The more Electric Cars people drive the greater the Stress on the Electric Grid

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 16th, 2014

Week in Review

Have you ever noticed your lights dim when your air conditioner starts?  They do because when an electric motor starts there is a momentary short circuit across the windings.  Causing a great inrush of current as they start rotating.  Once they are rotating that inrush of current drops.  During that surge in current the voltage drops.  Because there is no resistance in a short circuit.  So there is no voltage across a short circuit.  And because everything in your house goes back to your electrical panel that momentary voltage drop affects everything in your house.  Including your lights.  The lower voltage reduces the lighting output.  Momentarily.  Once the air conditioning motor begins to rotate the short circuit goes away and the voltage returns to normal.

Air conditioners draw a lot of power.  And during hot summer days when everyone gets home from work they cause the occasional brownout.  As everybody turns on their air conditioners in the evening.  Stressing the electric grid.  Which is why our power bills rise in the summer months.  For this great rise in demand causes a corresponding rise in supply.  Costing the power companies more to meet that demand.  Which they pass on to us (see Electricity Price Surged to All-Time Record for March by Terence P. Jeffrey posted 4/16/2014 on cnsnews).

The average price for a kilowatthour (KWH) of electricity hit a March record of 13.5 cents, according data released yesterday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was up about 5.5 percent from 12.8 cents per KWH in March 2013.

The price of electricity in the United States tends to rise in spring, peak in summer, and decline in fall. Last year, after the price of a KWH averaged 12.8 cents in March, it rose to an all-time high of 13.7 cents in June, July, August and September.

If the prevailing trend holds, the average price of a KWH would hit a new record this summer.

All-electric cars are more popular in California than in Minnesota.  Because there is little cold and snow in California.  And batteries don’t work so well in the cold.  AAA makes a lot of money jumping dead batteries during cold winter months.  So batteries don’t hold their charge as well in the winter.  Which is when an all-electric car requires more charge.  For the days are shorter.  Meaning that at least part of your daily commute will be in the dark and require headlights.  It is colder.  Requiring electric power for heating.  Windows fog and frost up.  Requiring electric power for defogging and defrosting.  It snows.  Requiring electric power to run windshield wipers.  Slippery roads slow traffic to a crawl.  Increasing the time spent with all of these things running during your commute.  So the all-electric car is more of a warm-weather car.  Where people who don’t live in sunny California may park their all-electric car during the worst of the winter months.  And use a gasoline-powered car instead.

As those on the left want everyone to drive all-electric cars they don’t say much about the stress that will add to the electric grid.  If everyone switched to an electric car in the summer it would be like adding a second air conditioner at every house.  Especially after work.  When everyone gets home and plugs in.  Causing an inrush of current for an hour or so as those discharged batters recharge.  A discharged battery is similar to an electric motor.  As it’s the current flow that recharges the battery cells.  There’s a high current at first.  Which falls as the battery charges.  So summer evenings will have a lot of brownouts during the summer months.  As the added electric load will greatly stress the electric grid during the evenings.  A demand that the power companies will have to supply.  At the same time they’re replacing coal-fired power plants with less reliable renewable forms of power generation.  Such as solar farms.  Which will be fast running out of sunshine as these cars plug in.

If people switch from gasoline to electric power in their cars en masse the average price for a kilowatt-hour will soar.  It’s simple economics.  Supply and demand.  The greater the demand the higher the price.  And there is little economies of scale in power production.  Because more power requires more fuel.  And the kicker is that even people who don’t drive will have to pay more on their electric bills when people switch from gasoline to electric cars.  And their gas bills if gas-fired turbines provide that peak power demand.  Raising the price of natural gas.  Making everyone pay more.  Whereas only drivers of gasoline-powered cars are impacted by the high cost of gasoline.

