Print 45 comment(s) - last by Darkskypoet.. on Mar 19 at 11:01 PM

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approximately 3 times more water is consumed (0.32 versus 0.07–0.14 gallons/mile) and over 17 times more water is withdrawn (10.6 versus 0.6 gallons/mile) primarily due to increased water cooling of thermoelectric power plants to accommodate increased electricity generation.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 boogle on 3/13/2008 8:20:46 AM , Rating: 2
I think the best thing in the direct future is small diesel motors with a electric motor and a battery / capacitor bank to store the energy.

Why? The car is heavier, has dirty great lithium ion batteries (not the most environmentally friendly) and a fossil fuel engine. MPG can only go down, even if it's just due to the added weight. But converting energy is never 100% efficient, so the conversion of energy from the diesel engine to the batteries, and then from the batteries to the electric motor, and then from the electric motor to the wheels is just asking for lower MPG.

Hybrid cars are thoroughly pointless from an increased efficiency perspective. They're great for moving pollution out of urban areas, but other than that they're not much different from a normal car. Their MPG figures are only better (in the US) because they have more efficient fossil fuel engines than the vast majority of US vehicles.

RE: Really
By kkwst2 on 3/19/2008 5:15:47 PM , Rating: 2
Well, that's not strictly true. I would agree that in their current design (both drive the powertrain directly) they're not very useful. However, a hybrid in which the diesel charges the battery and electric motor powers the wheels is much more efficient than just an ICE. There are designs coming out like this, one I think from Chevy. If the ICE can run at one RPM it becomes significantly more efficient.

RE: Really
By Darkskypoet on 3/19/2008 11:01:51 PM , Rating: 2
Additionally, and I don't have figures, but i am sure someone does, the ability to use generators in wheel hubs to drive and brake the vehicle is a definite advantage.
(Yes I know most are done through transmission still)

Especially considering standard ICE vehicles simply dump their momentum to heat, friction, noise, etc. Regenerative braking, is one of the best parts of a hybrid / electric design, and is one of the reasons why Hybrids have much better city mileage, then standard ICE's. Further, the ability to simply cut the engine out in a lot of stop and go situations further adds to the 'in-city' benefit.

Highway driving, and efficient Freeway systems do negate the advantages of a Hybrid considerably, I would even say it probably turns the Hybrid into something more inefficient then an ICE. However, for many cities experiencing grid lock regularly, the small generator / wheel well type electric motors should give better AWD handling, great regenerative braking characteristics, and a much more efficient drive for stop and go traffic.

The weight increase should also be quite low, considering you would lose the need for a heavy main drive train / transmission, and instead have a small ICE as generator, and 2 or 4 electric motors, depending upon design. As well if well designed, you may also lose the need for the heavier cooling systems / hydraulics standard in many cars. However, I am uncertain as to that point.

Clearly, there are better hybrid designs available then those utilizing a FULL ICE System and A FULL Battery system shoehorned into an ugly vehicle. (*cough* Prius)

"It's okay. The scenarios aren't that clear. But it's good looking. [Steve Jobs] does good design, and [the iPad] is absolutely a good example of that." -- Bill Gates on the Apple iPad

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