How green are electric cars

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How green are electric cars

Postby mr friendly guy » 2016-11-24 10:24am

I am sure we have heard the message about how much more environmentally friendly electric vehicles are. For the purpose of this line of thought, I am going to focus on carbon emissions only.

Now if you're in a country where close to 100% of power is produced from non fossil fuels, eg solar, wind, nuclear etc, then its definitely a win for the electric car. However if you have a mixture of coal and non fossil fuels, it seems to be it boils down to energy efficiency of your electric vehicle vs the standard car. To elaborate, even if I say I my electric car is powered by electricity generated by wind farms, if I divert x number of joules to my car, I am also preventing this same number of joules from powering someone else's home or business. Therefore they will just turn to coal to power it, and we burn coal to produce the x number of joules which would otherwise be generated from non fossil fuels.

Bearing that in mind, lets consider the following vehicles. For the fossil fuel car, I am going to choose the Nissa Tiida, since thats the car I am currently driving. For the electric car, I will consider the BYD e6, ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BYD_e6) which would be the car I would most probably drive if electric car infrastructure was a thing in my country and if electric vehicles were easily available. This car has been used for police and taxis in various countries so I figured it would be reliable.

According to wiki, the BYD e6 can go 300 km with 75kwH, ie 25kwH per 100 km. According to this website 1 kg of coal generates 8kwH of heat (hey, it uses figures in kwH instead of joules, saving me the hassle of converting :D ). Now we also need to consider the efficiency of the coal plants (I am not going to consider loss of power via transmission lines). But regular coal plants have 32% efficiency, while ultracritical ones have 45% efficiency.
http://www.greenfacts.org/glossary/pqrs ... nology.htm

This means to achieve 100 km in this car, we must burn 25 /8 x1 x 100/45 (efficiency calculation) of coal, ie 6.94 kg of coal.
The conversion of coal or petrol into CO2 is given in this website https://people.exeter.ac.uk/TWDavies/en ... 0fuels.htm but petrol gives 2.31 kg of CO2 per litres, and coal gives 2419 kg of CO2 per tonne of coal burnt (I know this varies depending on the type of coal, so this is only a rough calc).

So 6.94 kg of coal gives 16.8 kg of CO2 per 100 km of travel.

Now lets consider the petrol car. As mentioned I drive a Nissan Tiida, so lets use their numbers for comparison.
http://www.auto-data.net/en/?f=showCar&car_id=694

The fuel efficiency varies between model for the car, but an "urban" model gives 8.9 L / 100 km and an extra urban gives 5.7 L / 100 km. For now I will use the first set of numbers. Again using the carbon emission converter from above, 1 L of petrol gives 2.31 kg of CO2, so 20.559 kg of CO2 / 100 km. So its around 20% more carbon emissions than the electric car. However if we take the more fuel efficient version of the Tiida, at 5.7L/100 km, we know get 5.7/8.9 * 20.559 and we get 13.167 kg of CO2 / 100 km, which is better than the electric car.

So it seems that unless you a) have solar panels and can produce sufficient energy to power your own car or b) the infrastructure of power generation utilises mainly non fossil fuels, it seems the better way to minimise your carbon emissions from driving, is a more fuel efficient petrol car rather than an electric one.

In case anyone is wondering, I can also run the figures for the Tesla model S, the most widely sold electric car, which has 38 kwh / 100 miles or 38 kwH / 160 km. Running the maths it produces 15.86 kg of CO2 per 100 km. Again its less than a fuel efficient car. I am hoping electric technology improves.

Thoughts on whether my "back of the envelope" calc is reasonably accurate. Is there anything I may have missed?
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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby K. A. Pital » 2016-11-24 10:35am

Don't forget the rare earths pollution which, of course, occurs all outside the nice and tidy electrocar paradise, so they can feel themselves nice and cuddly.
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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2016-11-24 11:43am

A lot of that is being mined in the US and Canada now actually, the big US mine, that shutdown in the 1990s due to environmental laws becoming ever stricter, they have to evaporate 100% of runoff water on site for example, has reopened. China undercut the market to concentrate all production during the 1990s, before the cell phone boom, but now demand is so high they just can't corner the market like that.