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Hot and Cold Weather reduce Range of Electric Cars

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 22nd, 2014

Week in Review

AAA makes a lot of money during cold winters.  Because when the temperatures plummet a lot of batteries won’t start their cars.  A low cost service call for AAA.  For all it requires is about 5 minutes of time on site and a pair of jumper cables.  Connect the cables to the dead battery.  Give the AAA vehicle a little gas to increase alternator output and the car with the dead battery will start up like it’s a summer’s day.  And as soon as it does the driver can drive home.  She doesn’t have to wait for the battery to charge.  For it will trickle charge on the drive home.  While the car’s alternator will provide all the electric power needed to run the defroster blower on the windshield, the electric defroster on the rear window, the headlights, the turn signals, the stop lights, the radio, whatever.  Once the car starts gasoline will do the rest by providing the rotational motion that spins the alternator.  None of this could happen, though, with an all-electric car (see Electric car range fluctuates in extreme weather, reports AAA by Richard Read posted 3/21/2014 on The Christian Science Monitor).

We’ve known for some time that battery range in electric vehicles can fluctuate in response to temperature. However, studies and simulations have produced varying estimates of how much range owners can expect to lose…

To carry out its tests, AAA used a 2014 Ford Focus Electric Vehicle, a 2012 Mitsubishi iMIEV, and a 2013 Nissan Leaf…

When tested at the moderate temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit, AAA says the three vehicles averaged 105 miles per charge. After the thermostat was cranked up to 95 degrees, however, that range plummeted to just 69 miles.

The batteries performed even worse in cold weather. When the vehicles were tested at 20 degrees Fahrenheit, they averaged just 43 miles — a 57 percent reduction in range.

Imagine yourself driving home in a February blizzard after work.  With a 30 minute drive home on the expressway.  Which is crawling along at a slow speed due to the bad weather.  Your normal 30 minute drive home turns into an hour.  As you inch along in heavy traffic.  With your wipers running.  Your heat on.  Your headlights on.  Your windshield defroster blower running.  Your rear window defroster on.  And your stop lights blinking on and off as you ride your brake in stop and go traffic.  All of these things just sucking the charge out of your battery.  Imagine all of that and tell me which kind of car would you rather be in.  An all-electric car that has only 43 miles of charge in it?  Or a gasoline-powered car that can sit in that traffic for 3 hours (or longer) before getting you home with everything running while keeping you toasty warm inside?

If you don’t want to wait for a tow truck standing next to your all-electric car in that blizzard to tow you home after it runs out of charge in that stop and go traffic I’m guessing you’ll probably choose the gasoline-powered car.  Which is why few people are buying these all-electric cars.  People don’t want a car that can only be driven in nice weather when there is little traffic on the road to slow your way home.  That’s why they choose gasoline-powered cars.  Because it will drive in anything and will always get you home as long as there is gasoline in the tank.

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The Ford Model T is probably a Safer Choice for a Cross-Country Trip than an All-Electric Car

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 16th, 2014

Week in Review

The United States is no doubt tired of winter.  It’s been a long one.  Snow, ice and cold.  Especially cold.  With below-zero temperatures in northern states.  And freezing temperatures even in southern states.  In fact, it’s been such a brutal winter that every state in the United States but one has snow.  Florida.  It’s just been a long, cold winter.  But it’s been a good one for those in the snow removal business.  And for those in providing a jump-start for dead batteries.  For batteries just don’t like cold weather.  Which is another problem with all-electric cars.  In addition to finding a place and the time to charge them (see Tesla Model S Electric Car Versus … Ford Model T? A History Lesson by John Voelcker posted 2/14/2014 on Yahoo! Autos).

While the fast-expanding network of Tesla Supercharger DC quick-charging stations now permits both coast-to-coast and New York-to-Florida road trips by electric car, the magazine conducted its test last October…

And as it points out, in its area of the country (Ann Arbor, Michigan), there were no Supercharger stations last fall.

(There is now one, along I-94 in St. Joseph, Michigan, 26 miles north of the I-90 cross-country corridor–one of 76 operating U.S. Supercharger locations as of today.)

So it couched its Tesla-vs-Model T test as the equivalent, a century later, to the question it imagined potential buyers of the first automobiles may have pondered: How does this stack up against my old, familiar, predictable horse..?

In due course, small roadside businesses sprang up to sell gasoline for the newfangled contraptions, usually in the same place they could be repaired.

But travelers couldn’t be confident of finding gasoline until well into the 1920s, a result of the Model T turning the U.S. into a car-based nation almost by itself.

