NREL Testing Electric Vehicles in Antarctica
In a test designed to prove that electric vehicles (EVs) are not only flexiblebut durable, even in intense cold, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has taken two toAntarctica, figuring that if they run there, they will run anywhere.
The two vehicles, both E-Ride EXV2s, were chosen because they combine the sturdiness of truck-body SUVs and “fat” tires with a feature that President Barack Obama hopes will put an end to America’s dependence on foreign oil.; true EVs don’t need gasoline, and the best hybrids get about 50 milesto the gallon, whereas even the best conventional vehicles, like theoutstandingly engineered SmartForTwo, only get about 40 mpg.
Owned by the DOE/NREL, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Raytheon Polar Services Company (RTSC), a division of Raytheon Company (NYSE:RTN), the two EVs have so far proved their fitness at temperatures below 50degrees Fahrenheit (F), as they traverse the desolate landscape around McMurdo Station, Antarctica’s largest research community.
The Antarctic test will also verify that EXV2s are ideal vehicles for other remote locations, where bringing in fuel is prohibitively costlyand burning it a destruction of pristine ecosystems. According to theUnion of Concerned Scientists, vehicle exhausts are the largest single source of air pollution in the U.S. Imagine thedamage they do in remote villages in Alaska, or near the Arctic Circlein Nunavut, Canada’s newest province set aside for its indigenouspopulation.
The EVs have been at McMurdo for a month, logging 70 hours and 140miles without a hitch. Researchers want a trial period of at least oneyear, and with Antarctica heading into winter, the two vehicles –equipped with battery insulation and battery heaters – are expected toearn their stripes. (Okay, maybe that should be their tires).
The single disadvantage the EXV2 has is the fact that it cannot gomore than 25 miles per hour. This would be a considerable handicap inLos Angeles, for example, but at McMurdo – and presumably in otherremote areas – speed is less important than the ability to get somewhere without breaking down.
As NREL’s Senior Task Leader Ted Sears notes: "This project reallyoffers NREL a significant opportunity to increase the visibility ofsmall electric vehicles, expand our experience with them, and validatethe performance of the vehicles in extreme conditions."
It’s all part of a wider, concerted effort to prove that EVs canreplace fossil-fuel burning vehicles – an effort that is beginning topay off as more and more Americans express their willingness to buy EVs. In fact, according to a report by E Source, an independent energy analytics firm, 85 percent of U.S. consumers have said they would buy a plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV) when they need toreplace their gas-guzzling conventional vehicles.
Nor are EVs still “experimental” transportation. In 2010, Frito-Lay, a PepsiCo, Inc. (NYSE:PEP) subsidiary, installed a fleet of EV trucks to deliver their snacks to stores, and in 2011 General Motor’s (NYSE:GM) Chevy Volt was named North American Car of the Year.
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