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Full of promises about saving the Earth and conserving energy, could automakers and visionaries be missing one big thing?

Even though automakers and environmentalists are pushing new electric and hybrid electric cars, claiming less pollution to make our Mother Earth unhappy with our wasteful ways, it seems they come with demons of their own. Well, maybe not so much.

The media has certainly been filled with talk of the cleaner cars lately. Everything from MIT's City Car to the Lightning Car Company's 700HP sports car to Chevrolet’s Equinox fuel cell SUV which DailyTech got to take for a little spin this January. What's the deal? Well, obviously if you have cars running on electricity, they aren't churning out megatons of air and water pollutants each year. Well, the cars won't be, but the whole "where does the power get made to power the cars then" quandary can be fought with later.

Today we'll make note of a much stranger side effect of all these silent, battery and (noble) gas driven people movers. From the University of Texas at Austin comes research projecting that there's going to be a pretty large quantity of one of our most precious natural resources gobbled up by these electrics. No, it's not oil, trees, hydrogen or even indium - we're talking about water.

It's not much of a shocker, it's true. Water is probably our most precious resource, but barring evils like pollution and hydrolysis, it's one of Earth's most abundant and easily renewable. So we make a bit more steam, what's the big deal, right? Let's let the research speak for itself for a moment.

We compare figures from literature and government surveys to calculate the water usage, consumption, and withdrawal, in the United States during petroleum refining and electricity generation. In displacing gasoline miles with electric miles, approximately 3 times more water is consumed (0.32 versus 0.07–0.14 gallons/mile) and over 17 times more water is withdrawn (10.6 versus 0.6 gallons/mile) primarily due to increased water cooling of thermoelectric power plants to accommodate increased electricity generation. Overall, we conclude that the impact on water resources from a widespread shift to grid-based transportation would be substantial enough to warrant consideration for relevant public policy decision-making. (PDF)

Wow. 10.92 gallons of water per mile. It's a pretty staggering number. Thinking that my daily commute used to be about 40 miles, not including zipping around town for random things, that's more than 400 gallons in one day. That's probably more than the average person uses all week between hygiene and self hydration.

On the whole the conclusion they come to isn't exactly life-threatening, but it could become a problem, as they point out, for areas where water shortages are already experienced yearly.

In reality, a study like this doesn't really say much about how much pollution we can or can't stop by converting to electric person delivery, other than the inflated power generation, and subsequent water requirements, that will be needed to charge all these cars (we weren't going to talk about that though). But it does point out a much simpler fact that though we may think we're heading in the right direction by cutting down our toxic pollution output, sometimes we forget to think about the simple things we might be sacrificing on the way.



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RE: Steam
By Fridayalex on 3/12/2008 11:52:12 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
I think this whole "concern" is ridiculous. Even if we do consume more water, the Earth is made up of over 70% water; I doubt we'll run out anytime soon.


I take it they will need fresh water to run on. The oceans contain 97 % of the earth's water while the remaining 3 % is classified as freshwater. Seventy-seven percent of this surface freshwater is stored as ice and 22% as groundwater and soil moisture. The remaining freshwater, making up less than 1 % of the world total, is contained in lakes, rivers and wetlands. I can see how this might eat into what fresh water is left.


RE: Steam
By Spivonious on 3/12/2008 12:05:24 PM , Rating: 2
True, but wasn't there an article on here recently about wind-powered desalinization?


RE: Steam
By Hoser McMoose on 3/13/2008 2:50:09 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
I take it they will need fresh water to run on.

Nope, an awful lot of power generation makes use of sea water for cooling purposes. Obviously though this is dependent on location.

At least one power plant in Arizona makes use of treated sewage water for it's cooling needs, a rather nifty solution.


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