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Lithium-Ion Batteries Get Green Kudos, Better Than Gasoline

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A123 lithium-ion cells

A123 lithium-ion cells

In a week where many mainstream media outlets are claiming electric cars are prohibitively more expensive to own than gasoline counterparts, a team of Swiss researchers have released conclusive data showing that the environmental impact of the electric car is much less than most gas cars.

As any EV advocate will tell you, electric vehicles are extremely green when fuelled from renewable energy such as solar or wind power. In fact, ignoring any carbon impact of manufacture, you can argue such electric cars can be zero emissions.

Electric cars charged from non-clean power sources, such as gas, oil and coal are less polluting than gasoline cars, but for those who remain unconvinced of the benefits of the electric car there is a claimed sinful side to the EV.

Batteries.

If some of the most vocal anti-EV spokespersons are to be believed, mining the minerals and metals used in electric car batteries are much more damaging to the planet than any gasoline car.

Thankfully, it turns out they are wrong. Making an electric car really doesn’t take up as many of the earth’s resources as previously thought.

photo credit: aminorjourney / creative commons, flickr.com

photo credit: aminorjourney / creative commons, flickr.com

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A team of researchers at the Swiss-based EMPA institute, which focuses on material sciences and technology development, have concluded that electric vehicle lithium-ion batteries are at worse, a moderate environmental burden.

And when comparing the environmental impact of an EV to a gasoline car, from raw materials through production and use to recycling at end of life, EVs used less natural resources.

Comparing electric cars similar in size and performance to the 2010 VW Golf, the researchers discovered that only 15% of the total environmental impact of building the car could be attributed to the battery pack. Of that, only 2.3% came from mining and processing raw lithium.

Other materials used in lithium-ion batteries such as copper and aluminium, attributed 7.5% of the environmental burden.

But don’t think for one second that the researchers were giving EV batteries an easy time.

Although many electric car battery packs could theoretically be reused without reprocessing in power back-up applications, the researchers assumed a battery pack would only be fit for reprocessing on removal from an EV.

Extracting Lithium Carbonate From Brine

Extracting Lithium Carbonate From Brine

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The paper also outlines that running an electric car with lithium-ion batteries for 100,000 miles results in three times more pollution from the energy used to fuel it, if a mixture of fuel sources such as nuclear, coal-fired and renewable similar to those found in Europe are used.

Use power exclusively from coal-fired stations, and the impact of an EV worsens by over 13%.

Use purely renewable energy sources such as hydroelectric, and the environmental impact of an EV is reduced by over 40%.

Taking into account the standard electricity generation mix in Europe the researchers concluded that to be more environmentally friendly than an EV a gasoline car would need to have a fuel efficiency of more than 59 miles per U.S. gallon.

The message from Switzerland is clear.  Even when fuelled by dirty sources, EVs have less environmental impact than their gasoline counterparts.

Charge from a renewable source, and gasoline cars simply cannot compete.

 

[EMPA]

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Comments (12)
  1. gosh, you mean evs are really better for the planet than gas cars ? i never would have guessed - LOL. i guess the oil shills will need to re-invent some new scare tactics.
     
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  2. Now if only we could purchase EVs we would be all set.
     
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  3. John, you can! If you're in one of the five rollout states, you can buy/lease a LEAF very soon! :D If you are on the East side, you still can, but not right now. It's going to be an AWESOME BEV!
     
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  4. hi bill,
    you obviously work for nissan. what info or web site can you direct us to, regarding future evs from nissan ? i read awhile back that there are i think 3 other ev models soon to join the leaf ?
     
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  5. All you need is one fact to slam in the face of the EV-naysers.
    Its takes 7KWH of energy to produce 1 gallon of gas. Why do you think they run refineries at night?
     
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  6. OK then, how do EVs compare to bicycles and public transport? The fact is, 7 billion people on this planet wanting cars, yes, EVs are cleaner than internal combustion fueled by mineral oil, they aren't clean enough to save the planet. Cars generally represent too much consumption at our current rates of consumption and population.
     
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  7. Side-point really, but where did hybrids come in all this? And 'curt' makes an interesting point. Did the scientists consider the production cost of gasoline, since the *did* consider the production cost of the electricity. One would hope that's factored in. Would love to read the actual study.
     
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  8. Where did the equivalent 59 miles per U.S. gallon come from?
     
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  9. (These calculations might be flawed...)
    miles per uk gallon 40 (just for an example)
    Litres/100km 7.0625
    Petrol energy/L 34.8 MJ
    Petrol Energy for 100km 245.775 MJ
    Petrol Energy for 100km 68.27 KWh
    (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_efficiency)
    BEV for 100km (including 80% charging losses and recuperation gains) 14.1 KWh
    Heating, cooling, and electronics for 100 km 2.9 KWh
    Total BEV 17 KWh
    (See http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/es903729a)
    Based on these figures, you'd need a petrol car of 160mpg to match the energy inputs of an electric. You can, of course make the argument that you need to take account of the generation and distribution losses. If you are going to do that you need to take account of the well, transport, refinement and distribution of the oil (and maybe things like the mining of the coal). But why bother. From a personal point of view, they are both delivered locally and you could argue what you pay is what matters.
    Diesel isn't much better:
    Diesel energy/L 38.6 MJ
    Diesel energy/100km 272.6125 MJ
    Diesel energy/100km 75.72 KWh
     
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  10. WOW 7KWH for 1 gallon of gas.... i have a homemade "Electro Ciao" (Vespa Ciao converted to Electric)
    i have just calculated that if i used 1 gallon of gas on my normal gas powered ciao i can go 150km (94 miles).
    On my Electro Ciao if i had a 7KWH battery i could go 290km (180 miles) on a full charge!!!!
     
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  11. Nikki,
    I'm confused about the statement:
    "running an electric car with lithium-ion batteries for 100,000 miles results in three times more pollution from the energy used to fuel it, if a mixture of fuel sources such as nuclear, coal-fired and renewable similar to those found in Europe are used."
    Three times more than what? More than a gas car equivalent? Maybe I lost your sequence of discussion.
    OBTW, I love the 7 KWHR value to refine a gallon of gas. A 200 WHR per mile EV will get 35 miles on that 7 KWHR. Displace that gallon of gas load from the electric grid and put it in an EV instead for 35 miles of driving. We won! ZERO impact on the grid! We'll blow out a transformer or two along the way, but, the utility company periodically replaces eguipment anyway from storms, changing load patterns, and age anyway.
     
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  12. The Problem I have with this study is its based on Lithium-Ion battery technology, the number 1 vehicle in the world that uses EV tech uses Nickel Metal Hydride batteries.
    plus what is the cost of the Lithium Ion battery/how long do they last? not per charge...multiple charges as lithium-ion batteries have a limit on the number of times htey can be recharged, and with every charge cycle, it loses some of its capacity..what happens to the overall range of the car?
    I myself am a car and motorsport fan, as I do have bias with my love of engines Ill be honest, but I cant see lithium ion batteries changing the automotive industry, fuel cells, or even hydrogen combustion seem to be a more effective technology to really change how cars are run.
     
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