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Batteries and the environment

Discussion in 'Model S: Battery & Charging' started by Patrick W, Apr 16, 2015.

  1. Patrick W

    Patrick W Member

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    Most people I've spoken with about Tesla seem pretty impressed. But it seems that applies some less to those of a more conservative nature (anyone else run into that?).

    Speaking with a very conservative friend yesterday I got the usual comment about "making electrify makes pollution too". But armed with what I've learned here I was able to rebut that.

    But then she brought up how bad old batteries are for the environment. I didn't have an answer for that so I've spent a good bit of time tonight searching online and here in the forums. I found a few things from a few years ago. But those seemed to contain more conjecture than fact.

    Can someone point me to information on the effects the manufacture and eventual disposal of Tesla batteries has on the environment? And what happens to those batteries after they are removed from the car?

    Many thanks!
     
  2. Saghost

    Saghost Active Member

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    #2 Saghost, Apr 16, 2015
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2015
    As far as I know, most of the studies taking about battery environmental impact are looking at older technologies - nickel metal hydride and lead acid. Nickel is a pain to mine and refine, and those batteries use a lot of it. Lead Acid batteries use lead...

    By comparison, lithium cells should have very little environmental footprint. Most current Lithium mining appears to be by concentrating salts from groundwater, especially deep ground water like geothermal plants produce - and in many cases they use the sun to evaporate the water.

    A Lithium ion battery doesn't have a whole lot of lithium in it, either - I think someone calculated that the 1200 pound 85 kWh Model S battery pack had about 20 pounds of lithium in it?

    The rest of the pieces depend on the exact design of the pack, but I think are mostly typical of modern construction.Lithium batteries are said to be easily recyclable - if they get that far.

    The most likely use for old EV battery packs is stationary storage. According to the typical industry definition, a pack is considered to have reached the end of its life when it has lost 30% of its capacity - side from the Leaf with its thermal issues, none of the packs are anywhere close to that from what I've read - but even if they got there and were replaced in the original car, they still have a lot of energy storage left.

    Tesla is installing packs at most Superchargers to manage demand, and many other businesses would love to do the same, and wouldn't particularly care if those packs are fifty percent heavier for the same capacity - especially if the pack costs half as much or less (both likely effects of being a salvage EV pack instead of brand new.)
    Walter
     
  3. jerry33

    jerry33 S85 - VIN:P05130 - 3/2/13

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    1. The amount of nickel used in NiMH batteries is tiny compared to the amount of nickel used for coins and chrome, and they are highly recyclable. the ones on the Prius are something like 99% recyclable.

    2. The Tesla battery is designed to be used with Solar City solar panels, so when it's finished with it's life as a car battery, it still has 25 more years of life as solar storage. Then it can be easily recycled.

    3. Automotive batteries are the most recycled products and have been recycled for the longest amount of time.
     
  4. lphe

    lphe Member

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    This report may be of interest to you:

    http://assets.climat...eport_Final.pdf

    If you consider lifecycle emissions, PHEV emissions are less than Teslas.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Note that some electric companies allow you to select how your electricity is generated. All my electricity comes from wind farms. So there are no emissions associated with my electric usage.
     
  5. deonb

    deonb Active Member

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  6. kennybobby

    kennybobby Member

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    4. Never argue with a woman, even if you could win, you still lose.
     
  7. CliffG

    CliffG Member

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    That report came out in 2013, based on data from 2010 and 2012 and among other things, assumed that all EVs had the same batteries as Leafs, with the same chemistry and manufacturing [Li-NCM] (except for the Volt & BMW Active 3 [Li-FePO4], and the Toyotas & Hondas [NiMH]; doesn't Tesla use Li-NCA? Is this better or worse?).

    Also, there are a couple of comments they made in their Methodology section that were a bit confusing (concerning vehicle manufacturing emissions):
    -"In the manufacturing of two similar-sized cars the battery is responsible for almost all of the difference in emissions between an electric car and a gas-powered car. Based on several studies for smaller vehicles, the battery takes roughly 50 percent more GHGs to manufacture than the rest of the vehicle" and
    -"battery manufacturing emissions are only a fraction of the total manufacturing emissions."

    So which is it? Battery manufacturing is a huge contributor to emissions or only a fraction?

    Also, they admitted in the fine print that they really didn't know much about the manufacture of these products and mostly guessed, based on estimates and guesses that others had published (which I admit, I didn't track down and read).

    If their assertion that "Emissions from producing the battery and other electrical components create a 10,000 to 40,000-pound carbon debt for electric cars that can only be overcome after tens, or even hundreds of thousands of miles of driving and recharging from clean energy sources" is so important, wouldn't they want to verify the data used to make the assertion with real numbers?

