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Electric Vehicles Unplugged?


Where these next-generation electric cars are going, we don’t need plugs.

In late 2013, Yelloblu reported on the state of the electric vehicle (EV) market, highlighting how improved access to EV charging stations could make eco-friendly cars more appealing to consumers.

Frustrated by the continued lack of convenient charging stations, some automakers are looking to remove the need to plug in altogether and see more sustainable energy sources as the key to EV proliferation.

This past week at CES 2014, for example, Ford unveiled its newest electric concept car, which boasts a series of solar roof panels built into the C-MAX plug-in hybrid.

Solar and EVs might seem like an obvious match, but even after spending an entire day in the sun, the power generated is negligible. Toyota’s solar-paneled Prius, for instance, can only harness enough solar energy to run its ventilation fan.

To help resolve low output, Ford’s latest prototype pairs their solar car with a specially designed car canopy comprised of an acrylic roof called a “Fresnel lens.” Similar to a magnifying glass, the Fresnel lens concentrates the sun’s rays during peak hours and transfers them directly onto the vehicle’s solar panels, boosting the impact by a factor of eight.

Additionally, as the sun moves across the sky, Ford’s prototype is able to independently move back and forth under the canopy – ensuring it’s maximizing energy as the sun passes overhead.

After 6 hours of magnified charging, the Ford hybrid is said to be capable of traveling up to 21 miles, a range that covers the average trek for over half of the country's commuters.

While relying on a specially designed solar canopy isn’t exactly cost effective, it’s a step in the right direction and a promising development for the electric car market. And as the price of solar panels continues to fall, we're getting much closer to spending less plug-in time and more travel time away from the grid – at least, until sunset.

Produced by: Patrick French

Recharging the Electric Vehicle Market

Recharging the Electric Vehicle Market

Why the fate of the electric car hinges on consumers’ ability to plug in.

Electrical vehicles have grown in popularity over recent years due to increasing gas prices and a thirst for U.S. energy independence. But with a variety of electric vehicles already on the market, why haven’t innovative cars like the Nissan Leaf or Tesla Model S become ubiquitous sights at every stoplight?

The short answer: consumers have limited options to recharge their vehicles. For decades, our transportation economy has been built around convenient access to gasoline and diesel stations. Making the challenge for EV's not simply about cost differentials, but accessibility to nationwide recharging stations.

President Obama’s goal for 2015 is 1 million electric cars on the road, but if we plan on hitting those lofty goals, it will require far more than a few extra charging stations. Widespread electric vehicle adoption will call for serious adjustments to our transportation infrastructure.

Without a Socket

Electric vehicles have yet to compete with the range of standard gas-fueled cars. The majority of EV charging needs to be done overnight. Even with an upgraded 240-volt outlet, a standard battery takes 4-8 hours to charge. It is recommended that homeowners invest in home charging stations but high price barriers make it increasingly challenging. And even in large buildings, it’s difficult for landlords to make these kinds of investments when only a few tenants drive electric vehicles.

According to a Carnegie Mellon University study, less then half of electric car owners are without consistent access to overnight charging. If electric car owners cannot conveniently charge their cars, manufacturers and politicians have an uphill battle to drive EV adoption.

A Rechargeable Future

Some states acknowledge these issues and have begun passing legislation. California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont collaborated and announced last month that they are requiring installation of chargers at workplaces, multi-family apartments and at other locations.

Walgreens has offered its own private sector solution, installing charging stations at 800 of its locations – with chargers that deliver as much as 30 miles in 10 minutes. Both of these measures are positive strides toward widespread EV adoption, but considerable progress still needs to be made.

Whether the public or private sectors choose to take the lead, the future of electric vehicles hangs in the balance of convenience. Until it’s just as easy to recharge as it is to refuel, electric vehicles will continue to be held down by their limited range and high price tags.

Produced by Dan Spethmann

Rolling out chemistry’s green carpet

Rolling out chemistry’s green carpet

After 40 years of waiting, green chemistry’s night of nights is coming to the U.S.

The biennial AkzoNobel Science Award for sustainable breakthroughs has opened to North American scientists, through June 22, 2012.

First contested in the Netherlands in 1970, the prize has spread to Sweden, the UK and China. Now, for the first time, Canadian and US materials scientists and chemists can enter to win a $75,000 cash prize for significant advances in sustainable science.

Last year’s UK winner, for example, was Professor Peter Bruce of St Andrews University, whose research into lithium-air batteries could double the range of hybrid cars to 300 miles.

It’s a discovery that may have even more enduring ramifications in Bruce’s homeland of Scotland, which supplies much of the UK’s clean energy. There, renewable electricity generation leapt a remarkable 45% from 2010 to 2011, and they’re thought to have access to some of Europe’s most productive wind, tide and wave resources.

Efficient storage technologies will be crucial to harvest that energy during times of peak production and redistribute it during times of peak demand.

It’s hoped that the AkzoNobel North America Science Award, which is being hosted in collaboration with the American Chemical Society, will uncover similar groundbreaking innovations here. Candidates can learn more about the award here. The rest of us will find out who won in February 2013.

Posted by: Eammon Conaghan

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