Electric Cars are Toys for the Rich

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 22nd, 2014

Week in Review

It turns out that the majority of electric car owners share something in common.  They’re rich (see Electric-Car Buyers Younger And Richer Than Hybrid Owners by Jim Gorzelany posted 4/22/2014 on Forbes).

Based on calendar-year 2013 sales, the study found that 55 percent of electric vehicle buyers are between 36 and 55 years old and have an average household income of $175,000 or more. By comparison, 45 percent of those driving hybrid-powered models off the lot are 56 years old or older (compared to just 26 percent of new EV owners), with only 12 percent having an annual income of $175,000 or higher.

So electric cars are toys for rich people.  Why?  Because working-class people can’t afford to throw money away.

This would more or less reinforce the popular wisdom that hybrids, which typically cost only nominally more than comparable conventionally powered models, appeal more to family minded penny-pinchers than do the pricier EVs, which pack more in the way of high-tech luster and are often purchased as rolling status symbols (they also require a certain infrastructure – i.e. a garage with an updated electrical system for charging – and because of their limited range are usually the second or third car in a family’s fleet)…

… buyers of both EVs and hybrids tend to reside in more affluent zipcodes than typical consumers, with most green-car buyers clustered in hip cities along the west coast.

A gasoline-powered car is utilitarian.  It’ll get you to and from work.  Day or night.  Rain or shine.  Hot or cold.  If you need heat, headlights, windshield wipers and an extra hour to get home because of slow rush-hour traffic the gasoline-powered car gives you these things.  Unlike an electric car.  Because all of these things drain the battery.  Making getting home in night, rain and cold a risky proposition.  Especially if you get stuck in rush-hour traffic.  Which is why electric cars are “usually the second or third car in a family’s fleet.”  And who can afford having 2-3 cars in a family?  People earning more than $175,000 a year.  People who take their electric car out for nice, short afternoon drives.  Then get into old reliable (gasoline-powered car 1 and/or 2 in the family’s fleet) when they really need to get somewhere.

But even having two other cars can’t do anything about the weather.  For rich people in Minnesota are probably not driving their electric car to work in a February blizzard.  Which is why the most popular places to own and drive an electric car are on the west coast.  Where it rarely is winter.  So the rich may take the electric car out of the stable for a pleasant afternoon drive.  But working class people who have to deal with night, rain and cold on a daily basis will be driving to work as they always have.  In their gasoline-powered car.  For after a hard day’s work there is nothing better than going home.  Which is why they drive gasoline-powered cars.  Because they will always get you home.

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Engine Block Heaters and Battery Heaters

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 19th, 2014

Technology 101

As Matter loses Heat it shrinks from a Gas to a Liquid to a Solid

There is no such thing as cold.  Cold is simply the absence of heat.  Which is a real thing.  Heat.  It’s a form of energy.  Warm things have a lot of energy.  Cold things have less energy.  The Kelvin scale is a measurement of temperature.  Like degrees used when measuring temperature in Celsius or Fahrenheit.  Where 32 degrees Fahrenheit equals 0 degrees Celsius.  And 0 degrees Celsius equals 273.15 kelvin.  Not ‘degrees’ kelvin.  Just kelvin.

When something cools it loses heat energy.  The molecular activity slows down.  Steam has a lot of molecular activity.  At 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius or 373.15 kelvin) the molecular activity decreases enough (i.e., loses energy) that steam changes to water.  At 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius or 273.15 kelvin) the molecular activity decreases enough (i.e., loses energy) that water turns into ice.

The more heat matter loses the less molecules move around.  At absolute zero (0 kelvin) there is no heat at all.  And no molecular movement.  Making 0 kelvin the ‘coldest’ anything can be.  For 0 kelvin represents the absence of all heat.  As matter loses heat it shrinks.  Gases become liquid.  And liquids becomes solid.  (Water, however, is an exception to that rule.  When water turns into ice it expands.  And cracks our roadways.)  They become less fluid.  Or more viscous.  Cold butter is harder to spread on a roll than warm butter.  Because warm butter has more heat energy than cold butter.  So warm butter is less viscous than cold butter.

Vehicles in Sub-Freezing Temperatures can Start Easily if Equipped with an Engine Block Heater

In a car’s internal combustion engine an air-fuel mixture enters the cylinder.  As the piston comes up it compresses this mixture.  And raises its temperature.  When the piston reaches the top the air-fuel mixture is at its maximum pressure and temperature.  The spark plug then provides an ignition source to cause combustion.  (A diesel engine operates at such a high compression that the temperature rise is so great the air-fuel mixture will combust without an ignition source).  Driving the piston down and creating rotational energy via the crank shaft.

