Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Electric Magic - It's All About Efficiency

There are some serious advantages to owning and driving an electric car, including:
  • Convenience - you don't go to the gasoline station and you don't make individual payments for fuel. You plug in to a wall socket at home, which if you can operate a toaster you can do easily. The utility company of course bills you, monthly with all the other electricity you use.
  • Fuel Costs. About 2 cents per mile for electricity compared to about 10 cents per mile for gasoline.
  • Emissions. If everyone's tail pipe was mounted in the center of the steering wheel, everyone would drive electric cars. If they did, everyplace would smell better. Never mind CO2 and global warming.
  • CO2 and Global Warming. Ok, we should probably mind it. Oh the planet will be fine, and it will inevitably cure itself of greenhouse gases. But a very small adjustment in our weather can have fairly devastating consequences for us as individuals.
  • Driving Pleasure. Yep. They're more fun to drive. They accelerate better. They accelerate more smoothly. They are much quieter. They're more fun to drive.
So where does all this magic come from? Well, it isn't precisely magic. The electric motor actually predates the Otto cycle internal combustion engine and it was always simply more efficient at converting energy to forward motion. No, you can't run your car on water by hydrolysis. You can't hook a generator to the motor and make it make its own electricity. You can't put solar cells on your car to extend the range signficantly. And you can't use a windmill either. The physical laws of the universe still hold true and the ones pertaining to the conservation of energy hold particularly true.
But the electric drive train is just more efficient than the internal combustion engine. Not a little bit more efficient, about 5-8 times MORE efficient. And all good things about electric cars derive from that.
There are any manner of claims regarding efficiency of both electric motors and Otto cycle engines. And there are hundreds of ways to calculate it. I like to reduce it to the basics - energy into the car, miles driven out of the car. In this way, individual cummulative losses, while interesting, don't drive us into heroic technical discussions.
To talk about energy input, we have to pick apples or oranges and do both sides with our selection.
Let's talk about the energy in a gallon of gasoline. This should be pretty simple, but actually it isn't. I've seen numbers all over the place. The reason for this is that gasoline is all over the place. There are actually a LOT of different formulations of gasoline. But the most common type you can buy at the pump today is termed REFORMULATED GASOLINE.
Basically, to reduce emissions, the government requires the gasoline to be OXYGENATED to achieve better combustion of the carbon and thereby reduce the PARTICULATES (soot/smoke) emitted from the tailpipe. Has nothing to do with CO2 but it does have to do with the aesthetics of SMOG in our cities and the smell of emissions.
They originally required an additive termed MTBE. Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether. This is actually a combination of methanol and isobutylene more conventionally used to dissolve gall stones. But it was an excellent oxygenator for gasoline. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a deadly carcinogen that accumulates in groundwater and resides there essentially forever. This is probably THE classic case of government acting to reduce environmental impact, and instead increasing it, all the while requiring EVERYONE to participate, up to the point where they discovered they are wrong. In which case, they declare the whole episode a SECRET.
That's correct. They very actively don't want you to know about MTBE or that MTBE every existed. This in fact IS a conspiracy - a kind of conspiracy of embarassment. In any event, they have emitted their own emissions of the ridiculous notion of using ETHANOL as an ALTERNATIVE FUEL. It takes about 3 gallons of gasoline worth of energy to make a gallon of ethanol. I make whiskey in my garage remember.