Also cars tend to be highly recycled items, unlike handheld consumer devices that fit in trash cans, so once the REEs enter the automotive supply chain that'll have good chances of being reused. Sure that recycling may be done in an environmentally horrible way, but melting down high end electric motors is much more profitable and easier then scrapping cellphones in the first place. And shitty recycling will never be as bad as shitty mining just because of the relative tonnages and amount of water involved. Though it does suck when shitty recycling also only recovers ~10% of the metals involved.

The need for massive tonnages of lithium though, remains utterly unsolved, at any environmental price. No mining company will invest in that heavily at the moment because 1) they all already invested heavily in platinum mines to catalytic converters, a market that will implode from electric,and 2) they are all convinced that lithium batteries themselves don't have a solid enough future to justify it for certain. Because lithium is big now, but sodium batteries and many other technologies may become viable for electric cars in the ~30 years a major mining project would take to pay off. We'll see. Apparently now 12 huge battery plants are being built around the world, and none of them has is known to have secured a proportional supply china. The Tesla factory if completed will need 50% of the worlds known production right now.
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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby aerius » 2016-11-24 11:56am

Conversion efficiency. Lithium ion batteries don't charge & discharge with 100% efficiency, you always lose some energy as heat and unwanted chemical reactions when the battery is charged and discharged. How much energy is lost depends on how quickly energy is getting put into or taken out of the battery, the faster it's done the more energy you lose, but you can expect around 80-90% efficiency on typical home chargers. Using one of those Tesla fast chargers will drop it down a ton as well as shortening the battery life. There's also a small loss from AC to DC conversion, with a good switch mode converter it'll likely be in the 5-10% range.
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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby Broomstick » 2016-11-24 12:21pm

mr friendly guy wrote:Now if you're in a country where close to 100% of power is produced from non fossil fuels, eg solar, wind, nuclear etc, then its definitely a win for the electric car.

And what country is that in the real world? I suspect the answer is "none".

mr friendly guy wrote:However if you have a mixture of coal and non fossil fuels, it seems to be it boils down to energy efficiency of your electric vehicle vs the standard car. To elaborate, even if I say I my electric car is powered by electricity generated by wind farms, if I divert x number of joules to my car, I am also preventing this same number of joules from powering someone else's home or business. Therefore they will just turn to coal to power it, and we burn coal to produce the x number of joules which would otherwise be generated from non fossil fuels.

Coal is not the only fossil fuel, but it is often one of the dirtier ones. I know you're just sticking to carbon emissions here, but burning coal can release toxins that burning oil doesn't (mercury being a bit one).
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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby aerius » 2016-11-24 12:41pm

Broomstick wrote:
mr friendly guy wrote:Now if you're in a country where close to 100% of power is produced from non fossil fuels, eg solar, wind, nuclear etc, then its definitely a win for the electric car.

And what country is that in the real world? I suspect the answer is "none".


Iceland is almost 100% renewables and last time I checked France is around 90% nuclear & renewables. The province of Quebec is pretty much 100% hydro power and BC is above 90%. Ontario is also around 90% for nuclear, hydroelectric, and renewables.
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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby madd0ct0r » 2016-11-24 01:30pm

Go to the UK 2050 calculator website.

Note the co2 emissions now and projected. Set the electric car lever to max, keeping grid mix the same. See what changes. Now set nuclear to max too. See what changes. Can't do it myself from phone. Can walk you through underlying calcs if you want.
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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby mr friendly guy » 2016-11-24 05:52pm

Broomstick wrote:
mr friendly guy wrote:Now if you're in a country where close to 100% of power is produced from non fossil fuels, eg solar, wind, nuclear etc, then its definitely a win for the electric car.

And what country is that in the real world? I suspect the answer is "none".


Some parts of countries are powered by large amounts of non fossil fuels. IIRC there was an island in Denmark 100% powered by renewables and Denmark itself has large amount of renewables. But mostly I was thinking of the future when I wrote that.

Broomstick wrote:
mr friendly guy wrote:However if you have a mixture of coal and non fossil fuels, it seems to be it boils down to energy efficiency of your electric vehicle vs the standard car. To elaborate, even if I say I my electric car is powered by electricity generated by wind farms, if I divert x number of joules to my car, I am also preventing this same number of joules from powering someone else's home or business. Therefore they will just turn to coal to power it, and we burn coal to produce the x number of joules which would otherwise be generated from non fossil fuels.

