Monday, 7 August 2017


Will the new revolution on wheels take-off or stall?

Internal combustion engines have had a long reign as the principal means of propelling land transport, but perhaps they now have a limited future, because the use of electric vehicles is on the rise. The internal combustion engine (ICE) is noisy and dirty, and the fuel that they burn is said to be running out rapidly. The ICE is blamed by many people, including many scientists, for climate change and health issues due to exhaust pollution.

To many people, the electric vehicle (EV) using renewable energy, has come along just in time to save the planet from destruction. By 2016 more than one million EVs had been delivered worldwide, but that represents less than 0.1% of the worldwide vehicle fleet. As of 2010 the world vehicle population exceeded one billion for the first time, or approximately one vehicle for every seven people.
The first production electric car was designed by
Thomas Parker in 1884

Building the infrastructure for gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles, including roads, fuel stations and supply network, manufacturers, and suppliers has taken over 100 years. While much of the infrastructure will remain unchanged, much new infrastructure will have to be built from scratch for EV’s. Some people believe that conversion from ICE to EV can be achieved in five or ten years. Others are more cautious with some predicting 20 or 30 years as a more realistic time frame. The governments of the UK and France have already declared that they will pass laws requiring 100% EVs by 2040. But that is only a declaration to change the law, and a law changed now can just as easily be amended or revoked later if the target date becomes unrealistic.

At this point, one has to ask, if EVs are the way of the future, why were they not the way of the past?

Well, some will say that the oil companies and/or banks and other big business interests blocked the development of EV’s. My response to that is that other posts on this blog deal with conspiracy theories. Other people will say that EVs were only recently invented or discovered. Let’s examine that and how the development timeline of the EV compares with other methods of propulsion.
Thomas Edison with an electric car in 1913

Steam was the earliest form of mechanical motive power with experiments taking place in the 17th and 18th centuries. Then in 1800, Richard Trevithick developed a high-pressure steam system that paved the way for mobile steam engines. Throughout the 1800’s  steam was king. Many different types of steam vehicles were used on railways, roads and in industry. But steam road vehicles were hampered by some countries prohibiting their use on public roads. During the early 20th century, ICE technology advanced rapidly and steam became largely outdated except for railways, and eventually steam fizzled there too.

The internal combustion engine defies a point in history pin-pointing its creation. Many scientists and engineers have contributed to its development over a long period of time, starting with John Barber, who in 1791, patented the first gas turbine. It was nothing like modern day ICEs but it was a start as a method of propelling a horseless carriage. Three years later, Robert Street patented an internal combustion engine, the first to use liquid fuel.

In 1807 Isaac_de_Rivaz, a Swiss engineer, was the first to use an electric spark in an ICE. Other developments took place over a period of years until 1876 when Nikolaus Otto, Gottlieb_Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach patented the compressed charge, four-stroke engine, and Rudolf_Diesel developed the first compression ignition engine in 1892.

Continued below . . . 

For those supporters of electric vehicles, I have some disappointing news. EV’s were not invented in the 1990’s or 2000’s. Historically, they are placed between steam and internal combustion, with the first model electric vehicles built by various people in the early 1800’s. In 1828, Hungarian inventor 1nyos_Jedlik, invented the electric motor and dynamo, and built a small electric car. Then came the non-rechargeable battery and a car designed by Professor Sibrandus Stratingh of the Netherlands in 1834. His car was able to complete a short trip before installing a new battery.

Rechargeable batteries followed in 1859 when Frenchman Gaston_Plant invented the lead-acid battery. This battery was improved in 1881 by Camille Alphonse Faure and led to their availability on an industrial scale. An electric-powered bicycle was displayed at the 1867 World Expo in Paris, and in 1881 a three-wheel version was tested on a Paris street.

The first production electric car was designed by Thomas_Parker in London in 1884. Parker was famous for having electrified the London Underground and some tramways. Parker’s compamy had an almost complete monopoly on the British electric car market in the 1890’s at a time when steam and electric were each trying to dominate the market while internal combustion was a distant third in the race for most sales. In the 1890’s, the United Kingdom and France were the first nations to buy EV’s on a grand scale, and now more than a hundred years later both countries are about to set 2040 as the year when EV’s will replace ICE’s totally.

