electric energy-efficient car

Are electric cars the future? Or is it time to go even beyond the EV?

I saw a Chevy Volt today. It was plugged in at a charging station in one of the UW garages. I’m glad the crazy saga that was told in the film Who Killed the Electric Car has come full circle and that that car has been released again.

At least I thought I was glad until I saw this article by Kevin Czinger, CEO of Divergent Microfactories, Inc. He stresses that “how we make our cars is a much bigger environmental problem than how we fuel our cars.” The manufacture of a 100% electric SUV has double the “human and environmental system damage” as the manufacture of a standard gasoline-fueled car, and because it’s an SUV, we need more energy to run it. We all think about that energy we’re using to drive our cars, but as Czinger says, we must also consider the energy and materials that go into making them.  

lightweight car

Czinger’s 3D-printed Blade prototype, “Finally, a sustainable manufacturing platform”

For all you Prius owners who are wondering how guilty to feel – Czinger’s chart shows that a hybrid electric vehicle has slightly less overall impact than a standard car – so congrats! You can feel slightly less guilty about owning and using your car. It is easy to get overwhelmed with feelings of guilt or despair when you really start looking into our energy use and our chances for slowing or stopping climate change. But many professionals I’ve worked with truly believe technology can lead to enormous changes, and quickly.

By democratizing the auto industry, Czinger believes we can radically change the way we build our cars and dematerialize them. By that, he means reduce the environmental impacts of their manufacturing, which will also improve their energy use by making them more lightweight. Czinger’s company, Divergent Microfactories, has designed a prototype Supercar named Blade. It is a lightweight, easily assembled car made of 3D printed aluminum joints that connect pieces of fiber tubing. It sounds like they have taken lessons from the designs of really high-end bikes to re-think the car. 

The Elio, photo from eliomotors.com

Paul Elio has gone a step further and collected 49,000 reservations for lightweight cars — or are they technically 3-wheeled autocycles? — that are as safe as cars and also keep you dry while you ride. The most recently promised delivery date is 4th quarter 2016. The Elio will be Made in the USA, will get up to 84 mpg and has a targeted base price of $6,800 (Yes, less than $10K. I did not forget a 0). It seats two people sitting one behind the other.

Entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones working on re-thinking the car. The US Department of Energy and General Motors have been sponsoring EcoCAR competitions to harness the ingenuity of engineering students. In the 2nd iteration (EcoCAR2), UW’s team won 2nd place with a Parallel-Through-The-Road (PTTR) Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) that averaged 90 miles per gallon by combining a diesel engine with an energy-saving plug-in hybrid motor. Each iteration of this competition takes four years, so we will have to wait to see what EcoCAR3 brings.

Until these eco-cars come to the market, what can we do? I think we need to think outside the car for our transportation needs. I’ll have a series of posts about just what that means. For now, get that clunker fixed up and banish those thoughts of sexy new Teslas or Chevy Volts, dreaming instead of next generation supercars.


1 comment

  1. G

    I’m glad there’s still some environmental advantage, however small, from our Prius. I also see it as a symbol pointing the way to greater efficiency in the future.

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