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Electric Car Environmental Impact: Power Source Matters

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the it's-not-easy-being-green dept.

Power 341

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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Captain Obvious (5, Insightful)

wbr1 (2538558) | about 2 years ago | (#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 (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#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 (4, Insightful)

sls1j (580823) | about 2 years ago | (#41558249)

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 (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#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 (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558557)

This hasn't happened with the EPA's or California's SOx and NOx emissions markets. I doubt it would happen with CO2.

Re:Captain Obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558651)

Not if the tax revenue is used to fund credits for those who pollute less.

Tax revenue dependency (5, Interesting)

Sloppy (14984) | about 2 years ago | (#41558715)

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:Captain Obvious (2)

ThorGod (456163) | about 2 years ago | (#41558753)

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.


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.

Re:Captain Obvious (1)

Medievalist (16032) | about 2 years ago | (#41558655)

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

Good God, man, are you looking for a horse's head in your bed?

If there's one place where Republicans and Democrats come together, it's on their mad drive to destroy any semblance of well-regulated capitalism. Using the profit motive to drive technology forwards is anathema.

Re:Captain Obvious (4, Interesting)

Bigby (659157) | about 2 years ago | (#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 (3, Insightful)

rmstar (114746) | about 2 years ago | (#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 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558223)

Don't forget the"plug the car in overnight and never have to detour to the gas station again on the way home from work" benefit.

Lucky you (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558315)

But for those of us living in Europe, owning a garage with electricity is a luxury item.

Re:Lucky you (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558773)

But for those of us living in Europe, owning a garage with electricity is a luxury item.

Since when? Where in Europe do you live?

Re:Captain Obvious (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#41558433)

Don't forget the"plug the car in overnight and never have to detour to the gas station again on the way home from work" benefit.

Right, because this is 1917, and filling stations that are quite literally everywhere are but the fevered dreams of a madman...

Re:Captain Obvious (4, Interesting)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about 2 years ago | (#41558787)

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

Re:Captain Obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558193)

Even in countries where fossil fuels dominate (USA), there are places where electricity production has been deregulated (Pennsylvania). So, as a consumer, I can ensure that my electricity comes from green sources. While I don't have an electric car, all of my house's electricity is generated from wind. If I got an electric car and charged it at home, it would be emission free.

Re:Captain Obvious (1)

ZeroSumHappiness (1710320) | about 2 years ago | (#41558589) would be fuel emissions free.

Production of the car, maintenance of the car, production of the windmill and maintenance of the windmill all produce pollution of various forms including hydrocarbon combustion emissions. Also, you'll never get away from pollution completely because heat pollution will occur -- second law and all that.

That said, good on you, assuming you're getting it at a competitive price.

Re:Captain Obvious (2)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about 2 years ago | (#41558639)

Also, you'll never get away from pollution completely because heat pollution will occur -- second law and all that.

Wait you're complaining about the heat pollution of 'electric' vehicles and implicitly saying internal COMBUSTION engines are better in this regard? wow.

The entire point of the article if you didn't bother to even read the summary was that IF you got your electricity from green, it made sense. Yet you're now claiming that the maintenance on the 'green' infrastructure stuff would be bad. Ever think that there's maintenance on the fossil fuel sources too?

Oh and fossil fuel sources have one other problem....'fuel'. Green sources don't pay for fuel generally speaking, because sunlight and wind are free.

Re:Captain Obvious (1)

Medievalist (16032) | about 2 years ago | (#41558237)

You were doing great until the last sentence.

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

Re:Captain Obvious (5, Interesting)

SimonInOz (579741) | about 2 years ago | (#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:Captain Obvious (1)

lookatmyhorse (2566527) | about 2 years ago | (#41558361)

Germany would. [] or to be fair, they are only less optimistic.

Re:Captain Obvious (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558365)

"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 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558371)

I'd be willing to put $5 on it.

Re:Captain Obvious (3, Insightful)

bonehead (6382) | about 2 years ago | (#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 (5, Informative)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Captain Obvious (2)

Mashdar (876825) | about 2 years ago | (#41558413)

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 harder of the two tasks?

Re:Captain Obvious (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about 2 years ago | (#41558487)

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.

Re:Captain Obvious (2)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 2 years ago | (#41558545)

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.

