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Earth Sense: Clean, silent electric cars are the future

POSTED: January 11, 2014 11:31 p.m.

Soon it will seem like a bad dream that cars used to contaminate the air with harmful emissions, making people sick and causing developmental problems in children.

Removing lead from the fuel was a significant step in the 1980s. But waste heat generated from cars worldwide (more than 1,000 million, according to the Huffington Post) remains a problem, though, and it’s now sure that this is altering our climate.

Imagine a vehicle that has zero emissions, no fuel to burn and makes no noise except for the rolling sound of its tires. It’s here, and its numbers are growing: the full electric car.

Unlike hybrids, electric vehicles run entirely on battery power. This is where there are still limitations, because current battery technology only allows for about 100 miles before several hours of recharging are needed. But that will improve rapidly as electric cars become more widespread.

Testers and consumers report that they are fun to drive. If you’ve ever driven a golf cart, you’ve probably enjoyed how it takes off from standing still. It’s because an electric motor has the same torque (commonly called the “get-up-and-go”) at all rpm. A traditional fuel-burning engine needs to come up to speed before it develops full power. It converts up-and-down piston motion into rotation, which is inefficient to begin with.

Because of its constant torque, an electric vehicle needs no transmission, no gears to shift. Youtube shows a video of a technician’s wife trying out a 1960s Volkswagen Beetle which he converted to electric. “It’s a lot of fun sneaking up on people, because it’s completely silent,” she reported.

Ironically, the old Beetle used to be known for its noise and exhaust fumes, which ultimately removed it from the market. Even Mexico City, once swarming with green-and-white VW taxis that looked like leftovers from Cold War Germany, removed the Beetle from its approved list of cabs. Now, it’s one of the easiest to convert to a zero-emissions car, and I see such a project in my own future.

San Jose State University police use electric motorcycles for patrolling, producing no pollution and “making the same noise as a bicycle,” as one officer commented. The research race is on for more efficient batteries to replace the bulky, heavy power packs that currently propel the electric vehicles.

Clearly, the future belongs to the electric motor that’s powerful, clean and silent.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.


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