Monday, October 21, 2013

Sierra Club Loves Science (and Electric Vehicles)!

The Sierra Club’s Suncoast group and the Florida Healthy Air campaign teamed up to educate 4th-8th grade students about the science behind the electric vehicle at the St. Petersburg Science Festival on Friday, October 18. The Third Annual Festival “celebrated the wonders of hands-on science, technology, engineering and math with interactive, fun exhibits and activities for the family.”      The Sierra Club’s exhibit focused on how renewable energy can power an electric motor and how electric vehicles use energy stored in their lithium-ion battery pack to power the engine.

The students had an opportunity to see up-close the engine of an electric vehicle, which is very different than that of an internal combustion engine. An electric vehicle uses potential energy stored in their battery to power the engine but also has the ability to create its own energy via regenerative braking.  Regenerative braking is a highly efficient process that recaptures the kinetic energy that is normally lost as heat while braking in a conventional car. The captured energy is converted to electricity and is used to recharge the battery which helps to extend the range of EVs, especially in stop-and-go traffic. Students were allowed to sit inside the vehicle, plug-in the charging cord, and see inside the engine which has very little moving parts.  Most were impressed and surprised at how virtually silent the engine is while turned on and couldn’t detect the engine being turned on or off.  

Lisa Hinton, Chair of the local Suncoast Sierra Club group, also stressed that an electric vehicle lacks one thing that a conventional car has: a tail-pipe! She explained that the electric vehicle can help reduce the harmful air pollution that plagues our community and makes us sick while protecting the environment from the dangers of drilling for more oil.  

The most critical lesson of the day is that electricity is the only transportation fuel that will not only get cleaner over time but has the possibility of becoming net zero when renewable energy is introduced in to the equation. Important distinctions were drawn between dirty fossil fuels that power most of our cars today and the potential of solar powered transportation that can take us in to a clean energy future.  They learned that in order for this change to take place we need to change the minds of the public and get them to turn away from their dirty gasoline-powered engines and invest in an electric car whenever possible. We hope that the students bring home this important lesson to their parents and they consider an EV when purchasing their next vehicle.

Our lungs and our environment will thank them!