But they have quietly replaced the MTBE with ethanol as an oxygenator. It takes a lot of it. And so the ethanol as fuel ruse. It's a fuel additive and an economically and environmentally expensive one. But it will oxygenate gasoline, and it almost eliminates fuel line freezing and water in the tank. It's much better than MTBE.
In any event, as best I can tell, the energy content of a gallon of 5.7% ethanol/gasoline, termed reformulated gasoline, is right at 111,836 British Thermal Units (btu) per gallon.
Lets talk about electricity. Electricity is commonly measured in voltage, amperage, and wattage. A volt can be thought of as a pressure, a difference in potential. An ampere is a measurement of the flow of electrons through a conductor. An ohm is a measure of the resistance of the conductor to current flow. A formula, ohms law, defines all three of these in relation to each other.
One volt is the amount of energy required to move one ampere of current through one ohm of resistance.
If you kept the resistance of the conductor at 1 ohm, but increased the voltage to 2 volts, you would get 2 amperes of current. If you then dropped the resistance from 1 ohm to 1/2 ohm, you would have 4 amperes from the same two volts. Their definition is pretty much defined by their relationship.
The basis is actually the number of electrons flowing, like water in a hose. Turn up the pressure, more water comes out. Make the hose bigger (lower resistance) more water comes out. Take away the pressure (voltage) no water. The flow of water is caused by the water pressure and limited by the resistance of the hose to flow.
If we want to measure power, we do so in watts. A watt is defined as 1 ampere of current at one volt of potential.
If we had 1 ampere of current at a 1 volt potential, and we let that run for 60 minutes, we would have consumed a WATT/HOUR  or wH of electricity.
To the electric service in our homes, it is typically delivered at 120 volts. And it is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh.). A kilowatt hour is simply a thousand watt hours. And so 120 volts, at a current flow rate of 8.33 amps, for one hour, is equivalent to a kilowatt hour or kWh.
You may have seen a light bulb marked 100 watts. That is how much power it would consume in one hour. And so the typical 100 watt light bulb requires a current of 0.8333 amps at 120 vac.
If you run the bulb for 10 hours, you have consumed 1 kWh of electricity. In Southeast Missouri, they have just raised the summer price of electricity from 7.2 to 8.3 cents per kWh. So you can run a 100 watt bulb for 10 hours for about 8.3 cents on your utility bill. It's actually remarkably inexpensive when you consider the advantage of having a light.
To convert the energy in a gallon of gasoline, we know that the formula for converting BTUs to kWh is:
1 kWh = 3412.3 BTU
And so:
1 gallon of gasoline = 111,836 btu = 11,836 / 3412.3 = 32.77 kWh
The government, without ever actually designing a car themselves, have mandated that those who DO manufacture automobiles will achieve a fleet average of 27.5 mpg by 2011.
Barrack Obama has increased those demands to 27.3 mpg. (I know, but we are currently in the Alice and Wonderland world of Barrack-speak, where up is down, down is up, and taxes not paid are actually expenditures out of the pockets of taxpayers. You'll get used to it after awhile. I think a lot of people actually LIKE it.)
But what kind of mileage do we actually get NOW from internal combustion cars. Well, the latest year where I have all matching figures is 2007. In that year, we had some 255 million cars, and we drove 3,029,822,000,000 miles burning 142,354,380,000 gallons of gasoline = 21.28 mpg
So we can do a kind of a neat thing here, and simply divide the number of kWh in a gallon of gasoline by the number of miles we drive per gallon of gasoline to get the number of kWh per mile or miles per kWh.
1 gallon = 32.77 kWh / 21.28 = 1.54 kWh per mile.
If you like the mileage of a new car better than actual mileage of our existing fleet, we can do it again.
1 gallon = 32.77 kWh / 27.3 = 1.20 kWh per mile.
This is sort of macro. We put gasoline in one end, we get miles out the other, and we know the energy usage per mile in kWh. We don't care what the efficiency of the engine is, what the losses are in the transmission, or in the wheels. We just have an energy per mile calculation here.