Imagine driving across a state the size of Michigan on a road trip.  From St. Joseph to Detroit on the other side of the state it’s about 200 miles.  Which it will take you over 3 hours to drive at posted speed limits.  Now imagine driving this with only one gas station to stop at.  One you’re not familiar with.  One that you will have to drive around a little to find.  While you’re running out of energy.  Now imagine you’re in an all-electric car.  And you find this one charging station and there are 4 cars ahead of you waiting for their 30-minute quick charge.  Which could increase your charging time from one half hour to two and a half hours.

Every gas station has electric power.  So every gas station could sell electricity for electric cars, too.  If someone had to wait a half hour to charge their car that is a lot of time they could be buying stuff from the mini mart all these gas stations have.  So why aren’t they building these things?  Is it that they don’t want the liability that might come from a faulty charger starting a battery fire?  Is it because there are so few all-electric cars to waste the investment on?  Is there a question of how to charge for electricity?  Or do they not want to turn their gas stations into parking lots with a bunch of cars waiting for their half hour of charge time?

Perhaps the reason Michigan only has one Supercharger station is because Michigan has long, cold winters.  Limiting electric car traveling to the summer months.  In fact, if you live in a northern state look for the charging stations some big stores have installed to show how green they are.  Chances are you won’t see a single car at them during the winter.  For when it comes to cold winters gasoline has it all over batteries.  Gasoline provides far greater range.  You can jump-start a gasoline engine in the coldest of winters and then drive home.  And if it’s cold you can crank the heat up to make it feel like summer inside that car.  Something you can’t do in an electric car without sacrificing further range.

The Model T was an improvement over the horse.  But the electric car is just not an improvement over the Model T.  Because a gasoline-powered car is superior to an all-electric car.  For if one was going to travel across a state the Model T would have better odds of getting you where you were going before running out of energy.  And even if you ran out of gas someone could bring a can of gasoline to you so you could drive to the next gas station.  Whereas an electric car would require a tow truck to the next charging station.

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Girl sits on Phone in Back Pocket and starts Fire just as Damaged Batteries start Fires in Electric Cars

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 2nd, 2014

Week in Review

Lithium-ion batteries are a wonder.  But they can be temperamental.  Which you can expect when you put highly reactive chemicals together.  Which is the price of higher energy storage densities.  Danger.  To make that charge last longer in the batteries powering our electronic devices.  And they can only do that by a chemical reaction that produces heat.  Boeing had a problem with their lithium-ion batteries that nearly caught a couple of their new Dreamliners on fire.  Resulting in an FAA grounding of the entire fleet until they found a way to make their batteries safer.  But it’s not just big lithium-ion batteries that can burst into flames (see iPhone catches fire, teen girl burned by Chris Matyszczyk posted 2/1/2014 on CNET).

An eighth-grader in Maine is sitting in class when she hears a pop. Then she notices smoke coming from her back pocket…

The culprit is said to have been her iPhone. Images suggest it had caught fire…

The division chief of the local emergency medical services, Andrew Palmeri, told Seacoast Online that the phone’s battery had “shorted out.” He suggested that the phone had been crushed in the teen’s back pocket. Local fire services are investigating…

Cell phones of whatever brand do catch fire. iPhones have caught fire on planes, just as Droids have exploded in ears.

So lithium-ion batteries can be dangerous.  Despite being the wonders they are.  For these chemical reactions are powerful.  And need to be confined perfectly.  But if you sit on a cell phone you can damage the confinement of those chemicals.  Causing a fire.  Just as accidents in electric cars have resulted in battery fires that have totaled these cars.  Or a faulty charging circuit started a fire overnight while charging in an attached garage.  Starting the house on fire.  Or nearly started a plane on fire.

The greatest hindrance to electric car sales is a thing called range anxiety.  Will I have enough charge to get home?  The answer to this problem is, of course, increasing the charge available in these cars.  Typically with bigger and more powerful batteries.  Which can burn the car to a crisp after an accident damages the battery.  Or debris on the roadway is thrown up by a tire into the battery.  Things that won’t total a gasoline-powered car if they happen.  Because gas is a high-density energy source.  Like these lithium-ion batters.  But it takes a lot more abuse to the gas tank to get it to start a fire.  Which is why electric cars will not replace the gasoline-powered car.  As they provide a far greater range and are safer.  And until the electric car can out do the gasoline-powered car on these two points the electric car will remain a novelty.

