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Reality VS Pie in the sky

  1. Mar 3, 2009 #1
    Hello all.
    Forgive me, this has been piling up inside me for-- years. I tried a few other forums and no one can do anything but agree with me and express their equal ignorance. After reading quite a few post here, I think I may have found a group with the knowledge to answer my question. Forgive the length, the rant mentality and of course, my lack of knowledge. But, like they say, the only stuoid question is the one un-asked so-- here it is.

    Today, I watched T Boone Pickens going on and on about wind power and natural gas. I have read about plug in's, Hybrids and such, Hydrogen cell, natural gas, Bio fuels, wind power and solar power.
    Let's keep it simple. I will assume we all know the basic concepts, benefits and drawbacks of each form of providing usable power. I have read, more than once and heard that if we were to convert every square inch of available space to solar and/or wind power, we still couldn't meet more than 20% of this countrys energy needs.
    We talk about electric vehicles. Plug ins. We talk about Hybrids. Both have, currently, severe drawbacks. The plug ins drawback is-- the plug. The Hybrid (aside from the manufacturing process and accompanying pollution) is that it runs on the gas motor whenever you turn on the heater, run on the expressway or, (for now) turn on the air conditioner.
    At the risk of throwing away a chance to be wealthy for my idea-- which I cannot believe is "my" idea alone-- why can't we make an electric car that runs on batteries, with a kerosene furnace for heat (the VW 412 had it in the early 70's. it ran off gasoline from the gas tank) and a RV camper refrigerator style air conditioner?
    But, I'm not done.
    California already has a problem with brown outs when everyone kicks on the home air conditioners. Whats going to happen when everyone gets home from work and plugs in ther Chevy Volt at 5PM?
    How far can you go in a Chevy Volt? What if you want to take a 600 mile trip? What do you do, stop and plug it in for 4 hours?
    Imagine this: Your driving along on the expressway, the volt meter shows you are getting low. Up ahead, you see a gas station. You exit the expressway, pull into the gas station and, instead of pulling up to the gas pump, you pull up to a long rack that stands next to a wind generator and topped off with a solar panel.
    An attendant comes out. You throw a positive lock switch. Your electric car is now only powerd by a low voltage battery that keeps the computer, radio memory and instrument cluster powered up.
    You reach down and pull a lever-- just like the lever you pull to release your trunk or hood. The attendant unplugs the battery pack, flips the latches holding the battery pack in place and attaches a hook to the pack strap. Using an electric hoist, he lifts out the battery pack, swings it over to an open slot in the rack, sides it onto the rack rollers and shoves it back with a clunk. A green light next to that slot starts flashing green. The connection is made, the battery pack is getting re-charged.Then he takes that hook, walks over to another slot in the rack, attaches the hook to a battery pack with a solid green light, pulls out a fully charged pack, sits it in your car, latches the battery pack tightly in place, reconnects the plugs and slams your hood shut. He then walks to your window, takes your $20.00 credit card or cash. You flip that positive lock switch in your car, your instrument cluster lights up and tells you you are good to go and you're off! As technology improves, you might be able to go 200 or 300 miles before you need to get another pack.
    Got a big SUV or high performance car? Well, you might need to buy two or three battery packs. That's the price you pay for your big SUV or hot rod car! For most of us, in a sub compact size car, like a Corolla, Focus or Civic, one pack is enough-- thank you very much! When you do get home, you plug in your electric car to a solar powered charging station or the house current, just to "top off the tank" so to speak.
    The one thing that needs to change is-- all manufacturers will need to standardize the battery pack and the receptacle. They do it now for fuel tank fill necks, it wouldn't be hard at all.
    Think of it along the lines of a barbecue propane tank exhange or a welding torch tank exhange-- no different.
    New technology? I'm all for it. But, before we go jumping into new technology with no certain outcome, why don't we use what we know works? This would work. Battery packs avialable at gas stations. Recharged with solar cells or wind turbines-- or, right off the grid. Got an old gas powered car? Buy gas. Got an electric car? Exhange a battery pack!
    A plain old, current technology battery pack and one, two or four current technology electric motors could be installed in an existing body vehicle, take you at least 100 miles and be-- of all things-- PRACTICAL!! And, it wouldn't cost $40K or require years and millions of dollars worth of R & D.
    If Ford comes out with a new electric motor that has more power and better range, whats the difference between that and trading in your old OHV gas guzzler V8 for a new 4 cylinder DOHC?
    If new battery packs come out that last longer with more power, whats the difference between that and buying premium gas or, (for those of you that remember) the switch over from leaded to unleaded fuel? Until the old style batterys have worn out and are no longer available, you get a choice. heck, they could discount them for us cheapskates that would pay $10.00 to go 100 miles rather than $20.00-$25.00 to go 250 miles with the new type battery pack.