The problem with electric cars is that batteries are not nearly as good at storing energy as gasoline is. With 475 lbs of the very latest Lithium Ion Iron Phospate batteries, comprising 64 cells of 3.6 fully charged volts and 90 amp hours each, I can store about 20.736 kWh of electrical energy. Worse, I can't really use all of it. I can only use about 80% of that (16.588 kWh) before I begin to damage the batteries.
Worse, there are some losses in putting the electricity into the batteries. I use an advanced power factor charger that is about 95% efficient. So I have to use about 17.461 kWh of electricity from the wall to replace that 16.588 kWh of electricity.
That's the discouraging equivalent of about 0.5 gallons of gasoline. Yes, the entire range of my car is based on its ability to store the usable energy in one half of a gallon of gasoline.
The good news is that it uses an average of 225 wH of electricity per mile from the batteries, or 236 wH of electricity from the wall per mile. That's right I get over 4 miles per kWhr.
So let's compare:
Internal combustion car to be developed in 2011 = 1200 wH per mile.
Electric car built by whiskey drinker in garage in 2008 = 236 wH per mile.
Any way you cut it, the electric car is over five times as efficient as the internal combustion engine automobile. Cost per mile?
1 gallon = $2.00 = 27.3 mpg = 7.32 cents per mile.
1 kWh = $0.082 = 4.24 miles = 1.93 cents per mile.
If you drive the national average of 40 miles per day:
1 day = $2.93 in gasoline or $0.77 for electricity
1 week = $20.51 gasoline or $5.39 for electricity
1 month = $87.90 gasoline or $23.10 for electricity
And that's using a mythical gasoline car that hasn't been manufactured yet, as mandated by a government that doesn't know anything about making cars.
I don't know anything about making cars either. But you can see the video of mine running.
ALL benefits from electric cars have their basis in this matter of effiiency. Electric drive plants in cars are simply more technically elegant, and MUCH more efficient than internal combustion engines, coal fired engines, wood fired engines, and all other known technologies.
When I step on the accelerator of my Porsche eSpeedster, it makes a sound a bit reminiscent of the Warp Drive sound on Star Trek as the Enterprise accelerated through space.
When I step on the accelerator of my Escalade, it sounds a lot like Uncle Jedd's truck in The Beverly Hillbillies.
Whose show do you want to be on?
I'd love to tell you that I make them all up. And my detractors would love to tell you that too. Dealing with numerical statistics is a bit like trying to choke a rattlesnake with both of you covered in Wesson Oil - it gets slippery and most people do it badly.
But we traditionally look to goverment studies to compile and present unbiased statistical data. While we all know there are some problems with that assumption, it is a bit better than simply copying what others are saying in forums on the Internet. I call that "typing yourself smart with a keyboard."
And so in using any number, I like to trace it back to some published, refereed, study subject to public comment from informed individuals. For the purposes of this discussion, I found the U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration to be the best source regarding energy production, pricing, and consumption. For vehicle, driver, and driving statistics, the best work seems to be done by the U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
These numbers change! Between the filming of the video, and writing the blog, there are minor inconsistencies in my numbers. Those are generally time zone related. If you talk about 2009 numbers, they are of course different from 2007 numbers or 2008 numbers. When comparing two values, you may only have both for 2007, because one of them isn't published yet for 2008.
I have gone to some trouble to compile individual links to individual tables in many cases providing you access to the sources as they are published. The gasoline use and pricing, world oil prices, etc. are usually updated monthly or even weekly. In this way, you can go to the table at any time, and get the CURRENT data for YOUR uses.

U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Information Administration
World Crude Oil Prices
Retail Gasoline Prices
Weekly Gas Prices

Daily Gasoline Consumption
Finished barrels per day x 1000 x 42 = gallons

Annual Retail Sales of Electricity to Consumers
Average Retail Price Electricity
Electricity Generation by Fuel Source
Average Monthly Electricity Consumption
Total CO2 Emissions by Energy Source
CO2 Output from Electricity 1.341 lbs per kWh and declining . Coal only - 2.095 lbs per kWh
Reformulated Gasoline - 5.71% ethanol = 111,836 btu
Convert gallons to kWh. 3412.3 btu per kWh
111,836 / 3412.3 = 32.77 kWhr.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
2007 Registered Vehicles 255,747,983
2007 Licensed Drivers 205,741,845
2007 Vehicle Miles Travelled 3,029,822,000,000
2007 Daily Gasoline Consumption = 390,012,000 gallons
2007 Average MPG across 255,747,983 vehicles travelling 3,029,822,000,000 miles burning 142,354,380,000 gallons = 21.28 mpg
Average miles driven per driver each year 14,726
Average miles driven per driver per day 40.34.

Friday, May 1, 2009

New Blog

Welcome.   In the last year, batteries sufficient to drive a motor vehicle have become available to mere humanoids.  I've waited a number of years for this technology as I was never able to pencil an electric car that would satisfy my design parameters with lead acid batteries or the many variants that were available.

It is discouraging that these batteries would be made available to me from China, while American manufacturers remain primarily interested in managing intellectual property and seeking the holy grail of a multimillion dollar buyout from General Motors.  They are currently getting their comeuppance as I might have given them money, while GM is essentially bankrupt.

In any event, we did our first conversion - a bit of a simple one, using a reproduction of the 1957 Porsche Model 356 Speedster.  The "glider" came from Special Editions Inc of Bremen Indianna (  They call it the Beck Speedster or Beck 356.

To my way of thinking, it is in all aspects superior to the original Porsche (gasp), certainly for this project.  First, there were 1157 of the originals made, and I would be loathe to chop one up for an electric conversion.

But further, the original Porsche had a heavy steel body and a weak frame based on the volkswagen pan design.  The Beck has a much lighter, rustproof, fiberglass "body" on a much stiffer, stronger 3-inch tubular steel chassis.  It is much more capable to carry the additional weight imposed by the batteries, without the flexing and twisting a genuine Porsche would exhibit.  And the result is a lighter car (2130 lbs).  

There are at least three companies doing these reproductions, but in my unqualified but nonetheless strongly held opinion, the Beck is superior in virtually all ways.  Interestingly, the Beck guys have undoubtedly produced more of these cars than Porsche ever did.  This is a testament to both the popularity of the Porsche design, and the Beck manufacturing and design process. 

Although we had an order prepared with Special Editions Inc, there was a 12 week waiting period for a glider and in the meantime we found almost exactly what we wanted on eBay and located just north of us in St. Louis.  The car had 1100 miles on it.  So we bought that and pulled the CB Performance engine and sold that off on eBay.

All that notwithstanding, the guys at Special Editions have been enormously supportive, supplied additional parts timely and no small advice, despite the fact that we never did order the car from them.  I cannot speak highly enough of this company.

My intention with this blog is to hold forth mightily and at length on a lot of topics surrounding electric cars that are probably of little interest to most.   But if they catch your eye, feel free to join in.

And you can be as abusive as you like.  This is not my first rodeo.  In a previous life, in the mid 80's I got involved with bulletin boards and trying to make online communications work with 300 bps modems.  I started a newsletter in 1986 on the topic and Denver PC Boardwatch grew into Boardwatch Magazine and ultimately the Internet Service Providers Convention. (ISPCON).  

I developed a following by basically examining technology and picking what I thought it would do and who the winners and losers might be as the concept developed into an "internetwork".  My magazine actually coined most of the terms you use today to talk about the Internet.  And we more or less "told the future" of almost everything you see online - years before it actually came to pass.

It was NOT a widely read consumer magazine.  It was very technical and read almost entirely by the engineers and software designers at the heart of the network buildout.  It was great fun while building, but I threatened all along to leave the field when the monied "townies"moved into the frontier and took it over.

They did.  And I did.  I sold the company for $38 million in 1998 and went to recharge from 12 years of 100 hour work-weeks, and maybe get in contact with my much ignored and abused kids.  

At this point, they are mostly grown for better or worse.  And I need a new field to obsess on.  It's electric cars.  

A printed magazine?  Only if you insist.  The magazine was about deploying the then brand new technology of publishing on a personal computer.  In 1986 magazines were published in large buildings full of graphic designers, page layout people, photographic and printing experts.  

I wanted to publish one entirely by myself using the then new and not very good page layout software on a little XT computer.  It more or less worked. Over time, it developed and worked much better.  And we achieved unheard of efficiencies in cost and time to print that the larger computer magazines just couldn't master.  Disruptive technology.