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Wireless Communication

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 18th, 2013

Technology 101

When a Current passes through a Wire it creates an Electromagnetic Field around the Wire

Wireless communication.  A pretty amazing technology.  Allowing ships at sea for the first time in history to communicate with people on land.  While at sea.  Using Morse code.  Those dots and dashes that take a little translation to understand.  But we could translate anything we said into Morse code.  Most people may even know the universal distress signal.  SOS (· · · – – – · · ·).  Which sent ships racing to the ship in distress.  Instead of simply disappearing from the face of the earth.  Something we owe a deep gratitude for to Nikola Tesla.  Or Guglielmo Marconi.  Depending on which side you’re on in the great patent dispute.  Was Tesla first?  Or was Marconi?  Suffice it to say they were both great inventors.  And the world is a better place because of them.

Electromagnetic field and waves.  Fascinating technology.  But one that is a little difficult to understand.  Because they’re invisible.  You can’t see them.  But we can use them to do incredible things.  If you enjoy using a smartphone you can thank electromagnetic field and waves.  For this technology is what makes wireless communication work.

When a current passes through a wire it creates an electromagnetic field around the wire.  Which can induce a current in an adjacent wire.  This is how transformers work.  By electromagnetically coupling one circuit with another.  Wireless radio transmission is similar.  Only the two circuits are pretty far apart from each other.  Being far apart, though, requires a lot of power.  And the further apart the two circuits are the more power they require.

A Radio Transmitter takes the Source Signal and Modulates it on the Carrier Frequency

When you tune into your favorite radio station you’re tuning into the carrier frequency of that station.  Which is just a powerful sinusoidal wave at one frequency they pump out on an antenna.  If you listened to just this carrier frequency you would hear a single, constant tone.  Sort of like the sound you hear on the television when they show a test pattern.  It’s not interesting or entertaining.  But it is powerful.  And the antenna they broadcast on can create one powerful electromagnetic field.  Such that the antenna on any radio receiver in or near the same city that radio transmitter is in can tune into that frequency and ‘hear’ it.  Basically with a tuner that allows only the station frequency you want to hear to pass.  While blocking the myriad of other carrier frequencies in the atmosphere.

These two antennas are the two circuits electromagnetically coupled together.  The transmitter is basically sending a current into the transmitter antenna to ‘vibrate the air’ while the receiver antenna ‘picks up those vibrations’ and induces an electric current.  And the more powerful the transmitter the farther you could pick up those ‘vibrations’.  Ships at sea had powerful transmitters.  Powered by large generators driven by their powerful steam engines.  Which allowed these signals to travel from the middle of the Atlantic to a shore receiver.  But if you did not have access to a power source you could ‘plug into’ you greatly reduced the effective range.  Because you had to use batteries.  Walkie-talkies kids play with have a small battery.  So they can’t be too far from each other to talk to each other.  The first light-weight solid state radio the Army used—AN/PRC 77 (aka ‘prick-77’)—had a much greater range.  About 5 miles.  And a much, much heavier battery.  It was so heavy that soldiers wore it like a backpack.  Which was another reason to not want to carry it.  The other being that the enemy tried to shoot the people with the radio.

Of course, these radios just didn’t transmit those carrier frequencies.  For that wouldn’t be any fun for kids.  Or useful for soldiers in combat.  And it’s just not pretty music.  No, it’s what we ‘add to’ the carrier frequency that is fun, useful and pretty.  A radio transmitter takes the source signal (voice, music, data, etc.) and modulates it on the carrier frequency.  To better understand what this means without any technical explanation listen to the Rod Stewart song Mandolin Wind.  After he sings, “I don’t have much.  But what I’ve got is yours.  Except, of course, my steel guitar.  Ha, ’cause I know you don’t play.  But I’ll teach you one day.  Because I love ya” there is a brief steel guitar solo (starting at 2:36 on the above link).  It’s a rapid picking of strings as he slowly fingers different frets.  Changing the frequency of the rapidly picked strings.  Reproducing the ‘slower’ melody on the ‘faster’ vibrating strings.  This is basically what modulation is.  Imprinting a low-power signal (voice, music, data, etc.) onto a high-power signal (a carrier frequency).  The receiver then demodulates the original signal from the carrier wave.  So we can hear or use it.

