Electricity - stored in batteries
Switching on the juice Electric vehicles have
been around for a very long time. In the early 1900s, there
were more electric vehicles than there were gasoline-powered
cars. The vehicle pictured is a Rauch and Lang Electric Sedan,
built around 1922.
Gasoline back then was very expensive. It also was
hard to start a gasoline engine; you had to turn and turn and
turn a crank in front of the car to get it to start. They did
not have a key to start the car like we do today. Gasoline
vehicles were also noisy and put out lots of smoke. The cars
either had no mufflers, or the mufflers didn't do a good job.
So, electric vehicles were a BIG hit! At one time there were
50,000 EVs on the roads and streets of the United States.
But EVs soon faded away like the horse-drawn carriage. Ways
of cheaply making gasoline were discovered. A new invention
called an electric starter was made. It started the car with a
key instead of a crank. A gasoline car could go much farther
than an electric one. So, gasoline-powered vehicles soon
became the main method of transporting people.
Automobile companies are making cars cleaner and cleaner.
Ten cars built today produce the same amount of pollution that
you'd get from just one car built 15 years ago. And oil
companies are creating cleaner fuels like a new gasoline
called reformulated gasoline. But EVs are back on the road.
Electric Vehicles...Already Here in California California has always been a
place for cars. Cars take people to work, to the grocery
store, to school. Trucks carry all sorts of goods from farms
and factories to our stores. Our state would literally come to
a stop without cars and trucks.
California has more than 23 million registered vehicles.
And all those vehicles' exhaust produces a large amount of air
pollution. Cars, trucks and motorcycles cause the largest
amount of air pollution - about 35 percent.
In 1990, the state agency that is responsible for
protecting California's air quality passed a rule to reduce
the pollution from cars. The California Air Resources
Board (ARB) decided that beginning in 1998, two percent of
all vehicles sold in California would have to have zero
emissions. That would have meant that about 20,000 vehicles
sold that year would have been electric vehicles.
In the mid-1990s, the ARB, however, changed its mind
following a huge lobbying effort by the auto companies. ARB
decided not to mandate the introduction of EVs, but to instead
let automobile manufacurers voluntarily sell Zero-Emission
Vehicles (ZEVs) from 1998 to 2002. Then, starting in 2003, ten
percent, or one out of every ten cars sold, would have to be a
zero-emission vehicle. As the deadline approached, the agency
changed the regulation even further. The compromise allowed
extremely low-emission vehicles to get partial ZEV credits,
but required that auto companies only sell two percent
Our vehicles also use a lot of fuel. California's cars
and trucks burn 14.5 billion gallons of gasoline each
year! That's enough gasoline to fill a line of tanker
trucks stretched bumper to bumper from San Francisco to San
Diego AND BACK!
Nearly all of California's cars and trucks use only
gasoline and diesel, both made from oil. California produces
only half of the oil it uses. The rest comes from Alaska and
foreign sources. The United States, as a whole, imports more
than one-half of the oil it uses from other countries --
mostly from the Middle East and South America. If there were
to be a disruption of oil or gasoline supplies, we'd have lots
of problems. So, having other types of fuels -- alternative
fuels -- to power our trucks and cars will help California and
How Do Electric Vehicles Work? Electric vehicles (like the
Ford Ranger Electric Vehicle above on the left) don't
burn gasoline in an engine. They use electricity stored on the
car in batteries. Sometimes, 12 or 24 batteries, or more, are
needed to power the car. Just like a remote-controlled, model
electric car, EVs have an electric motor that turns the wheels
and a battery to run that motor.
One of the first modern EVs was the General Motors Impact.
GM changed its name and started selling the GM "EV1" in 1997.
This sleek looking car even set a World Record of more than
180 miles per hour!
The EV1 is very aerodynamic. This means that air slides
around the body of the car very easily. The less air
resistance or drag, the less energy is needed to power the car
at freeway speeds.
The EV1 is as aerodynamic as some jet fighter
To charge an EV's batteries,
the car is usually plugged in at night. In the picture to the
left, an Impact test vehicle is plugged into a special
charging unit attached to a house. The Impact is not yet
available for sale. Some EVs can plug right into a regular
electrical wall outlet. Others need a larger outlet, like the
kind that a stove or electric clothes dryer plug into.
