www.whyville.net May 10, 2009 Weekly Issue

Science Specialist

Do You Dream Of Electric Cars? I do!

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The Car Talk guys were on NOVA Science a few weeks ago talking about (and driving of course) the Tesla Roadster (so cool)!

PBS Nova clip about Telsa electric sports car on "Car Talk"

The Tesla Roadster is the first electric car in North America that can be driven on the highway. It is an all-electric vehicle, so you plug it in and then drive it until the battery dies (that's right no gas station stops required). Most importantly, the Tesla Roadster does not emit any nasty pollutant from its tailpipe . . . VROOM.

The high performance of the Tesla screams GO, GO, GO: 0 to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds; it can get up to 125 mph; you can drive it 200 miles on one charge; and the batteries recharge in 3.5 hours a special high-voltage charging system.

Now what about those lithium ion batteries? The main obstacle for all electric cars is the battery, and how to recharge them. There are 6,831 lithium-ion cells, the same ones that are in your laptop, cell phone, PDAs, and iPods, which are connected to a very large battery that gives the Tesla Roadster speed, power, and enables it to go the distance. These lithium-ion cells represent one third the cost of the vehicle. Similar to other batteries, lithium-ion cells work by moving ions, electrically charged atoms or groups of atoms, between their electrodes. When charging, the ions travel in one direction, and when they are discharging, they travel in the opposite direction. Why lithium? Lithium is readily available, easy to work with, and fully recyclable. Unfortunately, it is difficult to control the temperature in lithium-ion cells which affects the life of the battery and poses some safety challenges (think catching fire). All sorts of battery companies and researchers (even right here in Chicago at the Illinois Institute of Technology) are working really hard to develop better lithium ion batteries, while others are working on how to recharge them effectively.

The Tesla Roadster is both powerful and fast. It has a 115 lb electric motor, which puts out 248 horsepower and more than 275 lb-ft of torque, and all really really quickly. The 1,225 kg (yep it's heavy) Tesla Roadster explodes down the highway, but in near silence (shhh . . .).

So now I really want a Tesla Roadster! I can just see myself driving down the highway at 125 mph hearing the birds sing (it really is that quiet), the only problem is I won't have an excuse to stop for a much needed diet coke and potato chips at the gas station.

Unfortunately the Tesla Roadster is $92,000 (more than I have in my bank account right now). For now, I'll have to continue driving my Grandpa's Honda Accord, and going to the gas station every few days.

The Tesla Roadster consists of some really neat engineering, with cheaper and efficient versions of this electric car (I hope) to come in the future!


Author's Note: This was submitted to the blog by Heather, one of our corespondents.


Editor's Note: For more blogs from Dr. Rabiah, visit Science Chicago's website at: http://www.sciencechicagoblog.com


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