Coal is not the only fossil fuel, but it is often one of the dirtier ones. I know you're just sticking to carbon emissions here, but burning coal can release toxins that burning oil doesn't (mercury being a bit one).

Good thought. Which I guess means that in the short term, electric cars aren't that green until your whole power generating infrastructure changes to using less coal.
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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby Zeropoint » 2016-11-24 07:26pm

Holy crap. I just checked the stats for my home state of Oregon, and while hydro power is our biggest source (yay!) and renewables and nuclear power make up more than half of our power (yay), we're still at 47.2% fossil fuels and 33.7% coal. I had no idea that we were burning that much coal here.

Edit: I see that we're importing most of our coal power from coal-fired plants in other states. That strikes me as not a cool thing to do; we're basically exporting our pollution.
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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2016-11-25 02:28am

Its a more basic reality then that, the rocky mountains are big and tall and the Cascade tunnel could never handle sustained coal traffic on the rails, it's as single track. All your coal power is being burned over in ~Wyoming near the actual coal mines to avoid any need to haul it over the mountains.

The technological solution to this would be to make coal pipeline technology work! But that idea fell out of favor just as it matured because it requires making the coal into a wet slurry, and soaking wet coal burns dirtier then normal, making it very hard to meet smog standards. Normal coal has a lot of water in it too, not helped by the outdoor storage, and so many plants now have drier systems to improve upon that using exhaust heat. Chinese are spamming that kind of upgrade like mad now to help clean up the place without having to mod the more expensive boiler grates and that end of things.
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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby Vain » 2016-11-25 10:40am

K. A. Pital wrote:Don't forget the rare earths pollution which, of course, occurs all outside the nice and tidy electrocar paradise, so they can feel themselves nice and cuddly.


This is not a special concern for electric vehicles. I am not intimately familiar with the construction of all PEV vehicles, but the Tesla fleet doesn't use any more rare earth metals than an equivalent ICE car. The material that it uses is all in standard equipment, like the electronics and speakers for the sound system. The drive train doesn't use any rare earths.

As far as the carbon footprint for miles driven, it's true that you can work the math so that an electric car emits more than a particularly efficient ICE. The point to remember here is that, just as most places don't use 100% renewables, most places don't use 100% coal either. Even in West Virginia, the power generation isn't 100% coal. In the real world, a worst case scenario for your PEV is about equivalent to an ICE of the same size, and in most places it is somewhat better, and in some places it is significantly, wildly better. Also, the grid is growing cleaner over time, so in ten years your PEV carbon footprint will have declined along with the grid, whereas your ICE commuter car will never be more carbon-efficient than it was the day you bought it. Finally, there are other components to hydrocarbon exhaust than just carbon, and it makes sense to centralize the generation of power so that you can potentially collect the NOx and particulates, rather than just dumping them into the atmosphere. When was the last time you saw a soot scrubber on a truck?

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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby Vain » 2016-11-25 11:24am

Vain wrote:When was the last time you saw a soot scrubber on a truck?


These are actually more common than I thought (thanks, California!), but I don't think that significantly affects my point that centralized collection of particulates and other noxious emissions is better.

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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby Sky Captain » 2016-11-25 05:50pm

Another often overlooked advantage of an electric car is it don't care about the source of electricity meaning it can run on stuff that can't be used directly like nuclear, hydro, solar, wind, geothermal, biomass waste. From the energy independence perspective electric transportation in much better than internal combustion engine because electricity can be generated from much more diverse sources while wast majority of liquid fuels come from oil.

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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2016-11-26 03:51am

Yes it provides a lot of built in redundancy on that. On the other hand it also means the transportation system now becomes much more dependent on the power grid itself, which is a unitary thing, and vastly increasing the risks involved with widespread power failure. In fact if we went all electric even just for cars and not trucks, this could require major power grid mods in residential areas. If we have large amounts of solar on the grid this might only get worse, because all the solar power production peaks at mid day when a lot of people are out driving, and zero percent of it is produced at night when the vast majority of cars would want to charge.