    What's stopping this from happening? Technology? No-- we have it. Cost? The gas station owners will see the writing on the wall and invest in the "pack rack" and charging system. Just like they invested in gas pumps and storage tanks out in front of their blacksmith shops in the early 1900's.

    I have looked, I have asked. No one seems to be able to tell me why this isn't feasable and do-able in a very short time. Maybe some one here can.
    That's why I'm posting this-- I gotta know! Am I a visionary or am I just simple minded?
    Thanks for letting me rant. I just had to do it.

  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 3, 2009 #2


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    The RV style fridge for A/C is not practical considering it takes hours for it to begin cooling. For heat, yeah, I guess kerosene is somewhat practical. We've done it before. I don't see the 'plug' being that big of an issue. But we simply don't have the amount of power in the residential networks to begin with.
    The battery swap idea has a few limitations. The welding tank exchange works on a very limited segment of the population. Generally, both the individuals who handle these tanks at the welding supply shop as well as the individuals who use them generally know how to take care of them. But the general driving population wouldn't have a clue as to how to take care of a battery. Who owns the battery? Suppose you get somewhere and for whatever reason your battery is supposedly fried. The 'gas' station will not accept it on trade. What are you going to do? Carry it with you and get a second opinion? Leave it there for them to simply swap back into the population of batteries? (crooked 'gas' station) Ignoring that argument, I would think that just to have an attendant man the battery rack would add significant cost to a fill. What about pileups in 'gas' stations? It's all self serve now so if there are enough pumps, no problem. But I don't see anyone stocking up on employees in anticipation of a busy night.
    I believe that if we are to utilize electricity for powering our vehicles hydrogen is the way. We can generate hydrogen in several ways using 'green' sources. Wind isn't blowing as strong today? That's ok, it will tomorrow. Don't we know enough about the weather now to know how much of a hydrogen stock to keep based on windless spells in certain windy parts of the country?
    Anyway, I don't claim to know all the answers, but the one thing I AM pretty sure of is that as time goes by our energy sources will become more varied. We may all more or less be driving the same type of car, but if it is based on electricity, the source for it will be more varied than it is now.
  4. Mar 3, 2009 #3
    The battery swap idea has a few limitations. The welding tank exchange works on a very limited segment of the population. Generally, both the individuals who handle these tanks at the welding supply shop as well as the individuals who use them generally know how to take care of them. But the general driving population wouldn't have a clue as to how to take care of a battery. Who owns the battery? Suppose you get somewhere and for whatever reason your battery is supposedly fried. The 'gas' station will not accept it on trade

    I thought of that too. If the battery is fried, it would be no different than getting a tank of bad gas. You would go back to the previous "gas station" for recourse. Probably with the same result.
    As far as your analogy of welding tanks-- what about gas grill tanks? 99.9% of those folks have no clue either. And, how much do current Prius and Honda Hybrid owners know about their battery packs? Being retired from Toyota, I can tell you, 99.9% of them think it's simply PFM.
    Who would own them? Maybe, initially, you would be tied to a particular brand. BP for instance. If you bought your battery-only powered electric car from-- say, GM. It came with a battery. It also comes with a home base solar powered re-charge kit you could use instead of the home plug in kit. For some, this would work just fine. Plug it in and drive short distances every few days. The elderly come to mind for this example. But, the average driver may opt for an agreement with Mobil or BP or Shell-- whomever, to use their products. A "point of sale" for these companies would be/could be, a "no hassle" warranty if something beyond the drivers control caused the pack to go bad. The companies would absorb that loss as a cost of business.
    That doesn't mean you could only stop at a BP station. There could be stations-- independant ones, that might carry a selection-- BP, Mobil, Shell ETC.
    If you go back to the early 70's and further, attendants pumped gas. When the switch came to self serve, you may-- or may not (be old enough to) recall the many people totally confused and essentially completely unable to do, what today is considered the simple act of filling a gas tank. Self check out at a grocery store. It took me awhile (I'm old) and it was frustrating at first but-- I mastered it!!
    I see an eventual self serve operation for battery pack exchanges. Automated voice and video guidance walks the driver through the process. Safe guards that ensure the driver attaches the pack to the hoist correctly, ensuring each step is followed so the driver doesn't forget to unlatch the pack and end up lifting the car off the ground. Eventually, robotic arms will replace hoist.

