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Power Transportation

Electric Car Environmental Impact: Power Source Matters 341

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-not-easy-being-green dept.
another random user writes with news of a study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, which looked into the environmental impact of electric vehicles — not just how they do when driven, but how they are produced and by what means they are charged. The study pointed out that the production of EVs has twice as much of an environmental impact as the production of typical gas-powered cars, which must be taken into account when comparing the two. Also, they say it's important to consider the source of the electricity used to charge the vehicles. In places like Europe, where a good chunk of the electricity comes from renewable sources, EVs do indeed provide a benefit to the environment. However, "In regions where fossil fuels are the main sources of power, electric cars offer no benefits and may even cause more harm." The study says, "It is counterproductive to promote electric vehicles in regions where electricity is primarily produced from lignite, coal or even heavy oil combustion."
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Electric Car Environmental Impact: Power Source Matters

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  • Captain Obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wbr1 (2538558) on Friday October 05, 2012 @09:55AM (#41558105)
    We knew this. All it does is move the pollution. It may alleviate smog and guilty consciouses, but that's about all. The same is true of hydrogyen vehicles and how the fuel is produced. The answer is thorium reactors for electricity production and cracking water to hydrogeb, but we won't do it.
    • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:00AM (#41558153)

      The answer is to tax pollution. I'm sure manufacturers could produce a cleaner car if there was money in it.

      • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

        by sls1j (580823) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:09AM (#41558249) Homepage
        One possible unintended consequence to taxing pollution is that the government will become dependent on the tax revenue. Which may well cause the government to encourage pollution blocking manufacturer's efforts to reduce pollution.
        • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:29AM (#41558453)

          Like smoking? Been a long time since I've seen governmental policy that makes it easier to smoke. For the past 20 years, the government (state/fed) has been making it increasingly more difficult for themselves to colllect that bag of money.

          • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Troyusrex (2446430) on Friday October 05, 2012 @11:05AM (#41558841)
            It meant abandoning all my mods on this story but this intrigued me and I had to look up it up. In fact, while the number of smokers may have dropped the TAX REVENUES [taxpolicycenter.org] from smokers has been increasing steadily and at pace far faster than inflation. I think that lends some good evidence to sls1j's assertion that taxing pollution will lead to government dependence on that taxation. Obviously smoking and pollution aren't exactly the same but I think there's a good point made there.
          • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:4, Informative)

            by Greenspark (2652053) on Friday October 05, 2012 @01:23PM (#41560563)
            How about, like toll roads? They justified those birds with the promise that 'one day they would be paid for' -- i think we all know by now that it's never gonna happen.
        • by Sloppy (14984) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:52AM (#41558715) Homepage Journal

          One possible unintended consequence to taxing pollution is that the government will become dependent on the tax revenue. Which may well cause the government to encourage pollution blocking manufacturer's efforts to reduce pollution.

          That's because people don't understand how to do taxes. Stop electing these people!

          It's dumb to tax pollution as a punitive measure, or to encourage/discourage the use of certain technologies or behaviors, or to raise general revenue.

          It's smart to tax pollution to offset the public-born costs of the thing which is taxed.

          Don't tax pollution to nudge people into abstaining from polluting; tax them whatever it costs to clean up their mess, and then spend that money to do just that. If someone is spewing greenhouse gasses, tax 'em to plant forests (or whatever, if you have a cheaper way to handle it) of the capacity needed to bind those gasses, and then actually do that (really plant the forests).

          That alone may be enough to indirectly discourage them from polluting. Or maybe they'll pay to plant the forests themselves, since they can do it more efficiently (cheaper) than government contractors. Or if they're not discouraged: don't worry about it, because you got your offsetting forest and the pollution really did get handled.

          If someone is spewing something harder to clean up, then use (and set) that tax to whatever it takes to deal with it. And if nobody has the magic or tech to deal with the pollutant, then the pollution (i.e. the liability) can't be paid for, so should be forcefully prohibited, rather than forgiven (i.e. subsidized at public expense).

          Don't think in terms of saving the world; think in terms of turning externalities into actual liabilities.

          Dependency isn't a problem if you handle taxes this way, because you don't use the pollution tax to pay for wars or Medicare or anything else which is unrelated to the tax. e.g. If people stop dumping CO2, then your forest-planting expenses just went down, so the demand for the revenue drops at the same time the supply does.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            This is a great idea, and it's been mentioned before. The problem is that it's an accounting nightmare. Keeping track of which potion of tax money goes towards which cleanup projects, how to nominate projects for specific tax money buckets, etc. they'd have to maintain an army of accountants to keep track of it all.

            I think it's still worth doing, but it's definitely not easy.

          • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:04PM (#41559633) Journal

            It's dumb to tax pollution as a punitive measure, or to encourage/discourage the use of certain technologies or behaviors, or to raise general revenue.
            It's smart to tax pollution to offset the public-born costs of the thing which is taxed.

            That's crazy talk!
            Luckily, elected representatives everywhere know the purpose of taxation is to raise revenue for boondoggles, pork barrel projects, bribery, civil service bloat, and other wastrel activities.

            Just look at the taxes on fuel in Europe as an example. The high taxes are ostensibly to promote economy, but the more economical vehicles become, the higher the taxes must be. It's the tax revenue that must be preserved [guardian.co.uk].

          • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Friday October 05, 2012 @01:19PM (#41560515)

            It's dumb to tax pollution as a punitive measure, or to encourage/discourage the use of certain technologies or behaviors, or to raise general revenue.

            But it is even dumber to tax income and payrolls. We have to tax something, and all taxes have the side effect of discouraging what is taxed. But taxing pollution results in less pollution, while taxing income and payrolls results in less productivity and job creation. Which is worse?

        • by ThorGod (456163)

          One possible unintended consequence to taxing pollution is that the government will become dependent on the tax revenue. Which may well cause the government to encourage pollution blocking manufacturer's efforts to reduce pollution.

          Wrong.

          Governments tend to spend whatever they're going to spend, irrespective of whatever they take-in as income. Dependence on a specific revenue generating tax? Ridiculous.

        • by rbrander (73222)

          Not necessarily. Suppose you use the "tax" revenue to fill a special fund that may ONLY be used to alleviate the same problem. Suppose you taxed the emission of fossil carbon into the air at $50/tonne. That would raise the cost of coal-generated electricity by about 5 cents per kWh, a sharp increase that would strongly push electricity generation towards non-carbon sources: nuclear, wind, hydro, etc.

          But you fill the fund with the money and you also pay 50 dollars per tonne of atmospheric carbon *buried

    • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Bigby (659157) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:01AM (#41558163)

      No one should have ever viewed it as the "greener" thing to do. It is/was obvious. The main benefit here is less moving parts (less maintenance) and a diversified fuel source, which should bring more stable prices.

      • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

        by rmstar (114746) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:06AM (#41558213)

        Less moving parts - I think you are onto something here.

        I believe that he future of mobility is people moving less from one place to another, or more of them moving at once in one vehicle. That is, a drastic reduction of mobility, and whatever mobility there is must come from public transportation.

        Just substituting our current cars with electric ones will neither work from a technical point of view, nor will it solve the pollution and energy consumption problems.

        • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:5, Interesting)

          by claar (126368) on Friday October 05, 2012 @11:06AM (#41558843)

          future of mobility is people moving less from one place to another, or more of them moving at once in one vehicle

          Couldn't disagree more. The first option is ridiculous; moving backwards in transportation capability is the very, very last solution humans will (and should) try.

          The second "solution" isn't much better; the convenience of personal transportation should be cheap & universal, not taken away from everyone for the sake of environmentalism. However, this idea could work if implemented similarly to UPS packages handling; personal transportation at beginning- and end-points, but mass-transit between major hubs.

          We should only consider solutions which actually move us forward. Trying to put the cat back in the bag is silly and unnecessary.

        • by JWW (79176)

          What???

          Electric vehicles for everyone powered by nuclear power are a complete zero emission system, no matter how many cars you have.

          Thats the answer. Everyone in the city is always "public transport, public transport!!" But if your not in a big city the taxes and fees to support public transport that "everyone must use" are going to be more expensive than just having an electric car.

          • by Dare nMc (468959)

            >Electric vehicles for everyone powered by nuclear power are a complete zero emission system, no matter how many cars you have.

            No it is not, that is (part of) the articles point. If the system is in place the incremental cost of one more mile is a zero emission cost. But the system still has a lot of environmental impacts. Tires are still produced from oil, electric wires and batteries are (made from copper for example), is mined from the ground using diesel equipment, then smelted in a natural gas/co

      • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Friday October 05, 2012 @11:00AM (#41558787)

        You do realise this is like a report from a Saudi Arabian university proclaiming that electric vehicles will never work, right?

        • You do realise this is like a report from a Saudi Arabian university proclaiming that electric vehicles will never work, right?

          Hey, I read that report!
          It said (with persuasive evidence to back its conclusions) that electric vehicles would work perfectly on electricity generated by burning oil. On electricity generated by burning coal or coming from nuclear or renewable sources, every conceivable kind of electric car would become appallingly bad - just a seized-up godless sputtering commie rustbucket for pedo terrorist file-sharers.

    • You were doing great until the last sentence.

      Hell, if you live in India, even the thorium fantasy is reasonable.

    • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SimonInOz (579741) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:09AM (#41558245)

      Petrol and diesel engines in cars, especially starting and stopping a lot, are appallingly inefficient. Less than 30% of the energy in the fuels gets used for moving - and then there is braking. Throw away all that good energy as - heat? Fantastic!
      Electric motors are really good at stop/start - especially with regenerative braking.
      Power plants are really efficient.
      Also, it puts all the pollution in one place - easier to handle, yes? And better yet, it's in a place where I am not. And if I can breath more easily, I might ride my bike more. That'll reduce pollution.

      Would anyone seriously bet against electric cars on a ten year time-span?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "Also, it puts all the pollution in one place - easier to handle, yes? And better yet, it's in a place where I am not. And if I can breath more easily, I might ride my bike more. That'll reduce pollution."

        Not only that, but getting lots of people to drive electric cars will help to create a support infrastructure (such as lots of charging stations everywhere) for them that will make the eventual switch to renewables a lot easier.

      • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

        by bonehead (6382) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:23AM (#41558401)

        Would anyone seriously bet against electric cars on a ten year time-span?

        Yep, I would. Up until now they've basically been nothing but a feel-good novelty, and I've seen no real signs of that changing.

