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Jan. 22, 2011

Electric Cars Rising

by Carl Flatow

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On January 12 Reuters reported that Toyota is making lithium ion batteries for it’s cars in its own production lines as well as in cooperation with Panasonic. A day later, Bloomberg News reported that Toyota will be selling hydrogen fuel cell cars no later than 2015 in the US and abroad. The hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is just an instance of an electric car. Toyota is also a partner with Tesla Motors, who have been selling the all-electric Roadster for years, and have the Model S sedan in development.

Clearly the electric car is in ascendancy. While virtually all of us are still driving internal combustion engine powered cars we are witnessing the game changing. (I don’t consider the Prius an electric car. Its internal combustion drive engine is integral to the propulsion of the vehicle and it doesn’t share the economies of an electric car, still having a cooling system, a transmission, and exhaust system and needing oil changes and spark-plugs, etc.)

The question is not if, but when the electric car will eclipse the internal combustion engine powered vehicle. One important follow on question is how will we generate that electricity.

I suspect that there will be a rather long arc while the internal combustion engine phases out, but the commencement, in the eleventh hour of 2010, of sales of the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt, will, in my opinion represent the waving of the starting flag in that race.

I am hopeful that we will see the use of ethanol as a replacement fuel for gasoline as a way of accelerating the decline of fossil fuels as automobile energy source. Although it is impossible to separate the politics from the science and the economics, I am convinced that ethanol could play a constructive and ecologically positive role in that process.

About Carl Flatow

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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