Electric cars are far from new. They were driven as early as the 1830s and were manufactured through the late 1930s, but they were not very popular because of limited range and power. In the 1960s and 1970s, some small manufacturers emerged because of environmental concerns, but the first modern electric car emerged in 1996, produced by the General Motors Corporation. It started a new revolution of cars, ones that would be more environment friendly and more efficient than gasoline powered cars.
An electric car is a car that runs on electric batteries. The source of power from the electric car usually comes from rechargeable batteries (pure electric cars), fuel cells (fuel cell cars), or a combination of gasoline and rechargeable batteries (hybrid cars).
Pure Electric Cars
Pure electric cars are cars that run only on electric batteries. They are powered by one or more electric motors instead of a gasoline engine. The motor gets its power from a controller, and the controller gets its power from rechargable batteries.
Some other differences between gasoline powered cars and electric cars include no transmission, no gas tank, no tailpipe, a charger, and a volt guage to replace the gas gauge.
There are four main advantages of electric cars:
(1) No exhaust is produced, so widespread use could reduce air pollution.
(2) They use batteries, so they don’t use petroleum resources.
(3) They are quiet.
(4) The batteries can be charged while at home or work.
Unfortunately, pure electric cars are impractical because they can’t go more than 100 miles before needing to be charged, even less when in extreme weather like heat or cold when one would need heat or air conditioning. Also, extras like a radio would bring down the battery faster. Charging stations are needed to recharge the batteries and could take as long as three hours to get a full charge. Unfortunately, charging stations are not as popular as gas stations, so long trips in an electric car aren't possible.
Fuel Cell Cars
A fuel cell is a device that generates electricity by converting hydrogen and oxygen into water. A battery generates electricity by converting the chemicals stored inside into electricity, so in fuel cell cars it eliminates the need for batteries. Unlike batteries, fuel cells do not run down or require recharging. As long as the chemicals are present, the fuel cell runs.
There are many different types of fuels used for fuel cells, with hydrogen being the most common type. Other fuels used include methane and methanol.
Some benefits include the reduction of pollution and they can go longer between refueling. When hydrogen is used in fuel cells, there are zero emissions, and with other fuels there would be nearly zero emissions. Either fuel that they use can go for long periods of time without being refueled.
The downside of fuel cells is that they are expensive, so they are not as popular as other cars. Hydrogen is also difficult to store and distribute.
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A hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) is a car that uses an electric motor and a gasoline engine. The engine charges the battery and extends the range and provides extra power.
Some other components of a hybrid car include a fuel tank, a generator, batteries and a transmission. The fuel tank is the energy storage site for the gasoline engine. It holds a lot more energy than batteries. The generator produces electric power. The batteries are the energy storage devices for the motor. The motor can put energy into the batteries as well as take energy away from them. The transmission does the same thing for an electric car as it does for a conventional car; it puts the car in gear.
An advantage of a hybrid car is the extra motor and battery. The engine has enough power to keep the car moving, but the extra motor and battery gives it power when it needs to go up a steep hill or when it is in a hurry. The car can turn off the engine if the car doesn't need it. The car also uses low resistance tires and lightweight materials to increase mileage.
The only disadvantages are that they don't accelerate as fast and that they are more likely to be totaled in a car accident because of the lightweight materials.