Tesla and the future of electrical vehicles

-A A +A
By The Staff

All-Electric Vehicles (EVs) have jumped into the spotlight lately and on the evening of June 11, Los Alamos will be treated to a showing of the Tesla Roadster, the most publicized EV.  

Robert Efroymson of Albuquerque, who will be driving his Tesla Roadster (the first one delivered to a New Mexico buyer), will be speaking about his Tesla and the future of electric vehicles.

In the automotive world, the early part of this century is remarkably reminiscent of the early 1900s. Both times spawned a flurry of start-up auto companies and shade tree tinkerers.  

In the 1900s, electric cars were the most reliable and gas cars the most cantankerous. But the gas car won out by 1914 when Henry Ford started churning out inexpensive Model Ts that ran on cheap and widely available gasoline.

A century later the gas car is dominant but faltering in the face of the end of cheap oil, the ethics of using up irreplaceable oil, and the specter of climate change that comes from burning carbon fuels.

How do electric cars better meet these challenges? Internal combustion engine (ICE) cars are notoriously inefficient; only about 25 percent of the energy reaches the transmission.  

By comparison, an electric motor is over 90 percent efficient. That is why the 2000 Toyota RAV4 gas model had an EPA rating of 23 mpg while the all-electric model was rated at 104 mpg (energy equivalent).

Does switching to dirty coal-generated electricity reduce greenhouse gas emissions? The EPA rates that a 2000 Toyota RAV4 at 8.0 tons of CO2 (ICE) versus 4.2 tons (EV), or almost 50 percent less.  

The saving is determined by the fact that coal provides only 56 percent of US electricity.  

In Los Alamos, about a third of our electricity comes from hydro. Of course, as we shift to solar and other non-carbon energy sources here, our electricity emissions will drop toward zero.

Battery technology, or electricity storage, remains the primary limiting factor to full adoption of EVs.  Batteries are heavy, bulky, and expensive (Tesla’s batteries cost about $36,000).  

They store much less energy per unit volume than gasoline.  They take hours to refill.

EEStor, a privately held Texas company, is working on an ultracapacitor-based Electrical Energy Storage Unit (EESU) that offers several times the energy storage at a fraction of the size and weight of modern day lithium ion batteries.  

It could be charged millions of times in as little as five minutes, and run about 200 miles on a charge.

Maybe 2014 will see the game-changing emergence of EVs based on such a EESU, just as the Model T changed the game to gas cars a century ago.

Mr. Efoymson will be speaking about the Tesla and the future of electric vehicles at the monthly Los Alamos Sustainable Energy (LASE) meeting at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) on Orange Street from 6:30 – 8 p.m. Thursday, June 11.  

The public is invited.