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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approximately 3 times more water is consumed (0.32 versus 0.07–0.14 gallons/mile) and over 17 times more water is withdrawn (10.6 versus 0.6 gallons/mile) primarily due to increased water cooling of thermoelectric power plants to accommodate increased electricity generation.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: Really
By jRaskell on 3/12/2008 12:21:18 PM , Rating: 2
The gallons withdrawn is a bit misleading. The report referenced explicitly states what is meant by consumed and withdrawn. To quote the report directly (link available in the article)

"Water withdrawal pertains to water that is taken from a concentrated source, used in a process, given back from whence it came, and available again for the same or other purposes."

I do think the information provided in the report is valid, and should certainly be a consideration, but I don't see it as a concern except maybe for locations that regularly deal with substantial water shortages. The water required for these processes does not need to be drinking water. The Hoover dam obviously has a HUGE water withdrawal figure, but I seriously doubt it has any bearing on general water availability in that area. If anything, the huge lake that dam created likely has a positive affect on water availability in that area.


RE: Really
By Ringold on 3/12/2008 3:44:12 PM , Rating: 2
My home state of Florida is and has been furiously trying to secure future sources of water; county governments on the east coast did a study and found a desalination plant is now their most cost-effective option.

I've heard California is having its water problems, and Georgia Conservatives sounded like they were about to form their own militia and storm the Army Corps of Engineers at Lake Lanier to stop the flow of water being sent here to Florida.

I don't know about Texas, New York or Ohio, but Florida and California right there means a huge portion of the US population lives in an area experiencing acute water shortages.

If they could use salt water, then no problem.


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