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"Power mix" in China as of 2008  (Source: Environmental Science and Technology)

Elon Musk
However, study fails to account for certain critical aspects

Excitement and interest about electric vehicles is at an all time high.  With luxury makers Fisker and Tesla automotive creating high end EVs; and GM (2011 Chevy Volt) and Nissan (2011 Nissan LEAF EV) creating electric vehicles for the masses, the movement appears to be picking up momentum.

If EVs can conquer the market, they promise to make massive shifts both in economics and power dependence.  When considering these changes, it's important to both avoid "greenwashing" (embracing solutions that on the surface seem green, without examining their true environmental impact), while at the same time avoiding holding these technologies to a higher standard than their traditional counterparts.

new study [PDF] by America's Argonne National Laboratory and China's Tsinghua University claims that EV adoption in China could lead to some dire consequences.  Namely, it claims that a switch to EVs in China could double nitrogen oxide emissions of Euro III gasoline vehicles and increase sulfur dioxide emissions three to ten-fold, while providing no substantial decrease in carbon dioxide emissions.

The authors say the key problem is China's reliance on dirty electrical power -- coal plants lacking modern scrubbers and other cleaning technologies.  The study argues that if China's power industry transitions to cleaner power sources, the perspective may change.

However, the study has some serious flaws.  Chiefly, it fails to account for emissions created by extracting, transporting and refining crude oil.  Thus the true picture is not so clear.

Other problems with EVs are more straight-forward, though.  Price is one key issue.  EVs' base price, barring government subsidies remains quite high.  That has lead companies like Tesla Motors to require multi-million dollar venture capital transfusions to stay alive.  

And at least in Tesla Motor's case the funding may no longer be pouring in quite as readily.  According to recent divorce proceedings, Tesla Motors CEO and co-founder Elon Musk reports "I ran out of cash."  It appears that Tesla won't be obtaining a lot of funding from Musk in the near future.  Granted, Musk, who founded the venture commercial spacecraft start-up SpaceX as well has a different definition of "broke".  He spends approximately $200,000 a month, though he makes less than that.

Of course, even if Tesla can't rely on Musk, it does have a likely lucrative new deal with Toyota to produce a joint electric vehicle for the masses.

Outside cost, other issues are also worth noting, though.
Virtually all EVs utilize lithium-ion batteries to store their charge.  While lithium deposits are sufficient to support worldwide EV adoption, slow extraction will likely cause prices to remain high.  Another key issue is that EVs and hybrids use much more rare Earth metals than traditional vehicles.  As China controls over 95 percent of these elements, the switch to EVs may dangerously shift the worldwide economic balance in China's favor.

That said, EVs do provide some compelling advantages.  Namely, when paired with clean power sources like nuclear fission, fusion, or solar power, they can reduce net emissions.  And the EV industry is spurring a new wave of battery improvements that could benefit a vast variety of industries, including the computing and mobile devices market.

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Nuclear power
By bildan on 5/31/2010 6:35:06 PM , Rating: 2
Nuclear is the only option on the table. Solar and wind can never meet the expanding demand for electric power. Yes, it has problems but none as dire as coal.

If not nuclear, it will be coal. The anti-nuke types have to wake up and smell the coffee.

RE: Nuclear power
By lelias2k on 5/31/2010 7:04:59 PM , Rating: 3
Never say never... ;)

RE: Nuclear power
By wuZheng on 5/31/2010 7:05:03 PM , Rating: 2
I would figure its less of a problem in China to go nuke, in fact they're jumping all over that stuff. Public opinion against anything the government proposes? Pffft, you will get nuclear power whether you like it or not. Which is actually something I'd wish they would do here for nuclear, this "environmental/ecological" debate is getting ridiculous.

RE: Nuclear power
By zaki on 6/1/2010 9:49:19 AM , Rating: 2
agreed...with the EXCEPTION of something dramatic happening in solar power, like harvesting in space.

RE: Nuclear power
By adiposity on 6/2/2010 6:10:33 PM , Rating: 2
I can see it now, space elevators alongside giant space power conduits.

RE: Nuclear power
By ValorMorghulis on 6/1/2010 10:49:01 AM , Rating: 1
I personally consider myself an environmentalist and I am in favor of nuclear fission power. Particularly the smaller self-contained fission reactors like Toshiba's 4S. Unfortunately, at some point we will run out of Uranium and if we switch over to nuclear power entirely it won't last very long. Eventually we will need not only a clean power source, but one that is renewable.

Nuclear fission can be a stopgap, but it won't last forever.

RE: Nuclear power
By Keeir on 6/1/2010 5:13:51 PM , Rating: 3
Yep, your right. Nuclear power could only provide the entire world's current power output for hundreds of years. (Even with increasing power needs, Nuclear could provide 80%+ of power for more years than since the "discovery" of electricity)

Yes, there is only so much Uranium in the world. But Uranium isn't the only material that can be used in Nuclear Power Plants.

RE: Nuclear power
By monkeyman1140 on 6/2/2010 12:40:01 AM , Rating: 2
Nuclear is no panacea, we are running out of uranium too. Manufacturing nuclear weapons uses nowhere near as much uranium as energy production does.

RE: Nuclear power
By Samus on 6/2/2010 2:16:10 PM , Rating: 2
I appreciate the fact that somebody mentioned this. Some reports indicate there is as little as 50 years of Uranium left to mine on the planet.

RE: Nuclear power
By elukac on 6/2/2010 10:30:14 AM , Rating: 2
Nuclear is not, and never will be, clean.
I would recommend you to read the [Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security] study by Mark Z. Jacobson.

Regarding the relation between nuclear power and CO2 emissions, the study is a compilation of no less than 103 previous studies on that topic. The end result is that on average, nuclear is emitting 24 times more CO2 per KW than wind energy (yes, that's 2400%).
The hidden CO2 in nuclear energy production comes from mining, enrichment, transport and waste disposal as well as construction, operation, and decommissioning of the reactors.
Even not mentioning the intractable problem of storing the nuclear waste, it can't be a good idea.

Ultimately, nuclear is a fossil energy as any other. At the current consumption rate, the uranium will be depleted in around 30 years. Rushing to build many new power plants is financially wrong as the return on investment could never be attained.
I don't say there is an easy solution, but nuclear doesn't make sense environmentally or financially.

You do the math!
By Simonova on 6/1/2010 5:09:17 AM , Rating: 2
"a switch to EVs in China could double nitrogen oxide emissions of Euro III gasoline vehicles and increase sulfur dioxide emissions three to ten-fold, while providing no substantial decrease in carbon dioxide emissions."

How can using EV's effect the emissions of Euro III gasoline vehicles? Did you mean rather that the use of EV's would increase the amount of emissions when compared to the emission levels of current petrol powered vehicles?

Given that electric powered vehicles are upto 80% more efficient than ICE powered vehicles how does it calculate that they could possible contribute more emissions overall?

The answer is clearly to make power production cleaner and more effecient given that there are far fewer power plants to update than motor vehicles.

RE: You do the math!
By Starcub on 6/1/2010 10:40:21 AM , Rating: 2
How can using EV's effect the emissions of Euro III gasoline vehicles?

Euro III is a standard applied to heavy deisel engines, like those found in buses and construction equipment. Don't ask me how this applies to EV's, at least in the context of the article, which talks about the popularity of consumer class EV's. My guess is that the majority of gasoline powered vehicles/polution in China is not due to consumer vehicles, but industrial development. Furthermore, China probably doesn't refine it's own oil, which would explain why they didn't account for it in their study.

The answer is clearly to make power production cleaner and more effecient given that there are far fewer power plants to update than motor vehicles.

Yup. This is why China is investing far more than any other country in green tech. Most of their energy production right now comes from dirty coal.

RE: You do the math!
By Netjak on 6/1/2010 12:25:49 PM , Rating: 2
EV's 80% efficiency puts them on par with latest conventional ICE's (gas or diesel).

Overal, power plants works on 40%+ efficiency, minus distribution losses, minus EV losses gives nothing better than conventional gas engine plus enviromental risks of battery production increase. As u pointed out, it's matter of location of polution.

