Electric Power for Cars and Trucks -
Convenient, Safe, Efficient, and Clean for the Environment
What We Need Now
Pollution from vehicle motors is one of the main causes of global warming--and no longer needs to be accepted. What are the alternatives?
Electric motors create almost no pollution and can power vehicles now. Some electric vehicles are now available, but only hybrids of gas and electricity have gotten the type of mileage that we expect. However, new technology has changed the situation. Electricity can now be generated in ways that will provide good mileage between charges:
Zinc-Air Fuel Cells - One of the best fuels for generating electricity is zinc, in the form of zinc-air fuel cells. Zinc-air fuel cells should be able to provide 300-400 miles per recharge and should be inexpensive when they become available. They require no special conditions, such as high pressure or extreme cold, for storage of the fuel. The fuel cells may be recharged with portable rechargers that can use household electricity.
Photovoltaic (Solar) Cells - Solar cells built into a car's roof, hood, and trunk can be used to power an electrolyser to recharge zinc-air fuel cell cartridges. The recharged cartridges can replace the spent fuel cells when recharging is necessary. Thin film photovoltaic laminates on vehicles can also supplement the power for other types of systems, such as hybrid vehicles or electric vehicles using batteries.
Zinc-Air Batteries - Zinc-air batteries are currently available for recharging cell phones and other purposes, but are not commercially available yet for motor vehicles. Zinc-air batteries also make electric power for vehicles practical since they can achieve over 300 miles on a charge.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells - Hydrogen fuel cells for motor vehicles have been developed and may be available in standard vehicles soon. The problem with this power source is that it requires a fuel, such as natural gas, to power it. Natural gas, in turn, requires storage under very high pressure and does not have a fully developed national system of distribution for refueling autos. DaimlerChrysler Necar may be the first fuel cell powered car available in the United States and is expected in 2004 or later.
Hybrid Gas-Electric Motor Vehicles - Toyota (Prius) and Honda (Insight) are among hybrid cars currently available nationally. The autos provide very good gas mileage and emit much less pollution than conventional cars.
Electric Motor Vehicles - Electric vehicles using lead-acid batteries are also available now, but they typically get less than 100 miles per charge. They provide an excellent choice for shorter trips, the most frequent use of cars. Cities could rent them for travel within downtown areas. The vehicles could be offered at free parking lots just outside of the downtown area, as well as in the heart of downtown. Free exclusive parking, along with charging stations, could be made available for them throughout the downtown area, to promote their use. Such vehicles could also be offered for rent at mass transit stations. Computers technology could be used to allow a single registration for repeated uses.
Examples of electric motor vehicles currently available include Solectria, Corbin Sparrow, Twike, and Toyota RAV4 EV. The Twike provides an unconventional alternative that can be pedaled to reduce fuel use.
Several electric motor vehicles are expected to be available soon, such as Commutercar Tango, Smart, and General Motors EV1.
Three-Wheeled Vehicles - Motorized, human powered, and hybrid three-wheeled vehicles offer convenient, safe, inexpensive, and appropriate transportation for trips within neighborhoods, even to get groceries. Some of these three-wheeled vehicles can carry one or two passengers and some are fully covered to protect you from the elements. Electric tricycles are normally licensed as motorcycles or motorscooters, not automobiles.
Neighborhood Electric Vehicles - Modified golf carts can now use public streets if they meet new federal standards, as well as local requirements. They are allowed to go up to 25 miles per hour, but the new federal standard "requires low-speed vehicles to be equipped with headlamps, stop lamps, turn signal lamps, taillamps, reflex reflectors, parking brakes, rearview mirrors, windshields, seat belts, and vehicle identification numbers." You may need to change your local laws to allow for the carts to use your neighborhood streets. An example of a neighborhood electric vehicle is the GEM.
Three-Wheeled Cycles - Another option is human power in the form of three-wheeled cycles. A high quality tricycle may be able to meet a substantial amount of neighborhood transportation needs. For convenience, speed, and protection from the elements, try a covered trike, such as the Cab Bike ($4,600). The electric motor option for each of these trikes is recommended. Also recommended is a flywheel energy storage system instead of batteries. (Flywheel energy storage systems can store over five times more energy than a battery (by weight), can last 10 years or more, and create no pollution. Flywheel rotors made of carbon fiber and encased in a protective cover can be quite safe.)
Solar panels, built into the nose cone to support an electric motor, may expand the attractiveness of this mode of transportation even more. The solar power would be especially useful for improving the "human power" in hilly regions.
We are all in this together. We need to move as quickly as possible toward non-polluting transportation. Some recommended next steps include:
1. For regular transportation, consider purchasing one of the least polluting vehicles next time, such as the Toyota Prius hybrid gas-electric. When fuel cell powered cars become available, consider purchasing one of them.
2. For short trips, consider purchasing one of the small electric vehicles or even a recumbent bike or trike.
3. Check local laws to see if neighborhood electric vehicles are allowed. If they are not, try to get the city to allow them in your neighborhood.
4. Ask your city to build and publicize recharging stations for electric vehicles downtown. Include free daytime parking for electric vehicles and set aside exclusive spaces for them in premium areas. If feasible, supplement the power provided at recharging stations with solar power.
5. Ask your city to start renting electric vehicles to citizens for use downtown. Create a one-time registration process that automates the rental. For example, make it easier for someone to rent an electric vehicle just outside of downtown than to go in and try to find a short term parking space with their regular car.
6. Contact your city government, county officials, state legislators, and your representatives in Washington and ask them to support the development and deployment of alternatives to fossil fuels, such as those mentioned above.
7. Contact car and truck manufacturers and ask them to start making some of the new technologies available in their product lines. For example, building thin film solar laminates into cars or trucks can help improve gas mileage by powering air conditioners. (Replacing the lead-acid battery with a couple of metal hydride batteries would improve efficiency for the solar power.) Using solar film now can also prepare the way for providing electric power for vehicles in the future.
We need to work with our friends, relatives, or interest groups to provide a united front to policy makers and legislators. We need to convert as quickly as possible from using gasoline in our transportation to using proven alternatives. Removing gasoline power from our transportation is one of the most powerful actions we can take to simultaneously combat pollution and global warming.
Fuel Cell Power
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