Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Re-Volting Idea

This is the Roehr eSuperbike. It makes a claimed 96 horsepower and 210 foot-pounds of torque. It also doesn't exist yet, although Roehr says it will by the middle of this year.

It seems like everyone's talking about electric motorcycles, but few people are talking about the big problem with them, which is long recharge times. No one wants a bike they can ride for 100 miles and then have to park and plug in for the next 12 hours.

I think I've figured out how to get around this. I doubt I'm the only one who has, but if it turns out I'm some sort of visionary, remember you read it here first.

First, talk all the electric motorcycle manufacturers into adopting a standard battery, so the battery in a Roehr will fit in a Brammo and whatever new electric bike comes along, the way a 9-volt battery fits about a jillion things. Make the batteries small enough to be easily removable without taking the entire motorcycle part.

Next, get some major gas-station chain like Shell or BP to carry charged batteries for electric bikes along with gas and oil and junk food. You pull up on your electric bike, and instead of filling it with gas, you (or the attendant) remove the depleted batteries, put them on a charger, plug in a fresh set, and off you go. The station keeps enough hot batteries on hand that they're unlikely to run out before the depleted ones are recharged.

That's pretty much the entire plan. There aren't many places in the U.S. where gas stations are more than 100 miles apart, so an electric motorcycle with a range of 150 miles could always make it to the next battery station. You could ride all day and never run out of juice.

You'd still have the long tailpipe problem (the pollution that doesn't come from your e-bike's engine comes instead from the powerplant that generates the electricity to charge its batteries) but maybe a wider acceptance of electric vehicles as a practical alternative to internal combustion would spark (sorry) interest in generating more electricity from solar and wind power. Or maybe the utility companies would just build more nuclear and coal-fired power plants. I never claimed it was a perfect plan.

Anyway, there it is, my idea to help save the planet and make electric motorcycles more than a curiosity. The Nobel committee can contact me any time at Tread Life's email address. Sooner would be better than later; I could really use the cash prize that goes with the nice medal.


ProCycle said...

I've heard that idea floated for electric cars also. It solves the problem of long charge times but has problems of its own. First, how does the station make enough money to make it worth the trouble and cost? It might have cost 25 cents to charge up the battery but the batteries themselves are very expensive. How does the gas station (or the parent company) justify the huge investment of stocking enough batteries? Even if the electric bike company owns the batteries and leases them to the gas station how much profit margin could there be in a 25 cent charge?

Then there's the labor cost to swap out the dead battery for a fresh one. A battery in an electric vehicle needs to be very well protected in the event of a crash but still easily removed and replaced. Let's say a battery swap job is roughly equal to doing an oil change. It's going to cost ten or twenty bucks to have someone do the swap. Fifteen bucks fills the big tank on my Suzuki.

Battery swaps could possibly be designed to be do-it-yourself friendly. Maybe a dozen separate 8 lb. plug in cells instead of one 100 lb lump. Even then there might be problems connecting potentially spark making batteries right next to a line of gas pumps. The same concern would apply to storing those batteries.

I think an electric bike (or car) is a fun novelty and can be useful in its own limited way. They are light years away from being able to replace my DR650 or my diesel pickup.

Canajun said...

I like the idea and am not as convinced as ProCycle of the potential failings.

There should be no issue designing a fail-safe mechanism to easily plug-and-play the battery with virtually no chance of an accident. I mean we have been able to give people the right to gas up their own vehicles for decades now without blowing up every second service station - and gas is much more dangerous.

As for the cost, it wouldn't be based on the cost of a charge, but the cost of 150 miles (or whatever) of travel. If gas would cost you $15 (likely to go higher) to travel that distance, then $12 for a battery swap would still be a good idea, and good for the planet as well.

It's simply a matter of finding the will to do it.

Jerry Smith said...

The high price of batteries for electric bikes and cars might make the recharging question a minor one: