I read that Elon Musk thinks all vehicles should run on electricity instead of gas but is it even possible?

What about large vehicles like buses, trucks, bulldozers and other heavy machinery?

What about even larger engines like in ships? Can a container ship run on electricity alone?

Can an electric engine output the same power as a gas engine and have comparable range to gas engines?

  • \$\begingroup\$ The problem is not the output power (except maybe in airplanes, where negine weight is important), but the energy content of the fuel. A tank of petrol contains much more energy than the same weight in batteries. (Partly because you don't have to carry the oxygen around.) \$\endgroup\$ Jun 13, 2015 at 8:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ The Queen Mary II has four electric driven propellers in azimuth thrusters. The power comes from diesel engines and gas turbines. Diesel locos often power a generator which powers electrical motors at the wheels. In my city, there are electric trolley buses. So yes, electric motors are strong enough. The question is where this electricity comes from. \$\endgroup\$
    – sweber
    Jun 13, 2015 at 8:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @WoutervanOoijen there's oxygen in lithium ion batteries? \$\endgroup\$
    – shinzou
    Jun 13, 2015 at 8:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kuhaku Yes, there is - bound up in the form of oxides and salts. \$\endgroup\$
    – Majenko
    Jun 13, 2015 at 8:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kuhaku yes there is, but that is not the point of my (side!) remark. Combustion involves fuel and oxygen, but a vehicle only has to carry the fuel, not the oxygen (unless it is a space ship). This is an inherent advantage of burning fuel over carrying any other type of energy source: you have to carry only half of it, the other half can be taken form the air. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 13, 2015 at 8:54

1 Answer 1


Yes, it is possible. Electric motors can produce more power than a 'gas' engine of the same size. For example the Tesla Model S 70D is as powerful as a high performance sports car, yet the motors take up so little room that they were able to turn the front engine compartment into a trunk!

Range is a function of the energy source, not the engine. At present 'gas' can store more energy than batteries. However new battery technologies are closing the gap. Also a 'gas' vehicle must carry enough fuel to make the trip (or stop for refueling along the way) whereas solar or wind can produce electricity continuously - providing the possibility of an electric vehicle with infinite range.

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As fossil fuels become harder to extract and more expensive, so alternatives will become more attractive. A solar/wind powered container ship might take a little longer to reach its destination than a diesel ship, but it would be getting its 'fuel' for free! In the long run this may make it cheaper to operate.

We already have electric powered buses, trucks, trains, ships, and even aircraft. As the technology improves we can expect to see a lot more. In another hundred years the internal combustion engine may be as much a curiosity as steam engines are today.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "Infinite range" solar is feasible only with very light vehicles. Wind as a power source for boats, on the other hand, is very traditional via sails. \$\endgroup\$
    – pjc50
    Jun 13, 2015 at 11:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Placing turbines on ship will probably cause more drag so it won't help to power the ship no? \$\endgroup\$
    – shinzou
    Jun 13, 2015 at 11:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ I thought wind powered ships were "old" technology... Haven't they been using those for the past few thousand years? \$\endgroup\$
    – Majenko
    Jun 13, 2015 at 12:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ tennantdesign.co.nz/index.php?page=revolution \$\endgroup\$ Jun 13, 2015 at 19:50

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