For this to happen a lot of things have to work together.  You need energy to spin the engine before the combustion process.  You need lubrication to allow the engine components to move without causing wear and tear.  And you need the air-fuel mixture to reach a temperature to burn cleanly and to extract as much energy from combustion as possible.  None of which works well in very cold temperatures.

Vehicles operating in sub-freezing temperatures need a little help.  Manufacturers equip many vehicles sold for these regions with engine block heaters.  These are heating elements in the engine core.  You’ll know a vehicle has one when you see an electrical cord coming out of the engine compartment.  When these engines aren’t running they ‘plug in’ to an electrical outlet.  A timer will cycle these heaters on and off.  Keeping the engine block warmer than the subfreezing temperatures.

The Internal Combustion Engine is Ideal for use in Cold Temperatures

At subfreezing temperatures engine oil because more viscous.  And more like tar.  This does not flow well through the engine.  So until it warms up the engine operates basically without any lubrication.  In ‘normal’ temperatures the oil heats up quickly and flows through the engine before there’s any damage.  At subfreezing temperatures oil needs a little help when starting.  So the oil sump is heated.  Like an engine block heater.  So when someone tries to start the engine the oil is more like oil and less like tar.

Of course, for any of this to help start an engine you have to be able to turn the engine over first.  And to do that you need a charged battery.  But even a charged battery needs help in sub-freezing temperatures.  For in these temperatures there is little molecular action in the battery.  And without molecular activity there will be little current available to power the engine’s starter.  So there are heaters for batteries, too.  Electric blankets or pads that sit under or wrap around a battery.  To warm the battery to let the chemicals inside move around more freely.  So they can produce the electric power it needs to turn an engine over on a cold day.

Once an engine block, the engine oil and battery are sufficiently warmed by external electric power the engine can start.  Once it warms up it can operate like it can at less frigid temperatures.  The engine alternator powers the electrical systems on the vehicle.  And recharges the battery.  The engine coolant heats up and provides heat for the passenger compartment.  And defrosts the windows.  Once the engine is warm it can shut down and start again an hour or so later with ease.  Making it ideal for use in cold temperatures.  Unlike an electric car.  For the colder it gets the less energy its batteries will have.  Making it a risky endeavor to drive to the store in the Midwest or the Northeast during a winter such as this.  Something people should think about before buying an all-electric car.

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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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A 2013 Tesla Model S turns a 9.5 Hour Trip into a 12.5 Hour Trip

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 14th, 2013

Week in Review

There are times when we like to take to the open road and just drive.  And if we have the time there are few things more enjoyable than taking the road less traveled.  Seeking out and exploring things we’ve never seen before.  But there are also times when the journey is so long that we want to make it in the shortest time possible.  For if we’re traveling to the favorite family fun park we’d much rather arrive by 7 PM in the daylight.  Instead of 10 PM in the dark.  So we can easily find our room.  Freshen up.  Have a nice dinner.  Shower.  And get to bed by 10 PM so we can get a good night’s sleep for a long day of fun in the morrow.  Something that a gasoline-powered car can help us do a lot better than an electric car (see We Took The Tesla Model S On A Road Trip — Here’s How It Did by George Parrott posted 12/12/2013 on Business Insider).

Once Tesla Motors built out its Supercharger network of quick-charging stations along Interstate 5, my wife and I decided to drive from our home in Sacramento to Portland in our new 2013 Tesla Model S…

It was almost 600 miles from our home in West Sacramento to our hotel room in Portland…

Our West Sacramento to Downtown Portland driving time was about 9 hours and 35 minutes of actual driving, with another 2 hours in short Supercharger stops–plus a longer stop for a full recharge (for the car) and for us (breakfast) that took a full hour.

That’s another 3 hours added to the trip.  Three hours is a lot of time.  A 30-minute charge time may seem like a short stop but if you’ve ever gone on a long trip (say, driving in excess of 8 hours) a 30-minute stop is excruciating.  Because the sun doesn’t stop with you.  It’s still racing across the sky.  And there is nothing worse than having a 9 hour trip turn into a 12 hour trip.  Where you find yourself driving dead-tired in the black of night.  Drinking coffee to try and stay awake.  Slapping your face.  Talking to yourself.  Anything to stay awake as you drive on and on into the black of night.  Praying you don’t see any moose in your headlights.  And then when you finally get to your room for the night you can’t sleep because of all that coffee you drank.  Which just ruins the first day of your vacation.

