Building Electric Cars Is The Easy Part

Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, American manufacturers have successfully been at the forefront of design, engineering, and manufacturing of any number of industrial or consumer products. And of course car manufacturing has been a particular strength. So to think building electric cars will be an issue is ridiculous. Particularly given that the car itself isn’t being re-invented…it’s just having it’s motive power replaced. And given the number of new entries in the field it doesn’t seem to be much of an issue.

But that is just the easy part…then we have the raw materials and infrastructure issues to contend with…and that will have significant financial and environmental costs…see below:

One of the biggest issues required for the construction of electric cars will be huge quantities of batteries. And this will require new mines to harvest lithium, nickel, precious earths, and other minerals required to make long term rechargeable batteries. And mining has never been a clean environmentally friendly activity. So we can expect a lot of issues around the destruction of pristine environments plus new threats to clean air and clean water related to new mines. How will we mitigate those issues while seeking to reduce carbon emissions?

Then of course we have the issue of charging stations and phasing them in as we phase out gas stations. Fortunately this shouldn’t require additional land usage as we should be able to re-purpose existing facilities. And in the long run we should need fewer stations as many vehicle owners will rely on home based recharging units (more on that below). But will the car manufacturers all agree on charging standards and standard plug in devices. The last thing we need is charging facilities that all use proprietary technology. And just considering inter-city or inter-state travel, do we need more or fewer than we have today? Well apparently a rule of thumb is…distance between is one full bladder distance…and 15 minute charges…the time to empty a bladder and to purchase replacement fluids in the convenience store. But no matter the frequency and distance between, new infrastructure will be required at each site and sufficient electric power will be needed at the site. And of course short term recycling or disposal of obsolete gas delivery equipment must be accounted for.

And then for local trips…if we think individuals will rely on home charging facilities…cities could experience a reduction in corner gas stations and find some economic advantages in re-purposing that landscape. But they can’t go away entirely as they will be needed to service travelers and even local users who are wandering a bit beyond the car’s range while in town…and depending on the cost of home charging units…there will be those who will need to rely on public facilities because the can’t afford a home unit or don’t have a place to put it. (those who overnight park on the street for instance). And even if the majority of homes have a charging station…think what might happen if everyone comes home at 6 PM on Friday evening and plugs in…and the neighborhood grid crashes from the overload. It’s gonna happen unless there are serious upgrades made to the residential electric grids.

And then we have the heavy political and financial considerations on how do we construct/maintain/repair/replace our current highway and interstate systems. Today a majority of funds come from state and federal gasoline taxes. An easy and rather invisible solution given the taxes are built into gasoline prices. And not overly controversial because for most users gasoline consumption matches their use of our highways and byways. And out of towners help pay for local roads when they purchase gasoline locally. But what if no one is using gasoline anymore? If you know someone who owns an electric vehicle or a hybrid, you’ve probably heard the complaints about the surcharge on their car license plates to pay for road maintenance. Where do those funds come from in an electric car future and how do you spread them across the population fairly??

Building electric cars is the easy part…building and supporting the infrastructure to use them is going to be tricky.


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