Is Gasoline or Battery Power More Efficient?

March 17, 2009  /  Lifestyle

At first glance, gasoline wastes a lot of energy in the form of exhaust or as wasted heat cooled by the radiator.  In addition, the engine is full of moving parts; fans, pumps and generators all require energy to give them motion.  If you take the sum of all parts, give it a numerical value, and compare it to the total amount of fuel required to move a vehicle from point A to point B, the overall efficiency of gasoline totals about twenty percent.  In other words, only 20 percent of the energy from the fuel is converted into forward momentum or mechanical movement.Batteries Use Less Energy?Conversely, a battery does not use as much energy to cool it because it does not produce as much heat as gasoline. The process of converting battery power into useable force also requires less mechanical work, making it more energy-efficient.  If we apply a numerical value to each component of the battery-generated energy required to power a vehicle, the battery achieves a victorious seventy-two percent efficiency.High-Five for Gasoline?While it may seem as though battery power is a reliable alternative energy source, looking deeper into the source of battery-generated power gives us cause for skepticism. Electricity from battery power is a stored energy source, meaning that it had to be generated elsewhere.  Most power plants generate electricity with generators driven by heat engines fueled by chemical combustion or nuclear fission.  At times, kinetic energy from flowing water, moving wind, geothermal or photovoltaic sources (solar cells) is used as an alternative to or as a support for existing combustion methods.  Using sustainable energy sources to supply the charge and to contribute the stored battery power, raises the efficiency to around 65 percent.Consider that most likely a combustion process was the generator of the stored battery power.  Combustion sources of power run at about 20 percent efficiency.  This decreases the overall efficiency of the battery to around 40 percent.  Unless you have an available source of sustainable energy such as a vast plain of Texas wind churning a multitude of turbines, the battery is only slightly more efficient than gasoline.Taking into account the expense of the changes to the infrastructure required to convert from fossil fueled to battery-powered vehicles, is it really an affordable alternative for mere 15 percent gain in efficiency?

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