Death by Car

capitalism's drive to carmageddon: news & comments

External Combustion

Fisker Karma, the world’s most expensive tinderbox:

The story.

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ev_co2 A London group with the comically oxymoronic name of Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership has been busy disproving its own sponsored premise. Turns out that manufacturing a battery for a typical “electric” car puts 3.8 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That’s two-thirds of the carbon emitted in the manufacturing of a complete medium-sized gasoline car.

What additional carbon dioxide would be emitted in the process of scrapping or recycling millions of “electric” car batteries every year? As the LCVP admits, that remains one of our “gaps in understanding.”

The inescapable fact is that no automobile will ever be “low carbon.” Merely making these rolling piles of metal and plastic and lithium is inherently energy- and carbon-intensive.

DbC will say it again: Cars-first transportation was and is a capitalist pipe-dream.

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crossed_fingers In America, questioning the reign of the automobile remains, despite the times and the laws of physics, as forbidden as ever. Instead of acknowledging that the idea of using 3,500-pound objects to accomplish our daily errands was as foolishly unrealistic as it was profitable to capitalists, we are now being lavishly trained by our dominant institutions to remain utterly ignorant of the pertinent realities of our dire energy-and-infrastructure situation.

The latest propaganda blast comes via today’s op-ed page at The New York Times, where a character named Seth Fletcher holds forth on the supposed virtues of “the electric car.” Though he hails from Popular Science magazine, Fletcher never mentions the basic physics of automobile transportation, which will always involve use of stupendously wasteful amounts of mass per unit of accomplished locomotion. Neither does Fletcher make a single reference to where all the new electricity to power 250 million “electric” cars is going to come from. Instead, as is the norm, Fletcher talks as if electricity is itself the original power source:

Electrification is not an all-or-nothing proposition — it’s a process, the gradual replacement of gas-burning engines with batteries and electric motors.

Fletcher, in fact, explicitly treats batteries as energy sources:

Today, at universities like Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in national laboratories like Argonne and Lawrence Berkeley, scientists are developing technologies that could power a post-oil age — batteries nearly as rich in usable energy as gasoline.

Of course, no present or future battery will ever, on its own, be rich in usable energy. Batteries store energy made elsewhere.

And, predictably enough, guess how many times the words “coal” and “nuclear” appear in Fletcher’s op-ed? Yep: Zero.

Oh, and by the way, Fletcher also hugely fudges the data:

When cars like these are being driven on a large scale, the benefits will be substantial. The Electrification Coalition, an electric-vehicle advocacy group, estimates that if, by 2040, 75 percent of all miles driven in the United States are powered by electricity, oil consumption by light-duty vehicles will drop from the current level of nearly nine million barrels a day to two million.

Not only is that the rosiest of rosy assumptions, but note the key qualifier “light-duty vehicles.” According to the recently defunded U.S. Energy Information Administration, 40 percent of present petroleum use occurs via the operation of heavy-duty vehicles and pipelines. Fletcher doesn’t want to talk about that, because it destroys his fairy tale. (He also fails to explain how he imagines burning even that rosy 2 million barrels of oil a day in light-duty vehicles is a sustainable endeavor.)

As the headlining of junk analyses like this Fletcher piece shows, the powers-that-be in this society are going to take us all over the cliff, mentally and physically, if we don’t shake ourselves free from their heedless embrace. Contrary to assurances from obscurantists like Seth Fletcher, hugging the “electric” car is accepting, not rejecting, the path of death and destruction.

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Nuclear Cars

tepco_explosion There has always been an envelope of magical thinking surrounding the automobile.  “Auto” means self.  “Mobile” means mover.  But no animal or machine is a self-mover.  To do their work, all require fuel from external sources.  Nevertheless, “automobile” is what we call cars.

Notwithstanding the rosy promises of capitalists, Presidents, and foxy greenwashers, the delusion doubles when we talk about the “electric” automobile.  Electricity, you see, does not come from nowhere.  Just like movement in animals and machines, its creation requires fuel combustion.  So, there is really no such thing as an electric car.

So, given current events, may I, ahem, pose a quick quiz question?

Q: What nation-state is presently home to the most nuclear power plants in the world?

Your answer.

The hard truth of the matter, as Gail Tverberg puts it:

Without nuclear electric power, electric cars seem very unlikely.

We would need more, rather than less, electric power to run electric vehicles. In the years ahead, it may not be all that easy to add electrical power of any kind. If areas were to lose nuclear electricity, they would be at a particular disadvantage.