Re:Captain Obvious (2)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about 2 years ago | (#41558729)

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 (5, Informative)

itof500 (239202) | about 2 years ago | (#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 [] ). 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 [] ), 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.


Re:Captain Obvious (2)

afidel (530433) | about 2 years ago | (#41558263)

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.

Re:Captain Obvious (0)

wjousts (1529427) | about 2 years ago | (#41558319)

I don't know what this "hydrogeb" is, but electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen is done today, although steam reforming of hydrocarbons is generally more common because electrolysis doesn't scale well.

And why does "we knew that" change things? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558357)

Since the EV doesn't have to be run off coal fired power stations, how in hell does it matter that EVs run off a two-stroke home diesel generator create more pollution?

Because the answer to that "problem" is "Don't generate electricity from those dirty sources".

Easy done.

But as we can see, getting people weaned off their petrol cars is a VERY different proposition. They're like kids crying over their rattle being taken off them.

Re:Captain Obvious (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558611)

All it does is move the pollution.

From millions of tailpipes to one smokestack which can be fitted with pollution controls for much less cost than millions of pollution controls. Try sequestering carbon from a gasoline car and let me know how that venture goes for you.

Some people have an anti-environmental agenda and look for every opportunity to discredit legitimate technology. The worst part is that they're completely unhinged from reality but they're still allowed to vote and are taken seriously in the media.

Re:Captain Dumbass (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558613)

You do realize that just making gasoline takes a ton of electricity?

Electric cars don't use squat, use it more efficiently, and move all the pollution to single points that can be controlled much better than millions of cars.

Re:Captain Obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558633)

You're wrong. See also the abstract of the paper:

Electric vehicles (EVs) coupled with low-carbon electricity sources offer the potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and exposure to tailpipe emissions from personal transportation. In considering these benefits, it is important to address concerns of problem-shifting. In addition, while many studies have focused on the use phase in comparing transportation options, vehicle production is also significant when comparing conventional and EVs. We develop and provide a transparent life cycle inventory of conventional and electric vehicles and apply our inventory to assess conventional and EVs over a range of impact categories. We find that EVs powered by the present European electricity mix offer a 10% to 24% decrease in global warming potential (GWP) relative to conventional diesel or gasoline vehicles assuming lifetimes of 150,000 km. However, EVs exhibit the potential for significant increases in human toxicity, freshwater eco-toxicity, freshwater eutrophication, and metal depletion impacts, largely emanating from the vehicle supply chain. Results are sensitive to assumptions regarding electricity source, use phase energy consumption, vehicle lifetime, and battery replacement schedules. Because production impacts are more significant for EVs than conventional vehicles, assuming a vehicle lifetime of 200,000 km exaggerates the GWP benefits of EVs to 27% to 29% relative to gasoline vehicles or 17% to 20% relative to diesel. An assumption of 100,000 km decreases the benefit of EVs to 9% to 14% with respect to gasoline vehicles and results in impacts indistinguishable from those of a diesel vehicle. Improving the environmental profile of EVs requires engagement around reducing vehicle production supply chain impacts and promoting clean electricity sources in decision making regarding electricity infrastructure.

Also, remember that electric vehicles are still in an early phase; analogous to production cost, the environmental taxation can be lower in the future*, due to improved production processes (a process that aligns with the production of regular vehicles).

* disclaimer: I don't have a read citation, nor am I an expert in the field. I'm simply pointing out that this is how it often works.

Re:Captain Obvious (2)

kye4u (2686257) | about 2 years ago | (#41558737)

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 produced 10-15 years ago are less efficient, but they are still driven by a good chunk of the population.

Improvements in technology at the power plant can have an immediate impact on all Electric vehicles.

Counterproductive? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558111)

It might be counterproductive to like the smell of my own farts, but there you have it. Hybrids are where it's at. Thanks.

Hybrids? (1)

gaelfx (1111115) | about 2 years ago | (#41558119)

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?

Re:Hybrids? (1)

cobraR478 (1416353) | about 2 years ago | (#41558157)

Don't hybrids also have batteries, just fewer of them?

Re:Hybrids? (1)

SailorSpork (1080153) | about 2 years ago | (#41558267)

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 (, but this can be offset if the battery needs to be replaced / recycled over the life of the car, something that has yet to have good statistics due to the relative youth of the hybrid car market.

