18 May 2012

Are Electric Vehicles Environment Friendly?

The current decade seems to be obsessed with the electric vehicles and hybrid cars. Several big companies have either launched electric cars or are designing them. The USP of these cars is that they are environment friendly and do not cause pollution.

I however believe that being engineers, we should look at the veracity of this claim. My point is; the electric vehicles use 'Electricity' to run and 'Electricity' is *not* a 'source' like Solar Energy or Wind energy. We've to produce electricity and currently the biggest source of electricity generation is fossil fuels.

So, the question we should ask is: if the world gradually moves towards electric cars, the demand for electricity will go up exponentially and it will in turn result into burning of more fossil fuel! Plus lot of fossil fuel will be required in production of these cars. This clearly means, by adopting the electric cars; we'd be burning more fuel than ever!

The following energy flow diagram should make the things clearer to understand:-

Regular ICE vehicles:-

Fossil Fuel -> Burn -> Car Engine Powered.

Electric Vehicle:-

Fossil Fuel -> Electricity -> Batteries -> Car Engine (Motors)

Each " -> " in above diagram indicates loss of energy. Clearly, for electricity to power our cars, we are losing more energy that we derive from fossil fuels.

Am I missing out on any 'obvious' point above? Share your thoughts.
ISHAN TOPRE

ISHAN TOPRE

Branch Unspecified
7 years ago
The electric vehicles are not at all eco-friendly as claimed. For the simple reason, even they do not pollute streets, they pollute the place where electricity is produced.

Take for example Li-ion battery, it is used for storing electricity and known for its efficiency. But what will you say about the pollution/ fossil fuel burning at the power plant site? It is equivalent to what a gas fed/ diesel fed vehicle would generate on the road.

Even so, in India, we use Lead acid battery. So our electric vehicles are more polluting and hazardous for nature.
7 years ago
Issue Yeah, the point here is through electric vehicles we're just adding more steps to conversion from fossil fuel -> kinetic energy of the vehicle. And more steps => greater reduction in efficiency. I think someone might have to perform the 'net energy' calculation in driving the vehicle over a distance of 100 kilometers.
ISHAN TOPRE

ISHAN TOPRE

Branch Unspecified
7 years ago
Yes, the efforts are to reduce the effects of fossil fuels in vehicles. It is perhaps achieved a degree better in Hybrid vehicles (?).

Do you know Germany said that it will shut down all nuclear plants and switch over to renewable sources. European countries have now started to offer electric charging stations just like petrol pumps.

The trend may not be eco friendly as of now. But it is not too long that we will have many countries embracing renewable sources of power production.

However the battery life and cost still remains a problem. No one will travel in a vehicle whose battery discharges every 200-300 Km.

But every cloud has a silver lining. A commercial example of electric vehicles can be Soleckshaws. running completely on solar energy. We can expect some advancement in near future.
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7 years ago
The_Big_K
So, the question we should ask is: if the world gradually moves towards electric cars, the demand for electricity will go up exponentially and it will in turn result into burning of more fossil fuel! Plus lot of fossil fuel will be required in production of these cars. This clearly means, by adopting the electric cars; we'd be burning more fuel than ever!

Am I missing out on any 'obvious' point above? Share your thoughts.
I have been rather skeptical about the EV hype myself for quite some time.

1. The efficiency of a large thermal electric plant is better than an IC engine. The emissions are less harmful, as thermal power uses external combustion. Being a staionary plant, these achieve better emission control by smoke washing and such reducing environmental impact. Usually these plants are far from populated areas, which minimises health hazards. However, global impact on environment still exists.
2. Thermal plants can use all forms of combustible materials (solid, liquid and gas)
3. EVs generally use plastics a lot. These use less energy in their production. Metals cosume more. However, nothing prevents plastics from being used for IC vehicles.
4. Lead exists as lead in nature. So we may not be adding much to the pollution. The problem is that a toxic material is coming into inahabited regions. The efficiency of charging/discharging is a drain on the overall energy. If the technology of low temperature primary fuel cells can be realized, then EVs will be far superior.

