October 7, 2012

Trading one set of problems for another

Heh - some folks in Norway are looking at the true impact of manufacturing and owning an electric car. From Phys.Org:
When green turns toxic: Norwegians study Electric Vehicle life cycle
Questioning thoughts arise from a bracing study from Norway. The electric car might be a trade-in of an old set of pollution problems for a new set. Thanks but no thanks to a misguided cadre selling on the green revolution. Electric cars will eventually be one more pollutant source to campaign over. The study, "Comparative Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Conventional and Electric Vehicles," appears in the Journal of Industrial Ecology. Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology declared in the study that "EVs exhibit the potential for significant increases in human toxicity, freshwater eco-toxicity, freshwater eutrophication, and metal depletion impacts, largely emanating from the vehicle supply chain."

The "supply chain" part of the statement is key to the focus of their research. The electric car has been promoted heavily as a car for the future but quick takes on EVs as environmental vehicles of choice should be replaced with longer and careful looks, even oversight, at what occurs during the entire cradle-to-gate life cycle of a car's production, use, and dismantling.

Light-duty vehicles account for approximately 10 percent of global energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and policy makers have braced themselves for what that means in climate change and air quality. In the Norwegian study, the authors looked at conventional and electric vehicles to see how all phases, from production to use to dismantling, affect the environment. They concluded that, "Although EVs are an important technological breakthrough with substantial potential environmental benefits, these cannot be harnessed everywhere and in every condition. Our results clearly indicate that it is counterproductive to promote EVs in areas where electricity is primarily produced from lignite, coal, or even heavy oil combustion."

The authors warned that the "elimination of tailpipe emissions at the expense of increased emissions in the vehicle and electricity production chains" carries risks for policy makers and stakeholders. The authors support serious attention to "life cycle" thinking. Their research was partly funded by the Norwegian Research Council under the E-Car Project.
It is good that they are realizing that most electric cars on the road are coal burning cars -- in the Pacific Northwest, they are waterfall burning cars (57% hydro) and a few of the lil' buggers run on nuculear energy (misspelling intentional). The chemicals in the batteries, the relatively short battery life and the limited range are deal-breakers for me. I have fantasized about building a small (Suzuki Samurai) electric runabout for use in town (20 mile range tops needed) but still looking for a suitable donor car (blown engine+tranny) at the right price (haul it away). Deep cycle golf-cart batteries for power. Posted by DaveH at October 7, 2012 9:11 PM
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