In post apocalyptic worlds gas, is often portrayed as the main power source, and without it, it is impossible to travel anywhere. Two examples are Mad Maz and Waterworld.

However, gasoline is limited, especially when you have nowhere to pump it from. There is current development of electric cars such as Nissan Leaf, BMW I3, Tesla's rockstar models and many trucking companies researching for electric alternatives for trucks.

In Jericho, they figure out how to use mechanical voltage regulators (something that is in almost every farm machine, especially tractors).

Solar panels aren't difficult to obtain and a kid in Africa managed to create a windmill from scrap parts.

This proves that electricity is easier to create in its raw form than pumping gasoline pass that in to a generator or a turbine - even a car engine.

Also, the process of creating an electric car is "fairly easy" given time, money, and the correct skills. Still, it is not impossible to create from scavenged parts in the post-apocalyptic world.

Would it be viable assume that electric cars would be the main transportation in the capital wasteland, and not gas-driven cars?

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    $\begingroup$ Not knowing the full details of your world I would think beasts of burden would be a valuable asset. I'm making some assumptions the world is not totally devastated however. $\endgroup$ – user14829 Oct 27 '15 at 19:53

Would it be viable assume that electric cars would be the main transportation in the capital wasteland, and not gas driven cars?

No, not unless the technology evolves quite a long way before the apocalypse. Current batteries are rare and very importantly, do not last long (around 10 years with reasonable storage left). And after they are gone, you cannot easily replace them with homemade kludges - lead acid batteries are somewhat doable, but you need a lot of lead and a lot of acid and their capacity sucks.

On the other hand, older gasoline cars can be rather easily modified to run on woodgas - wood is quite common. Though you'd have problems with modern drive-by-wire cars and the tolerance of the engines towards non-standard fuel is very low.

I'd expect horses and oxen to be the main transportation method, at least until enough industry is rebuilt. Assuming they survive the apocalypse.

  • $\begingroup$ I'd think that shank's mare would be the most common form of transportation. $\endgroup$ – Howard Miller Oct 27 '15 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ +1, one of the apocalypse reality shows that came up a few years back relied heavily on woodgas to provide them essential mobility, and actually demonstrated a working truck that ran on the stuff. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Oct 27 '15 at 17:47

I'm a little more sanguine about electric than the other answers. True, you have to go to lead-acid batteries, and the power densities on those aren't nearly as high as lithium-ion, but they have the advantage of lasting, essentially, forever.

And, so do simple electric cars. I saw on an episode of Jay Leno's Garage where one old woman drove her Baker Electric for 50 years or so -- all the way into the 1970's. A basic electric car like that has the advantage of being dirt simple and almost entirely solid state -- there's nothing to wear out.

Granted, it's basically a golf cart. But, if you're living in a world where the gasoline's run out, then being able to reliably drive 40 miles at 23-25 mph is actually pretty useful.

Gasoline's out because it's hard to refine. But, Diesel is not. Diesel is just oil in much the same way as cooking oil is oil, which is why you get those eco-gearheads converting their diesels to run on used french-fry oil. You can make vegetable oil out of a lot of things: peanuts, rapeseed, oil palms, etc.

I'd also not overlook the utility of a horse. Think about it: a mode of transportation that is self-refueling, self-replicating (vehicle factory in your back yard!), and comes with built-in collision avoidance. What's not to like? :-D In a serious post-apocalyptical world, your biggest concern is making food, and horses, mules, and oxen are perfectly suitable to tilling a farm if you're not trying to farm a 1000-acre monoculture at once. And a horse, or horse and buggy, are decent modes of transportation. Works for the Amish.

Come to think of it, just look at what they used in the 19th century -- that level of tech should be easy to reproduce (the most difficult being a good quality steel).

  • $\begingroup$ You can also eat the horse when everything has gone totally south on you...try that with Mad Max's V8 Interceptor. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Oct 27 '15 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Thucydides hmmmm, cold cuts $\endgroup$ – Patches Oct 28 '15 at 20:32

We'd use biogas.

Generators that run off of propane can be easily made to work on biogas (the naturally formed gas that is composed mostly of methane). Those generators can be used to charge batteries for regular electric cars or power small cars.

The key thing about biogas is we can generate it from any organic waste. Ever poked the bottom of a creek with a stick? The bubbles that rise to the surface are biogas. You can actually lay something over the surface, like a garbage bag, and trap the gas. It's highly flammable (I grew up on a farm with a forest and creek and a scientist father, we had a lot of fun).

If you fill a barrel with organic waste (leaves, food, mutant grubs, etc) and water (doesn't need to be very clean) you will start getting biogas at a fairly good rate. That gas can be burned directly for heating a dwelling, cooking food, or running a generator to charge your electric vehicle, or directly powering a small vehicle like a scooter or go-cart.


The easiest source of energy is undoubtedly: muscles.

  • human muscles can power bicycles, of course, but do not forget cycle tuktuks which are very popular in Asia
  • horses, of course, but also all kind of animals, whether for riding, bearing or pulling

The main advantage of muscles are evident: self-replenishing, self-repairing, available in abundance and adaptable to a broad range of situations. There's more than roads and flats: rough terrain, obstacles, uphill/downhill are all easily dealt with on feet or hooves, but offer significant chances of breaking down axles.

On flatter terrain, and well maintained waterways, a team of ox can pull a barge, or a team of rowers can pull/push it: barges can easily transport heavy weights and large volumes. Waterways are better than rails in that they do not monopolize steel (which is at risk of being stolen).

Muscles will also be supplemented with sails, sailing boats being one of the oldest available modes of transportation, they are low-tech enough.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for (sail)boats. I bet you everyone of us could figure out how to build even an ocean-going outrigger. The tricky part is navigation, but that is irrelevant for river-borne transportation of goods. $\endgroup$ – Jörg W Mittag Oct 27 '15 at 21:47

Not really, unless technology improves from the current. (Copied from Radovan Garabik since I agree.)

The energy density of fuels such diesel or gasoline is 40 to 50 MJ per KG. Current batteries store less than 1 MJ per KG. See the energy density table. There are projected battery technologies that are roughly on par with liquid fuels, but the fact we can't build such probably tells all we need to know about the practicability of building them post-apocalypse. For that matter lithium-ion batteries are kind of finicky due to the relative volatility and rarity of lithium. I expect we'd be down to lead-acid pretty soon.

Superiority of fuel to batteries is IIRC the actual reason electric cars have taken so long to become competitive despite electric motors initially being superior.

For power generation the story is bit better but even there we'd probably have to rely on salvaging the materials and some of the components. Reasonably there should be plenty to salvage, though. I expect we'd run out of things that can use electricity first.

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    $\begingroup$ what-if.xkcd.com/128 $\endgroup$ – James Oct 27 '15 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ A quick google tells me that gasoline has a shelf life of 40 days to 2 years depending on the page you look at and if you use stabilizer (Maybe not that available in post apoc??) Would that put a stick in the wheel for that theory (Pun intended) $\endgroup$ – Magic-Mouse Oct 27 '15 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Magic-Mouse What theory? Fuel is single use, shelf life is not that important as you'll need a constant resupply anyway. This is balanced by usable fuel being possible to produce even post-apocalypse. Samuel mentioned biogas, similar usable gas (or even liquid) can be produced from coal or wood. Alcohol and many animal and vegetable oils can be used as well. Oil refining is also simple enough for post-apocalypse, if you have a source. Compare this with an attempt to replace lithium-ion batteries once they run out their (not-significantly for infra) longer usable lifetime. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Oct 28 '15 at 3:50

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