        And then there's the fact that the people who can afford a new electric vehicle are already driving newer, well-maintained, low-pollution vehicles anyway. The old, unmaintained, clunkers, driven by people who can't just run to the dealership and buy a new car on a whim, will continue to be driven and continue to pollute for a long time to come.

        Add in the severe range limitations of electric vehicles, and the lack of progress on addressing that issue, and I think 10 years is FAR too short of a time frame to bet on electric vehicles becoming mainstream. Plug-in hybrids? Maybe. Pure electric? Zero chance.

        If you want a practical, low-pollution alternative, the best bet would be a plug-in hybrid that burns propane in the internal combustion engine. Much cleaner than gasoline/diesel, and I can swap an empty 20# propane tank for a full one in any populated area nationwide.

        • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:5, Informative)

          by pixelpusher220 (529617) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:53AM (#41558721)
          'bonehead' - great name, you do it proud.

          "Pure electric? Zero chance." Uh, electric doesn't mean battery powered it means it runs on electricity. The Chevy Volt is completely electric under 60 mph. Even when the battery runs out, it's still 'electric' via the gas generator. It runs on electricity. How it gets that electricity is up to you. You could put a 2nd battery pack in, or use hydrogen fuel cell, or propane as you suggest. Whatever, the important part is getting to electric propulsion so now your fuel can come from anything rather than 'only' a limited and polluting fossil fuel source.

          Diesel-Electric locomotives are 'electric'. They get their electricity from diesel generators, but the motors are still 100% electric. Why? Because it's more efficient. The Volt is basically the same thing.

          What needs to still improve is the technology for storing energy. Today the single best energy storage mechanism is fossil fuels. Unfortunately there are some significant draw backs to using this as a fuel source.
      • by Mashdar (876825)

        Not to mention that usage of electric cars is somewhat independent of local power source. Saying "We should not use electric cars until our grid is powered with flowers and sunshine" ignores the fact that grid energy source changes are a seperate goal which could be approached in tandem, or after electric vehicles are fully adopted.

        It certainly seems easier to exchange a few generating facilities for cleaner alternatives than it does to replace the entire fleet of vehicles on the roads. Why delay the much h

      • by Hentes (2461350)

        The point of the study is that this increase in efficiency doesn't make up for the increase in manufacturing costs. Thus, electric cars are only good in places with cheap (and not polluting) nuclear power.

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          Manufacturing costs for something new and different are always higher than something that's been around forever. Those costs go down with volume and as the industrial processes improve. EV costs are high right now because they're a tiny niche product; if they start making millions of them, that'll change.

        • you know what? Cars were infinitely more expensive to build than horses were...guess we should get rid of the car then.
      • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:5, Informative)

        by itof500 (239202) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:57AM (#41558751)

        Do the math;
        With regard to climate change/CO2 production it matters a great deal where the energy comes from.

        Here in central Indiana our electricity comes from coal fired power plants down on the Ohio river. Each kW-h of electricity produces 1.88 libs of CO2 (ref Duke Energy mailings). The EPA rates the Nissan Leaf as using 34 kW-h to go 100 miles (ref http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nissan_Leaf [wikipedia.org]). So, doing the math going 100 miles through the Indiana countryside in the Nissan Leaf produces about 64 pounds of CO2.

        How does that compare to burning gasoline? Burning that gallon of gas produces 20 lbs of CO2 (ref http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/co2.shtml [fueleconomy.gov]), so the 64 lbs of CO2 for the electricity to drive the LEAF 100 miles is equivalent to 3.2 gallons of gasoline. That figures out to 31 miles per gallon.

        Nissan LEAF -> 31 miles per gallon.

        YMMV

        • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:5, Informative)

          by martyros (588782) on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:28PM (#41559907)

          Nissan LEAF -> 31 miles per gallon.

          So, about equivalent to a light gasoline car, except:

          • it doesn't create any smog in a city
          • it's ready with 0 cost, modification, or anything to switch from fossil fuel to nuclear or renewables.
        • by Nemyst (1383049)

          Here in Quebec, over 90% of our electricity comes from hydroeletricity. Average CO2 cost of a 100 miles trip for a Leaf? Zero.

          Tell me, why exactly should we have to stick with polluting ICE cars just because you guys have been slacking off?

      • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:5, Informative)

        by Hillgiant (916436) on Friday October 05, 2012 @11:19AM (#41558997)

        30% of the energy in the fuels gets used for moving

        Oh, it's worse than that. At steady state, the very best that a perfect engine (frictionless bearings, dragless intake, massless pistions, etc) can achieve is around 35% [wikipedia.org] at steady state. Add real-world parasitic losses and acceleration and I'm pretty sure the efficiency drops into the teens.

        I will grant that calculating losses between the power plant and the car battery is difficult, but your average combined cycle power plant is starting off at 60% Carnot efficiency, has proportionally lower parasitic losses, and can be much more cost efficient in pollution controls. I.e. it is more difficult to reduce one ton of carbon emissions at each of 100 tailpipes than 100 tons at one stack.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Rogerborg (306625)

        Little note: if you find yourself getting any significant amount of energy from regenerative braking, then you are an awful driver who is a hazard to yourself and others.

        Granted there's a lot of such drivers out there, but education and training should have a better ROI then chasing the latest idiocy-compensation technology.

        • if you find yourself getting any significant amount of energy from regenerative braking, then you are an awful driver who is a hazard to yourself and others.

