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GoPoWhy Convert A Gas

Car To Electric?wer

Mike Brown ©2001 Mike Brown

“I have an older compact car that just failed its smog test. What are the benefits of converting it to electric power instead of just scrapping it?”

A gentleman at an electric vehicle show asked me this question last weekend. It’s one I get asked often, so I thought it would be a good question to answer in detail for Home Power readers as well.

The gentleman had owned the car—a 1989 Ford Escort—since it was new, and he liked it. The car’s body and interior were in good shape, and it was in good mechanical condition. The car weighed less than 2,800 pounds (1,270 kg; which we consider to be the maximum a car or truck can weigh and make a successful conversion). It also had a manual transmission, which is essential. In addition to these things, we knew that the car was popular for conversions because we had sold a lot of motor-to- transmission adaptors for it.

So given that the car would make a good conversion, what are the benefits of converting it? Let’s look at the benefits to the environment first.

Cleaner Air

There are many reasons that converting a gas car to electric makes environmental sense. An EV is cleaner than a gas car, even if you include emissions from the power plants. Of course, some of the cleanest power comes from hydro plants. EVs charged from hydropower produce 98 to 99.9 percent less greenhouse gases, and 99.9 percent less of all the non- greenhouse gases combined.

On the other end of the spectrum, the dirtiest power is from coal. EVs charged from coal plants produce 55 to 59 percent less greenhouse gases, and 80 to 92 percent less non-greenhouses gases than a gas car. Natural gas electricity falls in between these two extremes.

EVs are also cleaner over time. The power companies are required by law to continuously upgrade their plants

to meet tighter emission standards. This means that the longer an EV is driven, the cleaner it gets. In contrast, as a gas car ages, its mechanical condition deteriorates and its emissions go up.

Also, most gas cars are driven 25 miles (40 km) or less in a day, and spend most of their time idling and in stop- and-go traffic (which means they are not fully warmed up). Their emissions are the highest in these conditions. In contrast, the EV sitting at the stoplight is not producing any emissions at all. Instead of idling, the electric drive system simply turns off.

Cleaner Water & Earth

An EV reduces other types of pollution as well. Most cars drip a little oil, coolant, and other fluids as they go down the road. These things create the dark stains on the parking lots and the black stripe down the center of the roads. When it rains, these fluids are washed into the storm drains and from there into the nearest river, lake, ocean, or into the ground, and then into the water supply.

In addition to being cleaner in use, the EV is also cleaner to maintain. A gas car needs regular engine and drive train maintenance, which produces hazardous wastes in the form of used oil and oil filters. When the coolant is replaced, the old coolant must be treated as a hazardous waste if it cannot be recycled. Things like fuel filters, air filters, spark plugs, and other tune-up parts are not recyclable, so they end up in a landfill. An EV doesn’t use any of these items, so there are no old contaminated parts to create disposal problems.

In fact, the only things that are periodically replaced on an EV are the batteries. This usually happens after three or four years of use. Even then, there is very little non-recyclable waste involved, since the batteries are 99 percent recyclable. This is not only good for the environment, but also for the pocketbook. If new lead were used to make batteries instead of the recycled lead, batteries would cost much more than they do now.

EVs help reduce the waste stream in even more subtle ways. When a gas car is sent to a wrecking yard, it is stripped of its usable parts for resale, and all the recyclable materials are reclaimed. But 30 percent of the car—the glass, rubber, upholstery, and most of the plastic—ends up in the landfill. In addition, when the new cars that replace the scrapped ones are manufactured, several tons of waste are generated in the manufacturing process. Doesn’t it make more sense to recycle a whole car that is in good shape except for its tired or dead engine?

Save Energy

There are several energy-saving reasons that make converting a gas car to electric power a practical idea.

104 Home Power #84 • August / September 2001

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