Exit petrol and diesel, enter batteries

Petroleum appears to have conquered the world as the fuel that dominates the transport sector. For a century users road of transport have known nothing else besides petrol, diesel and other fractions of petroleum.

In the years to come, motorists will not turn in to filling stations to refuel but instead will be calling at recharge stations to recharge. Petroleum and motorists shall have gone different ways then. There are far too many problems with fossil fuels.

Some of the problems which I have shared in my previous articles are that fossil fuels are perishable and that they pollute the environment. For some time now efforts have been made to make vehicles that run on cleaner sources f energy. One promising alternative is the electric car.

Trains, as always, have taken the lead in the use of electric propulsion. In London today, one can reach any corner of the great city by means of the underground train. These do not run on diesel but use electric power to move. Each train is connected to electric cables by overhead connectors which slide through the cables as the train moves.

Even overland trains in much of Europe have graduated from diesel to electric power. Cables run above the rails and the locomotives are connected to them and get energized. These trains are fast and free of noise. Many people who work in London do not live there. They commute daily by electric train from places like Milton Keynes and Northampton and are never late for work. I once needed to travel between London Macclesfield near Manchester, and had basically two options: to travel by coach or by train. I chose the latter option because of the convenience of traveling fast and smoothly by electric train.

The challenge has been to introduce feasible electric road transport. As you cannot run cables over the highways for vehicles to use, electric cars have to depend on batteries.

Electric vehicles have had a long history. In 1828 a Hungarian inventor, Anyos Jedlik, made a prototype of a battery operated electric car and since then several people have produced different variants of the electric car. One such inventor was the famous Tomas Edison (the man who gave us the incandescent bulb) who created his electric car in 1913.

These early electric cars had severe drawbacks, one of which was the limited range following a full charge. You would be lucky to cover a distance of 60 kilometers before the battery required another charge. And the scarcity of charging centres compounded the problem. Internal combust ion vehicles, therefore, won the day and were to rule the transport sector for decades to come.

Electric vehicles have only recently been revisited following demands by environmentally conscious governments to reduce or eliminate emissions. Some governments have already issued warnings to the effect that by a certain deadline diesel and petrol cars will be outlawed. The renowned car manufacturers are now busy working on electric cars intended for the mass market.

Searching within Africa one finds Elon Musk, who was born in 1971 in Pretoria to a South African father and a Canadian mother. He moved to Canada in 1988 to study at Queens University and transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, USA, in 1990 from which he received Economics and Physics degrees. He has since then established a number of startup companies in America, including Tesla Incorporated which deals in energy solutions. It is based in Palo Alto, California and has made it big into the production of electric cars.

Elon Musk has made introduced two important adaptations: making flat batteries, thereby optimising the amount space occupied by batteries and setting up many recharging points throughout the USA. Use of electric vehicles has, therefore, become a feasible means of transport in America. Soon diesel and petrol engines will joins steams engines in our museums.

Electric vehicles shall come to Malawi. We actually have no choice but to embrace them. Remember that we do not make our own vehicles here but rely on external manufacturers. These will soon have to abide by the legal requirements in their own countries to stop making cars running on fossil fuels. When (not if) they finally switch to electric vehicles, that is the product they will be exporting to us.

One of the difficulties we shall have with electric vehicles is their lack of noise. In Malawi, we do not have highways but roads on which vehicular traffic, pedestrians and livestock mingle all the time. Pedestrians normally rely on hearing an approaching vehicle to get off the road. They simply will not be able to hear electric vehicles.

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