          If you drive in a hilly area you get significant energy from braking on the downhill sections (to obey speed limits and maintain control of the vehicle). If you drive a street with many stop lights, you get significant energy from braking to avoid running red lights. Your sweeping, untrue and insulting statement is born of some personal prejudice and not facts.

      • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Solandri (704621) on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:59PM (#41560269)

        Petrol and diesel engines in cars, especially starting and stopping a lot, are appallingly inefficient. Less than 30% of the energy in the fuels gets used for moving - and then there is braking. Throw away all that good energy as - heat? Fantastic!
        Electric motors are really good at stop/start - especially with regenerative braking.
        Power plants are really efficient.

        You can't selectively look at only the inefficiencies of internal combustion engines in a comparison.

        The best power plants (at least the ones burning coal or gas) are about 45%-60% efficient. Coal is about 33%-45%, while some of the newer gas plants are pushing 60%. Let's go with 50% as an average. That's being rather generous since the vast majority of the world's electricity comes from coal. But the short-term trend seems to be more emphasis on gas (gas and oil have picked up the slack since nuclear fell out of favor after Fukushima - hooray short-sighted fear mongering).

        Transmission losses over power lines are on the order of 1%-3%. So call it 98% efficient.

        Charging losses are the big one. The faster you recharge a battery, the more of the energy is converted into heat instead of stored chemically. This puts EVs in a catch-22. They need to be charged quickly overnight (relative to capacity) if the vehicle is going to be used daily. But if you charge them too quickly the drop in charging efficiency defeats the purpose of using an EV instead of an ICE. Real-world charging efficiency of the Tesla Roadster is about 80% [futurepundit.com]. If you use a quick-charger as advocates suggest to get around the range problem, that can quickly plummet to 50% or lower. For this reason, the most likely long-term solution for "charging" batteries on a long trip will simply be to swap out the battery pack for a pre-charged one. As you'll see, if you rely on quick charges you end up less efficient than an ICE.

        I'll assume discharge losses are zero. Discharging also generates waste heat too, but I can't find any real-world figures on this for EVs. I'll assume the large capacity relative to the load in an EV keeps this to a minimum.

        Electric motor efficiency is about 90%-95%. Yes they can hit 97%, but those are typically found in laboratories, not mass production vehicles. Efficiency drops at lower load, but let's ignore that since a similar thing happens with an ICE.

        An ICE's automatic transmission (torque converter) can hit 90%-95% efficiency. Yes, blew me away the first time I learned that considering it's just fluid squirting onto turbine blades. But ~75 years of R&D has brought it a long way.

        After the motor and transmission I assume the EV and ICE vehicle are the same in terms of energy losses. You could argue the EV weighs less, but then you're talking about something with an extremely short range. The Tesla S model with ~300 mile range weighs as much as an SUV (4900 lbs). Wheel, friction, and aerodynamic losses are pretty much the same.

        So what's the final tally?

        ICE = 30% * 90% = 27% efficient
        EV = 50% * 98% * 80% * (100%) * 92.5% = 36% efficient

        So yes the EV is more efficient overall, but it's not that much better than the "appallingly inefficient" ICE. For EVs to really shine, we need to move away from fossil fuels for electricity, and shift to nuclear and renewables. (Incidentally, a similar analysis for hydrogen drops its efficiency down near ICE levels. Factor in the enormous difficulties of transporting and handling hydrogen fuel, and until nuclear and renewables generate the vast majority of our electricity, hydrogen fuel cell powered cars simply aren't viable.)

        Regenerative braking helps, but you can put it on an ICE too (aka hybrid). It only recaptures about 30% of the vehicle's kinetic energy, so strategies like timing lights so cars hit fewer reds, keeping your speed down (kinetic energy goes as the square of speed, so stopping from 60 mph wastes nearly 80% more energy than stopping from 45 mph), and constructing good freeways and freeway access can be as or more effective at saving energy.

    • by afidel (530433)

      It may alleviate smog
      Only locally (which might be an advantage for LA, Phoenix, Mexico City, etc), since 1970 NOx emissions on cars have been reduced by 99+% but only 60% on power plants which means overall smog production may actually increase for electric vehicles which are powered by fossil fuels.

    • by kye4u (2686257)

      All it does is move the pollution

      Main point: Centralized power source vs decentralized power source. Centralized power sources (i.e. Electric vehicles) can benefit immediately from improvements to technology/efficiencies at the power plant.

      Electric vehicles can do more than this by allowing for a centralized power source. Think about traditional gas powered cars. Changes in technology that allow for increased power efficiencies (i.e. better mpg) mostly impact the newer cars. Cars that were prod

    • by erroneus (253617)

      Oh... no.

      Actually it's STILL important to move to electric cars.

      The problem is that with our infrastructure, we're "locked in" to a single source of energy. By moving to electric, we are enabling multiple sources of energy. So even if the source isn't "clean" initially, the infrastructure could later migrate to other, cleaner sources. But by staying with fuel burning cars, we are guaranteeing no progress.

      ALSO, just because some will burn "dirty source electric" while others will burn clean source electri

    • We knew this. All it does is move the pollution.

      Energy production tends to be more efficient and easier to mange pollution on when it's on a larger scale. When you have a random spread of vehicles between good new (low pollution, 35mpg) and say, MINE at 12mpg, the average pollution and inefficiency per mile is easily overcome by changing those fossil fuels into electricity in bulk at a power plant, and charging vehicles to drive.

