In a previous post, DbC reported that the miles-per-gallon performance of the Nissan Leaf was 38. Turns out this was a major over-estimate, as explained by physicist Tom Murphy.
If one focuses, as the peddlers of the things push and count on us to do, only on the charge-to-wheels aspect of the question, the numbers look very good. Murphy’s explanation:
How do electric cars or other electric/hybrids stack up? In order of performance: the Chevy Volt gets 35 miles from a 16 kWh battery for a consumption of 45 kWh/100-mi; the Nissan Leaf gets 73 miles from its 24 kWh battery for 33 kWh/100-mi; and the pricey Tesla has a 244 mile range using a 53 kWh battery, for 22 kWh/100-mi. The MPG equivalent of these three figures is approximately 80, 110, and 170, respectively. All are much better deals than gasoline cars deliver, primarily because the electrical drive system is far more efficient than the typical 20% gasoline engine.
The reality, though, is that charge-to-wheels is only half the process. What about production-to-charge, or the question of what it takes to put the power into the so-called electric vehicle’s battery? Murphy again:
In order to deliver 30 kWh to your house to fully charge the Leaf’s 24 kWh battery bank, for example—incorporating the charge efficiency this time, the source of electricity becomes a highly relevant factor. Two-thirds of our electricity comes from fossil fuel plants, typically converting 35% of the fossil fuel thermal energy into electricity. Only 90% of this makes it through the transmission system, on average. If your electricity comes from a fossil fuel plant, the 30 kWh delivered to your house took about 95 kWh of fossil fuel energy. The 73 miles the Leaf travels on a full charge now puts it at an energy efficiency of 130 kWh/100-mi. The MPG equivalent number is 28 MPG. From a carbon-dioxide standpoint, you’d be better off burning the fossil fuel directly in your car.
Bill McKibben got himself arrested, wearing a suit and tie, at another one of his microscopic non-movement photo-ops.
The cause? A hopeless and technocratic gesture, as always. This time, it’s an effort to pre-empt construction of a pipeline to deliver Canadian tar sands extracts to Texas oil refineries.
Question for Billy Boy: What does one “win,” even if this project gets canceled? The same crude oil gets trucked to Texas? How is that a victory?
Of course, the whole affair has a strong odor of Democratic Party gamesmanship to it. Koch Industries, which funds the Tea Party farce, is apparently going to be a major contractor in the pipeline project.
And catch this, McKibben’s core statement of his cause:
So, we’ll be arrested outside the White House. But less in protest of the President, than in support of the Obama who ran for the White House in 2008, and who said the night he clinched the nomination that with his Presidency ‘the rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet begin to heal.’ I’ll be wearing my Obama ’08 button when I go to jail tomorrow; we want to show him he has the support he needs to do the right thing, in the face of unrelenting pressure from the fossil fuel industry.
News flash: “The Obama who ran for the White House in 2008″ was the Advertising Age Marketer of the Year for that particular annum. In other words, Bill, you get taken, bought, sold, hoodwinked, eaten alive. One would think that three years and hundreds of betrayals later, you might begin to think and learn some rather obvious things. Apparently not, however.
With greens like these, who needs the Koch brothers?
As the evidence mounts that cars-first transportation is coming to a certain and potentially genocidal dead end, the corporate media is proving that no story, no matter how brainless, is too ridiculous to publish, so long as it implies the opposite of reality.
The latest example is this ROFLMFAO piece run by the shameless slimeballs at Yahoo.* According to its author, who quite plainly knows nothing whatsoever about energy or physics, a “tiny block of thorium could power your car forever.”
Yes, you heard it from Yahoo, folks: Onboard, thorium-fissioning nuclear plants are going to provide safe and endless energy for your car, starting “in 2014″! Never mind that, despite decades of trying, nobody yet knows how to safely and reliably manufacture electricity from thorium at any scale. Never mind that the vaporware to which the Yahoo journalism points is a naked scam.
