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.
carry all sorts of goods from farms and factories to our
stores. Our state would literally come to a stop without cars
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 manufacturers 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 pure-ZEVS.
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 our country.
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
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 aircraft!
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
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 one charge.
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
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.
Other people 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 vehicles -- a combination of a small internal combustion engine and an electric
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 buses.
Other people are
using electric-powered bicycles. The picture on the left is an
electric-powered bicycle made by ZAP Power Systems of Northern
The motor is mounted just above the rear wheel and under the seat.
The bag that's hanging from the middle holds the battery.
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
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
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 gasoline.
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 competitions.
Who knows, maybe ONE DAY, a student just like yourself will invent
a real solar car that we ALL can drive.
Read more on...
Sites With More Information About Electric and Alternative Fuel Cars