On the plus side, no motor oil. Which means no motor oil endlessly dripping on roads and being spilled in general. The stuff isn't as bad as a crude spill, but it's cumulative impact on wildlife in waterways is immense (such that nothing could ever reasonably cancel it out), and the affect on human health of low level contamination of water supplies has never been studied much either. The amount of oil spilled like this is immense, and while it might not be so bad if it all slowly reached the water supplies, the reality is it will sit on the roads until washed away by rain, creating sudden surges of high contamination.
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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby Broomstick » 2016-11-26 08:07am

If electric cars don't use "motor oil" for lubricating their moving parts what do they use?
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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby aerius » 2016-11-26 11:14am

Electric motors use grease in sealed bearings. Suspension parts, wheels, and pretty much everything I can think of would all be bushings or bearings of some sort using grease as the lubricant. The shock absorbers would still need to be filled with oil, but they're pretty reliable and don't leak nearly as much as engines.
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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2016-11-26 01:00pm

Suspension generally does not have grease fittings anymore, even if in theory they could take advantage of them. Too many cars were driving around without getting the grease applied when it needed to be, at which point the fitting only makes this problem worse compared to a sealed but limited life design. Since the limited life can ~7 years now, long enough that the part will get worn out for other reasons they just nerfed them to save the pennies and remove an avenue for dirt ingestion. d

A shock that leaks is a dead shock, the user can't just keep pouring in oil like so many car owners do. Also because they don't run so hot or need to circulate in contact with gasoline a lot more options exist for which oil to use, one could for a price use oil that's relatively non toxic. In any event none of this approaches the tonnages of motor and transmission oils that leak, which is something like 200,000 tons a year in the US alone.


Honestly some of that just gets destroyed by the sun before it hits surface water, but lots of it does not.
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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby Tiwaz » 2016-12-21 04:14am

mr friendly guy wrote:Some parts of countries are powered by large amounts of non fossil fuels. IIRC there was an island in Denmark 100% powered by renewables and Denmark itself has large amount of renewables. But mostly I was thinking of the future when I wrote that.


Have to put some mention on this matter here.

Except you have to look at what they use for backup. While Denmark may CLAIM 100% renewables, in reality they keep constantly burning coal to make sure their grid does not suddenly fail when whims of nature change. Thus, mentioned island may have nominal output of windmills or such to supply it, when under optimal production and/or not at peak consumption... But in reality, they often are importing electricity from coal plant on next island.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/arti ... ble-power/
Article actually mentions it.

This is rather typical of claims of massive "successes" of renewables. Lots of hype, but when you dig little deeper you find out that achievement is not that impressive. And tends to come at very stiff cost for taxpayer in form of variety of tariffs etc used to hide actual cost of renewable production.

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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby salm » 2017-01-02 11:19am

I don´t think that it is very important that EVs are a lot cleaner NOW. EVs have the potential to be very clean, even if we can not fully harvest this potential at the moment. Combustion engines do not have this potential at all because they burn dirty fuel allmost by definition.
Therefore it is important to develop and mass produce EVs so that in the future - when sufficient clean energy is available - the technology/infrastructure is good and cheap enough for mass deployment.

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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby Imperial528 » 2017-01-02 01:28pm

salm wrote:I don´t think that it is very important that EVs are a lot cleaner NOW. EVs have the potential to be very clean, even if we can not fully harvest this potential at the moment. Combustion engines do not have this potential at all because they burn dirty fuel allmost by definition.
Therefore it is important to develop and mass produce EVs so that in the future - when sufficient clean energy is available - the technology/infrastructure is good and cheap enough for mass deployment.


There are ways to make combustion engines clean, however that relies on a much larger investment than making EVs clean, i.e. carbon-neutral fuel manufacturing vs. direct use of clean electricity. I expect the military to take the route of carbon-neutral fuels in time, the US navy having already started with the efforts to manufacture jet fuel using sea water and electricity for example, since on a CVN those are both abundance and carbon neutral in outcome.

Of course carbon-neutral combustion fuel does not solve climate change without carbon sequestration, either natural or artificial, to make up for prior damage from carbon positive fuels.