Back in the glory days, before the rise of the ICE, EV’s outsold all except steam and held many speed and distance records, including the first to break the 100 kph barrier in 1899. In 1900, Ferdinand Porsche started production of the Lohner-Porsche Electromobile with hub-mounted electric motors and a petrol engine, making it the first hybrid. It remained in production only until 1905. The first American EV was built in 1891 by William Morrison of Iowa. It could carry six passengers at 23 kph.

In Europe and America some homes had been wired for electricity by 1900 and that boosted the numbers of EV’s purchased. At that time in America, 40% of automobiles were powered by steam, 38% by electric and 22% by gasoline. But the golden age of the EV was about to end.

Speed and range limitations coupled with production costs and a dearth of recharging facilities ended the first surge in EV popularity. Most EV manufacturers closed within the first 15 years of the 20th century. Improved roading, longer trips, and cheaper and more readily available gasoline, turned people away from electric and steam. It was all about cost and convenience.

The Apollo moon landing craft were successful electric vehicles.
But all three are parked permanently on the Moon
EV interest never died completely. Trains, trams, trolley buses, fork lifts and mining equipment have continued to be electrically driven, but the golden days of the 1890’s-1910’s seemed gone forever. From time to time, concerns about fuel prices and pollution stir interest in EV’s, but it has never been sufficient to put the EV in a dominant position in the market. The EV carries a burden of history.

In 1990, as concerns about the cost of gasoline, pollution and climate change increased, General Motors unveiled the GM Impact electric car at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Later, GM produced 1,100 cars designated as the EV1. Meanwhile, Honda started production of the EV Plus, but stopped production after just 340 units had been built. Then came the hybrid Honda Insight, which after six years in production had sold 17,000 units worldwide. That was an improvement, but it was dismal in a world that was then producing 66 million vehicles a year.

The burden of history is still plaguing the electric car. They sound clean, green and efficient on the surface, but there are still serious questions about their practicability. They are expensive to produce, although the cost may decrease with time. They are inefficient to operate with a limited range and the considerable time required for recharging. But proponents of the EV say all that is changing rapidly. Now questions are being raised about the cost and supply of the electricity that will be needed to supply a predominantly EV world fleet. Proponents say wind and solar will meet the challenge. But wind and solar are unreliable and costly, and depend on heavy industry to produce wind and solar equipment. In the United States, 33% of electricity is produced from natural gas, 30% from coal, 20% from nuclear and only 15% from renewable sources, including hydro 6%, wind 5%, biomass 1.5% and solar less than 1%. As the so-called clean, green fleet takes to the highways, there will be increased dependence on dirty sources of electricity.

Electric cars have always been expensive and the play-things of the wealthy, even though the support to introduce them comes from the political left. The cost of producing EV’s may well decline, but as it does, the cost of buying the electricity for them will skyrocket. Renewable energy sources are expensive and less reliable, and the demand for electricity will increase as the EV fleet grows. The consumption of electricity for recharging vehicles may become the major part of household electricity cost. With a rapidly growing EV fleet, demand for electricity will outstrip supply. Prices will escalate and power cuts may be inevitable as suppliers’ struggle to expand the electricity infrastructure.

There is one more enemy of the EV; changes in driving habits. Increasingly, cars will be used only for longer trips into the countryside and city to city. This trend is already taking drivers into areas where recharging will be unavailable in the near future. They will also increasingly be taking trips that will not allow time for recharging. Traditionally, EV owners have been city folk, but city folk are now turning to public transport in increasing numbers.

There may be a future for EV’s, but it will be a long haul waiting for EV technology to catch up to ICE technology and while the infrastructure expands to meet the new demands. For those who believe that EV’s will be the majority on the world’s roads within 10 or 20 years, my advice is don’t hold your CO2 waiting for it to happen.