Tag Archives: biodiesel

The Electric Car can Save America (or help a bit)


I’m always a bit peeved hearing people say the environmental movement is going to damage the economy and anything that weens ourselves off of oil is going to hurt our strongest American corporations. Logical argument, but a weak one. First of all, our oil companies are posting record profits while American citizens are amidst a real depression. The money that is going to oil corporations is what used to be spent on goods and services. This lack of consumption coupled with rising costs of goods due to high transportation costs slows the economy and causes recessions. Since there are no alternatives, demand is inelastic, meaning people will pay just about anything to be able to fill up their vehicles. Our fossil fuel addiction has given oil companies and the middle eastern cartels the ability to treat us like fiends.

But when big oil starts spreading the myth that they are somehow god’s gift to the American economy, it gets irritating. For example, John Hoffmeister, former president of Shell oil was on Glenn Beck the other day saying an economic disaster would ensue if we were to “get off oil”. Because, you know, oil is also used to make “artificial Christmas trees, plastic bottles, kitchen utensils.” He also warns, “Say goodbye to all kinds of things that people use and take for granted.” Hey, Hoffmeister, nobody asked you to stop supplying manufacturing companies with oil, we just meant that America deserves a choice to not pay $10 a gallon in the near future. So stop holding other American goods hostage that happen to involve oil and take that condescending smirk on your face.

But hope is on the horizon. If you have driven across the Midwest United States you probably passed a modern wind farm. Not only are they beautiful, magnificent structures, but one turbine alone is capable of powering 4000 homes. Wind turbines are being built and installed in America at a breakneck pace, and generating quite a buzz worldwide. Along with this technology, other clean, alternative electricity sources are developing and replacing our conventional, antiquated methods. The energy revolution will create plenty of jobs for Americans, provide cheap renewable energy, and enhance the grid to charge electric cars, which, actually wont require as much energy as you think.

Several alternative fuels have been developed, including ethanol, biodiesel, and hydrogen. However, all of these are simply new energy sources to be wasted in the inefficient combustion engines of our cars. Ethanol and hydrogen are endorsed by oil companies because they are fuels that they can sell, we can burn, and then create another vicious game of supply and demand that the consumer will inevitably lose. The potential of hydrogen seems to be all the rage now, but there are key issues that prevent it from every being a viable alternative. For instance, a hydrogen car is, on average right now, $1,000,000, so we have a way to go before the general population can afford them. They will not have nearly the range of a gasoline car, and if you think gas is expensive now, wait til you see how much hydrogen will be, if there is ever a hydrogen infrastructure. Biofuel and ethanol all need an established infrastructure as well.
Bush Hydrogen

Electric cars, on the other hand, can be charged like your cell phone, and can free us from being slaves to the oil industry. This will inevitably help the middle class, which is spending all its spare cash at the pump. This is money that could go towards goods and services, savings, retirement funds, and our children’s educations. The electric car will also bring several variations of jobs to America. Since big auto has not yet gotten in on the action, startups are popping up across the nation with an entrepreneurial spirit similar to the great American oil rush that got us in this situation. Lithium-Ion battery companies like Enerdel are providing more manufacturing jobs to America. EnerDel is expanding its Indianapolis plant to provide batteries to Th!nk, which is planning to produce 10,000 electric cars in 2009. Tesla Motors now plans to assemble its 2010 Model S (formerly the Tesla Whitestar), in Northern California (because Ahnold said so), creating hundreds of well paying jobs. Several more startups based in the states will either build their own electric cars or retrofit existing vehicles in hopes of attaining a spot in the rapidly crowding, clean transportation movement.

What is important to know is that people and businesses always adapt. Technological innovation will always be beneficial to mankind, and with our entrepreneurial spirit, new powerful companies will rise. Unfortunately, established corporations become obsolete if they do not react and adapt to change. Big oil’s reaction is suppression, petition, promises of clean alternatives 15 years from now every 15 years, and now they’re going on talk shows telling us we cannot survive without them. They need a better strategy, or else we will run out of oil, and then we won’t have artificial Christmas trees.

The West Philly Hybrid X Team

It’s not often that I am truly inspired by something. I’m just not a sappy guy. But a group of teenagers from Western Philadelphia High School definitely moved me. What started as a regular inner city high school shop class has become a world renown hybrid automotive team that is respected by the biggest car companies in the world.

The program officially started in 1997. Their first project was converting an old Jeep Wrangler to electric power. By 2002 the team won the electric vehicle division of the Tour de Sol with their Electric Saturn SL2. They simply applied available technology to create a 130 mile range ev that can fully charge in 8 hours. Although the old Saturn had made them champions, it was powered by a 36 hp motor, leaving much to be desired in terms of performance. So the team started plans for a hybrid hot rod that eventually looked like this:

West Philly Hybrid X

They created the world’s first hybrid supercar, the K1 Attack. The team used a VW turbo diesel (150hp) to power the rear wheels, and an AC Propulsions electric motor (200hp) to power the front wheels. This allows the super hybrid to attain an impressive fuel economy of over 50mpg and a zero to sixty acceleration of under 4 seconds. The K1 Attack won the 2005 and 2006 Tour de Sol overall prize, but was entered as a biodiesel car only.

In May of 2008, the team was chosen by Ford Motor Company to participate in a competition to “design a revolutionary global vehicle for today that shares the Model T’s attributes”. Along with this invitation came a $75,000 dollar grant to go with numerous donations they have received since they gained international recognition with the K1 Attack. If they can create a hybrid supercar with $15,000, imagine what these kids can do with that kind of money. They are also entered in the Automotive X Prize, which is an amazing competition in search of the 100mpg car. The Hybrid X Team will enter their EVX, which is still early in development, but is based around a Toyota Corolla chassis. The entry will likely be a typical hybrid that goes up to 40 mph on electric, then is powered by a two cylinder diesel engine for any speed above. Popular Mechanics has a good article on the top 10 teams vying for the Automotive X Prize ($10 million by the way). You can also visit the Hybrid X Team’s fancy new site for more information on this spectacular program.

And here’s a cool video: