Do These Kids Have the Alternative Fuel Problem Solved?

Lucas Laborde and his homemade EV, based off a Bradley GT II kit car. Photo from www.gas2.org

Lucas Laborde and his homemade EV, based off a Bradley GT II kit car. Photo from www.gas2.org

The folks over at gas2.org recently did a nice piece on six teenagers who have built their very own alternative-fuel vehicles. The vehicles run on electricity, solar power, soybeans… you get the idea.

Not long ago I would have hailed these achievements as incredible feats sure to embarrass the world’s automakers.

Now I realize that’s just silly.

Sure, the kids referenced in the story are ambitious young people I applaud for their passion, talent, and forward thinking. But converting your old pickup into an EV really isn’t anything new.

I did a little research on the topic and found this Web site dedicated to posting pictures of EVs that people have built over the years. There’s even a page here that answers some commonly asked questions about converting a car into an EV.

So creating an electric car that can go 40 miles on a charge isn’t that big of a deal. Creating one with an extended range, a quick recharge, reliable batteries, and a reasonable price is another story. Some MIT students have come close, succeeding on all but the low price side of the equation.

Makes me have a little more appreciation for the technology behind the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt, assuming they make it to market as promised.

So will the kids of today ultimately solve the problem of alternative-fuel vehicles? They’re smart enough – just check out this guy, who at 18 has already converted two cars into EVs.

It’s kids like him who will solve the problem… just not while they’re kids. Let them experiment with EV technology, let them graduate from college, and wait for them to be hired by General Motors or Nissan. Once these brilliant kids are working for a company with the means to fund the research, I have no doubt they’ll be the ones who eventually break our oil habit.

We’ll just have to wait a little while longer.

I wouldn’t buy an electric vehicle that I couldn’t take on a cross-country road trip. Would you?

-tgriffith

2 Comments

  1. I agree with your comment on kids like him solving these problems when they grow up. Also, even though it’s an old concept you have to remember that kids hardly ever realize how old some ideas are, they often assume they thought of everything for the first time. Having said that it’s great that they’re taking in interest, and even if the people invlolved don’t take ity further they could well inspire others to give it a try.

    Although if I were their age I’d like to think I would design something like this: http://www.popsci.com/cars/article/2009-08/eight-wheeled-230-mph-electric-car-spawn-bus

  2. I commend your research and I feel compelled to provide you with further information. For one, electric cars have a very long history, just because it’s the rave right now to be environmentally conscious and talk about innovations concerning that topic and cars, doesn’t mean its new. As a matter of fact, in the late 1800s/early 1900s electricity and motors were more a typical power source before gasoline engines became compact, powerful, and cheap enough to kill electric transportation and horses. The major reason why gasoline engines are mainstream and won out is because of range – which seems to be your and probably most people’s main concern.

    What is actually surprising is that people don’t realize how much electric motors are an integral part to transportation and important machinery. What powers a diesel locomotive? Most large and even many smaller construction vehicles use electric motors to move about, their gasoline/diesel engines are only to run a generator to power the motors – which increases range and decreases weight over using batteries. As long as long range and acceleration is not a big issue, it is far more sensible to use electric motors. Of course our answer to long range with the benefits of electric motors is answered by hybrids. As far as converting cars to pure electric, if you used to build K-nex when you were a kid, you can do it (most libraries you can find old books from the 70s detailing do-it-yourself electric conversions).

    While the prius and like vehicles are impressive, they are not all that special.. the volt seems at the time to be a better execution. It still falls short however of what a hybrid could do. Our big hurdle is the fact that oil is a very lucrative product.. read that last sentence again. We already have pure gasoline/diesel cars that can best 50+ mpg, we had them back in the 90s too. We already have battery technology which allows rapid charging, has long life, and puts out high power – they are just pricey right now. The next big innovation for engines is going to be electrically operated overhead valve systems which will replace cams and have potential to increase efficiency by more than 20% – as well as allowing infinitely variable valve timing, and easily shutting down cylinders for even more frugality. Not to mention direct injection is already helping efficiency – it helps the Porsche 911 achieve nearly 30mpg.

    So it seems the issues are not the technology.. rather its the price of technology, the big idea is to figure out how to get price down. You will note also I’m not talking about completely eliminating gasoline use, just extreme minimization until the technology is available and cheap enough to allow something like an electric car with solar panels on roof (Mercedes already uses solar on some of their models with glass roof, it generates enough power to keep the cabin cool from the sunlight) and a hydrogen fuel cell as well as a small battery which would equate to a clean car with multiple clean and reusable power sources.. and the range should be much longer than current offerings.

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