EV Basics IV – Electric Vehicles and the Environment

Important Acronyms:

BEV: Battery Electric Vehicle – A vehicle powered exclusive from energy stored in its battery pack.

CO2 = Carbon Dioxide – A type of “Greenhouse” gas emitted by cars and power plants. CO2 emissions have been identified as a major cause of global warming.

EV: Electric Vehicle – Any vehicle that uses electricity to provide some or all of the power to its wheels.

ICE: Internal Combustion Engine – The smog-belching, globe-warming automobile power plants used in the dark ages of the 20th Century.

NOx: Nitrogen Oxides – Chemicals which create smog and other health hazards.

In previous articles in the EV Basics series, I have touched on the environmental benefits of driving an EV. Now, it is time to look at these benefits in more detail. Recently, some readers may have noticed a well-organized media campaign trying to discredit EVs. Most of the anti-EV sentiments sound like this, “A car has to get its energy from somewhere, doesn’t it? What difference does it make if it gets it from a gas tank or a battery pack?” These are valid questions. I will answer them by explaining why EVs produce less smog, fewer greenhouse gases and use less energy overall than their ICE-powered counterparts. By the end of this article, readers should understand why it is better for the environment to power cars with electricity from the grid instead of gasoline made from oil.

If we generated all of our electricity through renewable sources such as wind or solar power, driving EVs would produce no smog-forming pollutants such as NOx. However, our utility grid currently gets power from a variety of sources, most of which produce NOx and other pollutants which can create health hazards for local communities. How much pollution do power plants create, compared to tailpipe exhaust from ICE-powered vehicles? According to research compiled by Sherry Boschert, author of the book, Plug-in Hybrids: The Cars that Will Recharge America, use of EVs would reduce the amount of NOx generated by automobiles somewhere between 32 and 99%. Different studies have arrived at different figures, but virtually all agree that the reduction in NOx and other local pollutants would be significant. The total amount of pollution reduction for any location would depend on the local power plants. Areas with cleaner power plants would decrease overall pollution more than areas with dirty plants. However, nearly all urban areas would see a major improvement in local air quality because power plants are generally located far away from population centers while tail pipes produce smog right where we live and work.

Greenhouse gases, on the other hand, are a serious problem whether they are produced next door or on the other side of the globe. EVs can reduce this burden on the environment as well. As is the case for smog-forming pollutants, an EV would produce absolutely no greenhouse gases if it were charged from a grid that was fueled by power plants which produced no greenhouse gases. However, EVs produce far fewer greenhouse gases even when charged by today’s old-fashioned grid. In his research paper entitled Debunking the Myth of EVs and Smokestacks, Chip Gribben concludes that EVs charging exclusively from power generated by old-fashioned, coal-burning plants would still reduce CO2 emissions by 17 to 22% relative to ICE-powered cars. In areas where the grid is relatively “clean,” such as California and Arizona, EVs would reduce automobile-related greenhouse gas emissions by 71% or more.

Many people believe that the most important oil-related global disaster will occur when oil runs out. Clearly, there is only so much oil we can pull out of the ground (or the tar sands, oil shale, etc.). If we do not have a suitable replacement for oil in place by the time it becomes impossibly rare and expensive, society could collapse completely. EVs help on this front in two ways. Gribben concludes that EVs charged from the grid use energy twice as efficiently as do ICEs fueled using the current oil/gasoline infrastructure. Since they are twice as efficient, EVs use half as much fossil fuel to get the same distance, assuming a grid that is supplied exclusively by fossil-fuel burning power plants. So we may conclude that EVs would allow humanity to “stretch out” our finite oil supply and get as much “mileage” as possible out of the available oil (pun intended!).

