It has been predicted by many pundits that electric cars will be the future of transport. They base these claims not only on the depletion of fossil fuels but also on the technological advancement in electric drive vehicles.
At present, there are still certain issues pertaining with the electric cars and nearly all of them have to do with the limitations of battery. The cost, the energy/power density and life of the battery, all at the moment represent the bottleneck to the electric revolution. Nonetheless, with the advancement in Lithium Ion batteries, most of these issues are in the process of being evaporated.
The USABC or the United State Advanced Battery Consortium, set certain goals that were deemed necessary for the industry to see the electric car production overtake its I.C. engine counterpart.
The aims for EV’s were as follows (at system level for battery packs) :
Calendar life: 15 years
Selling Price @100 k Units : 125 $/kWh
Usable energy density (EOL) = 500 Wh/L
Usage specific energy density = 235 Wh/kg (350 Wh/kg at cell level)
Note that these goals are different for different types of electric vehicles. For Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) the goals were slightly more relaxed.
There is still a long way before these goals are reached at a price that is competitive although Tesla has come close. It is interesting to note that in Solar Impulse (Solar powered airplane) the energy density has reached 220 Wh/kg at the cell level. Similarly the cost of battery pack has come down as low as $ 250 / kWh.
Even if there comes a point when electric car production starts to exceed I.C. engine cars, will there be a time when the total number of EV’s on the road exceed all other types?
Michael Rupert thinks otherwise and he has valid reasons to think so.
He explains “Cars are not just made out of engines. The car body and many other components that make up the car can have a huge portion that is polymer based”.
In fact most moderns cars have carbon fiber bodies and polymer based components. BMW i3 has to an extent tried to reverse the trend by using wood in its interior (dashboard).
Polymers are a petroleum product. Similarly from tyres to engine oil, interior trim to grease, all are products derived from petroleum. It could be argued that even the metallic body is cast into shape through energy that came mostly from fossil fuels.
Therefore, its important to comtemplate what would happen if fossil fuels were to run out? What would happen if petroleum is set to deplete?
Even the most optimistic scientists in the oil & gas industry (known as the late toppers) have suggested that there is no more than 2 trillion barrels remaining to be unearthed. This means that oil (provided the growth in consumption is arrested) will last no more than 20-25 years. There are over 1 billion cars on the planet. It is estimated that this number will grow to 2 billion by the year 2050 if everything remains constant. However as pointed out, even with most favourable estimates petroleum and its products will get scarce in the future.
All these facts suggest that there will never be more electric cars in the future unless mankind looks into alternative for polymers or learns to recycle them.