      Efficiency and pollution controls on all those individual cars is just a lot l

    • by Bengie (1121981)
      It was my understanding that even after transmission loss, charging loss, and all other losses, it still causes less pollution to use an EV even if charged via coal power, simply because electric motors are so efficient. Unless this has changed over the years due to better combustion tech and more hybrids.
    • Environmentalism 101:
      Chapter 1:
      Whatever choice you make, there will be a trade off cost with it. The goal is to make sure you get the right balance where the benefits are recognized and the tradeoffs are effecting areas that do not make the sum of your advantage worse.

      The Automobile was touted as an environmental friendly tool for mankind. The problem with the environment back in the early 1900's was dealing with tons of Horse droppings, which invited illnesses in the area, plus it didn't smell very good.

  • I'm not really surprised by this, but the article failed to mention anything about the impact of hybrid vehicles, which is something I find equally interesting. Anyone out there have much knowledge about the production methods for hybrids? I assume that the same problems apply to the electric engine component, but do hybrids have the same issues with batteries and whatnot?

    • Hybrids would have the same higher pollution pointed out in the article due to the batteries, without the potential benefit of charging those batteries with renewable energy resources like electric cars since Hybrids charge their batteries through fossil fuels. Some say that the lower emissions from the substantially higher fuel efficiency offset the higher pollution caused during manufacturing (http://donpettygrove.blogspot.com/2012/05/howstuffworks-pollution-caused-by.html), but this can be offset if the
      • by MojoRilla (591502)
        Hybrids use a much, much smaller battery, so the impact is much smaller.
        • but they still use gas as well so they have the penalties of both. They are a stop gap measure until the general range/charge time issues of batteries are solved.

          the 'next' step is more cars like Volts. Electric motors instead of ICEs and then use a generator to run the electric motors. It's more efficient anyway.
    • by Shavano (2541114)
      Hybrids get 25% or more better mileage than conventional cars of the same size so they're lower impact in the long run.
      • by dkleinsc (563838)

        The good ones get way better than a 25% boost. For instance, I'm now driving an 8-year-old Prius that gets approximately 49 mpg, compared to your average sedan getting somewhere around 27 mpg.

        And in case someone is interested in accusing me of being an enviroweenie, let me just point out that the reason I bought that car (used) was because I could, for an extra $500 at purchase time compared to similar vehicles on the market, save $700 a year in gas money. The model also has a good repair history. So hard-n

  • I was under the impression that the manufacturing processes to make the power plant / batteries for *POPULAR BRAND OF HYBRID VEHICLE* released the equivalent quantity of CO2 into the atmosphere as would be saved by the reduced CO2 released by the hybrid drive over it's serviceable life. The net being a loss to society, as the process for making the batteries released toxic elements not used in making regular combustion engine cars.
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Does that look at nickel from recycling or from the ground?

      The batteries are all going to be recycled so a high one time CO2 cost to get the nickel out of the ground could be a pretty misleading.

    • This is true. However, we also knew this going in. These are first generation "pieces of crap", which should become more viable as a product as technology and manufacturing costs go down.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:29AM (#41558443)

      That idea was propagated by CNW Marketing. They published a study in 2007, stating that a Prius' environmental impact was worse than a Hummer. Unfortunately, they made three critical mistakes:
      The first was assuming a Hummer would drive several times as long as a Prius would (378,000 lifetime miles for an H1 Hummer, and 109,000 for a Prius). The second was wrongly distributing lifetime energy costs, by estimating the vast majority of a car's energy usage is in production, when in fact it's in operation (and there are half a dozen references in the linked article that contradict CNW Marketing's assumption). The third was explicitly penalizing new cars by dividing the costs R&D plus factory construction over the number of cars produced (at the time, the number of Priuses produced was relatively small).

      http://www.evworld.com/library/pacinst_hummerVprius.pdf

      Long story short, the idea that you got got its origin from misinformation propagated five years ago that refuses to die because it's long on truthiness, but short on actual truth. For a more realistic assessment, you should read up on the Argonne National Laboratory's GREET Transportation Vehicle Cycle model (specifically, the graph on Page 84 in response to your post):

      http://www.ipd.anl.gov/anlpubs/2006/12/58024.pdf

      • Mod parent up! I am sick and tired of hearing this shit, this and the lifetime costs and efficiency of panels used on spacecraft being compared to earth-based solar panels! It's a real-life misinformation campaign and everyone's falling for it.

      • Many thanks for posting this. This is exactly the kind of response I was looking for.
    • by sunking2 (521698)
      Right, because broad statements comparing things that are disjoint that turn out to be 'equivalent' are always factually accurate, at least for some order of magnitude.
    • by djlemma (1053860)
      Were you perhaps thinking of the article that claimed a Prius was worse for the environment than an H3 Hummer? That one was pretty thoroughly debunked. [evworld.com]
    • President is a Muslim born in Kenya?

      Why do idiots believe such obviously stupid email forwards? Oh, right, because they're idiots.

    • by Medievalist (16032) on Friday October 05, 2012 @11:51AM (#41559449)

      I was under the impression that the manufacturing processes to make the power plant / batteries for *POPULAR BRAND OF HYBRID VEHICLE* released the equivalent quantity of CO2 into the atmosphere as would be saved by the reduced CO2 released by the hybrid drive over it's serviceable life.