At the same time, switching to EVs would allow us to power our cars from a more flexible energy source, the power grid. Paul Scott, co-founder of the EV advocacy group Plug-In America, tells audiences, “Get all your cars on the grid, then clean up the grid!” If we start switching our cars to grid power right now, then they will benefit directly from advancements and improvements in renewable power generation. As fossil fuels become scarcer and more expensive, power plants using alternative energy sources will fuel an increasing percentage of our grid power demand. If we are using EVs as this transition occurs, we can keep driving along without having to rebuild our transportation infrastructure. When fossil fuels run out completely, we will be ready!

One last quote, this one by the rap group, Public Enemy, “Don’t believe the hype!” The oil industry has unimaginable amounts of money at its disposal. When they spend a tiny portion of their profits trying to create the illusion that EVs are just as bad for the environment as ICE-powered cars, countless media outlets pick up their stories. When they try to discredit the scientific community’s conclusion that our cars are dangerously warming the globe, millions of people take them seriously. It is up to every person who cares about our planet to counter any these misinformation campaigns. It is up to you to spread the truth about EVs to people who have been inundated by oil industry propaganda. Now go out there and start setting people straight.

Electric Vehicle History

Electric vehicles have been around for many years, even though the general public think that electrically powered vehicles are a recent invention. This is because only in recent years these type of vehicles have become more widely known due to being considered as possible alternatives to vehicles powered by combustion engines in an effort to reduce emissions that contribute to Global warming.

An electrically powered small scale model car invented in 1828 in Hungary is considered by many as being the first invented electric vehicle. Others consider an electric powered carriage invented in the 1830’s in Scotland by Robert Anderson as the first electrical powered vehicle. Another small scale electric car was designed by Professor Stratingh and built by Christopher Becker, his assistant, in Holland in 1835. Thomas Davenport also built a small electric car in 1835. He also invented the first DC motor built in the US.

Unfortunately battery technology was not advanced enough to justify further development of these type of vehicles back then. It was not until the late 1890’s that the first true passenger electric vehicle was built by William Morrison in the US. In fact in the years 1899 and 1900 more electric vehicles were sold than other types of vehicles like gasoline and steam powered vehicles in the US.

In the 1900’s electric powered vehicles had many advantages as compared to their competitors. They didn’t have the smell, vibration as well as noise as did the gasoline vehicles. Also, changing gears on gasoline vehicles was the most complicated part of driving, while electrical automobiles did not require gear changes. Steam-powered cars additionally had no gear shifting, but they suffered from long start-up times of up to 45 minutes on cold early mornings.

Steam vehicles had less range before requiring water than an electric vehicle’s range on a single charge. The best roads of the period were in town, restricting most travel to local commuting, which was well suitable for electric vehicles, since their range was limited. The electric car was the preferred alternative of many because it did not require to manually turn the hand crank to start the engine as the gasoline vehicles needed and there was no wrestling with a gear shifter to change gears.

During World War I, the cost of petrol went through the roof contributing to the popularity of electric cars. This lead to the development of the Detroit Electric which started production in 1907. The car’s range between battery recharging was about 130km (80 miles). The range depended on exactly what type of battery came with the vehicle. The typical Detroit Electric was actually powered by a rechargeable lead acid battery, which did exceptionally well in cold weather.

But the popularity of the electric car quickly came to an end. With better roads being built not only within cities, but also connecting them, the need for longer range vehicles grew. This made the electric car an impractical means of transportation. Also the newly discovered oil in the state of Texas in the US which brought the price of gas down considerably, along with the electric starter invention in 1912 which eliminated the need for a hand crank, made the gasoline vehicle the vehicle of choice. And with Henry Ford making them extremely affordable to the general public by mass producing them, the fate of the electric vehicle was sealed for many years.

It wasn’t until the 1990’s that electric vehicles started resurfacing. With the Global warming issue, the exorbitant prices of imported crude oil and legislation for smog reduction in cities, electric vehicles not only resurfaced but this time are here to stay. One of the main reasons contributing to the re-birth of the electric car is the advance in battery technology. The lithium-ion battery packs and the nickel metal hybrid battery packs are much lighter than previous batteries and can hold enough charge to power a vehicle for 100’s of Miles at high speeds between charges making electrical vehicles efficient and practical.