Having Cellular Towers all over the place Greatly Reduces the Amount of Power our Mobile Devices Need

The AN/PRC 77 and walkie-talkies are half-duplex devices.  They use the same carrier frequency to transmit and receive.  So only one person can talk at a time.  Which required people to say ‘over’ when they finished what they were saying to let the other person know they could start talking.  When the person said all he or she was going to say they said ‘out’ to let the other person know they were done with this communication (they NEVER said ‘over and out’.  That was only in movies with poor military consultants).  It was a great system.  Far better than earlier battlefield communications.  Such as the telegraph.  Or the messenger.  It changed the way we fought wars.  But it didn’t translate well to cellular phones.  Because this isn’t the way we talk in social situations.

Also, people just aren’t going to throw something heavy like an AN/PRC 77 on their back when they leave the house.  For the thing weighed nearly 14 pounds.  Because of the batteries.  And what would this funny way of talking and this heavy weight give you?  The ability to talk to someone 5 miles away.  There’s a reason why people don’t use these half-duplex devices for our mobile telephones.  Because there’s something better.  Cellular technology.  Where they made the use of mobile devises more user-friendly by greatly expanding the cellular infrastructure.  That thing our mobile devices talk to.  Instead of requiring a powerful transmitter and receiver (and a large antenna) in our mobile phones we built cellular towers all over the place.  So we are no further than 5 miles (approximately) from a cellular tower.  Which is all the distance our wireless signal needs to travel.  For once it reached a tower your call switched over to the landline system.  And could reach anyplace in the world.  Even to another mobile device.  As long as it is within 5 miles (approximately) of another cellular tower.

Having cellular towers all over the place greatly reduces the amount of power our mobile devices need.  Allowing a small and very light battery to power them.  Making these mobile devices very light weight.  In fact, the batteries are so light that these devices can transmit and receive on two carrier frequencies.  Allowing full-duplex communication.  Where both people can talk at the same time.  Just like in casual conversation.  They are so user friendly and convenient that today many people use their mobile phone far more than any landline telephone.  Something that would no doubt bring great satisfaction to Nikola Tesla and Guglielmo Marconi if they were alive today.  Who have given us the gift of wireless communication.  Well, at least one of them.

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First Electric Cars now an Electric Helicopter

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 1st, 2013

Week in Review

The federal government is doing everything it can to stimulate electric car sales.  Because they’re so green.  But despite huge government subsidies for both manufacturers and buyers people just aren’t buying them.  In large part because of their limited range.  Keeping away potential buyers.  And filling electric car owners with range anxiety.  That dread that fills them when they start worrying whether they have enough battery charge to get home.  And getting stranded a long way from home.  Of course, this range anxiety could be worse (see 18-rotor electric helicopter makes maiden flight by Tim Hornyak posted 11/25/2013 on CNET).

The VC200, however, has a proper cockpit for two, and is described as a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) manned aircraft that doesn’t quite fit into any traditional category of flying machine.

It has 18 zero-emission, battery-powered electric motors for propulsion instead of the traditional combustion engines of helicopters. A frame and branching supports for rotors are made of carbon fiber help keep the weight down.

E-volo says the Volocopter VC200 can offer passengers a quiet, smooth, green ride. The vehicle is also easy to fly by joystick, and will have low operating and maintenance costs.

The VC200 flew to a height of some 70 feet during its test flights, which were recorded in the video below, which is pretty noisy but that may be due to the camera position.

It can fly for about 20 minutes with current battery technology, but E-volo hopes that will improve to allow for flights of an hour or more.

Really?  An electric helicopter?  It’s bad enough having your electric car coast to a stop on the road after your battery dies.  But to fall out of the sky?

Before a commercial jetliner flies it calculates how much fuel they need to get them to their destination.  To get them to an alternate destination in case something prevents them from getting to their primary destination.  And a reserve amount of fuel.  For the unexpected.  They are very careful about this because a plane cannot coast to a stop on a road.  If they run out of fuel they tend to fall out of the sky.  So the FAA is pretty strict on fuel requirements.  Can you imagine them certifying an electric helicopter that can carry only one battery charge?  That has to power the craft regardless of the weight of the air craft?

