Electric Cars: What are they and how do they work?

The growing concern for the climate and the environment has seen the rise in the adoption of environmentally friendly technology and practices. Where the likes of renewable energy have revolutionized the way we power our homes, the electric car is changing the way we move around.

A total of 7.2 million electric cars were sold as of 2019, accounting for 2.6% of global car sales. And the numbers only keep growing. According to a Bloomberg report, about 60% of global car sales will be electric by 2040.

In essence, electric cars are making a mark and have come to stay. This begs the question…what exactly are they and how do they operate?

What are Electric Cars?

In simple terms, electric cars are automobile vehicles that are powered by electrical energy. They are commonly referred to as electric vehicles (EVs) and are propelled by two or more electric motors. They are quieter, have low to zero exhaust emissions, and are generally easier to maintain than conventional internal combustion engine vehicles.

Though it seems that EVs are a new fad taking over the automobile world by storm, they have actually been around for a long time. In fact, the idea of powering vehicles with electricity was conceptualized two centuries ago in the mid-1800s by a Hungarian inventor – Anyos Jedlik. By the end of the 19th century, the streets of New York and London were filled with these electricity-driven vehicles.

Electric cars gradually began to lose traction in the early 20th century with the popularization of petroleum-driven cars, having powerful engines known as internal combustion engines (ICE). These engines, though louder and less efficient, were capable of going longer distances than the EVs of the time. Also, initial electric cars faced a lot of drawbacks.

Heavy storage batteries, lack of infrastructures like charging stations, standard EV plugs, and even stable electricity, caused the electric vehicle to lose popularity amongst consumers. Henry Ford will land the final blow when he discovered how to mass-produce gasoline cars at a much cheaper price. This caused EVs to be completely phased out from the public market…until recently.

Owing to the improvement of battery technology, EVs have risen, once again, like a phoenix from its ashes. Batteries have made a significant leap from the bulky lead-acid battery of the 19th century to the more compact, efficient, and chargeable lithium-ion batteries.

In 2008, Tesla made significant progress in EV technology with the lithium-ion-powered Model S. Soon after, other automobile companies followed suit and brought out their own electric car models. Today, it is safe to say EVs have integrated well and have been widely accepted as a good way to transport.

How Do Electric Cars Work?

The heart of the electric vehicle is its battery pack. Several cells of lithium-ion batteries are arranged in modules and are connected to one or more inductor motors. These inductor motors are then connected to the wheels that drive the vehicle.

When you start the car engine, charges are generated in the batteries. These charges then induce a current that travels to the inductor motor thereby inducing a rotational mechanical motion. This motion is exactly what propels the vehicle.

Types of Electric Vehicles

There are three main types of electric vehicles classified based on their fuel source and propulsion. They are:

  1. Battery Electric Vehicles 

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) are fully electric vehicles powered by battery packs and electricity. They do not have an engine and are recharged by plugging into an electrical charging station. Also, the propulsion is solely driven by the electric motor. Examples include the Tesla Model 3, Nissan Leaf S, BMW i3, Hyundai Ioniq, etc.

  1. Hybrid Electric Vehicles

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) combine both the internal combustion energy and the electric motor in their operation. Hence, they are powered by fossil fuels (gasoline or diesel) and batteries. An HEV recharges only by a mechanism called Regenerative Braking System (RBS) and it typically has inbuilt computers that decide when to use gasoline or battery to power the vehicle. Examples include the Toyota Prius, Ford Escape Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid, and virtually any car that has the name “Hybrid”.

  1. Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) are also powered by fossil fuels and electricity like their HEV counterparts. The difference, however, is that not only do PHEVs recharge via the Regenerative Breaking Mechanism but you can also charge them by plugging into an electrical charging station. This is a feature the HEV does not have. Examples of PHEVs include the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Chevrolet Volt, Hyundai Sonata  PHEV, and so on.

Electric Vehicle End-Of-Life Concerns

Battery degradation and end-of-life environmental concerns are some of the problems surrounding the use of electric cars. Continuous usage of EVs does a number on the battery cells leading to its degradation.

It is estimated that a typical electric vehicle has a lifespan of 10 – 20 years or around 100,000 miles. However, how you use your electric car will determine how long it will last. Taking care of your EV still won’t guarantee its longevity.

For instance, just charging your car alone can weaken the battery. Because a typical battery has a maximum number of charging cycles it can take. There are other factors that contribute to the degradation of EV batteries like heat and regularly using a level 3 fast-charging station to juice up your car.

The problem is, when these batteries eventually degrade, it costs an arm and a leg to get them replaced. It can cost you as much as $15,000 to replace the battery pack of your electric car. Also, if these batteries are not disposed of properly, they can cause more harm to the environment.

The good news is if your electric vehicle has reached its end of life, you can get good money for it. There are reputable auto scrap yards that offer cash for electric cars – old, new, damaged, or unwanted. These companies are responsible in their recycling and disposal processes so you won’t have to worry about leaving a negative impact on the environment.

You would also not have to worry about replacing the battery pack when you can just send it to an auto scrap yard, get good money for it, and get another, newer EV model. In the end, electric vehicles can be a good investment.

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