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EVs and the Zero Emissions claim

razumny

Member
Sep 16, 2015
62
0
Norway
This is cross-posted from my blog, and I am reposting it here to see if anyone has any insights into the points I am raising.

A recent development in personal transportation has been the (re-)introduction of electric vehicles. Where electric vehicles used to be either mobility scooters or big, ugly clunkers, they now come in many packages, from the small and nippy, such as Buddy, to the ones that look like, well, a car, such as Teslas offerings. The other day, I passed an electric car, on the side of which was proudly proclaimed “Zero emission”. Depending on your perspective - and where in the world you are located - the claim can be considered false, plausible or true. Let’s take a look:

From a lifecycle view, the claim is clearly and definitively false. Even with the best manufacturing techniques, it is unavoidable that there be some level of emissions, both when manufacturing the car as a whole, and most particularly when making the batteries. If you discount the manufacturing, you must still contend with shipping, which, unless done by electric trains (not diesel-electric, more on the sourcing of the electric power below) from manufacturing plant to the consumer, is also responsible for some level of emissions.

Now, once delivered to the customer, the car does not in and of itself make any emissions, which is the only reason the claim can reasonably (although I would submit with intellectual dishonesty) be made. Although the car itself may not make any emissions, that does not necessarily mean that no emissions were made in order to make the car run. In Norway, where I live, the vast majority of electric power is sourced through renewable energy. Thus, the level of emissions associated with making an already existing car run, can reasonably be said to be very close to zero.

In other countries, that is not so. We need look no further than Germany, to find that their electric power is significantly less clean, and the level of emissions associated with making an already existing car run, can not reasonably be said to be zero without setting more constraints. What constraints? The thing about the emissions made by traditionally powered cars, is that they are twofold; first during the extraction, processing, and refinement of petroleum, and second during combustion. The latter is local.

Thus, even though the power running an electric car is unclean, the car may still be said to have zero local emissions if the power plant manufacturing the power is not located within the local zone.

To me, a more interesting question than whether or not the emission-level of the cars is zero (which, as I believe I have shown, they do not), but rather whether they are better than their traditionally powered counterparts. I don’t have the answer to that question, though I’d be interested to hear if anyone else does, and though I suspect that they are, and significantly so.

- - - Updated - - -

Having posted a slightly reworked version of my original post, I would like to comment that I am certainly a believer, as evidenced by the fact that I am replacing my very much ICE-driven car with a Mod. S.
 

shelbri

Member
May 27, 2014
554
223
Sandy Hook, CT
When considering Zero Emissions of a vehicle you need to consider three components: Manufacturing, Energy Production and Energy Consumption.

Most people compare the carbon emissions of an ICE vehicle during energy consumption to the energy production used to charge an EV and then claim EVs are not much better. They usually ignore the drilling, transporting and refining components on the energy production side of ICE vehicles. They overstate the reliance on coal and ignore the fact that most EV charging is done at night when energy mix relies even less on coal than other times of the day.

The point is that EVs are the only vehicles to solve for any one of the 3 components as it is truly zero emission during consumption. Additionally, EVs get closer on the energy production side as the grid becomes cleaner. EVs have the potential to be zero emissions from 2 components if we go all renewable as your country has led the way (although Norway has funded it by its oil production industry.). ICE vehicles simply do not have this potential.

Regarding manufacturing, most factories use significant quantities of electricity which as already stated is becoming cleaner and could potentially become zero emissions. Elon Musk is attempting to be carbon neutral with the Gigafactory. Time will tell.

Yes there is raw material extraction, transportation, packaging, etc. zero emissions claim is intended to be relative. Humans and all other animals are not Zero Emission. [emoji3]

Bottom line - the claim of zero emissions could technically be Zero Emissions while Consuming Energy but that is too long of a bumper sticker. EVs have the potential so I believe the claim is close enough.
 

Zythryn

Model Y custom Warming Stripes wrap.
Mar 18, 2009
2,175
1,201
Minnesota
Your first definition, including manufacturing, basically invalidates the term, "zero emissions".
There is nothing man makes that doesn't produce emissions.

Common definitions refer to what is being emitted from the device during operation. This term is used more widely than simply CO2.
It is used to describe cancer causing and respiratory affecting local pollution.
When someone says, "to emit" the subject that is emitting is what they are referring to. Not the upstream, or manufacturing of said device.

I have no qualms adding "local" or "from operating" to the zero emissions tagline. But to make a blanket true/false conclusion is as vague as the original term is if you try to expand its original meaning.
 

gimmi80

Member
Mar 30, 2015
199
16
Pittsford, NY
I would be very interesting in seeing a comparisons of total emission for an ICE (from production to 100'000 miles of life) and an EV (from production to 100'000 miles of life), including all aspects: Manufacturing, Energy Production, Energy Consumption.

I understand that would not be easy as data varies greatly from country to country (i.e. emission from producing 50'000 gallons of gasoline, emission to produce energy, etc), so we could run two details scenario
1) Tesla Models S, produced in California and used in California vs BMW series 5 produced in Germany (?) and used in California
2) Nissan Leaf (produced in ?) vs Nissan Versa
 

WarpedOne

Supreme Premier
Aug 17, 2006
4,364
6,567
Slovenia, Europe
Renault published such an assessment for their Fluence EV:


lifecycle-carbon-emissions-of-electric-renault-fluence-ze-versus-gasoline-diesel-versions_100483.jpg
 
Only the EV is a serious (and honest) effort to improve energy use.
Consider also the life expectancy of the EV vs. the mountains of autos at salvage yards. Factor in the operation of the machinery that crushes the ICE at the (planned) end if its short lifetime.
~Larry
 

Evbwcaer

Member
Jun 21, 2014
744
327
Minnesota
What about if you use carbon offsets for the emissions....then would you call it zero emissions? Same would apply for an ICE, but it would just take more offsetting.

If you answer, "yes" to the question above, that brings up an interesting argument/thought.

Maybe we should not look at EV's based on their efficiency, but rather the fossil fuel use they offset. The car could be an offset itself, if that offsetting is more than the associated emissions generate, do you achieve zero emissions?

Example:
My car is charged by the sun, except when Supercharging. I have about 19,000 miles and 1 year of use. About 2,500 of those miles were Supercharged...I loaned the car to my friend for a road-trip that would have otherwise been gasoline powered. So for 16,500 miles the car was zero emissions, and for 2500 miles it generated some amount of emissions through Supercharging, but in doing so reduced the overall emissions that would have otherwise been by something like 70% (Model S vs. Ford Edge) If you apply those "saved" emissions to emissions from the factory, for example, you start to work toward zero.

This is kind of a side thought, but I've thought the Monroney sticker should also include something beyond MPGE, a quantification of how much fossil fuel/energy use the car reduces. If you had an electric moped that got 200mpe and could go 30 miles on a charge and carry one person, that would have some utility and a 200MPGE rating. But clearly, a Model S, with seating for 5/7, a 250ish mile range, and more cargo room, has a much higher potential to reduce energy use and that is really what this is all about....all with about a 90MPGE rating..."worse" than the moped. Just my ramblin'.
 

razumny

Member
Sep 16, 2015
62
0
Norway
Assuming that by carbon offsets you mean carbon credits, they can only ever deal with the level of emissions on a global level, and are worthless on a local level. I have yet to see any conclusive data showing that carbon credits actually do any good, and the reports I have seen have usually been from a biased party (whether in favor or opposed to them), meaning that the reports are of dubious value to the debate.

If the argument is that the EV replaces an ICE-powered car, now that is a different matter altogether, and makes a lot of sense to me. Living in Norway, as I do, the argument can quite successfully be made that, for the vast majority of charges, the energy used is completely renewable. Add to that the fact that my mod. S will be replacing an ICE-powered car, and the offset is quite real.

However, I will never claim to be emissions free, because that is an impossibility. The use of the term is an annoyance to me, because it can only ever speak to the right here and now, whereas I think that a far more valuable - and valid - view is that of the lifecycle of the vehicle.
 

mspohr

Well-Known Member
Jul 27, 2014
9,625
11,456
California
We re-hash this topic every few months. It seems the same arguments are being made this time.
Rather than get everyone excited and argumentative about the same old topic, I recommend that everyone save their time. You could go back and re-read the old threads on this topic if you want to get the full picture. (Use the forum "Search" box.)
 