On the one hand pushing the bounds of technology is a good thing.  We can develop better batteries to use in our mobile devices and tablet computers.  But electric cars and electric flight?  The very design requires solving a paradox.  To get greater range we need more/bigger batteries.  But more/bigger batteries means greater weight.  And greater weight means reduced range.  That is, the very thing that increases range also reduces range.  The current technology just isn’t good enough to give us electric cars or electric flight at this time.  And any tax dollars that go to subsidize it is tax money poorly spent.

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Federal Regulators find no Problem with Tesla Battery Design after one Burst into Flames this Month

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 27th, 2013

Week in Review

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a state-of-the-art fuel-efficient intercontinental jetliner.  Something that made airlines dealing with razor-thin margins and rising fuel prices stand up and take notice.  This was an airplane that they wanted.  And how did they squeeze these fuel savings out of the Dreamliner?  Well, they used more composite materials than before.  Reducing the amount of heavier metals.  And they eliminated some other ‘heavy’ metal in a way that increased engine efficiency.  By eliminating pneumatic systems and replacing them with electric systems.  Which eliminated the bleed air system that bled efficiency from the jet engines.  And removing all the metal ductwork that piped that hot pressurized air throughout the aircraft.  Such as to the anti-icing systems in the wings.  Which they replaced with electric heaters.

The Boeing 787 is the most electric plane in commercial aviation.  It uses an enormous amount of electric power.  Which requires powerful backup batteries.  Lithium-ion batteries.  That have a very high energy density.  Created from powerful chemical reactions.  Requiring complex controllers to regulate the power, temperature and pressure in the batteries to try and prevent a ‘thermal runaway’.  Especially during charging.  Which happened a few times.  Starting a fire or two.  Prompting the FAA to action.  And grounding the entire 787 Dreamliner fleet because of these high energy density batteries.

Electric cars also use these high energy density batteries.  And some of them have caught fire.  But federal regulators aren’t taking any electric cars off of the street (see Tesla dodges full investigation after fiery crash by Charles Riley posted 10/25/2013 on CNNMoney).

Federal regulators have decided not to open an official investigation into the crash of a Tesla Model S earlier this month that resulted in a fire in the electric car’s battery section.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that while it continually reviews vehicle complaints, the crash had not led to the discovery of any safety faults…

Auto blog Jalopnik posted photos and videos of the Seattle-area accident in early October, showing an electric Tesla Model S engulfed in flames…

Musk’s 560-word post explained the accident in his usual painstaking detail. He said the cause of the accident appeared to be a piece of metal that fell off of a semi-trailer and struck the Model S.

A fire then erupted in the car’s front battery section, but was contained to that area, the CEO wrote. No flames entered the passenger compartment.

Musk also tried to reassure his readers. “There should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery than a large tank of highly flammable liquid,” he wrote.

Well, one thing about our roads.  They are clean as a whistle.  So although there was a piece of metal once there will never be another piece of metal on our roads.  So there is no need to add some heavy metal under the Tesla to protect the battery from pieces of metal thrown up from the road.  Increasing the weight of the electric car.  Decreasing its range.  Further discouraging people from buying them.

If that piece of metal had hit a gas tank it may have dented it.  It may have even caused it to leak.  But it wouldn’t have burst into flames.  As the millions of cars driving on our metal-strewn roads testify to every day.  Gasoline stored in a tank slung underneath a car is pretty safe.  For it’s not what we combust in our engine.  No.  First we must aerosolize the liquid into a vapor.  Mix it with oxygen.  Compress it (greatly increasing its temperature).  Then ignite it with an electric spark.  And only then will it explode.  For an explosion needs heat and pressure.  Which isn’t present in a gas tank under normal conditions.  But they do exist in lithium-ion batteries under normal conditions.  Which is why they explode.  And burst into flames.