Re:Hybrids? (2)

MojoRilla (591502) | about 2 years ago | (#41558335)

Hybrids use a much, much smaller battery, so the impact is much smaller.

Re:Hybrids? (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about 2 years ago | (#41558759)

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.

Re:Hybrids? (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#41558395)

Hybrids get 25% or more better mileage than conventional cars of the same size so they're lower impact in the long run.

Re:Hybrids? (2)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 2 years ago | (#41558529)

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-nosed economics worked very much in its favor.

gas bad, coal worse (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558121)

No shit, sherlock.

Another debunked analysis belatedly posted to /.? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558145)

What next, that study that showed Ethanol used like a gazillion times more fossil fuels but failed to account for the total production of the corn field, not all of which went to ethanol production, but went to the food supply instead?

Here's the real lesson to be learned: Stop burning coal and oil for electrical power.

Probably mistaken, but... (1, Interesting)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | about 2 years ago | (#41558209)

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.

Re:Probably mistaken, but... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#41558303)

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.

Re:Probably mistaken, but... (1)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | about 2 years ago | (#41558307)

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.

Re:Probably mistaken, but... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#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).

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):

Re:Probably mistaken, but... (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 2 years ago | (#41558541)

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.

Re:Probably mistaken, but... (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | about 2 years ago | (#41558805)

Many thanks for posting this. This is exactly the kind of response I was looking for.

Re:Probably mistaken, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558463)

I get embarrassed every time someone asks me what car I drive. The moment I say it is a Toyota Prius, I get a response of the sort "oh, so you are some sort of greenie then." The reality is that I simply hate paying money for fuel and my Prius cost me the same as the similar cars I trialled, but had nearly half the fuel consumption. The cost of manufacturing is in the final ticket price I paid, so to me it is up to the government to make sure the cost of pollution is included.

Re:Probably mistaken, but... (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 2 years ago | (#41558567)

If you want to be friends with stupid anti-environmentalists for some reason, just tell them "No, I just don't want to give so much money to them durn Arabs." Then you can go to a Nugent concert together.

Re:Probably mistaken, but... (1)

sunking2 (521698) | about 2 years ago | (#41558467)

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.

Re:Probably mistaken, but... (1)

djlemma (1053860) | about 2 years ago | (#41558483)

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. []

LFTR (3, Interesting)

harvey the nerd (582806) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:LFTR (1)

gaelfx (1111115) | about 2 years ago | (#41558347)

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 (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558215)

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.

Re:Ride a bike (1)

cdrguru (88047) | about 2 years ago | (#41558623)

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 highest would be to live in a big building that was shared by the office. Both of these scenarios have been tried and they do not work well. Home-based offices are OK for some people, but others simply cannot function without interaction with others and a separation between "home" and "work". In the 1960s a number of buildings were built with the concept of living and working withing the same building or group of buildings and it never worked - in Chicago both the Hancock tower and Marina City were built with this concept. I'm sure it has been tried elsewhere too, and failed.

In the US the cities have proven to be very expensive to maintain and police as well as being a dumping ground for undesirables. With less investment in infrastructure nobody wants to have a family in the inner city and in most cases even the outlying parts are far less desirable in terms of schools and other infrastructure. So anyone with a family is going to want to be in the suburbs because that is where the infrastructure is being spent on. Also the crime rates in US cities are far, far higher than in the suburbs as a general rule although I am sure there are some exceptions. Again, nobody with a family wants to live in a city unless they have no choice.

All of this makes for living withing bicycle distance of work a difficult to achieve goal for the US. The problems are different in Europe but there is still a tremendous amount of commuting traffic in places like Germany which tends to indicate that the desired separation between work and home isn't just a US phenomenon.

So not only is it not going to happen in the US for any more than very small fraction of people, nobody really wants it to happen anyway.

No shit Sherlock... (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 2 years ago | (#41558217)

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...

Re:No shit Sherlock... (1)

rwise2112 (648849) | about 2 years ago | (#41558301)

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

Only because they're refining lithium (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558537)

When they recycle them, the impact drops MASSIVELY.

Enviromental Impact of Oil Production (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558219)

Does the study also consider the production costs of the initial energy source, .i.e. the environmental impact of the coal produced for the electricity, and the impact of oil production and refining into petrol, which itself uses a lot of electricity. The impact of burning fossil fuels is not just in the burning of the fuel in the car, but what it took to get the fuel into the car. In the US where a lot of electricity is generated by coal, the fuel you burn in your car used a lot of coal to get to you.

