Electric cars increase Pollution

Though not an industrial networking problem this should be a ‘no brainer’ for engineers. Electric cars increase pollution. Electric vehicles do not eliminate pollution; they simply relocate the source of the emission to the coal generating station or other single point source instead. Out of sight, out of mind and since there is no tailpipe to emit CO2, I must not have generated any in the process of my commute. For the sake of keeping this simple we will not go into the energy required to build the vehicle with its special battery allows and required recycling of said heavy metals.

Do NOT go into, the I purchase ‘green energy’ from wind turbines or solar generating facilities – it is ALL on the same grid so you may think you are purchasing the energy from a wind turbine but all you have really done is purchase some energy from the pool of electricity and because renewable energy cannot be guaranteed to be available when it is required the utilities have to build extra (read expensive) peak energy plants that are likely running on coal or hopefully cleaner natural gas.

As many of you know, I am a Chemical Engineering by training and in my fourth year actually worked as a thermodynamics TA. However all of us recall from high school that EVERY time we make a conversion in energy there are some losses which means less than 100% conversion efficiency. Therefore the friendly electric car has energy losses at every conversion step in the process. So for example assuming we start with a high efficiency coal generating facility (average global efficiency of coal-fired plants is currently 28% compared to 45% for the most efficient plants and natural gas is in the same range)  the cycle of coal-electricity-battery-motor likely results in less than 20% of the energy in the coal or natural gas actually being transmitted to the rubber on the road. Gasoline and Diesel ARE the most efficient means of getting power to where it is needed for transportation because the conversion is gas-engine-wheels and today’s engines/transmissions continue to improve on making that conversion better.

So if you think you are buying an electric car to help the environment, think again.

If you want to make a contribution to the effect of commuting on pollution; ride a bike, take public transit, or purchase a more environmentally friendly hybrid – at least with the hybrid you won’t be stuck looking for a plug in.


Rant off – time for me to go home and do some recycling.

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