      That's neo-con disinformation, operating at several levels, that is being distributed by marketing organizations like CNW. Not only is it factually incorrect, it also implies CO2 is the most significant car exhaust pollution issue, which it certainly isn't, and ignores the fact that auto batteries are recycled (in the USA) at a rate exceeding 95%.

      There's also the issue of "service life". We all heard the stories of how buying a new Prius battery would cost more than the car, and we'd have to do it every three years - yet I have 130,000+ miles on my ten year old battery pack and it has had zero maintenance and zero problems. Other people have gone 300,000 miles with no issues. Good quality electric motors, such as the traction motors in Japanese hybrids, have a 40 year service life before rebuilding - and if the bearings are replaced at the first sign of heat or noise brushless motors can last over a hundred years. I have an 80 year old electric fan in my house (it has hand-wound coils and hand-cut steel gears in the oscillating mechanism) and it works better than modern plastic chinese-made fans - pushes more air and uses less energy, because it's extremely well made. Service life estimates based on worst-case fantasies of hybrid haters are clearly not realistic.

      The net being a loss to society, as the process for making the batteries released toxic elements not used in making regular combustion engine cars.

      Again, this is factually incorrect. Even if you accept the ridiculous definitions of pollution and service life, it's still just plain not true, and has been repeatedly [ulg.ac.be] debunked [hybridcars.com] in peer-reviewed [mit.edu] literature [sae.org] and in journals [howstuffworks.com]. Of course the Wall Street Journal and Fox News will keep repeating absurd anti-environment propaganda forever, but those are not reality-based [rationalwiki.org] news sources.

  • LFTR (Score:4, Interesting)

    by harvey the nerd (582806) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:06AM (#41558211)
    Check out the thorium based LFTR, a proposed reactor that burns PWR/BWR waste too. It produces much less waste, that last much less time. It does not use high pressure reactors. Thorium is plentiful, easy to mine for fuel. It has anti-proliferation characteristics. It's been tested. If we don't do it, India or China will. It's mantra is "cheaper than coal", usually the cheapest long term utility fuel.
    • by gaelfx (1111115)

      Actually, I believe the wiki page for LFTRs says that China is already working on having one going by ~2017. Of course, the wiki does read a little like an advertisement, which makes me somewhat skeptical, but it seems like R&D dollars ought to start going towards this. The thing I don't understand is how power generation didn't become a bigger campaign issue in light of Fukushima.

  • Ride a bike (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Although it might be interesting to see the environmental impact of changing a non-bike-friendly infrastructure (such as the one here in Southern California) to one where people could/would actually ride bikes in large numbers instead of driving cars.

    • by cdrguru (88047)

      Sure, it would be interesting. Except that the US has been shaped by well over a hundred years of development which has been focused on separating living from working. You could almost say that people don't like looking at the same view from where they work as where they live. So, the US has been made into a place where you work somewhere and live somewhere else, preferably quite some distance.

      You can say this isn't efficient, but the highest efficency would be to have your office in your home. Second h

  • EVs are mostly the same as any other car, so producing the one over the other cannot be a major concern. Regarding the electric power source - well duh...
    • by rwise2112 (648849)
      Didn't even read the summary I see..
      The study pointed out that the production of EVs has twice as much of an environmental impact as the production of typical gas-powered cars
  • by wjousts (1529427) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:11AM (#41558273)
    While the amount of pollution produced by an electric car depends on how the electricity is produced, a couple of advantages of an electric car, even with coal-fired power stations, are worth mentioning. First is, I don't live next door to a coal-fired power station. So the pollution generated by an electric car is happening somewhere else, not in my neighborhood. While global warming is a global problem, not choking on exhaust fumes ever time I walk down my street is, I think, a bonus. Second, even with coal-fired plants, it'll be easier to upgrade and eventually replace a handful of coal-fired power stations than to replace potentially millions of cars. If the government mandated all new cars had to be electric (and I'm not suggesting they do), it would still take decades for all the old cars to be retired.
    • by j-beda (85386) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:18AM (#41558359) Homepage

      it'll be easier to upgrade and eventually replace a handful of coal-fired power stations than to replace potentially millions of cars.

      Too true. Electrical power is "fungible" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fungibility [wikipedia.org] - ok, the generation of power is fungible) in that from the car's point of view it doesn't matter how the electricity was generated. A gas-powered vehicle is pretty much stuck running on gasoline. The option to switch the generating system from "bad" systems like coal or burning puppies and children, to "good" systems like wind, solar and angle farts is really worthwhile.

    • by gaelfx (1111115)

      I've lived in China the past 6 years, and I have to say, this is exactly what I think when I'm walking down the street inhaling the bus and truck fumes. That being said, if an electric car has to last a few years on the same battery to be ecologically sound, I don't think they're ready for prime time.

      An aside: in the US, I think they need to focus more on public transport. A lot of mid-level cities lack a good way for those in the suburbs to make it into the city (I'm from Milwaukee and there's one bus line

    • by cdrguru (88047)

      The idea that electric power is being produced far, far away is part of the problem. In the US we are losing 5-10% of the electric power generated simply due to transmission line losses and conversion losses. The voltage is ramped up for the transmission line and then dropped down for more local distribution. All of this takes energy. I believe your average distance from generation to consumption in the US today is hundreds of miles which takes a big chunk out of what is finally distributed.

