Feasibility of Electric Cars in Cold Regions

AIDC project number: RR08.05


Jing Zhang (UAF)

  • US Department of Transportation (RITA)
  • UAF College of Engineering & Mines
  • Start Date: Aug 3, 2007
  • End Date: Jun 30, 2008

Project Summary

Electric vehicles — cars that run on electricity stored in batteries — have drawn increasing interest from federal agencies, the auto industry, and academia as a promising path to reduced reliance on fossil fuels and elimination of pollutants. This project studied the feasibility of using electric vehicles as reliable transportation in cold regions. Researchers evaluated conditions in which the electric car is appropriate, and they addressed the use of electric cars as a mode of transportation, the optimal distance between origin and destination, and potential environmental impacts on transportation operations. Data was collected in several Alaska urban areas, including Fairbanks and Barrow, as a case study. Project results include data and analysis of electric car performance for urbanized areas in cold regions. Results suggested that electric vehicles can be a viable option for certain users in subarctic and arctic communities. For example, researchers learned of a 1986 Chevy Sprint converted in Barrow, Alaska. The car is driven daily for three miles, from one heated garage to another. Electric cars are infamous for not going too far or too fast. Student researchers compiled energy usage on nine test vehicles during driving and while charging. Initial results showed that one test car, a Chevy Metro, used a trim 250 watt hours per mile. The study found that many variables affect electric car efficiency. As one example, in colder areas such as Alaska and Canada, some infrastructure for public heater block outlets already exists, in parking garages and at parking meters, provided primarily for engine pre-heating. When an electric car uses these outlets, its efficiency doubles. The knowledge gained through this study will assist departments of transportation in cold regions when considering adopting electric cars as an alternative transportation method.