Power plants are long lasting; they are rarely updated. Car makers do update their engines allmost every other year; from 1990 til now, they cut emissions 100-fold, efficiency increased 30%.

RE: You do the math!
By Keeir on 6/1/2010 5:48:17 PM , Rating: 2
Netjak. That hurts my head.
A full electic is able to get ~4 miles per kWh from the wall (Tesla Roadster claims 3.6, Nissian Leaf claims 4.5). PHEV, saddled with gasoline engine's mass etc, get 3.5 miles per kWh (Volt claims 4.4, Prius claims 3.3).
US power grid is 92% efficient. US coal power plants are on average 33% efficient.

To go 1 miles a Full Electric consumes
0.82 kWh
a PHEV (on electricity) consumes
0.94 kWh

In constrast, the distallation of crude oil to gasoline is only 82% efficient. Gasoline has around 33 kWh of energy per gallon. If we assume that gasoline magically gets from refinery to the pump,

A 30 MPG car requires
1.34 kWh per mile
A 50 MPG car requires
0.80 kWh per Mile
(A Diesel requires ~55 MPG to get 0.80 kWh)

In conclusion, an Electric Car powered entirely by Coal power plants built prior to say 1980 is on par energy efficieny wise to the most modern Clean Diesel and Hybrid Gasoline cars. Of course, in the US, only ~50% of the power is provided by Coal. Once you mix in Natural Gas, etc the picture gets significantly better.

All of this of course hangs on the question: How much Natural Gas and electricity are used to actually refine a gallon of gas, US DOE seems to suggest with thier
82%" figure at most 5.9 kWh. Nissan has recently claimed 7.5 kWh are used for a single gallon. Which to believe? I am not sure, but it is clear to me that a normal car uses a significant amount of electrical energy... potentially if Nissan is correct, as much as a full EV.

Note: US department of Energy is the source for all the figures.

RE: You do the math!
By Netjak on 6/2/2010 4:03:48 AM , Rating: 2
Your figures are correct.
However, you mentioned energy consumption during refining of gasoline, but not energy use in transporting and processing of coal and waste in the plant. 33% figure is for thermal, not overal efficiency.

Efficiency wise, EV's are on their top, power plant is only place for progress (which is painfully slow).

EV's are distant future when we will be able to generate electricity from some other source.

Cars are bad, ev or not
By Microtom on 5/31/2010 11:03:42 PM , Rating: 2
I don't understand why people want to stick with cars. They created monstrous tentacular cities, they're dangerous, expensive, etc.

The future is all about high population density arcologies. We might as well start building or planning them now.

Why am I the only one to see that future?

RE: Cars are bad, ev or not
By Alexvrb on 6/1/2010 12:15:30 AM , Rating: 2
Which arcology would you prefer to be trap- I mean live in? Renraku?

RE: Cars are bad, ev or not
By taber on 6/1/2010 12:47:06 AM , Rating: 2
Interesting idea, and looking at the past and design of older cities, I can see where you're coming from. People are closer to work and entertainment and are more likely to use mass transit. There's certainly some economical/environmental benefits of piling people up in the same building as well(shared walls, shorter utility runs, less yard maintenance, etc). However I'd like to think that with modern technology some middle ground might be reached for some office jobs as far as cutting out the inefficient commutes by simply working from home.

Realistically, we don't have to worry about either future unless gas prices ever really skyrocket and can't be replaced with some other affordable technology. Until then, sprawling cities in America will persist.

Nuclear Power
By PCMcGee on 5/31/10, Rating: -1
RE: Nuclear Power
By Obujuwami on 5/31/2010 8:49:01 PM , Rating: 1
Sarcasm (and tree hugging) aside, you do make a good point. We can utilize fusion power now, but its very, very expensive and it would require us to work with the UK and Russia to make a number of Fusion plants.

Now, while I am totally gung-ho for the Nuclear plants, I think that's like investing money in an old horse. It won't last that long and you aren't going to get much out of it. Also, the way American's build Nuke plants is silly, they take a sub or Aircraft carrier nuke plant and scale it by 100 fold. The french are MUCH smarter about it and design to scale initially, lets steal their plans!

