Electric Propulsion

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At the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the advents of innovations, as horse-drawn carriages were replaced with steam locomotives, petrol engines, and electric trolleys. In 1900, of the 4,200 automotives sold in the US, 40% were steam, 38% electric, and 22% were powered by gasoline (1). By 1912, electric cars were dominating the automobile market, surpassing all other vehicles equipped with internal combustion engines.

The demise of electric cars came with the invention of the starter motor by Charles F. Kittering in 1911. The Kittering starter was a very small electric motor that produced enough power to crank an engine for a very short time, eliminating the need for much more tedious hand cranks. The popularity of gasoline engines continued to increase as they become more reliable, eventually making the steam engine obsolete and electric vehicles (EV) inferior. Mass production of Ford’s Model-T, with affordable prices and a range twice that of the best electric cars available, helped make internal combustion engines even more popular.

As electric vehicles became less and less attractive and the number of internal combustion engines grew, so did the concern for automotive pollution. The sudden increase in the price of gasoline in early 1970, following the Arab oil embargo, revived the interest in electric vehicles. The main problems that have precluded a wide acceptance of electric vehicles are their higher cost, limited range, and the inconvenience these vehicles present in comparison to internal combustion engines. Most electric vehicles use lead-acid batteries, which are heavy and of relatively low power density. This means that, for the same weight, EVs have a much shorter range than gasoline and diesel engines. Furthermore, charging the batteries takes a long time and, unlike gasoline filling stations that are widely available throughout the world, battery charging stations are few and far between. The obvious challenge to electric vehicles’ popularity is to develop compact batteries with similar energy density to gasoline at a reasonable price.


(1) Shacket, S., The Complete Book of Electric Vehicles, Domus Books, 1981.

(2) Toossi Reza, "Energy and the Environment:Sources, technologies, and impacts", Verve Publishers, 2005

Further Reading

Tillman, D., Fuels of Opportunity: Characteristics and Uses In Combustion Systems, Academic Press, 2004.

Sorensen, K., Hydrogen and Fuel Cells: Emerging Technologies and Applications, Academic Press, 2005.

Dhameia, S., Electric Vehicle Battery Systems, Academic Press, 2001.

Hussain, I., Electric and Hybrid Vehicles: Design Fundamentals, CRC Press, LLC. 2003.

Jefferson, C.M., and Barnard, R. H., Hybrid Vehicle Propulsion, WIT Press, 2002.

Spelberg, D. The Hydrogen Energy Transition: Moving Toward the Post Petroleum Age in Transportation, Academic Press, 2004.

Fuel, Direct Science Elsevier Publishing Company, Fuel focuses on primary research work in the science and technology of fuel and energy fuel science.

Transportation Research Part C: Emerging Technologies, Direct Science Elsevier Publishing Company; this journal focuses on scholarly research on development, application, and implications in the fields of transportation, control systems, and telecommunications, among others.

Fuel Cells Bulletin, Direct Science Elsevier Publishing Company, Fuel Cells Bulletin is the leading source of technical and business news for the fuel cells sector.

International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, Direct Science Elsevier Publishing Company, Quarterly journal covering various aspects of hydrogen energy, including production, storage, transmission, and utilization, as well as economical and environmental aspects.

External Links

US Department of Transportation (http://www.dot.gov).

US Department of Energy (http://www.doe.gov).

US Environmental Protection Agency (http://www.epa.gov).

National Energy Renewable Laboratory Hybrid Electric &Fuel Cell Vehicles (http://www.nrel.gov/vehiclesandfuels/hev).

FreedomCar (http://www.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels).