The race is on: More gasoline for cars or cars that don’t need gasoline? Which will cross the finish line first?

I don’t know, but given the long time it takes to find oil then deliver it to market I’d almost bet on the gas-free cars everyone could afford.

For the record, Politifact, the fact-checking project of the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times, gives Obama a “No Flip” on the Flip-O-Meter in his announcement that he wants to expand offshore drilling in previously banned places, including along much of the East Coast, part of the west coast of Florida (but 125 miles out) and the North Shore of Alaska. Politifact says that Obama is keeping a campaign promise: He did a “Half Flip” in the middle of his campaign when gas prices had skyrocketed and then agreed that more drilling off the coasts would be necessary, so “No Flip” now.

If car and truck buyers’ bank accounts were overflowing and drivers were willing to give up on old technology, then the nation could begin the switch immediately to petrol-free and nearly-petrol-free vehicles, making new drilling unnecessary. It’s overcoming the inertia of change and those prickly high prices for the next generation of vehicle that’s slowing the changeover.

Biofuels already have their niche vehicle energizing marketplace with more opportunities growing with cellulosic ethanol, fuels from algae and others.

Hydrogen is still a possibility, but has its own set of cost issues as well as a complete set of supply and distribution challenges. (Hydrogen generated on demand would eliminate those challenge, but that concept is not talked about much,)

But from a technical standpoint, electrically driven vehicles, including hybrids, are here now and here to stay. At this point in time automakers and suppliers seem to have more interest in electric drive than in any other alternative technology. And, it’s not just the simple technology they like: zero emission vehicles will go a long way in helping automakers meet the 34 mpg average vehicle fuel economy standard by 2016 just finalized by the Obama administration.

Electric drive has come a long way in the past few years by building on research efforts that have gone back a decade or two.

Electric cars can be built with a range per full battery that’s nearly equal to a gasoline car’s with a full gas tank (Tesla’s Roadster is an example of this. The company’s upcoming Model S sedan is a better example.)

Full recharging, if you believe companies like Siemens of Germany, can be accomplished in under 15 minutes, perhaps as little as 6 minutes, using 400 Volts of power and above. Under 15 minutes is near the few minutes it takes to fill an SUV with petrol.

So, the hurdles of range and recharging times have been solved, at least on paper, but the major cost hurdle – the cost of those batteries – has not yet dropped dramatically. (But could, very soon.)

Today’s battery technology du jour includes lithium in its electrochemistry. Lithium has two major positives for making it ideal for electric vehicle batteries. It’s the lightest metal (low weight is necessary in vehicles) and lithium is highly chemically reactive, so batteries that incorporate it pack quite a wallop of energy for their size and weight, also good for vehicles.

On the negative side lithium is not overly abundant on the planet (though at least one expert thinks there’s plenty) and it’s not found out in the open by itself. There are no lithium mines, for instance. Its rarity adds to its cost. Further, one of its positive aspects is also a negative one. The fact that it’s highly chemically reactive, particularly in air, makes it difficult to work with in a manufacturing sense. Manufacturers can’t leave lithium lying around in piles waiting to cobbled into batteries.

The cost of rarity and reactivity combined force battery makers to use as little lithium as possible while building the metal into a precise, safe, well crafted device. Precise well crafted devices made with pricey materials translate into expensive products.

However, it’s just a matter of time before manufacturing processes are invented, developed and deployed that could dramatically reduce production costs leading to much lower cost batteries.

One company that’s working on a production solution is Planar Energy, of Orlando, Florida. That company has been developing technologies to manufacture solid state batteries using proprietary processes that could offer three times the energy density at less than half the current cost of lithium battery technologies now offered.

The company’s claims have been verified by the University of Central Florida, also in Orlando.

The high speed, low cost production of lithium-based batteries is an obvious goal of battery makers. Given the interest in electric drive you can bet that labs around the world are working on this issue. Low cost batteries will bring down the cost of electric vehicles to acceptable levels. Then the need for new oil will evaporate.

As for consumer acceptance, instead of complaining about the possibility of new drilling, why don’t politicians, pundits, environmental groups and others expend their energies promoting the alternatives to oil?

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