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Another Electric Car bursts into Flames

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 5th, 2013

Week in Review

One thing we learned from Breaking Bad was to respect the chemistry.  And that’s what batteries are.  Chemistry.  The kind of chemistry that’s a little on the dangerous side.  Unlike gasoline.  Which we can store relatively safely in tanks under our cars.  Where little chemistry goes on inside our gas tanks.  To use that gasoline to power our cars we have to do a couple of things.  We have to aerosolize it.  Combine it with oxygen.  Compress it.  Then ignite it.  Then and only then does it release its incredible energy.  Producing great heat in the engine.  But not the gas tank.  Which needs no cooling system.  It’s a little different in an electric car.

In a battery the chemistry is all local.  It produces electricity—and heat—where the chemicals are stored.  In the battery.  One of the problems with electric cars is their limited range.  And you fix this problem with bigger and more powerful batteries.  That can produce a lot of electricity—and heat—as they charge or power the car.  Making battery cooling a requirement for safe battery use.  To keep those chemicals under control.  But sometimes these chemical reactions go out of control.  Causing fires as cars re-charge in their garages.  Causing fires that grounded the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  And this (see Hot Wheels! Tape of Tesla Fire Has Stock Tanking by Dan Berman, Hot Stock Minute, posted 10/3/2013 on Yahoo! Finance).

Tape of a Tesla (TSLA) on fire is giving new meaning to the term “hot wheels.” The video was shot on Tuesday after a Model S sedan went up in flames…

In an e-mail sent to The New York Times, Tesla spokeswoman Elizabeth Jarvis-Shean wrote that the fire was caused by the “direct impact of a large metallic object to one of the 16 modules within the Model S battery pack.” The e-mail went on to say, “Because each module within the battery pack is, by design, isolated by fire barriers to limit any potential damage, the fire in the battery pack was contained to a small section in the front of the vehicle.”

Contained to a small section?  It looks like the fire engulfed the whole car.  All because of some metal debris thrown up from the roadway.  Of course, a way to protect against something like this in the future is to add a metal shield that can take a direct hit without damage.  Adding a thick piece of metal under the car, though, adds weight.  Which, of course, reduces range.

This is a problem with electric cars.  Improving safety results in a reduction in range.  Because it adds weight.  It adds weight, too, with gasoline-powered cars.  But one full tank of gas can hold a lot more energy that all the batteries can on an electric car.  And when you run out of gas all you have to do is stop at a conveniently located gas station and fill up.  Which takes about 10 minutes or so.  Unlike a recharge of an electric car.  Which can take anywhere between a half hour (with a high-voltage fast charger) to overnight in the garage plugged into a standard outlet.  Which is why electric cars are more of a novelty.  Those who have them typically have other more reliable cars for their main driving needs.  For though gasoline-powered cars catch fire, too, when they’re not on fire you know you’re going to get home.

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A Solar Powered Plane is an Engineering Marvel but it won’t Fly you Anywhere

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 9th, 2013

Week in Review

The Boeing 747-8 is the latest derivative of the 747 family.  It can seat up to 465 people.  And has a gross takeoff weight of 975,000 pounds.  It’s cruising speed is 570 mph.  And has a range of 9,210 miles at maximum take-off weight.  Which means it could fly between California and New York in about 4 and a half hours.  The Boeing 747-8 is truly a remarkable aircraft.  But how does it measure up to other aircraft?  Well, here’s one with a similar wingspan (see Solar-Powered Plane To Make Cross-U.S. Flight by Jesse Emspak posted 3/4/2013 on Discovery News).

A plane that can fly on solar power, day or night, will make its way across the United States this summer — the first time the plane has attempted a cross-continental flight.

Wow.  Can it be the environmentalist were right all along?  That we can replace fossil fuels with solar power?  Well, this appears to be the proof.  A plane that can fly cross-continental.  Day or night.  Why, this can revolutionize air travel.  And put a serious crimp in global warming.  For as great as the 747-8 is it still burns a heck of a lot of jet fuel.  Putting a lot of emissions into the air.  Perhaps this is the future of aviation.  Clean solar power.  Perhaps with some minor adjustments required in our travel plans.  But if it saves the planet perhaps those minor adjustments will be worth it.

The Solar Impulse — built as a project of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the brainchild of Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg — has the wingspan of a 747 but only weighs as much a Honda Prius. It flies thanks to four turboprop engines powered entirely by batteries and solar panels.

