Chevy Volt

Production of electric vehicles has twice the global warming potential of fossil fuel powered cars

A new Norwegian study, “Comparative Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Conventional and Electric Vehicles” published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology (full paper here) found that the “use phase” of electric vehicles (EVs) “powered by the present European electricity mix offers a 10% to 24% decrease in global warming potential (GWP) relative to conventional diesel or gasoline vehicles assuming lifetimes of 150,000 km. However, 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 authors call that “problem shifting.”

The global warming potential in the “production phase” of electric vehicles is double that of internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs). “In contrast with ICEVs, almost half of an EV’s life cycle GWP is associated with its production. We estimate the GWP from EV production to be 87 to 95 grams carbon dioxide equivalent per kilometer (g CO2-eq/km), which is roughly twice the 43 g CO2-eq/km associated with ICEV production. Battery production contributes 35% to 41% of the EV production phase GWP, whereas the electric engine contributes 7% to 8%. Other power train components, notably inverters and the passive battery cooling system with their high aluminum content, contribute 16% to 18% of the embodied GWP of EVs.”

The authors of this paper have tried to base their estimates on a typical use scenario, but they realize that conditions vary. They discuss many caveats in their estimate in an effort to be transparent. Read the full paper for details.

See also:

The Chevy Volt, just the latest expensive toy

Does the Chevy Volt produce more CO2 from its battery than from its gasoline engine

Nissan Leaf battery degrades quickly in hot climates

Which Vehicles Are Most Energy Efficient?



Obama’s Electric car experiment a failure so far

The administration’s rosy hope: If we build it, they will sell, hasn’t panned out. Sales of GM’s hybrid Volt and Nissan’s Leaf are much below expectations in spite of heavy U.S. government subsidies. In fact, GM is temporarily suspending Volt production – again. Even the liberal Washington Post is disenchanted:

“No matter how you slice it, the American taxpayer has gotten precious little for the administration’s investment in battery-powered vehicles, in terms of permanent jobs or lower carbon dioxide emissions. There is no market, or not much of one, for vehicles that are less convenient and cost thousands of dollars more than similar-sized gas-powered alternatives — but do not save enough fuel to compensate. The basic theory of the Obama push for electric vehicles — if you build them, customers will come — was a myth. And an expensive one, at that.”

Part of the problem is that electric cars are impractical due to their limited range given the current state of battery technology. We knew that 100 years ago. The vehicle in the photo is the 1911 Baker Electric which could go 50 miles on one battery charge. The GM Volt can go 40 miles on a charge. The Nissan Leaf claims 100 miles on a charge, but that varies from 47 to 138 miles depending on conditions. By the way, hybrid vehicles, first developed in 1916, just make automobiles unnecessarily complex.

Emphasizing the impracticality of electric cars, a story last year about driving a Leaf from San Diego, California, to Tucson, Arizona, found that what is normally an 8-hour drive took a week in a Leaf.

GM is losing money on each Volt they make. They are selling the Volt for about $40,000 (much more expensive than comparable gasoline-power models), but it costs GM $89,000 to manufacture the vehicle according to Reuters.

Sales of the Volt have been weak even though federal agencies (i.e. taxpayers) have been buying or plan to buy them.

Another, related issue is The EPA’s Electric Vehicle Mileage Fraud. The EPA calculates a miles-per-gallon equivalent (MPGe) for electric cars that estimates the amount of fossil fuels which must be burned to create the electricity to charge the batteries of an electric car. In a Forbes article, Warren Meyers shows that “The EPA’s methodology is flawed because it assumes perfect conversion of the potential energy in fossil fuels to electricity, an assumption that violates the second law of thermodynamics. The Department of Energy has a better methodology that computes electric vehicle equivalent mileage based on real world power plant efficiencies and fuel mixes, while also taking into account energy used for refining gasoline for traditional cars. Using this better DOE methodology, we get MPGe’s for electric cars that are barely 1/3 of the EPA figures.”

It seems that the great green hype is more hope than reality. This exercise in crony capitalism and green dreaming demonstrates the incompetence of government in the marketplace.

See also:

Does the Chevy Volt produce more CO2 from its battery than from its gasoline engine

Tax Dollars to Build Charging Stations for Electric Vehicles

The Chevy Volt, just the latest expensive toy

Which Vehicles Are Most Energy Efficient?

GM suspends production of Chevy Volt

Detroit Free Press reports that GM will halt production of the Chevy Volt for at least five weeks. The move means that 1,300 workers will be laid off for that time.

Last year GM sold 7,671 Volts, their production goal was 10,000. So far this year, GM sold 1,626 Volts (versus 1,154 Nissan Leafs), while their production goal was 60,000.

Though no specific reason for the suspension was given, it may have something to do with damaged Volt batteries causing fires.