Why don't they just condense it down... (0)

Panaflex (13191) | about 2 years ago | (#41558253)

Oy vey.. can't they just get it out? Europe GOOD, America BAD.

But I counter that lots of places in Europe have a very low percentage of renewable energy sources, there are many gaps in production. France and Germany still utilize quite a bit of nuclear energy, Italy is 90% non-renewable, and most of the biomass/biofuel systems still require a lot of non-renewable energy (even though they are counted as 100% renewable in such studies just like corn ethanol is promoted in the USA). They also ignore the enormous amount of energy and waste used to produce wind and solar generators.

Same is certainly true in the USA - being a far larger landmass it will take far longer to develop such programs.

So certainly it's a step in the right direction, but I wouldn't let such a study inform my decision-making process. The facts remain that the tech and investment necessary to keep moving us all forward to a renewable energy economy necessitates a market shift towards electric vehicles.

Corn power (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558269)

Since many Americans are obese (perhaps due to high-fructose corn syrup), maybe we can get them to turn a giant horizontal wheel to generate electricity. We'd not only be providing environmentally-friendly power, but also lowering healthcare costs.

Location of pollution (5, Interesting)

wjousts (1529427) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Location of pollution (3, Insightful)

j-beda (85386) | about 2 years ago | (#41558359)

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" ( [] - 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.

Re:Location of pollution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558417)

PLUS the energy required to transport gasoline EVERYWHERE is much more than the energy loss involved in electrical power.

Re:Location of pollution (2)

gaelfx (1111115) | about 2 years ago | (#41558455)

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 that I know of, if you live in the suburbs, you need to drive to the bus stop). The unfortunate truth of the matter is that once a city is the right size (and shape) for building something like a subway, they simply don't have enough money to build it. The government has to wait until there are too many people (read: taxpayers) to build something, and by that time, the effect is minimal. Not saying we should have to pay more taxes, but there must be some solution to this sort of problem.

Re:Location of pollution (1)

cdrguru (88047) | about 2 years ago | (#41558685)

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 NIMBY world this is highly desirable - we don't want to see these things.

Remember, just because you can't see the smokestack doesn't mean you are not affected by it. While "out of sight, out of mind" may work for small children it should not govern how we think about pollution and pollution controls.

Re:Location of pollution (1)

nickberry (1226494) | about 2 years ago | (#41558713)

So it's okay that it's not in your neighborhood, and you're okay it's in a less than desirable area? Sounds like the people that want wind energy, but they don't want them anywhere near their home...

Variables (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558275)

Obviously there would be a need to optimize electric cars for the environment in which they are charged. For example we might want electric hybrids in America that have a smaller battery pack as building batteries does cause environmental concerns. So maybe here we need a smaller battery pack but also a small diesel charging the pack. As my area is unusually hot all year long air conditioning in a car is a big concern and stored energy is inadequate for distance when one is also running an AC. The advantage of the small diesel is that it can provide charging at all speeds including idle speed. So in urban traffic where standing still often occurs you still have your AC and your batteries are getting charged and when you get a chance tyo accelerate the diesel can help out there as well. And since we have such huge sunshine here it would be wise to use solar cells on the exterior to also aid in charging and reduce fuel use.

Rush Limbaugh (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558325)

That's why Rush Limbaugh always refers to electric vehicles as "coal powered cars." Because most electric vehicles in the US will effectively be causing MORE fossil fuels to be burned. That's the liberals for you. It "sounds" nice at first, but their ideas never work in practice.

Re:Rush Limbaugh (2)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 2 years ago | (#41558609)

Most, no, only in a couple of states. In most places electric cars will be much better. I've done the research before. But now I'm wasting my breath on a Limbaugh fan.

Effictive miles per gallon? (2)

avandesande (143899) | about 2 years ago | (#41558341)

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)

Re:Effictive miles per gallon? (3, Interesting)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 2 years ago | (#41558617)

No it doesn't. But then your car's MPG rating doesn't take into account the oil rig, oil refinery, oil tanker, fuel truck, and gas station power consumption.

I have a Leaf (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:I have a Leaf (2)

Thorodin (1999352) | about 2 years ago | (#41558531)

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" even if they wished.

