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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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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
quote:
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.

quote:
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.


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