Now imagine all of this and you arrive at a charging station and you have to wait in line as other cars get their 30 minute charge.  Or you arrive at the charging station only to find it out of order.  Leaving you to find a 120V outlet to ‘steal’ electricity for 6 hours or so to give you enough charge to get to the next charging station.  Or that your car runs out of charge in the middle of nowhere in the black of night.  Before you ever made it to the charging station.  What then?  I can’t say for sure but I’ll bet it’ll involve an expletive, a reference to your electric car and a yearning for a gasoline-powered car.  As you could be surrounded by lit up gas stations full of gasoline that just won’t do a thing for you and your electric car.

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Manufacturers are Lowering Prices on Electric Cars to get us to Buy Cars we don’t Want

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 8th, 2013

Week in Review

The government and those on the left may want us to all drive electric cars.  But you know who doesn’t?  Pretty much all of us (see Mitsubishi iMiev is now the cheapest electric car by Eric Evarts posted 12/5/2013 on Consumer Reports).

The biggest improvement electric cars need is in the price. And the latest electric-car maker to make that improvement is Mitsubishi, which just slashed the price of its golf-cartlike iMiev by more than 20 percent, to $23,845. That’s a $6,130 price drop from $29,975. (Toyota recently lowered the price on the Prius Plug-In.)

In addition, Mitsubishi has added some standard features, such as front heated seats, CHAdeMO DC quick charge port, rear door speakers, leather steering wheel trim, passenger-side vanity mirror, fog lights, and aluminum wheels. While these standard features sweeten the deal, they do underscore just how barebones the car was previously.

The iMiev is still eligible for a $7,500 federal electric vehicle tax credit that brings the price down to $16,345, or less where other state and local credits are available. Even at that reduced price, it still a lot of money for a car that feels like little more than an enclosed golf cart. The appeal lies solely in providing attainable access into the world of pure-electric cars. At this price, it becomes more feasible as a second, occasional-use car. (Visit our alternative fuel hub for more on electric cars and hybrids…)

The i-MiEV feels tiny, tinny, and slow, with clumsy handling and a bumpy ride. And its short cruising range—barely 60 miles in our tests—keeps you on a tight leash. Charging times are long, spanning between 6 and 7 hours for a full charge using 240-voltage.

The Spartan interior is cramped and unappealing, with seating limited to four people. Finally, the car’s small size and slow responses make you feel vulnerable sharing the road with “real” cars.

So to own an electric car you have to pay a fortune to get little.  You can’t drive further than 30 miles from your house.  And you must play ‘Russian roulette’ when you share the road with real cars.  As well as trucks.  You should never drive around a down railroad crossing gate.  Because in a car-train accident the car will always lose.  Just as in an electric car-anything-else accident the electric car will always lose.  Give me a big heavy 4-door sedan any day.  It’s big, it takes up space and pollutes the air (a quote taken loosely from the 1980 movie Serial).  But most of all it has space to survive in should you ever get into a non-train accident.

Any car that a manufacturer has to sell at a loss even with massive government subsidies is a car they shouldn’t be selling.  And it’s especially a car the government shouldn’t be subsidizing.  Especially when pretty much all of us prefer a car that’s big, takes up space and pollutes the air.  And will let you drive further than 30 miles from home.  While getting you home again.  Even if you get stuck in rush hour traffic.  In the middle of a blizzard.  When it’s dark outside.  Things that are not a problem when you have gasoline in the gas tank.

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Man arrested for Stealing Electricity for his Electric Car

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 7th, 2013

Week in Review

A bankruptcy judge just ruled Detroit can file bankruptcy.  Dealing a blow to the union workers and pensioners who will see their benefits cut.  A lot.  But in so doing Detroit may be able to do something it hasn’t been able to afford in a long time.  Turning the streetlights back on.

A lot of these streetlights have burnt out lamps.  Some are damaged.  While others have been shut off to cut costs.  Because the electric power to light these is a large cost item.  Even in Britain some cities are turning their streetlights off during parts of the night because they just can’t afford to keep them on all night long.  Which puts a silly incident like this into a new light (see Why Did This Man Get Arrested for Charging His Electric Car? by Tyler Lopez posted 12/5/2013 on Slate).

