Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Electric Vehicle is going into overdrive

The earliest known battery-like instrument dates back to approximately 250 BCE which produced a little over 1 volt of DC electricity when used. Not a whole lot, to say the least, but technology has improved over the last 2200 years or so.

The first commercially viable battery was invented in the 1800's by the English chemist Dr. William Cruickshank. Over the years, batteries were adapted to meet consumer needs. They became smaller, held more power, and eventually in 1859 became rechargeable thanks to French physicist Gaston PlantĂ©.

Today, batteries come in all shapes and sizes, most of which can be recharged to meet their expected power quality for many years. They're found in cell phones, mp3 players, laptop computers, toys, and--since the mid 1830's--the electric vehicle.

You read it right: the 1830's is the first time in history we saw batteries being used to power vehicles. Built by Robert Anderson of Scotland, it was an electric carriage which didn't require any horse-drawn assistance. So why are we driving gasoline-powered vehicles reminiscent of Karl Benz's model that wasn't invented until 1885?

One definite reason is because Anderson's EV was not rechargeable. Additionally, batteries then weren't very powerful therefore an owner would be replacing the battery far too often to be convenient. It was much easier to continue to use a horse & buggy than bother with this EV. Later, when gas-powered vehicles came around, they skyrocketed due to the highly convenient gas technology. As we all know, it is extremely easy to fill up a tank of gas.

So now we're stuck in a rut with this dated technology. Where we went from typewriters to computers, rotary phones to cell phones, record players to mp3 players, we're still transitioning from gasoline to electric. Instead of improving electric technology over the past 125 years, we've been making gasoline more convenient: 10 miles per gallon has been increased to 100 miles per gallon in some vehicles.

In recent years, car manufacturers have begun to adopt electric vehicle technologies. In 1996, General Motors was the first to mass produce an economical electric vehicle, the EV1, until it was completely taken off the market for unconfirmed reasons as depicted by the 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? Since then, the biggest fingerprint on the market was the global release of the Toyota Prius in 2001 which promised 50 mpg's with its hybrid-electric engine. Many other manufacturers have replicated this hybrid-electric technology and are still available today. However, there is yet to be a consumer-friendly electric vehicle on the market.

The problem with electric vehicles is that the technology being released today does not meet the consumer demands that gas engines put out. The Nissan Leaf which comes out this year in 2010 will only allow for 100 miles per charge. While this is acceptable for many, if not, most drivers on the road, it still leaves for much to be desired: road trips would be impossible and require renting a gas-powered vehicle; and those who drive an hour to work every day due to traffic or distance are likely to run out of juice before getting home. EV's that advertise much longer distances such as Tesla Motors can go up to 300 miles per charge, but also cost over $100,000. Also not so consumer friendly.

Other issues with electric vehicles include their overall low reputation for power and speed, the length of time they take to charge (though many newer EV's will come with a quick-charge), and having to install a power station at one's house. This means that if you live in an apartment, you won't be buying an EV anytime soon. At least not until there's a charging station at every block and you wont have to sit at the "pumps" for hours at a time. And while the Tesla Model S pictured above as a great looking car, most EV's are...well...not very pretty.

There are other alternatives out there, however. Motorcycle enthusiasts can enjoy a few different electric motorcycles to choose from, both for on and off-road. A great thing considering motorcycles are the top vehicles for fuel-economy but with the highest amount of greenhouse gas emissions per vehicle (offset by a significantly lower population of motorcycle drivers vs. car, truck, and SUV drivers). There are also a couple electric trucks and SUV's in development including the Phoenix SUT which also offers a 100+ mile range. But while EV's continue to improve, many individuals have reconfigured their diesel engines to run on vegetable oil until more EV options go to market.

Regardless of these temporary drawbacks, electric vehicles are literally and figuratively headed in the right direction as manufacturers make constant improvments. With the British Petroleum Oil Spill under a microscope, the EV is in higher demand than ever before due to a population of people who have had enough with ecological destruction, greenhouse gas emissions, and high gas prices. Though gasoline isn't out of the picture yet, it is time to recharge our batteries.

From top to bottom: Parthian battery dating back to 250 BCE, First electric vehicle built in the 1830's, Tesla Model S, Mission One Sports Bike.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Etsy sellers donate 100% of proceeds to helping the Gulf Coast

Sellers on the popular handmade and vintage boutique website,, have come together to create a collective seller store--Help the Gulf Coast--where 100% of the proceeds will be donated to the recovery effort of the oil spill plaguing the Gulf of Mexico. 50% of the proceeds will go to Oxfam America and the other 50% will be given to the American Bird Conservancy.

Items in the store range from beautiful art and photography of the Gulf Coast to handmade clothes and jewelry reminiscent of ocean scenery. Please click here to browse the shop!

If you're interested in donating an item to Help the Gulf Coast, please click here to see their donation guidelines.

For more information and updates on the shop's progress, please visit the Help the Gulf Coast blog.

Friday, June 4, 2010

the fast food industry becoming animal rights activists?

Animal rights organizations, such as PETA and the Humane Society, have gotten some new activists: fast food giants like McDonalds, Burger King, Carl's Jr., Wendy's, KFC, Chipotle, Quiznos, Denny's, Hardee's, and many others. They have all pledged or have already made changes to increase the welfare and treatment of their animals by hiring on animal welfare specialists to regulate the treatment of animals.

Animal welfare specialists will also work with these fast food giants by providing new ethical ways of raising and slaughtering their animals. Some suggestions include free-range, larger crates or less animals per crate, veterinary care, discontinuing the use of growth hormones (which can be harmful to humans), and "controlled atmosphere killing" (CAK), a non-poisonous gas that puts animals to sleep before they are slaughtered.

The Humane Society, who owns stock in many of these chains, has also purchased stock in Jack in the Box and Steak 'n' Shake--two companies who have been criticized for their lack of steps at improving the livelihood of their animals. Once the Humane Society has owned stock in the companies for one whole year, they will be able to submit proposals that are then voted on by shareholders.

Jack in the Box currently requires their animals to have enough room to move freely and be provided veterinary care. However, they continue to use unethical ways of slaughtering their animals, one of which involves hanging conscious birds upside-down by their feet, electrocuting them in electrified water, and then cutting their throats.

While the fast food industry as a whole is improving their methods, only a small percentage of the meat purchased comes from animals which were treated humanely during their lives. Certainly restaurants are pledging to make changes, but there are simply not enough vendors treating their animals ethically to be able to meet the restaurants' demands. However, as the times change one can almost guarantee that the vendors will change with them.