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The Bridge To An Electric Future

2069 words - 8 pages

There is little argument that electricity plays a pivotal role in the future of transportation. The electric vehicle is not a new concept. Over 100 years ago Thomas Edison experimented with the electric car, which made use of his newly, developed nickel-iron battery. Edison would charge his electric vehicles at night so he could drive during the day (Roman, 2011). In 1915 Henry Ford and Thomas Edison abandoned development of the electric automobile (Orr, 1967). The project was abandoned because the technology did not exist to make an electric car that could parallel their gasoline-powered cousins. To be practical an electric vehicle will need to compact or full sized with a 250-mile range. This will meet the needs of most American families (Orr, 1967). Although we are on the cusp of technological feasibility, the practical electric vehicle will require development of standards, technologies and infrastructure to support them. A less drastic near term move can be made. Practical electric cars are out of reach due to the limitations of current technology, one solution would be to use alternative fuel engines until technology catches up.
“The American consumer is wedded to his automobile in its present form as he is to no other product” (Orr, 1967, p. 51). Citizens in every country around the world depend vehicles to provide essentials and luxuries in a carefully choreographed, just in time, economic infrastructure that is powered by one thing, petroleum. Currently, consumers can refuel their gasoline vehicles in a matter of minutes and drive anywhere they want for as long as they want with little concern about their next fuel stop. In 2009, transportation accounted for 72% of U.S. petroleum consumption meeting 94% of transportation energy demands (Mazratti & Shelbi, 2011).
Electric vehicles can easily match the performance and reliability of gasoline vehicles but they suffer one very serious drawback. Batteries are still not yet capable of providing practical endurance to the average American car. Depending on the climate, terrain and type of battery, driving range varies from 40 to 120 miles between charges (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2002). There are technologies available that use a chemical process to derive electricity from alternative sources such as hydrogen. The technology has been around for more than 100 years but only recently has it become affordable enough for use in the consumer market. Polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells are a viable choice for automotive applications due to high power density and low operating temperatures (Busby & Altork, 2010). Hydrogen fuel cells suffer some of the same economic and acceptance hurdles as other electric vehicles. The technology is currently very expensive, in part due to the use of platinum as the catalyst. The current cost of fuel cell operation will need to drop to about $35 per kilowatt to compete with current gasoline power plants (Busby & Altork, 2010). The...

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