According to TorqueNews: “The Chevrolet Volt had a great end to 2011, beating the Nissan Leaf in sales through October, November and December but they weren’t able to keep that momentum going in January 2012, as the Leaf bested the Volt by a margin of 676 to 603. However, with the sales figures for February being announced, the Chevy Volt has claimed the second month of 2012 by a massive margin of 545 units – selling more than double the number of Leafs in February.” 545 units is massive?

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy said that the Volt was costing taxpayers up to $250,000 per car when all subsidies and incentives of its constituent parts were added together.

That’s an expensive golf cart.

See also:

The Chevy Volt, just the latest expensive toy

Does the Chevy Volt produce more CO2 from its battery than from its gasoline engine

Does the Chevy Volt produce more CO2 from its battery than from its gasoline engine?

The hybrid Chevy Volt is touted by General Motors as producing less carbon dioxide than purely gasoline-powered cars.  But that may not be true according to an analysis by

According to the EPA the 4-seat Volt is capable of driving 35 miles on its 16 kilowatt hours (kWh) of stored electric charge. The Volt’s gas-only fuel economy rating is 37 mpg.

Since two oxygen atoms from the atmosphere combine with each carbon atom when gasoline is burned, a gallon of gas produces about 19.6 lbs. of carbon dioxide (CO2) when burned. So when operating on gasoline, the Volt produces 0.53 lbs. of CO2 per mile (19.6 lbs. of CO2 per gallon divided by 37 miles per gallon).

Since we can’t quantify accurately just how much transmission loss there is between electricity generation and charging points, we’ll assume an impossible 100 percent efficiency at the charger to work out the CO2 emissions for the Volt’s 16 kWh stored charge.

In 2007, national “average” CO2 emissions were 2.16 lbs per kWh from coal-fired generation and 1.01 lbs per kW for gas-fired generation. according to Power Systems Analysis. Given that 44.46 percent of electricity in the U.S. is coal-fired and 23.31 percent is gas-fired, on a national basis, then, the mean emission of CO2 per kWh is 1.2 lbs/kWh. (2.16 lbs/kWh x 0.4446 = 0.96 lbs/kWh from coal, plus 1.01 lbs/kWh x 0.2331 = 0.24 lbs/kWh from gas).

The Volt’s “emissions mileage” from its stored charge is then 16 kWh x 1.2 lbs/kWh divided by 35 MPG = 0.55 lb CO2/mile.

So on an “average” basis, the Volt emits more CO2 from battery use than from gasoline use (0.55 lbs/mile vs. 0.53 lbs/mile).

Maybe you don’t think that’s a big difference, but the difference becomes more pronounced when the Volt is charged in states that rely more on coal-fired electricity.

When I first read this analysis I wondered how one gallon of gasoline, which weighs about 6 pounds could produce almost 20 pounds of carbon dioxide.  Well according to a Department of Energy website, it works like this:

It seems impossible that a gallon of gasoline, which weighs about 6.3 pounds, could produce 20 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) when burned. However, most of the weight of the CO2 doesn’t come from the gasoline itself, but the oxygen in the air.

When gasoline burns, the carbon and hydrogen separate. The hydrogen combines with oxygen to form water (H2O), and carbon combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide (CO2).

A carbon atom has a weight of 12, and each oxygen atom has a weight of 16, giving each single molecule of CO2 an atomic weight of 44 (12 from carbon and 32 from oxygen).

Therefore, to calculate the amount of CO2 produced from a gallon of gasoline, the weight of the carbon in the gasoline is multiplied by 44/12 or 3.7.

Since gasoline is about 87% carbon and 13% hydrogen by weight, the carbon in a gallon of gasoline weighs 5.5 pounds (6.3 lbs. x .87).

We can then multiply the weight of the carbon (5.5 pounds) by 3.7, which equals 20 pounds of CO2!







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Tax Dollars to Build Charging Stations for Electric Vehicles

Tucson is the guinea pig for a project run by ECOtality of North America to install chargers for electric vehicles in 16 cities throughout the country. Tucson will get 240 chargers. The company hopes, during the next few years, to install 14,650 level 2 (220V) chargers and 310 DC fast chargers. The level 2 chargers can replenish batteries in 4- to 6 hours, while the DC fast chargers can give at least half a charge in 30 minutes. The bulk of the money, some $114.8 million, comes from government grants, your tax dollars. Other funding comes from “partners” such as Tucson Electric Power, Arizona Public Service, the Pima Association of Governments (using tax dollars), General Motors, and Nissan.

ECOtality will use information gathered from Tucson to help plan arrays of chargers in other cities. Phoenix will also get an array of chargers and there will be charging stations along I-10 at Picacho Peak and Casa Grande so that electric vehicles can actually travel between Tucson and Phoenix.

The partnership with Nissan and GM will allow ECOtality to provide home chargers and installation free of cost to purchasers of the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, if the owners sign up with the program.

