They arrived! Electric cars are increasingly common on the world’s roads. In China alone it is estimated that more than 1.5 million electric cars in circulation. Formula E, which is the auto racing category with cars powered exclusively by electric power, is gaining ground. But thinking ahead, are electric cars the answer to all our problems? Is there any other possibility in research?
A bit of history
Although we are witnessing the electric car revolution, the history of electric cars goes back to the 19th century. The first car that emerged was electric in 1832, even before the combustion cars appeared as we know today. In fact, the first vehicle to go over 100 km / h was a Belgian, electric model known as “La never Contente” (Never Satisfied) in 1899.
La jamais content
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, electric cars were as common as combustion cars. However, in a society where only 3% of households had electricity, the electric car was three to ten times more expensive than the combustion car. While Ford’s T model was two hundred and sixty dollars, an electric car cost between $ 1,000 and $ 3,000.
In 1901, oil was discovered in Texas. Over time this discovery made the combustion engine industry even more viable. Gas stations sprang up on roads around the country, even inland, where electricity had not yet reached.
Types of Electric Car
There are now three types of electric cars, hybrids, plug in hybrids and electric ones themselves.
Hybrid cars are powered by both gasoline and electricity. These cars, such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic, use electricity to support the combustion engine and are primarily responsible for starting up. The whole process is controlled by an internal computer that guarantees the best performance for each option. The battery in this case is recharged by the car’s own braking system, which is known as “regenerative braking”. The engine helps to slow down by converting some of the energy that would be lost as heat into electricity.
Plug-in hybrid cars like the Ford Fusion, Mercedes C350 and others can recharge the battery externally at the power outlet, and with the regenerative brake. In this type of car the battery has greater autonomy, allowing the car to travel up to 50 km per recharge. The combustion engine in this case kicks in when high torque or power demand is required, or when the battery runs out.
In fact, electric cars, such as Tesla, Renault Zoe, among others, are vehicles without a combustion engine. These cars have high capacity batteries, do not pollute the environment like gasoline vehicles and require less maintenance than conventional cars because they have far fewer moving parts. Generally recharging these batteries when connected at home to a 110V network, for example, takes about eight hours to complete the charge. The fastest charging option on the market today is the ultra fast chargers that recharge enough to 150km in thirty minutes. The range declared by electric car manufacturers is between 250km per recharge up to 450 km, depending on the car.
Pros and Cons
The advantages of electric cars are several. The direct emission of pollutant gases into the atmosphere is zero, it is quieter, produces greater torque to start moving the car. Electric vehicles tend to have more internal space as the battery is placed under the floor of the car. This even lowers the car’s center of mass, making it harder for the car to tip over.
The advantages of electric cars are several. The direct emission of pollutant gases into the atmosphere is zero, it is quieter, produces greater torque to start moving the car. Electric vehicles tend to have more internal space as the battery is placed under the floor of the car. This even lowers the car’s center of mass, making it harder for the car to roll over.
The cost of electricity today is much lower compared to fuel, that is, on average, an electric car needs twelve reais for a recharge that gives a range of 120 km. The same 120 km, made by a car with a range of 15 Km / L of gasoline, would spend on average thirty two reais (considering four Brazilian reais per liter).
Electric cars have no nozzle, connecting rod, radiator, water pump, exhaust, catalytic converter, no oil change, and so many parts, making maintenance less frequent and cheaper.
Although there are many advantages, some points should be brought to discussion when it comes to electric cars.
For example, the Noronha Carbon Zero project is a project that suggests that by 2030 there will be no more combustion-powered vehicles on the island of Fernando de Noronha. All vehicles will be
electric, ie zero emission. This is a proposal that is being made in partnership with Renault do Brasil with the Zoe electric cars and the Pernambuco government. But talking about the advantages and disadvantages of electric cars goes beyond a cursory reading of reports like this. By increasing the demand for electric cars for the island, the need for electricity increases. Today, most of the energy in the area comes from thermoelectric plants that use more than four hundred and fifty thousand liters of diesel per month.
The Renault Zoe, the cheapest electric car advertised in Brazil, is costing one hundred and fifty thousand reais, which is a limiting point for the popularization of the vehicle. In addition, the battery of an electric vehicle is costly, and has an estimated lifetime of 5 to 10 years. Although there are already ways to recycle almost 100% of its components, with the exponential growth in electric car sales, investments and awareness should be made so that batteries do not end up harming nature in landfills.
Most of the batteries used in cars, in addition to laptops and batteries in general, are lithium based with a mixture of cobalt, nickel, manganese among other components. The extraction of lithium, dubbed the new “gasoline” by Goldman Sachs bank, is something that should also be taken into account. The largest reserves are far from urban centers, in desolate places such as the Atacama Desert in Chile, and the Salar do uyuni in Bolivia. Although no one doubts that it is necessary to end the dependence on oil, further studies are needed today to know the extent of the impact of lithium extraction on a local and global scale.
Finally, as mentioned in the case of Fernando de Noronha, the demand for electricity resulting from the possible popularization of electric vehicles is high. The world’s electricity matrix is still mostly from non-renewable sources and highly polluting, as shown in the figure below.
World and Brazil electrical matrix in 2016
In this case Brazil scored, because most of its energy production is based on renewable sources.
And what is the conclusion?
Electric powered cars are already present in many parts of the world. Lithium used in batteries has become a powerful commodity, but the popularization of this type of vehicle is still something for the future. The low autonomy, high charging time and price, as well as the energy problem are factors that still weigh in the popularization of the electric car.
There is today, one more bet to replace combustion cars, are hydrogen vehicles, such as the Toyota Mirai sold in Japan, but this is subject for a next post.