    It would be good to see an updated version of this kind of report, with more accurate underpinnings.
     
  8. Cosmacelf

    Cosmacelf Active Member

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    Environmental impact of batteries compared to what? Gas powered cars that are 1/3 as efficient from an energy perspective, and spew out gases so toxic that it is a stereotypical way for people to kill themselves (leave engine running in a closed garage).

    Go to Beijing and breathe the air there for a day and report back to me what you think of the environmental impact of the alternative to batteries is like.

    Anyhoo, batteries are very much recyclable. Tesla intends to have a full lifecycle recycling facility at the gigafactory. The reason we haven't seen anything happening on that front yet is that even Roadster batteries aren't old enough to need recycling yet. The Model S fleet will take about 6-8 more years before we need to recycle on any scale.

    As far as conservative folks giving you static, well, I resemble that remark (I'm as conservative as they come). And it is true that many conservatives haven't seen the light, have built in prejudices (which are reinforced by right wing media - I know, I read it), and have a fairly closed mind about EVs in general. There are many reasons for this and I could write for a long time about this. Suffice it to say that calmly bringing up reasonable arguments is the way to go. And get them to test drive a Tesla :)
     
  9. Jeff N

    Jeff N Active Member

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    #9 Jeff N, Apr 16, 2015
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2015
    That report is a complete mess. Don't use it, it's unreliable.

    It has a number of sloppy mistakes but the worst is that they rely on a study from a Norwegian university researcher (oil money?) who just happens to make a very high battery manufacturing CO2 estimate and they don't tell you that other estimates are much lower.

    As in, the study published by GREET researchers 9 months prior to this Climate Central report and well after the Norwegian study. In fact, the purpose of the GREET report was to sort out the wide divergence between that Norwegian study and the other previous studies. The GREET review concludes that the Norwegian study overstated the CO2 manufacturing emissions impact of Lithium batteries by 4.3 times which effectively invalidates the results of that Climate Central report.

    See the fun details here:
    Plug in Prius - Most Environmentally Friendly Vehicle in Study

    And later in the same thread, even more amusement here:
    Plug in Prius - Most Environmentally Friendly Vehicle in Study
     
  10. lphe

    lphe Member

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    Generating electricity requires power, fossil fuels in many cases. The efficiency of power generation using coal is far less than conventional cars. You would produce less emissions driving a conventional car burning gas than driving an EV if electricity were generated by coal. Fortunately, the percentage of electricity generated by coal is declining. Note that it also requires energy to produce the battery used by EVs, and that energy uses fossil fuels and hence generates emissions.
     
  11. Saghost

    Saghost Active Member

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    Not true - except with very careful choices of assumptions. The usual studies making that argument have fine print that tells you they chose a Toyota Prius as the "conventional" car - which just happens to have the highest MPG rating of any non-plugin and is in no way representative of the fleet at large.

    To make decisions about emissions, you have to specify what exactly you're talking about - most of these studies are purely about CO2, and make no distinction between pollution in the cities and roads versus at the top of a distant smokestack.

    It's a lot easier to clean up one smokestack than 200 million exhaust pipes - a large percentage of which are sabotaged by their owners for more power/better mileage/rolling coal.

    In terms of actual generating efficiency, it looks like the three thermal cycle power systems in US power plants (Coal, Natural Gas, and Nuclear) averaged 27% efficiency in 2014. A Prius or Volt operating at its best power point can exceed that (37 and 33%, respectively) - but the average ICE car driving the typical mile certainly does not.
    Walter
     
  12. lphe

    lphe Member

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    About 40% of the fuel's energy at a power plant is converted to electrical energy. There are also transmission efficiency losses of electricity of about 7%. Thus the efficiency of the conversion of fossil fuel energy to usable electricity at one's home is approximately 35%. The car is maybe 85% efficient in storing electricity in the battery. The car is then maybe at most 85% efficient in converting the stored electrical energy to mechanical energy used to propel the car. Efficiency is now about 25% if you consider the entire flow of electricity from the power company to mechanical power to propel the car.

    Another factor to consider, is that coal produces more CO2 per unit of energy than oil. It is about 1.6 times worse.
     
  13. Jeff N

    Jeff N Active Member

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    #13 Jeff N, Apr 16, 2015
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2015
    Let's get real. Electricity rarely comes from 100% coal. Let's think of 2 famously coal-intensive areas and look up the regional grid emissions using fueleconomy.gov which is based on EPA eGrid plus upstream emissions estimates and transmission losses.

