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RDJ has created eco-modified classic cars -- here's how they start their motors

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

With a new sweepstakes designed to raise money for his climate initiative, FootPrint Coalition founder Robert Downey Jr. is turning his collection of classic cars from gas guzzlers into something greener.

There're lots of reasons to ditch the combustion engine and get that electric charge.

Electric vehicles don't have the tailpipe pollution that gas guzzlers do; they don't break down as much (so they should be cheaper to maintain); and they'll actually cost less to power up than filling up a tank with gasoline.

But how do they work?

Well, almost everyone knows how gas-powered cars go.

The gooey remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago are processed from oil into gasoline, which is then fed into an engine where the gas combusts to move pistons that transfer the force of the explosion to a crankshaft to turn the wheels.

It's the technology that's moved billions of people around the world for over a century -- and it's transformed how we live, where we live, and even the world we live on.

Passing gas

Burning all of that goo has pumped billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere -- polluting the air in ways that are invisible to us, but are felt in the increasing frequency and severity of droughts, heat waves, and wild fires. And in rising ocean levels, more powerful storms, and a host of other, related, problems.

In the U.S., 28% of these greenhouse gas emissions comes from the tailpipe of cars and trucks.

By using electric engines that draw power from batteries instead of from gasoline, new cars avoid all of those emissions and can dramatically cut the amount of pollution that would otherwise float off to add another layer to the gases that are blanketing the earth.

By contrast, an electric vehicle ditches the tailpipe emissions and combustion for a silent power that can provide more torque, better performance, at a lower overall price.

Electric Power

Instead of burning fuels that emit more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the new breed of vehicles draw power from the utility grid.

In many cases that power could come from coal (or natural gas), but increasingly utilities in the U.S. are using solar and wind power as their energy sources (making the energy sources much less polluting).

That power is fed into batteries. When a driver steps on the accelerator, the electric "fuel" charges the motor which spins a gearbox and... just like that... the car moves.


So what's the deal with electric motors? Why does it cost so less to maintain them and why're there so many fewer parts?

Because the power runs directly to the motor as electricity instead of gas, there're fewer moving parts. No more cylinders. No more carburetors. No more fuel injection. Just power straight to the wheels.

That's not to say that electric motors are simple, exactly. The motors just use magnets and electricity to make things go.

These motors have two major parts -- a stationary outer shell called a "stator", which takes electric energy from the battery and feeds it to . Then there's a rotor, which works like crankshaft, feeding torque out through the transmission.

Upside potential

Right now, electric vehicles cost more to buy than combustion cars because the components that go into them are more expensive. Since gas cars became the norm in the early part of the twentieth century, there have been decades to create supply chains, industrialize manufacturing and drill baby drill.

But these electric vehicle costs are set to decline precipitously as new battery technologies get developed, which replace expensive metals for cheaper alternatives.

FootPrint Coalition Ventures is invested in one company developing a new battery technology called Lyten. The company replaces expensive materials like cobalt and nickel with graphene, salt, and aluminum.

These new batteries could be much cheaper than the lithium ion batteries currently being used and drive costs down significantly.

And Lyten's only one startup among hundreds that are working hard to cut costs. Our Next Energy, QuantumScape, are just two others that have potential low-cost replacements that big automakers are exploring.

The electric revolution is upon us, friends. Buckle up. Strap in. Enjoy the ride.

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