Will we really go all-electric?

Faure’s battery.
Faure’s battery.

The concept of electric cars is not new, and in fact predates the gasoline engine vehicles by many years. Even hybrids came out in the early 1900’s with Ferdinand Porsche’s Lohner Porsche with in-wheel electric motors and a small gasoline stationary engine to recharge the batteries.

Electric vehicles first appeared in the mid-19th century, but the high cost, low top speed, and short range of battery electric vehicles, compared to later internal combustion engine vehicles, led to a worldwide decline in their use; although electric vehicles have continued to be used in the form of electric trains and electric trolley cars.

At the beginning of the 21st century, interest in electric and other alternative fuel vehicles increased due to growing concern over the problems associated with hydrocarbon-fueled vehicles, including damage to the environment caused by their emissions, and the sustainability of the current hydrocarbon-based transportation infrastructure as well as improvements in electric vehicle technology. Since 2010, combined sales of all-electric cars and utility vans achieved 1 million units delivered globally in September 2016 and combined global sales of light-duty all-electrics and plug-in hybrids passed 5 million in December 2018, this includes the British milk carts.

The first known electric locomotive was built in 1837, in Scotland by chemist Robert Davidson of Aberdeen. It was powered by galvanic cells (batteries). Davidson later built a larger locomotive named Galvani, exhibited at the Royal Scottish Society of Arts Exhibition in 1841. The 7,100-kilogram (7-long-ton) vehicle had two direct-drive reluctance motors, with fixed electromagnets acting on iron bars attached to a wooden cylinder on each axle, and simple commutators. It hauled a load of 6,100 kilograms (6 long tons) at 6.4 kilometres per hour (4 mph) for a distance of 2.4 km (1.5 miles). It was tested on the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway in September of the following year, but the limited power from batteries prevented its general use. It was destroyed by railway workers, who saw it as a threat to their security of employment.

Between 1832 and 1839, Scottish inventor Robert Anderson also invented a crude electrical carriage. A patent for the use of rails as conductors of electric current was granted in England in 1840, and similar patents were issued to Lilley and Colten in the United States in 1847.

The next important step was the invention of rechargeable batteries. This did not come about till until 1859, with the invention of the lead–acid battery by French physicist Gaston Planté. Camille Alphonse Faure, another French scientist, significantly improved the design of the battery in 1881; his improvements greatly increased the capacity of such batteries and led directly to their manufacture on an industrial scale.

An early electric-powered two-wheel cycle was put on display at the 1867 World Exposition in Paris by the Austrian inventor Franz Kravogl, but it was regarded as a curiosity and could not drive reliably in the street. Another cycle, this time with three wheels, was tested along a Paris street in April 1881 by French inventor Gustave Trouvé.

English inventor Thomas Parker, who was responsible for innovations such as electrifying the London Underground, overhead tramways in Liverpool and Birmingham, built the first production electric car in London in 1884, using his own specially designed high-capacity rechargeable batteries.

Production of the car was in the hands of the Elwell-Parker Company, established in 1882 for the construction and sale of electric trams. The company merged with other rivals in 1888 to form the Electric Construction Corporation; this company had a virtual monopoly on the British electric car market in the 1890s. The company manufactured its first electric dog cart in 1896.

France and the United Kingdom were the first nations to support the widespread development of electric vehicles. The first electric car in Germany was built by the engineer Andreas Flocken in 1888.

The first electric car in the United States was developed in 1890-91 by William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa; the vehicle was a six-passenger wagon capable of reaching a speed of 23 kilometers per hour (14 mph). It was not until 1895 that consumers began to devote attention to electric vehicles, after A.L. Ryker introduced the first electric tricycles to the U.S. However, the European electric car industry was 15 years in front.

The early development of electric vehicles (EV’s) was all about getting batteries that could store their charge, but as the 21st century rolled on, the importance shifted to generating enough power and once that was possible the next step was finding recharge stations for EV’s.

Standalone charging stations are now being built with an eye to the future. Combining them with petrol retailers makes sense, but just like the railway workers of 1842, there will be friction between gasoline and electric suppliers. However, hopefully no destruction of property.