But I digress, we need something to span the bridge between now and either real fusion or cold fusion. Cold fusion exists, BUT what we know about it is SO limited that we have only barely seen it in university studies. Maybe solar is the way to go for now, but recycling the panels is going to be a toxic nightmare for the future.

So if you REALLY wanna go solar, just keep in mind that 20 or so years down the road, we are going to have a real toxic waste issues that is on par or worse with the nuclear stuff we can't recycle.

RE: Nuclear Power
By mcnabney on 5/31/2010 10:35:50 PM , Rating: 3
Fusion is barely doable now, much less commercially viable. We'll get back to that in 15-20 years.

And the prior poster is an idiot. Depleted uranium is just that, depleted. All of the exciting isotopes have been refined out of it and all that is left is a heavy mineral - ideal for high velocity projectiles. FYI - that means that it is barely radioactive. Your granite countertops are far more radioactive.

The problem in America is that every single civilian nuclear reactor is unique. That means that there is no cost savings by reusing the designs and the same components. The French only have a few reactor designs, but many copies of each. Much more cost effective methodology.

And cold fusion does not exist. Those 'universities' are just hiding it behind their perpetual motion and time travel machines.

And photovoltaics are the most ludicrous method of generating electricity on a commercial scale. Their only benefit is in remote deployments where is is not practical to run wires. Real commercial solar plants use many inexpensive stainless steel reflectors to heat a boiler that powers a generator. No toxic waste or rare chemicals required for that.

RE: Nuclear Power
By Lonyo on 6/1/2010 8:20:00 AM , Rating: 2
That's what bugs me about the UK.
We've been having a nuclear debate for years, when right across the narrow stretch of water separating us from Europe is France. We've never been concerned about France using nuclear power. I can't even recall stories about France having problems, yet they are something like 80% nuclear.

It might be less true of the US since it's a few thousand miles away, but certainly the UK could try and learn from our near neighbours about using nuclear power rather than worrying so much.

RE: Nuclear Power
By Starcub on 6/1/2010 10:12:01 AM , Rating: 2
Depleted uranium is just that, depleted. All of the exciting isotopes have been refined out of it and all that is left is a heavy mineral - ideal for high velocity projectiles. FYI - that means that it is barely radioactive. Your granite countertops are far more radioactive.

DU's use in munitions makes it particularly dangerous. When used in projectiles like those fired from the A-10 tank killer aircraft, it will impact the ground or target and spray particulate matter into the air. This makes even low-level radioactive particles breathable where they become even more toxic than asbestos.

In the US, it is still illegal to produce FBR's (the kind of reactors that produce highly reuseable waste) and it is illegal for power companies to refine their own waste. The government is indirectly responsible for storage and reprocessing of nuclear waste. This has resulted in huge subsidies having been given to companies for the purposes of storing their waste.

In France, new reactor designs are legal and being built that allow for much better re-cycling. However, these designs are not legal in the US presumably because there are questions about their reliability and safety, as well as concerns about private reprocessing and nuclear proliferation.

Their [PV] only benefit is in remote deployments where is is not practical to run wires.

IIRC, most commercial designs are being considered for use under just such circumstances. The problem is that the infrastructure is not as developed as it should be. However, here in FL, new plants are being built that make use of the tech. In fact solar, even in PV form, is economically viable in a significant segment of the power market in the US. Solar does however, require high capital investment.

RE: Nuclear Power
By AssBall on 6/1/2010 1:59:20 AM , Rating: 1
Ask a tree to make your breakfast and drive you around.
Ask a tree to design a transistor or an airplane.
Ask a tree to educate our next generation.

Next time you set up your solar panel, be sure to ask the tree you cut down if is okay that you are stealing its light and space.

Maybe if more people who think like you were trees, we could have less moronic comments.

RE: Nuclear Power
By PAPutzback on 6/1/2010 9:18:24 AM , Rating: 2
I'm not getting where you are headed AssBall. Perhaps you should post before the Wake and Bake.

There is a whole lot of desert out there with no trees and I imagine the wildlife would appreciate the shade.

But a strip mining operating to get coal to make electricity, now that will take out some trees.

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