and still) development was thought to be waiting on drastic improvements in battery technology--cost, weight, charge/discharge rates, and longevity are all factors. It's thought that ultracapacitor technology may help with the situation. My bet's on hybrid-electric vehicles.

My father had an electric car when I was a child. I don't remember the brand, but it was based on an AMC body. The heating system was based on the recirculation of transmission fluid. In retrospect, this implies to me that the design didn't leverage many of the purported advantages of an electric motor--i.e.: an electric car shouldn't require a transmission. Anyway, I distinctly remember the time that some hose came loose and the thing bled a bunch of bright red transmission fluid all over the driveway.

I suppose if they were clever (which they werent), they might have gone with heated seats instead of an arcanely complex use of heat-exchangers and recirculated transmission fluid. Or maybe electric cars aren't meant for cold climates like Detroit.

Environmentalists are hoping that electric cars will dominate the roadways of the world in the near future. However, at this point, the technology is very limited by the inefficiency and cost of conventional batteries. Electric cars tend to be expensive to produce, have poor performance, and take a long time to charge.

An interesting alternative to conventional batteries is the fuel cell, which combusts hydrogen in air to power an electricity-producing mechanism. The best part is that it creates only water as exhaust. Fuel Cell technology is already developed enough to be incorporated into normal automobiles, but right now the necessary infrastructure, including manufacturing facilities and hydrogen refueling stations, does not exist to make them of much use.

Until electric cars become a viable alternative to fossil fuel powered vehicles, the trend will be to create more and more efficient gas-powered cars. Some gas/electric hybrids are on the road today, but they look kind of weird.

That is, this will be the trend that people who care about the environment will follow, whereas everyone else will continue to buy SUV's which they need for driving up wooded hills, over piles of big rocks, and through wide expanses of open desert.

One inherent problem with pure-electric cars is that it completely ignores the fact that electricity usually isn't very clean to produce. In fact, the argument could easily be made that a gas-powered kinetic energy generator (i.e. the engine in an automobile) is a hell of a lot more efficient than having a gas-powered electrical energy generator shove electrical energy into a battery and having that power an electric motor.

Hybrid cars are definitely much more efficient than either method, in any case, as evidenced by the current hybrid cars (which are basically normal petrolmobiles with a generator-motor pair instead of a normal engine) getting ungodly fuel efficiency.

Of course, pure-electric cars are probably overall more efficient than pure-gasoline ones, but they're certainly not pollution-free - last I checked, most places in the country still rely on fossil fuel electricity generation (solar and wind are too expensive, and nuclear is too untrusted).

The electricity needed to power electric cars probably isn't produced by solar/wind/wave/etc, and probably isn't completely clean. And it might be a less efficient use of resources to burn oil in a power plant and then use it to charge a battery and then use that to drive a car. There is still a big advantage to doing this.

Power stations are huge, and in a known location. Cars are small, and all over the place. Power stations have massive reprocessing facilities, exhaust scrubbers, etc. etc. Cars have, at best, a catalytic convertor. Even if the power station is burning more fuel, it gives off less pollution. Best of all, you can put a power station in the middle of nowhere, where it can't poison anything. To be useful, cars have to be where people are.

If electric cars can ever be made to work, it would put an end to pollution in built-up areas, and make cities more pleasant to live in. No wonder California wants zero emission vehicles so badly...
Electric cars might be the best transportation choice for the future. Their main drawback is the battery pack - this is usually quite expensive, doesn't hold enough energy for decent range, and often uses environmentally-hostile lead. However, technology marches on, and the NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries used in the newer electric vehicles are 100% recyclable and contain no harmful lead or lithium. They are expensive, but have never been produced in quantities where economies of scale would take effect.

Fuel cells are promising, but there are problems with hydrogen fuel cells. There is no infrastructure for distributing hydrogen, whereas there is already an established infrastructure for distributing electricity and gasoline. Hydrogen is difficult to create and store, and it requires electricity to create - the same electricity that could have been used to charge an electric car. Fuel cells can be equipped with reformers, so they can be fueled with gasoline or natural gas - stripping the hydrogen from these fuels to use in the fuel cell - however, this brings us back to fossil fuel dependency and emissions problems.

Current hybrid-electric cars (Honda Insight, Toyota Prius) are really glorified gasoline cars that are more efficient. They receive all their input power from gasoline, so there is really no electric power component to them. What might be ideal is what is called a pluggable hybrid - a hybrid-electric car that has large enough batteries to travel 20-40 miles on pure electric power, and can plug into the wall to charge the batteries. Most people don't drive more than 20-40 miles a day, so they would be able to use pure electric power 97% of the time, and the 3% of the time they need to go on long trips, they would use the gasoline engine.

Range: EVs don't have the range of gasoline cars, or hybrids, or fuel cell vehicles. However, most people do not drive more than 20-40 miles a day, and very rarely go on long-distance trips. Personally, I plug in my car in the evening, and in the morning it is fully charged. I drive around during the day, then plug in at night. I never have to go to the gas station.

Emissions: studies have shown that, even taking upstream emissions into account (i.e. power generation emissions), EVs reduce emissions by 97% over normal gasoline cars. And this doesn't even take into account the upstream emissions of gasoline (i.e. oil and gasoline spills, shipping the oil around the world, electric energy used in refining, etc.)

Also note that electric vehicles get cleaner as our electric power supply gets cleaner, unlike gasoline cars which get dirtier as their emissions systems age. Also, many people remove their emissions systems to improve performance on their gasoline car - electric vehicles are inherently clean and have no need for emissions systems. And the best part is, you can install solar panels on your roof and use them to charge your car with 100% renewable energy. Also, if you live in an area where you can choose your electricity provider, you can sign up for 100% renewable energy and achieve the same goal.

EVs are fun to drive and tend to have large amounts of torque in the low RPM range compared to a gasoline engine. My EV1 can blow anyone away off the line. There is no transmission, so acceleration is glass smooth.

There is also no radiator, fuel pump, motor oil, or catalytic converter - it is a very simple car! Note that there is much pollution that stems from these additional devices - 180 million gallons of motor oil are sent to our landfills and are poured down drains every year - the equivalent of 16 Exxon Valdez spills.

Regarding simplicity of the electric vehicle: the motors in modern cars have hundreds of moving parts, whereas the motor of an EV has one moving part. Combine this with the simplicity of the car, and you would have much less need to go to the service station.

To summarize - electric vehicles are fun to drive, easy to maintain, and reduce pollution.

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