And then she told me "Just shut up
And keep your eyes on the road"
"And just drive," she said
- Stan Ridgway
As we continue to push mass transit as a big factor in our greenhouse gas equation, we fail to take into account our country's love of the automobile. It's not just that it's an expression of who we are - it's an expression of independence. It's the love of liberty (or the idea
of liberty) that drives (sorry for the pun)
our love for our cars. Since we will never be able to get rid of cars, we need to make them run as cleanly as possible. How do we make a perfect car?
First - let's start out with the current state of affairs. The most promising future seems to be the hybrid. It gets great gas mileage, and runs on gasoline - for which there is already an entrenched infrastructure for fuel distribution. What improvements can be made to this design?
One being considered by Toyota already is to use only the electric motor for the first 40 miles. This way no gasoline is used at all until the battery is discharged a certain amount. If this is combined with the ability to plug it in to recharge, it's possible the car would never burn gasoline at all for owners that have a shorter commute.
What other changes could be made to the hybrid? Two immediate changes come to mind:
- Recharge Only: The gas engine should only be used to recharge the batteries, never to power the wheels directly. This is how diesel trains work.
- Diesel gas: Speaking of diesel, those engines use less fuel then typical gasoline engines. That's why in most European cities, the vehicles are mostly diesel. Changing the gas engine to diesel would increase the mileage even more. They could even configured to run on biodiesel!
But what can we do to create the "perfect" car, and just how feasible is it? The goal should be "no petroleum used in the car at all". So:
- Bio-plastics: All plastic parts in the car should be made from bio-plastics. These are plastics made from vegetable oil instead of petroleum. The technology is already there for some types of plastics.
- Standardized power connectors: How long have we been using the cigarette lighter as a power source? It's stupid that this hasn't changed yet. The cigarette lighter was NOT designed to be used as a power plug, and as such, it does not do a very good job as one. Cars should also contain an AC power plug too.
- Standardize devices to 12VDC: A little off track, but why can't all personal electronics standardize on 12VDC as an external power source? Most devices have these "wall wart" AC adapters that convert 110VAC to any number of AC/DC values. If they were all 12VDC, they could all just plug straight into the car power port described in the previous item. (credit to Douglas Adams..)
- Car is 100% electric, no gas: The car should be powered by electricity only, with no petrol used at all
Whoa, wait a minute on that last one. How can we make that work when the country is so large and some people need (or want) to drive longer distances than can be accommodated on a single charge? The reason we are still using gasoline is that when we're on a road trip, we can pull into a gas station and refill in about 5 minutes.
A few months ago, I posted a story on our message board
about a new technology that was being patented for a high-capacity capacitor
. The short version, is that the capacitor stores electricity directly, rather than as an electro-chemical potential. If it can be made small enough, it could be used as a replacement for the battery in an electric car. An electric car company (Zenn Cars
) thought it was promising enough to buy up the capacitor-developing company.
What may really push this battery replacement into reality is the fact that they recently got a contract to develop these for the military
. This is sort of a "back-door" funding boost for the research needed to make these a reality. If the military wants this technology, it will happen. This may be one of those cases where the military pushes a technology that transcends to the civilian market.
Why are these capacitors the key? As mentioned before, one of the benefits of gasoline is that a car can be refilled in about 5 minutes. These ultra-capacitors can be recharged quickly as well. There are other power technologies that can be recharged quickly (like fuel cell, or biodiesel), but the problem is - there is no infracstructure in place for them.
Electricity, however is already there. Every gas station in the country already has electricity
. All it would take would be to add some "electric pumps", with price meters, so the customer can be charged (sorry for the pun)
and the station owner earn their keep. There's a company that's already planning to build charging stations
, so everything is falling into place.
Imagine driving your electric car cross-country, and the charge is getting low. You pull into a "gas" station, recharge it in about 5 minutes, and continue on down the road.
This could happen within 5 years. No more gas-fueled cars.