Electricity, the same energy that lights your lamps and
runs your TV, is stored in batteries on an EV.
The batteries can be lead acid batteries, like the
batteries you find in our flashlight or in regular gasoline
cars. Or they can be ni-cad (nickel-cadmium) like the kind
that run portable video recorders or a portable video game
player -- only much larger.
Better batteries that hold more energy and last longer are
being developed. In 2001, by the time today's fifth graders
are ready to drive, electric vehicles should be able to go 150
to 200 miles before recharging.
How far can an EV go? How much do they cost? Most EVs today, however, can
only go about 100 miles before you need to plug them in and
recharge their batteries. They are not like the Energizer
Bunny(tm) that keeps on going, and going, and
going. But, 50 to 100 miles is plenty for most people who only
drive a short distance to and from work, to and from school,
or to do some shopping like the Ford Th!nk Neighborhood
Electric Vehicle on the right.
Some EVs with special batteries can go a longer distance.
The car on the right is made by a company in Massachusetts
called Solectria. It is called the "Sunrise." In 1995, a
Solectria Sunrise set a world record for going 238 miles on
Electric vehicles are more expensive to buy than gasoline
cars, but when more and more EVs are made, the price of EVs
should drop to about the same as gasoline cars.
EVs Available Today Some EVs, like the Toyota
RAV-4 EV are made by major auto companies. Other electric
vehicles built today are made by small car companies, or by
people who build them in their own garages as a hobby. Some
people build cars from kits and make them look like gasoline
roadsters or like sports cars.
convert regular cars into electric vehicles. They pull out the
motor and gas tank and put an electric motor and batteries
into the car. Sometimes, the batteries go into the trunk or
even under the back seat...they go where ever there is room.
Beginning in 1999, nearly all of the major auto companies
-- Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Chrysler and Honda offered at
least one model electric car. That numbers has dropped in
2002, with many auto companies working on hybrid vehices -- a
combination of a small internal combustion engine and an
Other Vehicles are EVs, too! There are other types of
electric vehicles, too. Many cities uses electric-powered
buses, trolleys, subways or light-rail. Even most trains are
electric. Other places will use electric buses with batteries,
because they don't want wires over the roads.
One of those places is Yosemite National Park in California
where two new electric buses started being used in September
1995. The buses are almost silent, so the buses don't disturb
visitors to the national park.
Eventually, all the buses in Yosemite will be electric
Other people are using electric-powered
bicycles. The picture on the left is an electric-powered
bicycle made by ZAP Power Systems of Northern California.
The motor is mounted just above the rear wheel and under
the seat. The bag that's hanging from the middle holds the
The bike can go 20 miles per hour, and it can travel 20
miles before needing a recharge.
Most people use bicycles for exercise. Some people use
bicycles for going to school or work. Having an electric bike
means you can get to work or school without sweating. For
people who have disabilities, an electric-powered bike might
allow them freedom to be outdoors.
What About Solar-Powered Cars? Unfortunately,
electric cars will probably not be solar-powered. Solar cells,
also called photovoltaic cells, produce too little power. They
are not practical to power a full-sized electric car.
Some colleges, however, race
solar-powered cars. The picture on the right is the solar car
from California Polytechnic University in Pomona, California
-- CalPoly Pomona for short.
The back of the car is covered with solar cells, but all
those solar cells only produce enough power to run an electric
hair dryer...about 1,500 watts.
That's not enough energy to run a heavy vehicle. The
CalPoly Pomona solar car is also very light, less than 400
pounds. It's not strong enough to be in traffic and protect a
driver in an accident with another car or truck.
The solar car is also rather uncomfortable. Students have
to climb into the car and almost lie down in it. It also
doesn't turn corners very well.
Solar cars give students a chance to build a better car and
to work on advanced ideas in automobile design, engineering
and mechanics. Building cars allows them to dream about ways
to make cars more efficient and to use fuels other than
In 1990, the U.S. Department of Energy by National
Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) started sponsoring the National Junior Solar Sprint (JSS) for
6th, 7th, and 8th graders. JSS student teams construct model
solar-powered cars and race them in interscholastic
Who knows, maybe ONE DAY, a student just like yourself will
invent a real solar car that we ALL can drive.
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