      But in the N

  • by avandesande (143899) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:17AM (#41558341) Journal
    One thing that I have wondered is if 'effective miles per gallon' takes into account line losses and the intrinsic efficiency of the power plant. If not than '80 empg' is more like 20mpg....(at least in a carbon sense)
  • I have a Leaf (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:20AM (#41558381)

    I just leased a Leaf for 3 years. Minimal money down and $300/mo lease.

    I was driving a Chevy Avalanche. I kept it because I need a truck a few times/month but was driving it every day. Now I only drive it when I need it.

    I learned a lot about EVs. First, it costs me less than $0.75 for a full charge, gets me 80-100 miles in town. Compared to $150/month for gas in the truck.

    Maintenance. In 3 years I will have to rotate the tires 5-6 times, replace windshield wipers as needed, and maybe replace the brake fluid once. That's it. No other scheduled maintenance.

    It drives like a very peppy car. Quick off the line, good acceleration, good handling. Most of the toys are standard (cruise, navigation, XM radio, limited voice activation, ability to monitor from smartphone apps, etc).

    I leased because I expect the technology to change in the next 3 years, and expect this car to be almost worthless by then, but I don't care as I can just turn it in and decide what to do then. And I will still have my truck so there will be no rush.

    Is it green? Maybe. Is that why I bought it? No, I bought it to save green. We have my wife's car for distance, my truck for hauling, this is just a cheap commuter car. cheaper to own, maintain and drive.

    I'm in NC, our power comes from coal and nuclear.

    • by Thorodin (1999352)
      That's good that you mention the cost to the user. Whether a hybrid or an electric car is the way to go, the cost has got to come down. I drive a '08 Cobalt that I bought new for $14,000(US). They keep hyping the Chevy Volt but there is no way I'm paying around $40K for a new vehicle. Perhaps in the distant future (no idea how far), all new and used cars will be electric-powered in some way so the cost is equivalent to gas-powered, but until then there is lot of people who couldn't afford a "green car" e
    • I just leased a Leaf for 3 years. Minimal money down and $300/mo lease.

      I was driving a Chevy Avalanche....Is it green? Maybe. Is that why I bought it? No, I bought it to save green.

      ?

      You were spending more than $300/mo on gasoline for your Avalanche?

      Compared to $150/month for gas in the truck.

      ...

      I take it math is not your strongest skill...

  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:20AM (#41558385)

    If your goal is to reduce air pollution TODAY, then quite probably electric vehicles don't help.

    If your goal is to shift the technology base of the entire transportation system toward renewable energy sources, then electric vehicles are necessary.

    In other words, don't blame the electric vehicle. Blame the lack of wind turbines. Electric vehicles will run just fine whether the generators the powers them is driven by coal or by wind. In contrast, gasoline and diesel vehicles tie us down to fossil fuels indefinitely.

    If you have a better plan for long-term control of carbon emissions than cutting our dependency on the internal combustion (and diesel) engine, I'd love to hear it.

    • by characterZer0 (138196) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:35AM (#41558503)

      Don't blame the electric vehicle. Electric trains and buses are great. Blame the car. We haul around a ton and a half of vehicle, starting and stopping all the time, for a person or two and a bit of luggage, and we design our cities and infrastructure to space stuff out and increase reliance on the car. If your goal is to reduce air pollution today and into the future, get rid of the car as the primary mode of transportation.

      • That's all?!? Why didn't anyone else think of that? That would only cost about 100 trillion dollars and would dump a huge amount of carbon into the air (to tear down and then rebuild all human residences). Although one downside is that it is politically infeasible, mostly because it is so stupid.

        You know what might be a good backup plan? Switch to electric cars (which are quite efficient at starting and stopping), encourage more telecommuting, and slowly make our electric power generation infrastructure mor

        • by characterZer0 (138196) on Friday October 05, 2012 @11:43AM (#41559307)

          We could start fixing the design of our cities. Build public transit instead of ever wider freeways. Build pedestrian and bicycle infrstructure instead of more parking. Add congestion charges to urban centers. Stop rezoning land so developers can build even more malls and retail strips a few miles farther out of town than the ones they are abandoning. Stop giving tax breaks to developers building on the fringes of the suburbs. Reduce speed limits in cities. Add traffic calming devices.

          Car traffic in this country is heavily subsidized. In short, we just need to stop subsidizing it.

          Of course, this is politically infeasible, because the auto instustry and oil industry have already paid for the politicians and the voters are not paying any attention. But it is technically and financially feasible.

    • Electric cars do help, the summary certainly makes it seem like there isn't a big difference between EV and ICE cars. In running carbon footprint, there is usually a massive difference, and there are only a few places (in the US and China) where an EV could be dirtier than an ICE vehicle.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      If you have a better plan for long-term control of carbon emissions than cutting our dependency on the internal combustion (and diesel) engine, I'd love to hear it.

      1. The first target should be coal-fired power plants. Replace those with wind, solar, hydroelectric, and nuclear (which has problems but not as much of a CO2 problem).
      2. The second target should be replacing long-distance trucking with rail, which is far more efficient.
      3. The third target should be cars, SUVs, etc. Current hybrid tech gets you about halfway there, full electric (if it works well and is reasonably convenient) would get you the other half, because now you've gotten rid of the worst power pla

    • by ThorGod (456163)

      I agree with your point. The other commentators have a groupthink that "EVs only relocate the pollution". While likely true in the short term, it's *possibly* wrong in the long term (which is far better than oil/gas burning cars).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:21AM (#41558391)

    When judging electric vs gas vehicles I feel that electric cars rarely get a fair shake.
    The institution of gas powered vehicles has very many externalized costs that people take for granted because, well, it's always been that way.

