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Could electric vehicles be in Atlanta’s future?

POSTED: June 29, 2011 4:00 a.m.

The House Science & Technology Committee, which I chair, spent two days in Atlanta listening to representatives of General Electric and Atlanta City Government talk about electric vehicles and how they could help Atlanta meet the clean air standards.

We attended technical and business workshops and got to drive and ride in the vehicles. Before discussing today's electronic vehicles, I will give a little historical background of their use in the United States.

An electrical vehicle by definition uses an electric motor for propulsion rather than a gasoline-powered engine. Who invented the very first electronic vehicle is uncertain; however, in 1835, Thomas Davenport, a blacksmith from Brandon, Vt., built a small-scale electric car. Davenport was also the inventor of the first American-built DC electric motor.

It wasn't until rechargeable electric batteries were invented in the late 1800s that serious thought was given to electronic vehicles.

In 1897, the first commercial electronic vehicle application was established as a fleet of New York City taxis built by the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of Philadelphia.

By the turn of the century, automobiles were available in steam, electric and gasoline versions and were becoming more popular. This was the high point of electric cars in America, as they outsold all other types of cars.

In 1902 the Woods Motor Vehicle Company of Chicago built the Phaeton, which had a range of 18 miles, a top speed of 14 mph, and cost $2,000.

Later in 1916, Woods invented a hybrid car that had both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor.

Electric vehicles had many advantages over their competitors in the early 1900s. They did not have the vibration, smell and noise associated with gasoline cars.

Changing gears on gasoline cars was the most difficult part of driving, while electric vehicles did not require gear changes.

In 1912, however, an electric roadster sold for $1,750, while a gasoline car sold for $650.

The only good roads of the period were in town, causing most travel to be local commuting, a perfect situation for electric vehicles, since their range was limited.

The electric vehicle was the preferred choice of many because it did not require the manual effort to start. Ladies, particularly, did not like the hand crank on gasoline vehicles, and there was no wrestling with a gear shifter.

By the 1920s, America had a better system of roads that now connected cities, bringing with it the need for longer-range vehicles.

The discovery of crude oil in Texas, the invention of the electric starter, and mass production of internal combustion engine vehicles by Henry Ford all led to the decline of electronic vehicles.

Battery research has led to lithium polymer (Lipo) and lithium iron (LiFe) batteries, which are much lighter, charge faster and hold charges much longer than lead-acid batteries. These new batteries and the high cost of gasoline are leading to a renewal of interest in electronic vehicles.

Additional research is expected to produce even better batteries in the future.

On the down side, even the new batteries have a limited range of about 100 miles between charges. A recent study shows that most of the people who work in Atlanta live within 50 miles. Atlanta may be the ideal location for testing the acceptance of the new electronic vehicles being introduced by the various car companies. This is one of the reasons that General Electric is discussing the installation of electronic vehicle charging stations at malls, workplaces, schools, etc., as well as in homes.

One of my hobbies is flying radio-controlled model aircraft, and I have been using Lipo batteries for about five years. The time ratio of flying to charging is about 1:4. Translating this to vehicles means that a one-hour drive to work would require four hours to fully recharge the battery. So if family vacations depend on driving, a second gas-powered or hybrid vehicle will be needed.

Unlike gasoline powered vehicles which continue to use fuel while the vehicle is stuck in traffic, the electronic vehicles do not continue to drain batteries. Electronic vehicles operate at their best in city traffic. With the cost of electricity rather stable, the fuel cost of electronic vehicles is considerably cheaper than the current prices of gasoline.

If Atlanta can get more workers to use electronic vehicles and hybrids, or use natural gas to power their vehicles, the city may eventually meet the EPA clean air standards.

Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 689 N. Chestatee Street, Dahlonega, GA 30533; phone (706) 864-6589, e-mail hamerson@windstream.net. Or contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788.

 

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