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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby JI_Joe84 » 2017-03-09 05:05pm

Tesla model s has a 500 km range not 160. It's range in miles is 200 with a upgrade to 300 miles. The new model 3 will have 300 miles at least and rumored plus sized battery option.
You can charge one of the for about 6 Dollars during the day when rates are highest or at night for about. 4 dollars. Around my stomping grounds it will be under 2 dollars any time, yay for the Midwest!
So for 2 dollars or about the going rate for a gallon of gas I could be going 300 miles maybe 400. That's a attractive transportation option with the only draw back being recharge times are still long, most usually hour's and charging locations availability. The latter is improving all the time while Tesla has a fast charge mode it's apparently not good for the battery. Also maintenance, battery electric things only thing to worry about is leaving the battery depleted. Lithium batteries do not appreciate that at all. So while a regular car will need engine oil changes every 3000 miles(what I have always been told) transmission at 60 thousand and at 150 thousand they will need a engine over haul. Rubber stuff mostly, like gascets.
So I could rely upon a electric car for normal every day and have a regular gas vehicle , think house hold loaner or wife's car for going "out of network" so to speak. That works and saves money. And with the Tesla's range you could get through a week with out needing to charge it every day. if you have a solar roof you could just charge it with that on your weekend. This works
Also that mini van charging up in just 15 minutes, wow! Some body crack a whip @ Tesla!!
Also one last thing. There is this carbon capture tech. With power stations you at least have the option of storing all that carbon under ground where a gasoline car would have to emit it in the form of exhaust.
So electric cars are green and efficient modes of transportation.

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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby Starglider » 2017-03-10 04:56pm

JI_Joe84 wrote:So while a regular car will need engine oil changes every 3000 miles(what I have always been told)


Told by dishonest advertising from car service companies. The oil change interval on modern cars is typically 10,000 miles / 15,000 km, as stated in the owners manual (can vary in the range 7500 to 15000 depending on engine and oil type).
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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby Darth Tanner » 2017-03-10 05:10pm

if you have a solar roof you could just charge it with that on your weekend


Even if your assuming your leaving your car on the drive the entire weekend in the middle of Summer thats a rather large solar array to fill a Tesla - your looking at needing an array 5 times larger than what you can install at domestic level in the UK and diverting every single KWh it produces on those two days into the car battery.

Unless your car is mysteriously at home midday domestic solar is pretty poor match for EVs. If office/work charging was very prevalent then commercial solar might make sense but the current trends is people plug the car in either for off peak night electricity or when they get home from work... making peak demand worse in the UK atleast.

Except you have to look at what they use for backup. While Denmark may CLAIM 100% renewables, in reality they keep constantly burning coal to make sure their grid does not suddenly fail when whims of nature change.


Denmark and Germany with their heavy renewable penetration (relative, they are still quite low really) still have filthy electricity grid compared to most of Europe whilst also having some of the most expensive domestic electricity on the planet.

Countries with large hydro resources or proactive governments like Canada/Sweden/France however are more than able to offer a reliable clean grid with a very low carbon intensity. The Denmark/German route is currently more politics than actual environmentalism at the moment.
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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby JI_Joe84 » 2017-03-10 09:51pm

Starglider wrote:
JI_Joe84 wrote:So while a regular car will need engine oil changes every 3000 miles(what I have always been told)


Told by dishonest advertising from car service companies. The oil change interval on modern cars is typically 10,000 miles / 15,000 km, as stated in the owners manual (can vary in the range 7500 to 15000 depending on engine and oil type).

Thanks,. I had been told some times by a old small engine mechanic that the oil was mostly fine just filter out the gunk and top off and your good to go. I was never that brave with my car though. :|

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Re: How green are electric cars

Postby blenkins90 » 2017-05-06 12:15am

In response to the OP's point, this mathematically makes sense. I use to work in a power plant as an engineer myself, and I can tell you in a pure efficiency sense, it's actually better in terms of pollution output to burn something like gasoline or natural gas at a heating/automotive source than take electricity from a power plant.

However, this is IN THEORY.

In reality, I'm not entirely sure this holds up. It really depends on emissions controls at power plants vs. automobiles. And that I can't really speak to other than power plants.

Coal power plants these days have environmental emissions control systems, including scrubbers, baghouses, etc. to catch stuff within limits set by the EPA. Not saying their not still emitting stuff into the air, but it's not everything produced.

So you'd have to take into account what is ACTUALLY being released rather than what is theoretically being released. And that's a facility by facility calculation.

Just saying, it's more complicated in reality.


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