Monday, June 22, 2009

Electric Cars and Batteries

The basic problem with electric cars is that the batteries are too big and take too long to charge. The Tesla Roadster motor is 70 lbs, has one moving part and is the size of a watermellon, yet it gives high-end sports car performance using a one speed transmission! The battery, however, weighs 1000 lbs. To say the least, that's a bit more than a full gas tank on an internal combustion car. The Roadster also takes about three hours to charge. That makes for a long pit stop. The Tesla Model S will improve on the charging time, getting it down to 45 minutes.

Clearly, if we had a battery that could charge in 5 minutes and was near the weight of a full gas tank, electric cars would be awesome. Even several hundred pound batteries with appropriate range and power output would be an improvement.

I have reason to hope that batteries will improve significantly in the next several years. I list my reasons below. They are basically taken from Wikipedia's article on lithium ion batteries, but I have read about many of them elsewhere.
  • The big problem with Li-ion batteries is that they have a high internal resistance, mostly due to electrode (anode and cathode) materials. This causes heat and energy loss. Tesla had to specifically design a cooling system for their Roadster battery pack to keep it safe. There are several proposals to address this problem.
  • In April 2006 researchers at MIT announced they could grow micro wires with viruses. This technology would improve Li-ion energy density by a factor of three (e.g the 1000 lb Roadster battery would only weigh 333 lbs). In April 2009 New Scientist reported that the MIT team succeeded in making a battery with their virus technology.
  • In June 2006 researchers in France produced nano-structured electrodes with several times the energy capacity of normal electrodes.
  • In September 2007 the University of Waterloo, Canada, developed a new cathode chemistry using fluorine. It would increase battery life and allow replacing lithium with cheaper and more stable sodium.
  • In November 2007 Subaru unveiled their G4e concept electric car with Li-ion batteries that have double the energy density of normal Li-ion batteries. In the lab the Subaru-type batteries have been shown to have three times the energy density of normal Li-ion batteries.
  • In December 2007 researchers at Stanford created a Li-ion battery with nanowires that had ten times the energy density of normal Li-ion batteries. They hope to commercialize their technology in five years. (If they could achieve this, the Roadster battery would only weigh 100 lbs!)
If some or all of these hit in the next few years, even in a decade or so, batteries will improve enough to make electric cars superior to gasoline cars. Plus our electric toys -- cell phones, computers, et al -- will get much better as well. I'm excited!


I found this funny, but it certainly has a black underside.

It's my belief that a big reason the iron curtain fell was because people finally were fed up with their dictators enough to rebel. It took a lot of courage, not to mention some pain and suffering (though a lot less that any of us would have guessed). I've prayed something similar would happen in countries like Iran. Despite (or because of) all the violence and pain, perhaps the unrest in Iran is the start of something good.

I hope so. And I'll keep praying.

Friday, June 05, 2009

How to Start Running

I avoided running because I thought it would be too hard on my body. I'd hurt my knees. My feet would get messed up. My arthritic joints would suffer. Chaffing would get to me. It was just too much for someone my age and weight. Since I've started running I've never had most of these problems. The ones I have had have been minor and I've learned to deal with them.

What got me past my fears? I learned I could run slowly and easily.

In particular, I found the Couch to 5k plan. It provides a schedule for getting from sitting on the couch to being able to run 5k, which is about 3 miles. I liked this plan and it worked for me.

Perhaps, though, it looks too complicated for you. Carolina gave me a running book for my birthday, Master's Running by Hal Higdon. He has a Beginner's Running Guide online. On it he presents his very simple and easy 30/30 plan.

Both plans start with walking. You jog only as you are ready. You very slowly build up the length of your running. The emphasis is on doing what you are able to do consistently. You are not expected to run exhaustively nor "gut it out" nor kill yourself. In fact, such intense effort is counter productive because it leads to injury and burn-out.

There are several principles to remember when you start to run.
  1. Go slow.
  2. Run easily and do not push yourself.
  3. Don't go too fast.
  4. Ease into your running.
  5. When you feel impatient and want to skip ahead, hold back. You'll get there in time.
  6. If you have trouble moving to the next step, just repeat until you feel able. Don't be afraid to go back if the current step is too hard.
  7. Don't compare yourself to others.
While it may not seem like much, you do slowly get better. Many times people are able to work up to a full marathon in less than a year. In my case I went from zero to a half marathon in a year. I was interupted by work, sickness, two children getting married and some other life circumstances. After each interruption I was able to pick back up and keep improving. 

If you have never run or haven't run in a long time, I encourage you to try it. It's not my intent to disparage other types of exercise. Walking, biking, tennis, basketball, martial arts, yoga, dance and many others things are great. The main thing is to do something. I've done other things and still do, but I've found running to be great for me. Perhaps you'll find it good for you too, even it you didn't think it possible.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Why I Run.

I took up running regularly a year ago. I ran my first half marathon Memorial Day. Why do I run?

There are lots of standard exercise reasons.
  1. Better health.
  2. Feel better.
  3. Live longer.
  4. Feel fit.
  5. Feel younger.
  6. Live to see and enjoy grandchildren (no kids, this is not a hint :-)
  7. Relax and relieve stress.
  8. Be fit enough to do things I enjoy like racquetball and hiking.
Specific reasons I run.
  1. My son, Dan, and I are working on being in distance races. It's something we can do together even though we live a distance from each other.
  2. Being able to run is satisfying. I now can just go out and run several miles without it being a big deal. That's cool.
  3. Running does all the exercise stuff above, and it does most better or more efficiently.
I have rheumatoid arthritis. Before it got treated correctly I lost the ability to run. I could barely walk, especially in the morning. I once fell down in my apartment parking lot. There was no one around and nothing to grab onto. I barely made it back to my feet. My arthritis is now under control. But I haven't forgotten how it was. I feel like God's given my life back to me. I actually had to relearn to run. It wasn't that hard, but it was eye opening. I thank God and don't wish to throw his gift away.

The major reason I didn't run before last year is I figured I was too old and fat. I thought I'd hurt myself. I got over this because I found out how I could run slowly and build up mileage slowly. My first runs were basically short walks with very short jogs thrown in. I have been surprisingly injury free. I've been sore, but it's a good muscle sore. I twisted my ankle a few weeks ago because I stepped on a rock sideways, but it wasn't bad and healed quickly. I've had no injury related purely to running, which surprised me. In fact, running often makes me feel better. I ran a slow recovery run the day after my half marathon, and that actually made me feel better than just sitting around.

As an old fat guy I also worried about chaffing. How can I put this politely? Those of us with excess flab have parts that bounce when we run. Those parts can chaff against our clothes. I seem especially sensitive to it. It has bothered me many times. However, there are good products, like Body Glide which I use, that work miracles. This has not really been the problem I expected it to be thanks to modern technology.

Running can make my muscles sore. I already stretched when I exercised and since running I've had to learn to stretch even more regularly. Stretching is good for me anyway. It's almost essential if I want to run (or any kind of exercise). I've learn a little yoga and that has helped tremendously.

There are probably other reasons not to run but I find the positives far out-weigh any hassles. I enjoy running and look forward to running for many more years.

Tesla Model S

Whipnotic Model S Video.

Model S Unveiled:

Model S Test Drive.