I have been hammered upon recently by many people regarding my refusal to switch to an electric or hybrid vehicle (EV/HEV). While I am not against the idea, my contention is that a hybrid is a much better alternative in terms of both practicality and overall cost efficiency as things currently stand. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen a reasonably priced hybrid truck, and I need a truck for the farm.

I would like to refer you to a most interesting article: http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/overview-of-early-electric-cars.html

EV’s are NOT new.

Even more interesting, things such as fast charging batteries, load balancing, regenerative braking, charging stations, in-wheel motors – none of these are remotely new. They are merely resurrected and polished versions of ideas made real around 1900.

What killed the early EV off is the same thing that precludes it taking hold today. This is the range of an ICE (internal combustion engine). Range was especially important as the road system was expanding, and with bad dirt roads, less weight was preferred. The ICE won out over the EV in 1912, as the Ford Model T took 90% of the vehicle market at 1/3 of the price of the early EV. Do those numbers sound familiar?

The electric truck fared a little better: http://www.notechmagazine.com/2010/05/overview-of-early-electric-trucks-1907-catalog.html

The issue here in America was distance, as we had an entire continent to cross and cities were relatively far apart. This made the ET (electric truck) strictly something for city and suburban use, and today there is no change in that. It just makes no sense to switch to an ET fleet unless there are charging stations and an incentive to buy a more expensive truck. Nonetheless, the ET lasted another decade or so, when the ICE trucks just became too cheap and their longer range and associated flexibility too much to ignore.

The problem today is that battery technology has simply not progressed very much from the year 1900. Even with better batteries, the Tesla Model S proclaims 210 mile range – for $68,000. That is twice the range of the early EV’s at a much higher cost – it doesn’t excite me. The Chevy volt gets 53 miles of range and costs $33,000 – again, holds no interest for me to switch. The Nissan Leaf range is 100 miles at a sticker price of $30,000. So here we are a century later and we are still at around 100 miles for the average range of these cars.

It is 90 miles to my farm, and I can’t haul anything of consequence to the farm because there is no such thing as an electric pickup truck. Hooking my trailer to an EV halves the range or more – so there is no point to this type of vehicle except to commute to work or go to the grocery store.

Steam was the predominant power plant before the advent of the Model T. Henry Ford succeeded by innovative manufacturing methods to unseat every steam and electric car manufacturer in the industry strictly on price. Ford made personal vehicles for travel affordable to the masses, and we have stuck with ICE since, simply due to their flexibility and cost. Now that most of the world carries parts, has laws regarding ICE vehicles and has mechanics attuned to the ICE, change will be much harder to any other concept.

Here is an article of interest, by Jay Leno:  http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/a6228/jay-leno-and-his-doble-steam-cars/

The Doble engine above was designed for kerosene. But steam has fuel flexibility – the boiler doesn’t care what you burn to make the steam. This is possibly why we may yet return to the steam engine as we go down the back slope of petroleum production. Steam does not require a transmission as an ICE does due to the massive torque available. Steam may be a very good candidate to take over from the 18-wheel diesel fleet due to this torque factor. It will certainly be a factor for farm equipment, where speed is not needed, but torque is, and where vehicle weight is preferred rather than frowned upon.

This site is very interesting – I would urge you to explore the steam articles, as most are from the Steam Age:  http://www.douglas-self.com/MUSEUM/museum.htm

As we have many more options for materials today than we had in the 1800’s, vehicle weight can likely be lowered drastically, much improving steam vehicle performance. Yesterday’s steam engines were open loop – the steam allowed to escape. By using closed loop systems with liquids other than water, efficiencies can be increased and range expanded. These systems have been tested for years and they work very well – but there is no driver for commercialization. I think that as petroleum prices rise in the future, and petroleum fuel availability gets more complicated, steam power may provide the fuel flexibility needed to allow us to move ahead even without petroleum.

Today, EV’s are just not much better than they were in 1900. Part of that is federal regulations that require so much safety gear and weight for crash resistance and survival. But that is where we are, and the EV is just not ready to work on the farm or as a truck or even to do much more than commute short distances at much higher price points. And in most places, there are NO charging stations – so you either make it back home or call your buddy.

Nobody is even looking at steam, which is a shame – it has a lot of promise just via updating the work from a hundred years ago with modern materials.

If they eventually make a hybrid truck, I will have a look. But for now, there are fewer options available for powering vehicles today than there were in 1900 – in spite of all the “tech” we have accumulated.

 

 


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