To Gavin the physicist, the electric car is just plain stupid. The new Nissan Leaf has a battery that costs Nissan, the car manufacturer itself, $15,600. The car has a range of 100 miles, costs $33,000, and requires the owner to install a $2,000 charging station in his home garage, where the car will be plugged in for 8 hours after going its 100 miles. Contracts have been let for the installation of thousands of these charging stations in the United States.
The equivalent-sized car would be the Nissan Versa, which costs less than half the Leaf. Not only that, but the carbon footprint of the Versa is smaller than that of the Leaf by a factor of 2.
Rare earths, today’s hottest topic, figure in as well. The rare earths that go into the Leaf’s battery are in short supply. China, the main producer, is threatening a set of severe export restrictions. Surprise. (“What a golden opportunity! We’ll hold the world ransom while we can.”) No recycler in the United States is yet handling such batteries, so they will end up in the landfill; and the rare earths in them will be wasted.
The much-ballyhooed Chevrolet Volt, at $41,000, has given up being an electric car and has put in a gas engine–to make it just another hybrid. Why “just another”? Because it goes only 50 miles on battery power. Gavin’s favorite program, Top Gear, tested a Nissan Prius against an 8-cylinder BMW 5 Series at highway speeds. The Prius got 17.6 miles to the imperial gallon; the BMW got 22.
If all this sounds rational to you, raise your hand.
Meantime throughout Europe and in California there are hydrogen cars. The hydrogen itself is made at the gas station, so it does not have to be transported in tanker trucks along crowded highways. The Honda Clarity has been available since 2008, going over 300 miles on a fill. Its price tag is higher than the standard Honda, but it is available in this nation on lease for $600 a month. 2010 marked the tenth consecutive year the Clarity was the pace car for the Los Angeles Marathon. The effluent from hydrogen-fueled cars is water.
Iceland has decided that in the near future all its vehicles shall run on hydrogen. Its fleet of public-transport buses are already converted.
The key to the hydrogen car is the fuel cell and the availability of hydrogen. If the United States spent as much money on fuel-cell research as it is spending on battery research–$15 billion–we could all be driving hydrogen cars. How long will it be before a smart inventor makes hydrogen car rechargers for home use? It ain’t rocket science!
Bash head here,