    Fuel transportation - This is a huge hidden cost. The amount of hydrocarbons burned to provide the massive infrastructure to move fuel is staggering. It's often one of the highest costs of fuel production itself. Do studies take in account the energy cost to move oil, refine it, then move the refined fuel? I really think this is one of the biggest benefit of electric cars is that an electric energy distribution could be a lot more environmentally friendly. Granted, we'd need to beef up our electrical grid too.

    Even if you're burning hydrocarbons to produce power, I still think electric vechiles are a lot more forward thinking. What is more efficient: Having lots of cars carry little powerplants around with them, and pay for the fuel to be moved out to service stations where they can access it? - Or move power production to a few large production centers (power plants) where efficiencies of scale can be captured. Not to mention that, in theory, you could capture and sequester carbon emissiosn at a powerplant. They're large and stay in one place. You can't realistically sequester carbon emissions from millions of tiny cars that move around all the time.

  • Of course the cynics will jump on this story and say "I told you so" like they do for everything. I'm starting to think that there are mostly only cynics left on Slashdot : /

    But it's more sober to assess the value by looking at the long term impact. The technology will change as they become more popular and advancing battery technology will make batteries more efficient to produce. The *concept* of electric vehicles can produce a society that has less energy waste, and less pollution, even if the first gene

  • Bullshit (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dr Max (1696200) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:43AM (#41558615)
    Burning petrol or diesel might produce similar carbon dioxide to coal, but going from crude oil to the petrol pump takes a lot more effort (about 4 times that of coal).
  • by Phoenix666 (184391) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:48AM (#41558667)

    Now I can drive my ICE in good conscience knowing that perpetual slavery to oil companies really is the best possible future any of us could hope for.

  • One difference is if you buy a petrol/diesel car then it will carry on creating the same emissions for its life. With an electric car as we bring more renewables online, (maybe) bring back nuclear, and (maybe) look at carbon sequestration then the emissions become greener
  • A few points... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Smidge204 (605297) on Friday October 05, 2012 @11:38AM (#41559261) Journal

    For those interested there is a report from a few months ago on the same topic with a US centric view [ucsusa.org] (PDF warning) that comes to a similar conclusion. The main difference is Europe has much higher standards for fuel efficiency (both in legislation and public preference) so there is less potential gain for GHG emissions reduction to start with. For example:

    Use phase energy requirements were assumed to be 0.623 megajoules/kilometer (MJ/km) for the EV, 68.5 milliliter/kilometer (mL/km) for the gasoline ICEV, and 53.5 mL/km for the diesel ICEV

    To break this down into units most of us are more familiar with:

    Electric: 3.591 miles per Kilowatt-hour
    Gasoline: 34.34 miles per US gallon
    Diesel: 43.97 miles per US gallon

    Anyone in the US driving a vehicle made for the US market and getting those MPG figures would be justified in being a tad smug about it. Electric efficiency also seems generously high - I usually figure 3.2 mi/kWh, or pessimistically 3.0 to make the math easier, which correlates fairly well with anecdotal "real-world" reports from EV owners across the country. (5, 6 or even 7 mi/kWh is not unheard of, though these are usually your hyper-miler type drivers.)

    Notable omissions from this report are include the energy and environmental impacts of obtaining the fossil fuels for either case. For example there is mention of the energy required to refine and process the metals used in battery production but no mention of the energy required to extract, refine and transport petroleum fuels. There is no mention of extraction costs for coal and natural gas for electrical production either.

    There are several mentions of aluminum costs for production of EV components but having worked with both EVs and ICEVs I'm fairly confident there is more aluminum in an ICEV. Most of the engine block, come of the internal engine components, and most or the transmission body are aluminum. They are correct that there is more copper in an EV however.

    Fossil depletion potential (FDP)may be decreased by 25% to 36% with electric transportation relying on average European electricity. EVs with natural gas or coal electricity, however, do not lead to significant reductions.

    Nobody sensible has been arguing that EVs are magical. However, they are even at worst equivalent to what we are doing now but with the added benefit of future-proofing. A diesel engine will always need diesel, bio- or otherwise. It will always need a carbon based fuel. Always. An electric vehicle can get its electricity from carbon and non-carbon based sources alike. This means the bar to reducing fossil fuel use is dramatically lowered with the electrification of our vehicles.

    tl:dr; Electrified vehicles are still a winning proposition despite not being perfect.
    =Smidge=

  • by jools33 (252092) on Friday October 05, 2012 @02:00PM (#41561027)

    I seriously have to doubt a Norwegian based study that (surprise, surprise) discovers that fossil fuels are more environmentally friendly than Electric motors - its just slightly less surprising than this study coming from say a Saudi based institution or Jeremy Clarkson...

  • by gelfling (6534) on Friday October 05, 2012 @02:12PM (#41561161) Homepage Journal

    Just do it. Mother Government will move your bloated sick ass from one place to another, citizen. Now line up for your internal passports.

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