When it comes to peddling distracting, sponsor-pleasing promises about the future of automotive fuel, literally any story will do. Except, of course, the truth.
*To comment on a Yahoo story, you must sign up for a Yahoo identity, a process that involves disclosing your date-of-birth.
My new hero Tom Murphy reports:
Putting the pieces together, our national battery occupies a volume of 4.4 billion cubic meters, equivalent to a cube 1.6 km (one mile) on a side. The size in itself is not a problem: we’d naturally break up the battery and distribute it around the country. This battery would demand 5 trillion kg (5 billion tons) of lead.
How much lead exists in the Earth? 1.5 billion tons, or less than a third of what would be needed to build that cubic-mile battery.
This crucial point ought to be of particular interest to those of us who see the special problem with cars-first transportation within the looming catastrophe we are (not) facing. Since, according to the recently de-funded U.S. Energy Information Administration, transportation currently accounts for 27 percent* of overall U.S. energy use, it follows that there isn’t even enough lead on Earth to allow humans to run the planet’s existing automotive fleet on wind-and-solar-only. Indeed, even if so-called “electric cars” are twice as energy-efficient as present automobiles, it would take half the Earth’s remaining lead supplies to make a battery infrastructure capable of meeting the power-storage needs of an all-electric fleet in just the United States.
This, of course, is merely the half of it, because the above is just the story on the electricity-generation side. It says nothing about what a fleet of 250 million “electric cars” would also mean for the Earth’s supply of lithium, the element that is the basis for on-board storage of the electricity that gets extracted elsewhere.
Let’s all repeat the DbC mantra: Cars-first transportation was a capitalist pipe-dream.
*The EIA treats production of automobiles and their fuels, roadways, and various peripheral goods and services as part of the manufacturing sector, so its estimate of transportation-induced energy use is a serious under-statement of actuality.
Led by Stepin Fetchit Obama, the overclass has just concluded another round of MPG charades. This time, they have reached a “deal” purportedly “requiring” car capitalists’ new-vehicle fleets to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
Given Big Money’s de facto ownership of politics in the United States, this is essentially an act of self-policing, so, of course, this “deal” is next to meaningless. As Automotive News reports, there already are two yawning loopholes.
The Detroit 3 won a major exemption for their highly profitable full-sized pickups. The administration’s corporate average fuel economy proposal, details of which still must be worked out, would exempt full-sized pickups from any fuel economy increases from the 2017 model year through the 2019 model year, automotive representatives said.
Even for regular passenger cars, “the plan for 5 percent annual increases could be changed if a midcourse review, planned to begin in 2018, determines that it would adversely affect industry costs and vehicles sales.”
The main point of the whole endeavor, in the opinion of DbC, is actually not any kind of serious public control over miles-per-gallon. MPG is going to increase with or without any such “deals,” given the realities of Peak Oil. The real point of this kabuki is perpetuating a key mis-perception of reality: the notion that the energy efficiency of automobiles is merely a matter of human intentions and political checks-and-balances. Could MPG ever be 100, 200, 300, 500, 1,000? “Sure, if only the conservatives would wake up and smell the coffee, yes.” That’s the intended message for greens and liberals.
Of course, as DbC has always maintained, like everything else in the known universe, automobiles are subject to the laws of physics. As such, 3,000-pound metal boxes carrying humans at highway speeds can only ever get so efficient. Indeed, after a century of intensive corporate R&D and lavish public subsidy, it is DbC‘s position that existing cars are much closer to the asymptote of maximum efficiency than capitalists and liberal greens acknowledge.
If you doubt this claim, take a look at this excellent post by the extremely helpful analyst Tom Murphy. Murphy’s estimate of the actual top limit of highway MPG for cars that are usable under the cars-first conditions that prevail in the USA? 56 MPG.
Do you think the type of basic-physics analysis done by Murphy is unknown to the powers-that-be? That it’s a mere coincidence Murphy’s estmimate is almost exactly the promised ultimate MPG figure?
If so, I can still get you that excellent deal on the Brooklyn Bridge…
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