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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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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.

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