The Tucson array of chargers will be placed at businesses and other venues. ECOtality president, Don Karner, was somewhat evasive when I asked him at a press conference Friday about the charging cost to vehicle owners. From my understanding of what he said, the businesses will provide the electricity to customers free of charge under the theory that the businesses will get more customers by providing the service. There will be a fee for charging vehicles along I-10, but ECOtality has not yet worked out what that will be.

Electric vehicles were popular in the U.S. about 100 years ago as toys for the wealthy. But they were soon displaced by the much more versatile gasoline-powered vehicles. It remains to be seen whether or not arrays of charging stations will attract customers. It’s like the “Field of Dreams.” If they built it, will customers come?

Chevy Volt might be less than claimed

General Motors officially introduced the Chevy Volt which will go on sale at Chevy dealers before the end of the year. The GM line: “The Chevrolet Volt is not a hybrid. It is a one-of-a-kind, all-electrically driven vehicle designed and engineered to operate in all climates.” Priced at just over $40,000, it is eligible for a $7,500 federal subsidy that is not available to hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius ($22,000 base price).

GM’s claim that the Volt is not a hybrid is disputed by Motor Trend and by Edmunds Inside Line who have tested the car. They claim that under certain conditions, the gasoline engine drives the vehicle, thereby making it a hybrid. (They note, however, that the Volt handles much better than the Prius) See:

Motor Trend story Unbolting the Chevy Volt to See How it Ticks

Edmunds Inside Line story: GM Lied: Chevy Volt Is Not a True EV

Popular Mechanics tested the Volt’s range and fuel economy: “In addition to measuring EV range, we also recorded the fuel use when the car was in its ‘charge sustaining’ mode. In other words, we computed the fuel economy after the battery was depleted, both on our city loop and the highway trip. In the city, we recorded 31.67 mpg and achieved 36.0 mpg on the highway. If we factor in the distance traveled on the battery’s energy the fuel economy jumps to 37.5 mpg city and 38.15 mpg highway.” The average range on batteries alone was 33 miles.

I once owned a 1984 Toyota Tercel that got up to 44 mpg on the highway. So why is the Volt touted as such a breakthrough rather than just another expensive toy?

The Chevy Volt, just the latest expensive toy

Baker_Electric_DV_06-AI_01The 2011 Chevy Volt from Government Motors is touted as the answer to carbon emissions and green jobs. The Volt, a hybrid vehicle, is said to be able to go 40 miles on one battery charge. The 1911 Baker Electric from the Baker Motor Vehicle Company of Cleveland, Ohio, could go 50 miles on one battery charge. The 1902 Baker Torpedo set a land speed record.

Electric cars have been around since the 1830s. First developed in Holland, then France and Britain, electric cars were first produced in America during the 1890s.

The turn of the 20th Century was a time of experimentation in transportation. For instance, in 1900, a total of 2,370 automobiles could be found in New York, Chicago and Boston. 800 of those cars were fully electric, 400 cars were powered by gasoline, and 1,170 were steam-powered automobiles.

The early electric vehicles, such as the 1902 Wood’s Phaeton, were little more than electrified horseless carriages and surreys. The Phaeton had a range of 18 miles, a top speed of 14 mph and cost $2,000. Later in 1916, Woods invented a hybrid car that had both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor.

Electric vehicles have always been the playthings of the well-to-do. Even the earliest models were expensive for their time. The 2008 Tesla Motors Darkstar Roadster has a net base price of US$101,500 and can go 200 miles on a battery charge. The Chevy Volt with its $41,000 price tag and 40-mile electric range, is also a plaything of the relatively wealthy. And if the government offers a $7,500 rebate, that just means the rest of us are subsidizing toys for the rich.

Advances in battery technology still have not found the solution to long range and quick recharge time. Purely electric vehicles may satisfy a niche market, but they are still impractical for general transportation. Hybrid vehicles, first developed in 1916, just make automobiles unnecessarily complex. It’s just physics. Gasoline has 80 times the energy density of the best lithium ion batteries.

Phaeton1The whole impetus behind electric or hybrid vehicles is they will lower our carbon footprint. But will they really do that?

According to the US Department of Energy, most electricity generation in the United States is from fossil sources, and half of that is from coal. Coal is more carbon-intensive than oil. Overall average efficiency from US power plants (33% efficient) to point of use (transmission loss 9.5%) is 30%. Accepting a 70% to 80% efficiency for the electric vehicle gives a figure of only around 20% overall efficiency when recharged from fossil fuels. That is comparable to the efficiency of an internal combustion engine running at variable load. The efficiency of a gasoline engine is about 16%, and 20% for a diesel engine.

Because of the relatively high price of electric/hybrid vehicles, German automakers say, Without government subsidies, electric cars are virtually unmarketable. If all that is true, we are spending much money on a fantasy. But, the electric car “has long been recognized as the ideal solution” because it “is cleaner and quieter” and “much more economical.” That statement was published by The New York Times on November 12, 1911. We have yet to see that rosy prediction come true, as noted by the Energy Tribune.