Natural Gas Vehicles Are Beating Out Electric Vehicles for Consumers Top Pick

Consumers have been selecting natural gas vehicles over electric vehicles at a rate of two to one. By year end there will be approximately 123,600 natural gas vehicles on our nation’s road as compared to 65,500 electric vehicles. Despite the lack of marketing or fueling infrastructure for natural gas, it is now the first choice among consumers looking to alternative ways to fuel their vehicles.

The drop in natural gas prices has helped fuel the demand; beating out the more heavily marketed and federally funded electric vehicles (EVs). Four years ago President Obama unveiled his vision of 1 million plug-in vehicles on U.S. roads by the 2015 and pumped $5 billion into funding for electric cars. In February the Obama admiration proposed the tax credit for plug-in vehicle be increased from $7,500 to $10,000 and also extend the credit to other alternative vehicles like natural gas.

In response to the higher demand from motorist, Honda began showing it’s Honda Civic GX natural gas vehicle in car showrooms across the country, where previously it had only been marketed as a fleet vehicle. It is currently the only NGV sedan on the market. Honda says the marketing is paying off big for them, and sales of the vehicle are continuing to break new monthly highs. Although the choices are few for compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, it should be pointed out that conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles can be retrofitted for CNG. If natural gas is available at your home you can install a pumping station inside your garage.

CNG is safe or at least safer than gasoline, Although CNG is flammable, it has a narrow flammability range, and if released by accident it quickly disperses making it less likely to ignite than gasoline. CNG is also non-toxic, it dissipates when released and will not leak to contaminate soil and water supplies.

The natural gas used in vehicles is classified into two types compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas(LNG). According to fueleconomy.gov “eighty-seven percent of the natural gas consumed in the U.S.is also produced here; which greatly reduces are dependency on foreign imports. It is 60%-90% less polluting than traditional fuels. With 30%-40% less greenhouse gas emissions and is less expensive than gasoline. At the present time the main disadvantages of CNG vehicles is the lack of facilities available to pump the gas, fewer miles to the tank and few choice available by auto makers.

All gas vehicles depend on fossil fuel. The natural gas obtained from drilling is a fossil fuel and while no fossil fuels are considered to be renewable resources because of the millions of years needed for the earth to produce them; natural gas is primarily methane and methane gas can be produced as a renewable resource. Methane gas is currently being collected from landfills and produced from rotting vegetation and animal manure.

CNG vehicles are cheaper to operate than conventional vehicles and burn cleaner than gasoline vehicles. Electric vehicles running on electricity alone put out “0” emissions at the tail pipe, but the electricity providing that power is generated at power plants running off fossil fuels. The U.S. Department of Energy states that “PHEVs (plugin hybrid electric vehicles) and EVs (electric vehicles) typically have a well-to-wheel emissions advantage over similar conventional vehicles running on gasoline or diesel.

However, in communities that depend heavily on conventional fossil fuels for their electricity generation, PEVs (Plugin Electric Vehicles) may not demonstrate a well-to-wheel emissions benefit.”

The switch from diesel to CNG is the larger trend for cities and municipalities across the country. The U.S Department of Transportation provides grants for upgrading mass transit and many cities are already using those dollars to advance their fleets over to CNG vehicles.

The future for NGV remains uncertain; although the advantages seem clear, reduce dependency on foreign oil, cleaner energy for the environment, lower cost to fuel. The largest drawback is the lack of infrastructure for refueling. As government agencies along with private fleet owned vehicles begin to convert vehicles from gasoline to NGV the private sector will also begin to benefit from their expansion. Improvements in refueling technology and engine performance will also soon follow. It will likely be the consumers, who ultimately decide our next energy of choice.