Early last month, a police officer approached Kaveh Kamooneh outside of Chamblee Middle School in Georgia. While his 11-year-old son played tennis, Kamooneh was charging his Nissan Leaf using an outdoor outlet. When the officer arrived, he opened the unlocked vehicle, took out a piece of mail to read the address, and let a puzzled Kamooneh know that he would be arrested for theft. Kamooneh brushed the entire incident off. Eleven days later, two deputies handcuffed and arrested him at his home. The charge? Theft of electrical power. According to a statement from the school, a “local citizen” had called the police to report the unauthorized power-up session.

The total cost of the 20 minutes of electricity Kamooneh reportedly used is about 5 cents…

Are political attitudes toward environmentally friendly electric vehicles to blame..?

Contrary to popular belief the ‘fuel’ for electric cars is not free.  It takes fuel (typically coal, natural gas, nuclear, etc.) to generate electric power.  Which is why we all have electric meters at our homes.  So we can pay for the cost of generating that electric power.  Therefore, this guy was stealing electric power.  Even if he lived in the city he stole from.  Because current taxes don’t pay for electric power.  People pay an electric bill based on their electric usage.  As shown on an electric meter.

This illustrates a great problem we will have if large numbers of people switch to electric cars.  This will place a huge burden on our electric generating capacity.  Have you ever placed your car battery (in a standard gasoline-powered car) on a charger when you had a dead battery?  If so you may have noticed the voltage meter on the charger barely move.  Because a dead battery places a ‘short-circuit’ across the charger.  Causing a surge of current to flow through the battery.  Recharging the plates.  As the charge builds up the current starts falling.  And the voltage starts rising.  Imagine great numbers of people plugging in their depleted batteries at the same time.  It will do to the electric grid what air conditioners do to it in the summer.  As a bunch of them turn on the lights dim because of that current surge going to the air conditioners.  Leaving less power available to power the lights (and other electric loads).

Air conditioning was such a problem that utilities placed a separate ‘interruptible’ meter at homes.  So that during the summer when the air conditioner load grew too great the utility could shut off some air conditioners.  To reduce the demand on the generating systems.  People lost their air conditioning for periods of time.  But they got a reduced electric rate because of it.

As more people add an electric car to the electric grid it will strain generating capacity.  And raise electric rates.  To get people to use less electric power.  If demand far exceeds supply electric rates will soar.  Perhaps causing a lot of people to look for a free ‘plug-in’ to escape the high cost of electric power.  Transferring that cost to others.  Like cash-strapped cities who can’t afford to leave the street lights on all night.

Few have thought this out well.  Getting more people to use electricity instead of gasoline at the same time we’re trying to replace reliable coal-fired power plants with intermittent wind and solar farms is a recipe for disaster.  In the form of higher electric bills and rolling blackouts.

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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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A Third Tesla Model S is Consumed by Flames from their Lithium-Ion Batteries

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 9th, 2013

Week in Review

There were two Boeing 787 Dreamliners that had a battery problem and a burning smell.  Fire is dangerous.  Especially in an airplane.  There was no loss of life in either incident.  And there was minor damage.  But two incidents were enough for the FAA to ground the entire Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet.  Yes, fire is dangerous on an airplane.  But the government was also mad at Boeing for wanting to make the Dreamliner with nonunion labor.  Did this play a role in the grounding?  Who knows?

Tesla has now had three lithium-ion fires.  Not battery problems with a burning smell.  The federal government likes Tesla.  Wants everyone to drive an electric car.  And subsidizes the electric car industry.  Interestingly how Tesla can have three fires that destroy the car entirely and yet receive no scrutiny from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Guess the government thinks Boeing wants to put people on unsafe airplanes while Tesla doesn’t want to put people in unsafe cars (see Tesla reports third fire involving Model S electric car by Ben Klayman and Bernie Woodall, Reuters, posted 11/8/2013 on The Globe and Mail).

Tesla Motors Inc. reported the third fire in its Model S luxury electric car in six weeks, this time after a highway accident in Tennessee, sending shares down sharply on Thursday.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol said the 2013 model sedan ran over a tow hitch that hit the undercarriage of the vehicle, causing an electrical fire on Interstate 24 on Wednesday. A highway patrol dispatcher called the damage to the car “extensive.”

The Model S undercarriage has armour plating that protects a battery pack of lithium-ion cells. Tesla said it did not yet know whether the fire involved the car’s battery.

An electrical fire in an electric car probably involved the car’s battery.  For without gasoline and a source for ignition what else can burn in an electric car other than a high energy density device under heat and pressure?

