The Car Battery's Carbon Footprint Page 2

Lithium-ion battery pack for 2011 Chevrolet Volt

Lithium-ion battery pack for 2011 Chevrolet Volt

Steven Cherry: Dominic, we have a saying here that something is like comparing apples to oranges. Did you find that to be the case when it came to comparing environmental impacts? What I mean is, the toxicity of the metal in a battery is one kind of environmental impact, and it's very different from that of shipping a battery across the Atlantic Ocean. How do you total up environmental impacts and then compare them one to another?

Dominic Notter: We used four different impact-assessment methods. One was the global warming potential, which tells us something about climate change. One was the cumulative energy demand for the battery, and then we had one which included human toxicity, resource depletion, and quality of eco systems. And no matter which of these impact assessment methods you are looking for, the main result remains the same. The battery electric car is, let's say, greener than the internal combustion engine car. Regarding environmental burden, internal combustion engine cars should not use more than 59 to 70 miles per gallon.

Steven Cherry: That would be less actually, right?

Dominic Notter: Yes, less, sorry. Of course.

Steven Cherry: it's very confusing, actually because the Europeans measure things in liters per 100 kilometers, and that's almost the reciprocal of how we look at things here.

Dominic Notter: Yes, exactly.

Steven Cherry: Well, that's good to know. Either we should make cars that are either about twice as efficient as we're making them right now, or we should switch over to battery cars.

Dominic Notter: Yes, that would be a nice idea.

Steven Cherry: Well, thank you very much for your time.

Dominic Notter: You're welcome.

Steven Cherry: We've been speaking with Dominic Notter of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology about the environmental impact of making, using, and disposing electric car batteries. For IEEE Spectrum's "This Week in Technology," I'm Steven Cherry.

This story, written by Steven Cherry, was originally posted on IEEE Spectrum, an editorial partner of GreenCarReports.

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Comments (5)
  1. I should add to this article that even when it comes to electric grid emissions, the US electric grid is about as dirty as a Prius when you are charging an equivalent electric car from an "average" charging point in the US grid.
    My research in the past has indicated that the electric car would be less resource burden to make, and at least as clean as the cleanest cars today to charge, even in the US which is one of the dirtiest grids in the developed world (second only to china, which isn't all that much dirtier).
    Seeing as I'm Canadian, my research has also shown that the Canadian grid is about 4x more efficient in terms of CO2 emissions and overall GHG contribution to any atmospheric warming. there are also provinces in Canada that are fully renewable. A resident of Manitoba driving an electric car for example would not contribute to climate change at all (with the exception to the "cradle" --manufacturing-- pollution).

  2. @Chris: Your conclusion is slightly off but headed in the right direction. A 50-MPG Prius has a slightly lower wells-to-wheels carbon burden burning gasoline than the dirtiest grids in the U.S., but to equal the *average* U.S. grid gets you up to 70 or 80 MPG, and to equal California's (where many early EVs will be sold) you need to go even higher. See EPRI-NRDC study from July 2007 for backing data.

  3. Now do a study on the carbon footprint of oil. Don't forget recent spills.

  4. @CDspeed: Properly constructed "wells-to-wheels" studies of carbon footprint do include all parts of the oil process, including the carbon from refining and transporting the various petroleum distillates. Must admit I don't know, however, if oil SPILLS and their carbon footprint are taken into account.

  5. hi this is a great argument and has helped me with my next blog. i cant help feeling though that the people who run our countries are charging ahead too fast especially with the dirty electricity that we are producing, its the cart before the horse in my opinium eric roberts

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