    Our cars are the entry-level Tesla 70D and the Toyota Corolla LE Eco. The Toyota is a very efficient car for a non-hybrid and uses a mechanical CVT transmission to squeeze out the mpgs. The Tesla is a large battery EV but has average efficiency -- several EVs with smaller batteries like the BMW i3, Nissan LEAF, Chevy Spark EV, and Fiat e500 are 10-20% more efficient.


    The Corolla has CO2 emissions of 320g per mile.
    The 70D has CO2 emissions in Kentucky of 230g per mile.
    The 70D has CO2 emissions in West Virginia of 260g per mile.
     

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  14. ChadS

    ChadS Petroleum is for sissies

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    #14 ChadS, Apr 16, 2015
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2015
    Even after you consider lphe's numbers, EVs are still way better than gas cars - assuming you add in the many other relevant factors as well. The average EV on the current US average grid, compared against the average ICE has about 1/2 the lifecycle cost (roughly, estimates vary - the numbers are even better if you weight it for where most EVs are sold now). The operations portion of an ICE accounts for 85% of its lifecycle cost. The only time an EV isn't a slam dunk is if you are only looking at comparing a Prius against an all-coal EV and all other EV benefits are ignored. But even there the EV will improve as the grid does. And it can even be better immediately if the owner sources cleaner electricity.

    There are many dozens of variables, and most of the numbers are really hard to find/estimate, so throwing out a few numbers on a web forum isn't going to lead us to any new conclusions. There are some good lifecycle studies that have been done and discussed on these forums before. And a few bad ones that are dissected in detail as well.
     
  15. gregincal

    gregincal Active Member

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    I'm always amused at the totally arbitrary point at which people stop considering the emissions. What about the emissions in refining and transporting the gasoline? It doesn't spring like daisies from the earth. Generally power plants use coal because there is a good source of nearby coal. Gasoline can be shipped from the other side of the planet.
     
  16. lphe

    lphe Member

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    To put this into perspective, suppose that you leave your computer on 24/7. A rather inefficient one might consume 200 to 300 watts of power. If coal is used to generate electricity, that amounts to 2 to 3 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. Assume a gas-powered car generates 320 grams of CO2/mile (see post 13). You would have to drive that car 5700 to 8500 miles to generate that much CO2.

    If you are truly concerned about emissions, saving electricity should be a priority. Turn things off that are not needed. The typical home easily has more than 200 to 300 watts of vampire losses. My typical electrical usage is between 300 and 400 kWh per month, below the national average. I have a four bedroom house. In addition, all of my electricity comes from wind farms. So I have near zero emissions for electricity usage.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Note that my vampire losses from things that are always plugged in at my home (garage door, doorbell, cable modem, router, appliances that are turned off, etc) is around 120 watts.
     
  17. ChrisPDX

    ChrisPDX Member

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    OK, you seem to stick to some odd numbers. Again, almost nobody uses 100% coal power. National average is 44.8% and dropping. You are right, reducing electrical usage is a good thing for reducing emissions. But then I'm not aware of anybody saying otherwise. This thread is about gas cars compared to EVs in both mile to mile usage and total life cycle.

    Oh, that would have to be one very old and inefficient PC to be pulling 200-300 watts. I have servers that pull way less power then that.
     
  18. ChadS

    ChadS Petroleum is for sissies

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    #18 ChadS, Apr 17, 2015
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2015
    The coal number is a rapidly-dropping target. According to EIA's latest data (Jan 2015), coal is at 37%. Just a year earlier they reported 42%. Around 2008 I think we were at 54%.
     
  19. RyanT

    RyanT Member

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    #19 RyanT, Apr 17, 2015
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2015
    Also, the majority of new energy production is renewables. Solar and wind power is what they're building these days not new coal plants. If they have to increase capacity because of the car you drive it's most likely going to be renewables. Fossil Fuels Just Lost the Race Against Renewables - Bloomberg Business
     
  20. ZsoZso

    ZsoZso Member

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    @lphe: Yet another apples to oranges comparison ?

    You cannot compare the tailpipe emissions of an ICE to the total well-to-wheel emissions of coal-burning electricity generation driven EV. If you want to do any meaningful comparison, you need to include the emissions for oil refinement into gasoline, as well as gasoline transportation to the station where you fill up the car (since you already included 7% electricity energy loss for its transportation). When you include those, you lost any chance of ever breaking even, simply because it takes MORE energy to refine a gallon of gasoline than for an EV to drive as much as the average ICE would drive on the gallon of gasoline, i.e. the portion of CO2 emission you ignored is already more than the total use of the EV.

    And of course, many of us drive on much cleaner electricity, e.g. solar PV generated but even the grid here in Ontario at this hour has 41g/kWh (at night when I charge it is usually around 20g/kWh):
    Gridwatch | Web App
     

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