The first Model S fire occurred on Oct. 1 near Seattle, when the car collided with a large piece of metal debris in the road that punched a hole through the protective armour plating…

The second fire took place later in the month in Merida, Mexico, when, according to reports, a car drove through a roundabout, crashed through a concrete wall and hit a tree…

While none of the drivers in any of the Tesla accidents were injured, the glaring headlines about fires were unwelcome for a company whose stock soared sixfold in the first nine months of the year. Since the first fire, Tesla’s shares have lost more than 27 per cent, and this week’s declines are the worst one-week drop since May, 2012.

“For a company with a stock price based as much or more on image than financials, those recurring headlines are highly damaging,” Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer said.

When image is more important than financials that means the electric car isn’t selling.  That the costs far exceed revenue.  And probably the only things allowing them to stay in business are government subsidies (both for Tesla and for Tesla buyers) and irrational exuberance.  Like when investors created a dot-com bubble in the late Nineties.  Bidding up stock prices into the stratosphere when companies had nothing to sell let alone profits.  At least in the dot-com bubble investors were betting that they found the next Microsoft and were going to get rich.  It’s a little more puzzling why investors are buying Tesla stock in the first place. 

Tesla may build the best electric cars in the world.  But they are still electric cars.  The problem is no one is buying electric cars.  Except rich people who can afford a third car.  With the other two being powered by gasoline.  In case they want to travel a long distance.  Or drive at night or in the cold with the lights and heat on.  Or have to rush a sick child to the hospital when the Tesla is on the charger.

Tesla’s battery pack is made up of small lithium-ion battery cells that are also used in laptop computers, an approach not used by other auto makers. The battery pack stretches across the base of the vehicle. In comparison, General Motors Co. uses large-format battery cells in a T-shape in the centre of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid car.

Other auto makers have dealt with battery fires in electrified vehicles, including GM’s Volt and Mitsubishi Motors Corp.’s i-MiEV…

“For consumers concerned about fire risk, there should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery” than a conventional gas-powered vehicle, he said on a blog post.

Company executives called that first fire a “highly uncommon occurrence,” likely caused by a curved metal object falling off a semi-trailer and striking up into the underside of the car in a “pole-vault effect.”

Gasoline engines are dangerous, but Americans have learned to live with them over the years, said Tom Gage, the former CEO of AC Propulsion, which developed the drive train for Tesla’s first model, the Roadster.

“Obviously, gasoline can be lit more easily and can burn with more ferocity than a battery can, but a gas tank in a car now benefits from 120 years of fairly intensive development and government regulation regarding how you make it safe,” he said.

Ever smell gasoline?  In a parking lot?  When you shouldn’t?  It might have been more common in the old days.  When the Big Three were selling their rust buckets.  Which rusted out in the northern climates where they salt the roads during winter.  Salt makes metal rust.  Including gas tanks.  Causing leaks.  If you smelled gas, though, did you run away from that car and wait for it to explode?  No.  You didn’t.  You probably thought something along the lines of, “That guy should get that fixed.  Gasoline is too expensive to waste like that.”

And you can fix a leaky gas tank.  It’s dangerous but you can.  For a tank full of gas has more liquid than fumes in it.  But an empty gas tank may be full of lingering gas fumes.  That can explode if ignited with a welding torch.  Which is why before they weld a gas tank they fill it full of sand.  So there is no room for any explosive gas vapors.

Gasoline is flammable.  It will burn.  But it won’t explode.  For gasoline in a liquid form is not as dangerous as in other forms.  It can leak out of a gas tank.  And then evaporate into the atmosphere.  In a car wreck something can puncture the gas tank and cause fuel to spill out.  If this fuel is ignited it can burn.  And the fire will follow the gasoline back to the source.  If the fire reaches the gasoline fumes under pressure in the gas tank there can be an explosion.  A very big one at that.  But if the fire department is on the scene they can wash that gasoline away with a fire hose.  And prevent any fire or explosion.  When a lithium-ion battery burns, though, throwing water on it won’t do much.

For gasoline to power a gasoline-powered car we first have to vaporize it.  Mix it with oxygen (pulled from the air).  Compress the air-fuel mixture.  And then ignite it with a spark.  That’s when it’s dangerous.  When it’s inside our engines.  Not in the gas tank.  For a piece of metal can puncture the bottom of a car—including the gas tank—without causing a fire.  Whereas it’s a little iffy with a Tesla.  If something punctures the batteries covering the bottom of the car there’s a good chance there may be a fire.  While if you puncture a gas tank you may just run out of gas.

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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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