Indeed, Gail doesn’t quite state this strongly enough.  The real truth is that, if we really think we’re going to be running 200 million “electric” cars, we will need not just nuclear power, but more nuclear power, meaning many more nuclear power plants than presently exist.

Funny, you don’t hear this very often, do you?

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wire tangle In his new book, energy scholar Vaclav Smil apparently discusses still more rather crucial but un-discussed aspects of the claim that “electric”[*] cars are anything but halo-ware:

The average source-to-outlet efficiency of U.S. electricity generation is about 40 percent, and adding 10 percent for internal power plant consumption and transmission losses, this means that 11 MWh (nearly 40 GJ) of primary energy would be needed to generate electricity for a car with an average annual consumption of about 4 MWh.

This would translate to 2 MJ for every kilometer of travel, a performance equivalent to about 38 mpg (9.25L/100 km)—a rate much lower than that offered by scores of new pure gasoline-engine car models, and inferior to advanced hybrid designs or to DiesOtto designs.

In other words, whatever amount of energy gets put into electric cars is only 4/11 of the amount of energy it takes to use it there, and the overall result is no miracle at all. 38 miles per gallon equivalent.

And Smil, by the way, estimates that a complete conversion to electric cars in the United States would require a 25% expansion of the existing growth requirement for U.S. electricity generation. This in a power generating system that is already at its limits. And without once again mentioning the incompatibility between widespread “electric” car use and the already past-it-limits electrical transmission grid.

Meanwhile, any wagers on whether Smil’s eminently simple analysis will wind up being the basis for the EPA’s forthcoming “much debated” MPG equivalent rating system for “electric” cars? On that front, the EPA is under immense overclass pressure to permit bogus measures that start only at the plug-in. Barring a straight version of that, look for EPA to opt for a “compromise” of issuing an intentionally complex car label that will exaggerate MPG comparisons, though not quite as radically as the car capitalists would have it, while deploying additional pro-EV “information” to prevent people from becoming aware of the uncomplicated comparison factors Smil explains in two short paragraphs.

[*]Why the quotation marks? Unless and until humans learn to catch and store lightning energy on an industrial scale, electrical current must be generated by capturing or burning or reacting energy-rich substances that are not themselves electricity. Contrary to the fairytale suggestions of corporate capitalist car marketing, then, “electric” cars are just as much coal or natural gas or nuclear or solar or wind cars as they are electric. In fact, given Smil’s finding that far more energy goes into making the electricity for “electric” cars than is embodied in the electricity finally dissipated by them, I hereby announce that it is DbC policy to use quotations marks for this particular form of vapor-ware/halo-ware from now on.

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electric car charger Oilbama and what passes for a green movement talk breezily of “clean energy,” as if the only thing blocking a rapid and thorough transition to an alt-energy economy is oil-industry corruption and political indecision.

In the misleading verbiage of such false prophets, you never get any details.  Why not?  Because the facts are entirely contrary to the promises.

Leaving aside geology and EROEI, let’s examine the single point at which the fuel meets the car, shall we?

According to recent “good news,” “JFE Engineering claim[s] to have produced a quick charger which can replenish 50 percent of an EV’s battery level in just three minutes. The company also claims the system could recharge up to 70 percent in just five minutes.”

The news here is that this promises some relief from the fact that recharging an electric automobile is generally an overnight process, not a 5-minute pitstop.

The price of the speedy new charging unit?  $120,000 per unit.

As of 2007, there were 117,908 gas stations in the United States.

$120,000 x 117,908 = $14,148,960,000.

So, putting one single electric car charger at each filling station in the USA would cost 14.1 billion dollars.

Of course, the average automobile fueling depot needs and has probably 6-10 gasoline hoses springing off its meters.  This is for the obvious reason that motorists don’t want to wait half an hour to access a single hose.

So, re-fitting the nation’s gas stations for a fully electric fleet would actually cost more like $100 billion.

And, of course, we [read: the babysitters our overclass hires for us] love the free market and don’t begrudge gas station owners getting rich.  Gas stations, in other words, are not owned by the public.  So, this $100 billion expenditure would have to be done voluntarily by the nation’s fueling entrepreneurs, for whom such outlays represent deductions from their returns-on-investment.

And, of course, all this is merely the cost of the electron-dispensing units.  It says nothing about the radical reconstruction of the underlying electrical generation and distribution system that such a conversion would require.

Bottom line:  As the car capitalists know, electric cars are a minor diversion, a profitable trick on hoodwinked green shoppers and a crucial political psy-op against the general public.

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