Putting electric vehicles to the test
As the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt are arriving in showrooms across the country, Dalhousie Mechanical Engineering Professor, Lukas Swan, talks about his electric trucks, and how this form of transporation was already a viable means of daily transportation over a decade ago, let alone today. He also talks about what makes electric vehicles easier to maintain and what factors people should consider when looking at these automobiles. His conclusion - electric vehicles are clean, enviromentally-friendly and a more than capable means of daily transportation.
Dalhousie Mechanical Engineering Professor Lukas Swan explains how electric vehicles operate, their advantages and limitations. Dr. Swan and his father have three electric vehicles – two 2000 Ford Ranger EV trucks and a 2002 Toyota Rav4 EV. All three run on nickel-metal hydride batteries, the leading technology a decade ago. Despite being 10 years old, he says they outperform their gas counterparts in nearly every way.
Dr. Swan uses a Ranger to get to work, perform errands around town and haul any cargo or trailers he needs to. The little Ranger pulled the Dalhousie Architecture and Engineering float in the Parade of Lights, winning awards in 2009 and 2010. For longer trips he plans accordingly to stop and recharge, which can be done with most 220-volt appliance outlets in a house. Their only limitation is range as the Rangers go about 100 kms on charge and the Rav4 goes 170 kms. Dr. Swan insists he has no “range anxiety” as he rarely uses a full charge in a day.
Dr. Swan's vehicles have electric motors coupled to single-speed transmissions with high torque at low speed and very good power at high speed. In gas vehicles the transmission is constantly shifting which is complicated and uses much more energy. With electric vehicles, the moment you push the pedal you’re at high efficiency. They accelerate and travel at highway speeds the same as any gas vehicle.
Dr. Swan acknowledges that electric vehicles cost more than gas cars to purchase but explains, like everything, economies of scale mean the price will drop with increasing sales. He cites hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius that were much more expensive when they first arrived than today.
For two car families, Dr. Swan suggests a fully electric model like the Nissan Leaf for commuting and general purposes. However, if for one-car homes and for long-distance traveling, a Chevrolet Volt may be more appealing at this time. In addition to focusing on renewable energy in his studies, and now as a professor, Lukas Swan is co-owner, with his father, of DHS Engineering which provides consulting services to the electric vehicle and renewable energy sectors.
"Electric vehicles are smooth, silent, produce no smell or emissions, and are safer than their gas-powered counterparts." - Lukas Swan, mechanical engineering professor at Dalhousie
"Because electric vehicles are so efficient, they are responsible for less greenhouse gas emissions than gas vehicles, even though electricity in Nova Scotia is predominantly produced from coal. Furthermore, every day that goes by the electricity in NS is less carbon intensive because we’re installing more wind turbines that feed into the grid. So the car’s footprint gets cleaner. In contrast, every day that goes by, extracting oil becomes harder and consequently has more emissions. So if we project in the future, electric vehicles are getting cleaner, while the gas cars are getting dirtier." - Lukas Swan, mechanical engineering professor at Dalhousie
"Worldwide, gasoline is the dominant fuel for vehicles so emissions from the cars are similar everywhere. However, as you move to different jurisdictions, electricity is generated by different means. In Nova Scotia, we use coal, natural gas, hydro and increasingly wind. But in Quebec, most of their energy is hydro. So when you drive electric there you are driving completely emission free. In Ontario, their electricity is primarily nuclear, so again limited emissions." - Lukas Swan, mechanical engineering professor at Dalhousie
"The transition to electric vehicles is occurring simultaneously with the installation of renewable energy. The Nova Scotia Government’s renewable electricity plan has legislated 25 per cent renewable electricity by 2015 and has proposed 40 per cent by 2020. It's a tremendous opportunity for the province to get these efficient electric vehicles and to clean up our electricity grid, a win-win situation." - Lukas Swan, mechanical engineering professor at Dalhousie
|Lukas Swan with electric Ford Ranger|
Dalhousie Engineering Professor Lukas Swan does his daily commuting and errands in his electric-powered Ford Ranger
|Lukas Swan with electric Ford Ranger 2|
Dalhousie Engineering Professor Lukas Swan preparing to charge his electric-powered Ford Ranger
|Lukas Swan with electric Ford Ranger 3|
Dalhousie Engineering Professor Lukas Swan charges his electric-powered Ford Ranger
|Charging electric truck|
Not dissimilar to a gas pump, the charger is put into a flap in the front of the truck which charges the battery
|Ford Ranger's battery|
The battery in the electric-powered Ford Ranger sits where the engine block would normally be in a gas-powered vehicle