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Electric cars – an alternative to the combustion engine cars The history of the first electric car starts in the second half of the... How do electric cars work

Electric cars – an alternative to the combustion engine cars

The history of the first electric car starts in the second half of the 19th century.  That was the beginning of the electrical car, a beginning that seemed very promising, the electrical car being more easy to operate and more comfortable than their gasoline powered relatives. Until 1900 the electric powered cars held the land speed record. In 1899 the fastest car was the “The Never Satisfied”(La Jamais Contente), which was the first car that broke the land speed record of 65.792 mph(105.8 km/h).

Jamais Contente


After this impressive achievement for that time things started to go downhill for the electrical car industry.  Who killed the electric car – the continuous developments in internal combustion technology made people losing their interest in the electric cars. The new combustion engine cars had a greater range than the electric ones,  had  a considerable smaller refueling time and they were half of the price of an electric one.

Now days, due to high gasoline prices, the clear possibility of high peak oil and the growing concern for the environment, people started again to look for the advantages of electric cars.

How do electric cars work?

This is what we are trying to explain as simple as possible in this article.

An electrical car doesn’t have such a complex structure as a combustion engine car. For example a  4 strokes engine of a conventional car has more than 100 moving parts in comparison with a Tesla car, one of the most advanced electric cars today, that has only one moving part: the rotor. In this case the advantage is clear, as fewer moving parts mean fewer parts that can break.  Also a normal car needs oil, needs sparkplugs, needs filters and a lot more things that must be serviced at a given period of time, in comparison with an electric car that doesn’t need any of this things.

Tesla Roadster

The Tesla cars can provide a general idea of where we are right now in terms of electric car performance . Tesla Roadster is one of the fastest electric car out there. It’s not fast comparing with other electric cars, it’s fast comparing with ones of the best combustion cars out there (3,7 sec to 60 MPH).

An electric car is a combination between an electric motor, a controller and a battery.

To be able to build a high performance electrical car, one of the most important things are the batteries. The batteries are heavy, expensive and they offer a limited power supply.

There are 4 main types of
that are used for electrical cars:

– Lead–acid

– Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH)

– Zebra (molten salt battery or liquid sodium battery)

– Lithium ion

Lead acid
ones are relatively cheap, have a relatively high charging and discharging cycle, use lead that is an available product on the market and that can be recycled afterwards. The main disadvantages for this type of battery is the fact that  it has a low energy density so therefore a big volume and weight, its power is not the same during the discharge process,  the power is affected by low temperatures , a full charge cycle takes a lot of time comparing with the other types of batteries.

Nickel Metal Hydride
batteries have more charging/discharging cycles than the lead-acid ones, can be charged faster and does not need servicing.  The main disadvantage is that this type of batteries is very expensive and the fact that they are not very environmental friendly.

Zebra (molten salt battery or liquid sodium battery) this type of battery is also referred sometimes as “hot salt”  because of the chemicals involved in its construction.  The main advantages for this type are that they have high energy density >110Wh/kg , the fact that they can charge pretty fast ( approximately  7 h to fully charge in normal mode and in 40 minutes they can reach 50% charge in fast charge mode),  performance is completely independent on the outside temperatures  and they are nontoxic. The disadvantages are the fact that they are expensive and heavy compared with their NiMH and Li-ion relatives.

Lithium ion
batteries are widely known for their use for consumer electronics. Lately this type of battery is the most used in powering electric vehicles because of their  high energy density, the self-discharge rate is lower than that of other rechargeable cells such as NiMH, they need very low maintenance and there  are several types of lithium ion cell available on the market.  The main disadvantages for this type is their cost which is also influenced on the fact that they need protection from being discharged or charged to much. A lot of work is being done for this type of batteries in the lab so it is supposed that soon enough, cheaper and more reliable models will see the daylight.

The controller (chopper) is the middle man between the batteries and the motor. If the throttle pedal is pushed to the limit the controller sends to the motor all available power from the batteries, if the pedal is not pushed at all the controller does not transmit  any power to the motor, so the car will stand still. the controller can transmit to the motor a power between 0-96 V.

There are two types of electric motors that can be used on a electric car: the ones that run on alternative current (AC) and the ones that run on direct current (DC).

Alternative current (AC)  powered motors are widely spread in our industry so it is easier to find one that could be fitted on an electric car. Also the efficiency  is generally higher , giving more range for same batteries, cooling for this type of motors is also less difficult. The AC motors have another advantage as they have a built in system that acts like a generator during breaking, meaning that every time you brake power is delivered back to your batteries.

Direct current (DC)  motors are often used for building electric cars as  the controllers that they use are usually cheaper and easier to construct then the ones for AC.  A DC motor is usually cheaper than his AC rival of similar power and torque.

The continuing developments in the electrical engines industry make it very difficult to differentiate them in terms of which one is better, both types of engines being used for electrical vehicles.

The time for electrical cars is here. The fact that the oil prices are rising and the continue development of the electric car industry makes it all possible. The advantages of electric cars will be bigger and bigger as a lot of research has been done and it is done even as we speak.

Even with current technology the use of an electric car is environmentally friendlier, the energy is used more efficiently, the performance and maintenance benefits speak for themselves. The costs calculated for the first 5 years of using an electric car are 50% less then when using a combustion engine car. The only disadvantage by  now is the price that is significantly higher due to the price of the batteries used and the fact that the electric car charging stations cannot be found everywhere.  All of this is starting to change.

Recent developments in the solar panels industry will make even easier the change from combustion to electric as the prices for “well-to-wheels”  will decrease in the long run for the electric cars.

So if you are thinking about changing your average combustion engine car for a electric one, you shouldn’t think very hard – Do it! If you have the financial possibility – Do it! Do it for you and for all of us!

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