    Don't take this as argumentative on my part. Please. I am looking for opinions that counterpoint my "idea".

    Thanks for responding-- I await your (and everyone elses) reply!!
  5. Mar 3, 2009 #4
    Seeing as how I'm looking for answers to my questions-- here's another!
    The Chevy Volt will go 40 miles average on a fully charged battery before switching to a gas powered engine that runs a generator to power charge the batteries and power the electric motor(s). I asked a friend a few years back why we can't have a car that worked like a locomotive electromotive system. He said, it simply would not work. He is/was an engineer for Peaker Services. A company that remanufactures locomotives.
    Why stick to a hybrid? If the Volt can operate off a gas powered generator-- why bother with batteries?
    Why not a new technology turbo diesel that runs at a constant RPM driving a generator with a constant output to power 1, 2 or 4 motors (1 wheel drive, 2 wheel drive or --4 wheel drive). The uneeded electricity would be heat sinked out just like the locomotive does. If full power is needed, all the elctricity is used. With this system, electric power steering, heating and air conditioning would be integral within the system to say nothing of cruise control, traction control, ESC and ABS.
    The constant RPM engine would last forever like an irrigation pump and use less fuel than a regular diesel with fluctuatiing RPM.
    It could be used on any platform by either shrinking or extending the wheel base making it cost effective to manufacture-- just like may auto companies already do.
    On a larger scale, it would be perfect for semi trucks.

    It's driving me nuts!!
    I hope someone can show me where my logic is flawed or-- better yet, tell me I'm right!

    The premise is: KISS. Use what we know works-- start doing it now rather than wait for pie in the sky. GM and Chrysler could co-produce these basic, simple technology cars in two years. In 15 years, they could be the majority of vehicles going quietly down the road. Not 40 thousand dollar cars for Hollywood tree huggers to prove they're "Green", simple, basic sedans that median income people can by for under $25K without government subsidies.
  6. Mar 4, 2009 #5


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    I only skimmed this thread so far, and I agree with ASN's points about battery exchange. But especially in light of the new Smart Grid initiative, battery exchange for electric vehicles and hybrids may make sense, given improvements in the issues that ASN brought up.


    Recharging the transportation batteries of the nation probably doesn't make sense at 5PM, when other demands on the grid will still be high. So doubling the battery capacity over the number of vehicles may make energy sense ... not sure about economic sense in the short term...
  7. Mar 4, 2009 #6
    Unless there is a big breakthrough in battery technology and we build a lot more power stations and beef up the distribution system I can't see electric vehicles ever becoming popular. Charging will always be a slow process.
  8. Mar 4, 2009 #7


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    Sorry Wozerd, but it doesn't matter how many times you've heard that it is still complete nonsense. Actually if you take the solar energy alone falling on just one tenth of USA's land area it is more than ten times greater than the enitre worlds primary energy requirements! The problem is not that the energy is not there to begin with, the problems are with harnessing and storing it efficiently.
  9. Mar 4, 2009 #8
    But we seem to be able to capture only about 1% of the solar energy falling per unit area.

    It works out rough that you would need an area the size of Greater London to supply the UK 100% with electrical power.
  10. Mar 4, 2009 #9
    UART, Thanks for providing that info.
    So, apparently, it is NOT that the energy is not there, it's that we do not have the ability to harness it (and store it). You have corrected a misconception on my part. That gives me hope for the future.
    How much of this country's current needs can be met with solar and wind using current technology if we used every available bit of land to collect it?

    I assume that a solar panel the size of the average gas station canopy, coupled to a wind generator could slow charge (say-- within 12 hours) 50 current technology battery packs. Or, not?
    A back up system (in case there is no sun and no wind) off the grid could provide that same slow charge voltage and/or an emegency 240 or 480 volt quick charge system (which, unless the station manager screwed up, or there was a run on the packs due to a holiday travel or emergency evacuation situation, would be rare. About as rare as a gas station running out of gas).
  11. Mar 4, 2009 #10


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    You don't need to use every available bit of land. An area of about 100miles by 100miles square in the southern part of USA (say Texas) could theoretically provide all the electrical energy requirements of the whole of the USA. That's with solar panels of currently available efficiency. But that is still an enormous amount of area and (currently) the cost of doing it would be higher than building and operating conventional nuclear or coal fired power stations of the same capacity. And that's even if the energy storge problem were solved (which is isn't).
  12. Mar 4, 2009 #11
    I thought you might get a kick out of a little piece I wrote about 5 years ago on exactly your subject. I also attached another person's take on the subject.