Borschberg told Discovery News that the although the plane could make the whole trip from California to New York in one go, the pilot cannot. The plane travels at 40 to 50 miles per hour, so a cross-country flight would take days. And since there’s only room for a single person in the cockpit, in part to save weight, and no autopilot, the trip will have to be broke up into five legs…

The solar panels are conventional silicon, with an efficiency of about 25 percent. While there are more efficient solar panels such as those used in the satellite industry, those designs are often too heavy, Borschberg said, as they tend to be encased in glass. And although the power is stored in batteries, the engines can run directly from the energy collected by the solar panels. In fact, the plane could be flown on an empty battery.

A 747-8 at maximum take-off weight weighs the same as about 321 Honda Prius hybrids.  And it includes galleys.  And toilets.  So it can stay in the air and fly almost anywhere in the world nonstop.  While the Solar Impulse currently can’t carry any passengers, has no galley and no toilets.  Which may allow about three flights of 4-5 hours a day.  Allowing it to arrive in New York after leaving California some 6 days earlier.

So solar power is not a viable alternative to fossil fuel if we want to fly anywhere.  As remarkable as the Solar Impulse is, and it is truly remarkable, it is only an engineering marvel.  For there is no way that solar power can provide sufficient thrust to carry great weights into the air.  Solar power can work in weightless space for they only have to power electric loads.  They don’t have to provide any thrust to move a heavy mass.

This is a large-scale example showing the limitations of electric-powered transportation.  For transportation to be useful it must be able to move heavy weights.  But the more useful the transport vehicle (the greater the weight it can move) the more battery charge is used for motive power.  Drawing down the battery charge faster (which is drawn down even faster if lights, heat, radio and other electric accessories are used).  Reducing range.  And usefulness.  Leaving the fossil fuel-powered vehicle the only viable vehicle in the foreseeable future.

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Boeing’s Problems with Lithium-Ion Batteries illustrates the problem of the All-Electric Car

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 24th, 2013

Week in Review

The greatest cost of all airlines is fuel.  Airplanes that burn less fuel make airlines more money.  And help airlines go from losing money to making a profit.  Aircraft are complex machines.  Full of high-tech stuff.  But one of the best ways to burn less fuel is not all that high-tech.  You just make planes lighter.  One of the ways of doing that, though, is very high-tech.  The new lithium-ion battery.  Which packs a whole lot of energy in a tiny package.  Allowing Boeing to make their Dreamliner just a little bit lighter.  Allowing it to burn less fuel (see Japan Finds Swelling in Second Boeing 787 Battery by Mari Saito, REUTERS, posted 2/19/2013 on the New York Times).

Cells in a second lithium-ion battery on a Boeing Co 787 Dreamliner forced to make an emergency landing in Japan last month showed slight swelling, a Japan Transport Safety Board (JTSB) official said on Tuesday.

The jet, flown by All Nippon Airways Co, was forced to make the landing after its main battery failed…

The U.S. Federal Aviation Authority grounded all 50 Boeing Dreamliners in commercial service on January 16 after the incidents with the two Japanese owned 787 jets.

The groundings have cost airlines tens of millions of dollars, with no solution yet in sight.

Boeing rival Airbus said last week it had abandoned plans to use lithium-ion batteries in its next passenger jet, the A350, in favor of traditional nickel-cadmium batteries.

Lighter and more powerful than conventional batteries, lithium-ion power packs have been in consumer products such as phones and laptops for years but are relatively new in industrial applications, including back-up batteries for electrical systems in jets.

As it turns out it can be a little risky packing a whole lot of energy into tiny packages.  It may make batteries lighter.  But it’s like putting a tiger in a box.  If it isn’t a good box it’s not going to restrain that tiger.  And that’s what sort of has been happening with lithium-ion batteries.  People who bought discount replacement cell phone batteries saw those cheap knockoffs burst into flames.

Lithium-ion batteries have a tendency to burst into flames if they are overcharged.  This is the risk of using concentrated energy.  It’s why they grounded the entire fleet of Boeing Dreamliners.  And it’s why the all-electric car is not practical.  The one battery that gives it a useful range can be a little temperamental.  Like a tiger in a box.

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