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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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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Driving an Electric Car gives you both Range Anxiety and Your Battery can Make your Car Catch Fire Anxiety

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 13th, 2011

Week in Review

If range anxiety wasn’t enough now there’s this.  After sweating bullets worrying whether or not that you’ll make it home on your battery charge.  Keeping the lights and the heater off to improve your chances.  And then, after making it home, you have to worry about something like this (see Volt fire 3 weeks after crash prompts safety probe by Chris Isidore posted 11/11/2011 on CNNMoney).

Federal safety regulators are investigating the safety of lithium-ion batteries after a fire started in the battery pack of a Chevrolet Volt three weeks after the vehicle went through a crash test…

NHTSA says it has investigated an incident and has concluded that, “the crash test damaged the Volt’s lithium ion battery and that the damage led to a vehicle fire that took several weeks to develop after the test was completed.”

That incident, the agency says, “is the only case of a battery-related fire in a crash or crash test of vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries.” It went on to say that it will conduct additional testing of the Volt’s lithium-ion batteries.

The nice thing about a gasoline-powered engine is that the gasoline is stored separately from the things that make it go boom.  Fuel injectors (or carburetors on older cars).  And air.  You see, for gasoline to go boom you have to convert it first into an aerosol by pumping it through a fuel injector (or a venturi in a carburetor).  Then mix it with some air.  Then ignite it with a spark plug.  So it’s sort of like ‘some assembly required’ to get the energy out of gas to make a car go vroom.  Not so with a battery.

A battery’s energy comes from a chemical reaction in the battery.  From chemicals inside the battery.  That are there while you’re driving.  While you’re charging.  Even while you’re parked.  There always there.  And if something happens that disturbs their containment bad things can happen.  But unlike a gasoline leak, chances are you’ll never see or smell anything to warn you of a potential problem.  You’ll just know you have a problem when you have a problem.  Like your car being on fire.

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