As things stand today, I believe that we are just transfering the problem to another location. May even be aggravating it as you hint.
7 years ago
The_Big_K
So, the question we should ask is: if the world gradually moves towards electric cars, the demand for electricity will go up exponentially and it will in turn result into burning of more fossil fuel! Plus lot of fossil fuel will be required in production of these cars. This clearly means, by adopting the electric cars; we'd be burning more fuel than ever!
We can use Solar, Hydro or Thermal Power to generate electricity rather burning fossil fuels. Have you heard about the university in Singapore is completely powered by Solar Panels? In the mornings, it would get the lights from the Sun and in the nights, the solar panel powers the university! What stops us in doing it?
Gurjap

Gurjap

Branch Unspecified
7 years ago
Every single auto company in the world has tried to conquer a formidable foe: transmission. It makes up a significant portion of the vehicle's mass (and space). It comprises completely of a myriad of moving parts constrained by stationary parts..... and it has to be made of steel. Given the enormous amount of loading and friction, coupled with durability issues and cost pretty much leaves out everything else. Ask any mechanical engineer: driveshafts continue to give them woe. People have tried to reduce its weight, size and cost.... but alas.

Here's where EVs do have an advantage over IC engine powered vehicles. The transmission of an electric vehicle? An electric cable. Connected on one end to a battery, on the other, to a motor. No moving parts. Minimal space, minimal weight, minimal cost.
Oceanliner

Oceanliner

Branch Unspecified
7 years ago
The_Big_K
So, the question we should ask is: if the world gradually moves towards electric cars, the demand for electricity will go up exponentially and it will in turn result into burning of more fossil fuel! Plus lot of fossil fuel will be required in production of these cars. This clearly means, by adopting the electric cars; we'd be burning more fuel than ever!
The first point about fossile power plant being an important part of the current electricity generation is true. But when assuming the extra demand for electrons from EVs would have to be produced by the same mix of generation sources as exists today you forget an important issue:

If an electric car is as good and expensive to buy as a petrol car then a consumer would be willing to pay the same price for driving the car one mile be it electrons or fossiled plants that propels it forward. This means that the cost for the battery and the electricity that goes into the battery during its lifetime must only be equal to or lower than the cost for petrol that can drive the car the same mileage. I believe without question that this means the electric battery are so much cheaper than its mileage equivalent amount of petrol that there is a large margin for the price of electricity that needs to go into the battery. So if the margin for electricity generation for the EV fleet is large then its economically possible to use 100% renewable sources for that electricity and still have a lower per mile cost than a petrol equivalent.
zaveri

zaveri

Branch Unspecified
6 years ago
be it ic engines or electric motors, in the end fossil fuel is being expended. it does not make a penny worth of difference because pollution takes place anyway
Oceanliner

Oceanliner

Branch Unspecified
6 years ago
zaveri
be it ic engines or electric motors, in the end fossil fuel is being expended. it does not make a penny worth of difference because pollution takes place anyway
Even if you where right and the carbon emissions would be the same, no matter if its a coal-fired powerplant or many small combustion engines that produced the CO2, it would still make economic sense to switch to electric cars in towns and cities because of the negative health effects from air pollution. I think that the cost for asthma and allergies caused by transport induced pollution might actually be a more compelling reason to go electric than reducing the CO2 emissions (yes electric cars would reduce emissions if CO2).
zaveri

zaveri

Branch Unspecified
6 years ago
Oceanliner
Even if you where right and the carbon emissions would be the same, no matter if its a coal-fired powerplant or many small combustion engines that produced the CO2, it would still make economic sense to switch to electric cars in towns and cities because of the negative health effects from air pollution. I think that the cost for asthma and allergies caused by transport induced pollution might actually be a more compelling reason to go electric than reducing the CO2 emissions (yes electric cars would reduce emissions if CO2).
as far is health is concerned, you are right.

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