Re:I have a Leaf (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#41558677)

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...

It depends on your goals (5, Insightful)

SirGarlon (845873) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:It depends on your goals (3, Insightful)

characterZer0 (138196) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:It depends on your goals (2)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 2 years ago | (#41558649)

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.

Re:It depends on your goals (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 2 years ago | (#41558779)

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 plants.
4. Then go after the oil-fired power plants, replacing those with renewables.

One nice thing about this proposal is that it doesn't require technology that doesn't currently exist. One of the approaches to the problem that I find no good at all is funding research and expecting a perpetual cheap energy machine to pop out of nowhere a la The Saint [] . Of course, it does require seriously large investments, so it won't happen until the costs of global warming outweigh the cost of doing something about it.

Re:It depends on your goals (1)

ThorGod (456163) | about 2 years ago | (#41558811)

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).

Too many flawed assumptions (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#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.

What about the batteries? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558415)

So, with EV's has anyone considered the environmental impact from the wide spread use of lead acid, or lithium battery packs. Sure, cars currently use a single 12v lead acid battery, but EV's typically have a bundle of them put together. I'd worry about the sulfuric acid and the lithium disposal more than where the power is coming from to charge the batteries.

Just my 2 cents.

Re:What about the batteries? (2)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 2 years ago | (#41558675)

Modern EVs use mostly or entirely Li-ion, not lead-acid (which are terribly heavy and poor in energy density and would make for a terrible EV). Lithium batteries can be recycled so you have to look at the efficiency and pollution output of the recycling plant.

Long term impact (1)

Catskul (323619) | about 2 years ago | (#41558459)

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 generation of vehicles do not meet the goal.

With the understanding that electric vehicles will eventually (fairly quickly actually) have a positive impact, we can ignore the short term impact so that:
* Charging standards can be matured
* Charging stations can proliferate
* Battery technology can mature
* Motor technology can mature
* Laws can mature

Thank god the same group of cynics didn't get to have an effect on computer technology in it's infancy.

Never understood why it wasn't a bundle (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558561)

where the car was bundled w/ not just a special outlet, but a bank of batteries and solar array (say mounted on the garage).

Electricity used in vehicle production (1)

welshie (796807) | about 2 years ago | (#41558599)

I wonder if they took that into account, and the fact that vehicle production does use quite a bit of power, and a lot of vehicle manufacturers are now going out of their way to have renewable sources of power. There's also new lightweight manufacturing processes for cars, like the Graham Murray Design factory designs for the T.25 and T.27 cars. My own power mix is about 50% renewables and increasing that percentage. No, I don't have solar panels on my roof, and I don't personally own a wind turbine, hydro turbine, wave or tidal power; I just chose an ethical energy supplier that invests in renewable generation. I'm not driving an electric car, but I'm not intending to buy another new internal combustion engined car.

Bullshit (3, Interesting)

Dr Max (1696200) | about 2 years ago | (#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).

x Combustion vs Y combustions (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558625)

To me it seems that 5 million combustible engines can't be more efficient than 1 combustible engine (power plant, likely has higher efficiences) + electrical transport losses. Transporting electricity vs transporting fuel (which burns fuel!).

I just don't see how its a comparison?

well thank heavens for that! (2)

Phoenix666 (184391) | about 2 years ago | (#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 (1)

Chrisq (894406) | about 2 years ago | (#41558689)

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

False (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558769)

Incorrect finding is incorrect. Would not be surprised to find that the study was funded by some oil company exec.

Bottom line: EVs are orders of magnitude more efficient at energy use than combustion-powered vehicles. Even if the energy required to charge an electric vehicle comes from a polluting source, the vehicle is able to expend that energy much more efficiently (typically 80%-90% efficiency) than the energy produced via burning gasoline or diesel (typically 30%-40% efficiency). That means less total energy is required and thus less pollution generated per mile traveled, which is the whole point.

Are they perfectly clean? No. Neither is my "clean" diesel. They're still better options, regardless of the power generation method, where pollution is concerned.

Can you say range? (1)

garyoa1 (2067072) | about 2 years ago | (#41558775)

The problem with the electric car is range. No one wants any vehicle they can use for 100 miles or so and then have to park it overnight to "fill up"/recharge. If they can figure out a way to get generators built in to recharge the batteries or even power the car itself... problem(s) solved.

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