    One of biggest impediments to the concept is the probably false assumption that the REAL solution - a magic battery - is just around the corner. I, for one, believe it is not. Same is true for most alternate energy initiatives. Solar is still costly and still inefficient and will never be particularly mobile. Hydrogen power has been a dream for about 100 years.

    People just seem to think that if you throw enough money at it 'it' will get solved.

    My battery-swapping idea is to build battery 'filling stations' underground at convenience stores, shopping malls, rest stops, etc. These will actually be unmanned machines. Once a vehicle is in place over the station, it will be coupled-possibly wireless- to the machine. An account will be accessed, the swap will be quick and automatic, and the vehicle will be underway with a 'new' battery. The machine will test the battery – mark it as a dud if it fails and but it in a ‘to-be-replaced’ bin, otherwise, it will be put on the charging rack and eventually be ready for another customer. The owner of the vehicle will never own a battery - I WILL (or someone with lots of money). This will be the start of The Standard Oil Company of the twenty-first century.

    Attached Files:

  13. Mar 4, 2009 #12


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    I think I'd go with the "or not" option on this one. Even a very efficient EV requires 10KW-hrs per 100km (could be somewhat more) so battery packs would need to be quite high capacity. You'd probably be looking at around 50 kW-hrs battery capacity to have a successful vehicle.

    If you covered an area af about 400m^2 (20m by 20m) with solar panels then you might charge about 5 or 6 such battery packs per day (less of course if it's cloudly or if you're operating at higher latitudes).

    Such a recharge station if built would be a large electricity consumer and I see no reason to want to constrain it to be off grid. What's you reason for this desire?
  14. Mar 7, 2009 #13
    "Such a recharge station if built would be a large electricity consumer and I see no reason to want to constrain it to be off grid. What's you reason for this desire?"

    The main reason is to keep the load off the grid. As I understand it now, the infrastructure cannot possibly handle more than a modicum of EV vehicles being charged. Especially if that load occurs in a short period of time (as when everyone gets home from work and plugs in their car).
    Secondly, to reduce the cost of business. Once past the initial start up costs (which could be amortised over a short span with a tax exemption), the operating cost would be greatly reduced.

    However, my initial question (and the answers here, which I appreciate), have inspired me to dig deeper into finding my own answers.
    It's grim. Reality is there currently is no battery/motor combo capable of taking a sub compact size vehicle anywhere near a 100 mile distance at expressway speeds. You can have distance but not speed. You can have speed, but not distance. Toyota and GM websites toute a 40 mile capability on battery power. The disclaimer is based on speed and driving habits AKA "pie in the sky".
    Reality is, a Gen II Prius, after driving a fairly long distance (100+ miles) on the expressway, ran out of gas. The driver reported an abrupt loss of power requiring pedal to the floor to maintain barely 40MPH. Once off the expressway and into a filling station, the driver filled the tank only to find the car wouldn't start. The ECM detected the main battery pack was so low it could damage the system if started. Towed in, the battery pack was charged and the system checked. No problems were found. The driver states he only drove about two miles on the battery alone.
    My friend ( An ASE and Toyota Master Tech) called and told me this on 03/05/09. It had happened that day. I had previously asked him how far can a Prius go and how fast on the battery alone. He told me he had never tried to find out. Although ancedotal, he (and I) believe that is more typically the reality of EV cars. Even removing the weight of the engine, generator, required substructure, exhaust system and fuel tank, the weight savings would not substantially increase the speed or distance of an EV vehicle.
    It would seem I have been duped by pie in the sky BS spooned out by Kool Aid drinkers and scammers (such as T Boone Pickens) promising clean, inexpensive and nearly limitless electric power based on theoretical technology with very little basis in reality.
    I wonder, Mr. Pickens, how much money you will reap from your hundreds or thousands of wind generators lined up along that "wind corridor" you talk about when we cannot store the energy and will still have to rely on a conventional power station as a back up. Will those power stations be owned by you also? And, will they be powered by NG that you supply so that if/when there is a natural disaster or lack of sufficient wind for an extended period, we are at your mercy for the cost of that NG? And, who will pay when a Cat IV tornado cuts a swathe through them one day? You? Or us?
  15. Mar 7, 2009 #14
    Frightening!! That two people (and I'm sure we're not the only two) could come up with the same concept and -- in some cases-- the same words/analogies!
    Seriously, you may want to consider therapy!:biggrin:
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