Lex

Member
Apr 23, 2015
805
318
Toronto, Canada
Eliminating the concentrated air pollution in the motorways is enough for me, I think I'm starting to enjoy the smell of my own farts more (guess it was bound to happen in a green car hehe). Next topic ? ;)

And even if my crazy efficient Model S today is somehow worse for the environment, its success looks like it will ensure that future electric cars are even more efficient, hopefully getting on a Moore's Law type curve.
 

nwdiver

Well-Known Member
Feb 17, 2013
8,115
10,583
United States
its success looks like it will ensure that future electric cars are even more efficient, hopefully getting on a Moore's Law type curve.

EVs are already 80-90% efficient... not much room for improvement. Streamlining the manufacturing process and cleaning up the grid are where future improvements will be found.
 

mspohr

Well-Known Member
Jul 27, 2014
9,625
11,456
California
EVs are already 80-90% efficient... not much room for improvement. Streamlining the manufacturing process and cleaning up the grid are where future improvements will be found.
The nice thing about an electric car is that as the grid gets "greener", the car also gets more "green". Same car but when fueled with electricity from solar or wind is much cleaner than when fueled by electricity from coal.
 

Zythryn

Model Y custom Warming Stripes wrap.
Mar 18, 2009
2,175
1,201
Minnesota
...

However, I will never claim to be emissions free, because that is an impossibility. The use of the term is an annoyance to me, because it can only ever speak to the right here and now, whereas I think that a far more valuable - and valid - view is that of the lifecycle of the vehicle.

Your definition is not the normal one.
You can't redefine a word, and then get annoyed at people that use the standard definition. Well, you can, but it isn't reasonable.
I'm not sure about Norway, but for many years in the US we had auto emissions testing. The measured the tailpipe emission of cars to insure they met a certain standard.
They didn't measure the upstream cost of producing the fuel, nor the manufacturing cost.

When a light bulb "emits" light, it IS just the hear and now. That is the definition of "emit".

What you are talking about is life cycle cost. This is a very valuable thing to discuss. But redefining emissions to "life cycle cost" will just lead to confusion.
 

razumny

Member
Sep 16, 2015
62
0
Norway
When a light bulb "emits" light, it IS just the hear and now. That is the definition of "emit".
No, it is not.

Merriam-Webster said:

emit

\ē-ˈmit\: to send (light, energy, etc.) out from a source
: to make (a certain sound)


transitive verb
1
a : to throw or give off or out (as light or heat)
b : to send out : eject

2
a : to issue with authority; especially : to put (as money) into circulation
b obsolete : publish

3
: to give utterance or voice to <emitted a groan>


emit·ter noun

I find the assertion that emissions are just the here and now to be incredibly myopic. The fact is that they are not only here and now. Whether the light and heat of a light bulb, the gases from an ICEV, or the emissions from battery manufacture; they are all emissions, and they all have an effect in the long term. An assertion to the contrary is either severely constrained, or downright wrong.
 

Zythryn

Model Y custom Warming Stripes wrap.
Mar 18, 2009
2,175
1,201
Minnesota
No, it is not.



I find the assertion that emissions are just the here and now to be incredibly myopic. The fact is that they are not only here and now. Whether the light and heat of a light bulb, the gases from an ICEV, or the emissions from battery manufacture; they are all emissions, and they all have an effect in the long term. An assertion to the contrary is either severely constrained, or downright wrong.

Thank you for the dictionary quote.
So we have "To throw or give off..."

Seems awfully present tense to me.
Does the car "throw, or give off" any CO2 or particulates?

No, I am not claiming there is no pollution generated elsewhere in order to move the car, but the car itself "emits" no CO2 and minimal particulates.

Again, you can't just redefine a word and then complain about your own personal definition.
Until it becomes commonplace to define "emissions" to include upstream emissions, it just doesn't make sense to do so.
 

razumny

Member
Sep 16, 2015
62
0
Norway
The dictionary makes no judgement as to the lasting nature of emissions. Physics tell us that energy can never disappear, it can only change form. In this case, from power (however it is generated) to emissions. These emissions do not magically disappear; they are still there. To discount upstream emissions because they happened in the past is like saying past experience does not matter when hiring a new employee.
 

shelbri

Member
May 27, 2014
554
223
Sandy Hook, CT
Razumny - as I have read through your comments - you seem to be arguing that no matter what, there will always be emission so we can never say zero emission. Perhaps this is technically correct but what most are indicating in this thread is that is not the intent of the phrase "zero emision vehicle." We understand it to mean zero emissions when using the vehicle for its intended purposes.

If you are really serious about your definition, we should stop talking about this topic to prevent exhaling - humans are not zero emission. :wink:
 

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