Opinion - I had a thought yesterday. I was doing some research on future green technologies and something occurred to me. One of the limiting factors today in greener, battery-powered automobiles is their limited range. Another is expense. Most battery-only vehicles will get you about 75 miles, and hybrid solutions are very pricey. Still, 75 miles is enough to commute back and forth to work each day even with some extra driving thrown in. But, it's not really good for much else. So what's the solution? I think it might be an external, auxiliary source of power.
External power source
Battery powered vehicles operate on electricity. It doesn't matter if that electricity comes from batteries or a rod sticking up like in the movie Back to the Future. As long as electricity's flowing at the right levels, the car goes.
Hybrid vehicles provide the balance allowing them to operate even when the batteries are depleted. But, their greener solution also comes at the expense of a lot of green (cash). This makes it not a desirable solution for most.
So what's needed? It occurred to me the obvious answer is a hybrid solution that's only there when required. This would make the up-front cost of the battery-only vehicle considerably less, while at the same time providing all the benefits of hybrid power when extra power is needed.
I believe auto makers should begin building battery powered vehicles that are specifically designed to allow a type of trailer hook up. The car itself is entirely electrical (no hybrid parts). The trailer contains a small, efficient diesel or gasoline powered engine hooked up to a generator (diesel engines are more efficient and last longer, thus better mileage).
Such a design would provide enough to power the vehicle at highway speeds, plus a little more for charging - just like hybrid cars are today. However, when not needed the trailer can be detached and stored. In addition, I believe properly designed aerodynamic shape would reduce drag enough to compensate for the additional wheel drag, making it essentially a zero-loss on level ground.
Now, such a solution would hardly be of benefit if everyone had to buy and store not only their battery powered car, but also the trailer. As such, I propose that for the sake of the greener, less carbon-producing society our government is trying so hard to sell us on, that tax incentives be offered to companies willing to establish a type of U-Haul like economy for these trailers.
New facilities would be created in major cities, perhaps alongside gas stations today, which allow the battery-powered car owner to go to that facility and, for a small governmentally regulated fee, essentially "rent" a trailer for the duration of their journey.
Need to visit the relatives in another state? Get a trailer for the duration. Need to go on a vacation with your family for two weeks? Get a trailer for the duration. Need to move to another town and power your vehicle only one way? Get a trailer in your old city, drive to the new and drop it off. They're all connected through the same system, just pick one up where it's needed and drop it off when you're done.
And of course, once home again and the trailer's back at the facility, just continue driving your green, battery-powered car as before.
TG Daily regularly reports on upcoming battery technologies that will greatly improve efficiency in the years to come. These will even allow the "day car," a battery-powered car capable of driving 8-10 hours without auxiliary power sources, one also capable of being recharged in just a few hours.
Until then, if our society can grab hold of the idea of battery-powered cars (rather than fuel-based), then the goals of our politicians could be met. At the same time we'd be producing cars that are cheap, safe, reliable and green, and all with lots of available replacement parts which could easily be made available by standardizing on the expensive parts of the design across car makers (no reason to have 50 different designs for the same functioning part, like the way alternators or fuel injectors are today).
The technology is here. We just need to apply it in real ways that make sense for consumers. After all, we aren't in this to make a huge profit on going green, are we? I mean, we're really in it to save the environment and help people, right? Well this would necessarily mandate that corporations change their attitudes and goals. But, I do believe the external auxiliary power source is an idea to kick around, and possibly even a step in the right direction. Peace.
UPDATE: November 21, 2008, 5:35pm CST
A reader posted a comment about a car called tZero which was built as my idea suggests. Costing over $100,000, the high performance electric vehicle has a 0-60 speed of 3.6 seconds, and uses a pull-behind trailer for long hauls. While this vehicle is an extreme version of that which I suggest, it does prove that it can be done and at least one other company thought enough of the idea to build it. The tZero was manufactured in the early 2000s. See a recent article about the technology here on FutureDrive.com.
In addition, future battery technologies could be easily integrated into such a design. Replace the old with the new and potentially double the battery-only range.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.