Everything You Wanted to Know About Electric Cars

One of the most inevitable subjects that would come up in discussions about saving the environment is the electric car. It’s easy to see the appeal of this type of automobile: it’s up to 80 percent more efficient, less expensive to drive (averaging at 2 cents per mile), and has zero tailpipe emissions.

The main difference between an electric car and a “traditional” car is that, of course, the former is propelled by one or more electric motors, while the latter has a gasoline engine. But did you know that electric cars actually use older technology compared to gasoline-powered cars? In fact, the first practical production electric car was built in 1884 in London by the inventor Thomas Parker. By 1897, electric cars are already used commercially in the United States, in the form of 12 hansom cabs plying routes in New York City.

However, public preference shifted due to the large-scale manufacturing of gas-powered cars that began in the 1900s, and the low cost of oil during the same period. It was only in the late 20th century, with rising pollution levels, growing cost of fossil fuels, and a looming energy crisis (and perhaps Elon Musk’s popularity), electric cars has experienced a resurgence.

Under the Hood of an Electric Car

The primary components of an electric car are the electric motor, a controller, and its power source (usually a battery). The electric motor is powered by the controller, which in turn gets its power from an array of batteries. The most common motors used in electric cars are AC induction motors, brushed DC motors, and brushless DC motors. Most electric and hybrid car makers prefer the latter, since it has both a higher peak point efficiency and a simpler rotor cooling process. High-efficiency brushless DC motors are also lighter, more durable, more efficient (up to 85 to 90 percent), more thermally resistant, has higher operating speeds and acceleration rates.

If the car has a DC motor, its batteries can be anywhere between 96 to 192 volts. AC motors in electric cars, on the other hand, are usually three-phase AC motors that run at 240 volts AC with a 300-volt battery.

Gas versus Electricity

In gasoline-powered cars, you have to burn more fuel in order to get more power — thus, the expression “stepping on the gas.” The faster you burn gas, the faster your car runs. When you take your foot off the accelerator pedal, you supply less fuel to the engine and your car slows down. Another key element of a gasoline-powered is its gearbox. The gears inside (engaged or disengaged by the clutch) allow the wheels to turn either faster with low force or slower with high force. This you save more gas when you run on a higher gear (at least on flat ground), since your wheels turn faster on a lower power requirement.

In electric cars, gears aren’t necessary because the electric motor drives the wheels directly. Electric motors can also go from zero to maximum torque in an instant, which is why electric cars can accelerate much more smoothly. The absence of a gearbox also makes electric cars lighter, making them easier to propel. Think of it as an electric toy train — you just turn or press the switch depending on the speed you want so that you send the corresponding amount of electric current to the motor. Stepping on and letting go of the accelerator of an electric car delivers bigger or smaller electric currents to the motor to speed it up or slow it down.

The Future of Electric Cars

While there are a lot of good things about electric cars — zero emissions, high efficiency, high performance, and low maintenance, among others — it isn’t without its disadvantages. In fact, battery power is the bane of electric cars since, realistically speaking, a full tank of gasoline carries more energy than fully charged electric car batteries. What’s more, if you’ve ever owned a battery-powered device like a cellphone or a laptop, then you’re well aware of the short lifespan of lithium-ion batteries.

There’s also the issue of accessibility. Where you’ll be hard-pressed to find charging stations for electric cars (there are about 22,000 in 2017), you are sure to find a gas station almost anywhere — even in the remotest of locations.

However, economists still predict a 33 percent increase in electric car purchase by 2020. And with continuing innovations in both the automotive and electronics industries, perhaps electric cars will not just be a fad but the norm in the near future.

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