I've been watching another disruptive technology for years.  Video.  I know this may seem a bit late to the party to some of you who have been manfully shooting and editing video on personal computers.  But I just haven't considered the cameras, editors, and most importantly the personal computers, actually up to the task of high definition video production.  With thousands of videos already on YouTube, you will find it bizarrre that I still don't.  It's just not there yet.  

But like the page layout programs of 1986, they are just ABOUT there.  With a 3.2 GHz 8 processor Mac Pro, using fast SCSI drives and RAID 0 striping, I can just about almost render out a  video in a 24-hour day.  The one featured on the web site is an hour and a half long, shot in 1920x1080 HD, and is actually not possible to reproduce in a communicable form right now.  I can't put it on a dual layer disk, and Apple and Blu-Ray still don't play nicely together.  But I can squirt out reduced resolution weeny versions in about a 24 day of rendering.

And that's about all the network can handle - IF you have a broadband connection.  But I think we are JUST ABOUT at the launching point where video more or less nearly works.  And over the next few years, we'll see how it develops. It will eventually get there.

My vision for publishing now revolves around the web itself of course (first mention of it in commercial print was in Boardwatch Magazine of course).  Actually the web coupled with hi-res digital photographs and  HD video.  And it's an odd mix.  Instead of operating a "web server" I find myself melding a lot of online web resources together into one "site" from a lot of different services.  We're using Google's Picassa and Blogger for photos and this blog.  I'm hosting weeny videos on Apples, and I do have a bit of it on a machine in my bedroom.  We'll probably add a Yahoo "forum" to the mix somewhere along the way to do e-mail list delivery.

So what I'm seeing is kind of a neat dispersed "kludge" of servers and services tied together into a single site.  It's an exciting medium.

Is there a buck in it?  Who knows.  I do like using dollars to keep score, they are the most sincere form of vote.  But I didn't worry about money when I didn't have any and was starting Boardwatch, so it would be unlikely for me to spend much time on how to monetize this one either.

And the topic is all about electric vehicles.  I think this is the next "big thing" after the fashion of the early days of the Internet.  I don't think the automobile manufacturers are going to be nearly as early and well as most do regarding plug in vehicles.  I think we'll see a lot of "hybrids" and I'll talk about why they have to do that in a future post. 

I view hybrids as an unnecessary evil.  It's true that you CAN both  saddle a cow and milk a horse, both more or less successfully.  But it's a funny way to travel to breakfast, and you're liable to annoy both the horse and the cow.  A hybrid gas/electric vehicle inherits the complexities and negative attributes of both, while forfeiting the advantages and benefits of either.  

Electric cars should be powered by plugging them into the wall, or better and faster to an at-home battery bank powered by wind or solar.  No permissions from the government or Exxon, no qualifications, car owner in control.

The early days of the online world was almost entirely driven by individuals, working nights on their computers in basements and attics and bedrooms across the land.  They funded the telephone lines, the modems, the whole thing.  At first a few dozen, and then a few hundred, and then a few thousand.  And it kept growing inspite of every obstacle the government and large corporate vested interests could impose.  It was an idea whose time had come, implemented by resourceful individuals who would not give up the dream.  AT&T, Charter Communications, Cisco Systems, and Microsoft did NOT bring you the Internet.  Neither did Yahoo or Google.  It was a small band of misfits, who trailed ethernet cable across empty lots in San Francisco because they were paving it the next day.

Today, there are a few hundred people who don't care what GM did to the EV1.  They're busy converting their Miatas, bicycles, Volkswagens, and in one case a toilet, into electric powered transportation.  Some of it is funny.  Some of it is sad.  And all of it makes me misty-eyed.  They don't even KNOW how important they really are.  

The advantage of being 54 and on Rodeo No. 2 is that I do.  And I'm going to show you.  These guys will change the world forever.  They are my heroes.  Someday they too will be forgotten, much as the Internet pioneers are in the blizzard of corparate nonsense talk you are inundated with.  But it just won't happen without them.

Jack Rickard