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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 ValorMorghulis on 6/1/2010 10:49:01 AM , Rating: 1
I personally consider myself an environmentalist and I am in favor of nuclear fission power. Particularly the smaller self-contained fission reactors like Toshiba's 4S. Unfortunately, at some point we will run out of Uranium and if we switch over to nuclear power entirely it won't last very long. Eventually we will need not only a clean power source, but one that is renewable.

Nuclear fission can be a stopgap, but it won't last forever.


RE: Nuclear power
By Keeir on 6/1/2010 5:13:51 PM , Rating: 3
Yep, your right. Nuclear power could only provide the entire world's current power output for hundreds of years. (Even with increasing power needs, Nuclear could provide 80%+ of power for more years than since the "discovery" of electricity)

Yes, there is only so much Uranium in the world. But Uranium isn't the only material that can be used in Nuclear Power Plants.


"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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