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EV Tech - Postmortem
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Written by Steve Frazer   
Friday, 02 September 2011 14:45

The phrase "Who Killed the Electric Car" has been in the press again lately with the recent release of the documentary, "Revenge of the Electric Car".  While it is our dire desire to be rid of all dependency on petroleum for our transportation needs, current generation EV technologies are still far from viable per a list of issues... economically, environmentally, safety, human health, longevity, scalability and sustainability.  These high-tech vehicles simply do not make sense for the vast majority of American drivers.  Per our exhaustive evaluation, we consider the EV "dead" to the general American public until the various technologies surpass a long list of reasonable thresholds.  The following is the postmortem report on the current generation of EV vehicles.

Every emerging technology needs early supporters and if you can afford to pay $1-$2/mile to operate a small vehicle that offers extremely limited range and you plan to operate your EV in grid areas not powered by coal plants, then the current EV manufacturers and future EV technologies will benefit from your support and we salute your commitment to this emerging technology.  It has a very real potential at some point in the future (20-30 years) of being more environmentally friendly than other current options.  If you have limited financial resources and still need to drive a private vehicle as is the situation with the vast majority of our nation's population, we strongly suggest you join the U.S. Migration.

Each of the following issues below have been the core message of related articles.   While any one of these problems makes a convincing argument not to drive an EV, combining even a short list of the following issues and one is left with a clear understanding that there is no large scale production potential for EV's and plug-in hybrid vehicles in the U.S. for the foreseeable future:

  • The US electric grid will not support a complete replacement of ICE vehicles with EV's and plug-in hybrids today or probably in 20 years.  While some studies are suggesting there is sufficient capacity available from our power plants, it is the distribution grid capacity to the houses, commercial buildings, service stations, etc., that would require the multi-$T upgrades.
  • The cost of operating an EV per mile is the highest of any alternative solution - by a factor range of 3 to 6 compared to a comparable advanced diesel vehicle for example.
  • We have research statistics to estimate the average number of minutes a US citizen spends in a car per day and 31 minutes/day was a common conclusion.  The concept that people would consciously make the decision to deplete the supply of critical rare earth and heavy metal minerals needed for wind turbine manufacturing and other renewable technologies to manufacturer a vehicle that they only drive for 31 minutes per day for a 7 year life cycle does not seem like a responsible trade-off.  Such a turbine, in a good wind resource, with the same amount of minerals is likely to generate Green Energy for 10-14 hours per day for 30 years.  A comparable advanced diesel vehicle requires far less minerals and heavy metals.  For more information about this mineral usage issue please review the article:  EV's and Hybrids are not our Future
  • EV's and Hybrids are a financial gamble past 100K miles (currently, the Volt, Leaf and Tesla warranties end at 100K miles while the warranties of the Toyota Prius ends at 60K and the Honda Insight tops out at 80K).  As the Prius is the hybrid leader, we will include that the Prius battery warranty beyond 60K miles is prorated which means that if your battery dies at 90K for example, you will pay about $3K and they will cover the remaining $1K replacement cost.  This risk is exasperated if V2G technologies are incorporated as the additional power cycling shortens the life of the battery and a list of other components.  Consider the replacement costs of the various subsystems for these vehicles include $3K-$28K batteries, $9K-$15K transmissions, $5K-$9K on-board computers, $4K-$7K electric motors/generators, $2K-$6K replacement of regenerative braking systems, etc.  This will sorely impact the resale value of these cars once the general public understands these risks.  These repair costs are radically different than the life cycle costs of an advanced diesel technologies vehicle as diesel powered vehicles have a proven history of reaching 300K miles with only regular maintenance costs and $100 batteries.  This advanced diesel cost model results in 1/2 to 1/3 the environmental impact and recycling compared to EV's and Hybrids.  The mineral requirements, manufacturing, recycling and longevity of a vehicle are key metrics for "Greenness".
  • If we compare charging an EV or Plug-in hybrid to filling a car with liquid fuel:  It takes about 6-8 minutes to put 630 KWh of energy into the tank, sufficient to take an advanced diesel powered car 700 miles (most advanced diesel vehicles offer a 600-2,000 mile range from a single tank of fuel). To put 630 KWh into a battery in 6 minutes would be equivalent to a charging rate of 12.6 MWh.  This is roughly x35 the total electric capacity available in most US homes and the EV system is obviously not engineered to handle this load - EV manufacturers consider a "fast charge" of just 90 Kwh to be 3-5 hours.  Even with "fast charging" a typical EV (Leaf or Tesla), a 700 mile trip would require more than 24 hours just for the recharging.  Again this is 24hrs vs. 6-8 minutes for the energy loading for the same distance traveled in a comparable vehicle.
  • EV owners on the road and even at home to some degree are at the mercy of the other devices drawing power and other EV's being recharged from the same power distribution unit (PDU) at the same time.  EV recharging stations will not be engineered for 100% rated delivery at 100% load usage - the capitalization would be too expensive.  Rather, the maximum amps that can be delivered to a single vehicle will be effected by the number of cars being recharged at the same time from the same transmission circuit.  EV owners will get use to longer charging times when there are more cars being charged at once.
  • We often read about business models where EV vehicle drivers would pull into a service station and swap out their depleted battery with one that is already charged with the concept that they can be on their way - cross-country - within 20-30minutes - just slightly longer than refueling an ICE vehicle.  This concept is simply ridiculous.  Let's take a new Tesla Model S for example.  So you want to drive from L.A. to NYC and you have plotted out these battery replacement service stations along the way.  You started out your trip with a $29,000 new battery in the new vehicle, but somewhere south of Las Vegas, you replaced that battery with a used unit with a market value of maybe $8,000.  That battery might only last for 1/2 the range of your original new battery as you cannot be sure of its history - only that the swapping service station needs to make a profit.  Your vehicle and your wallet just experienced a $21,000 re-evaluation and now you are driving on a power source that is unknown and may leave you stranded in the desert 100 miles from civilization with no cell service to even call for help.
  • All batteries experience energy loss even when sitting idle - unused.  This is common knowledge and common experience.  As batteries age, this energy loss is more severe.  The advertised cost of operating EV's and plug-in hybrids is based on the performance of new batteries, yet the wary owner will realize that within a few years this energy dissipation is ever increasing to the point where a significant percentage of all the electricity they are paying for in their daily charges is simply dissipating away.  That is the point when they will be faced with the option to purchase a new battery at $3K-$28K, stop charging the battery in the case of a plug-in hybrid or to replace the vehicle.
  • The above concern may be off-set slightly with the use of solar panels on the car itself such as with the Fisker Karma.  However, this would require parking the vehicle in the open sunshine rather than a garage or car port.  People who live in the desert, snow belts and rainy climates will have strong feelings about this option.  Climates that experience frequent hail storms will also be a factor in where people are willing to park their $40K-$200K cars.
  • Energy generation/distribution for the electrical grid typically has a double digit loss between the power plant and the home (BTU energy conversion + line loss).  This inefficiency needs to be calculated into the true energy cost of operating these electrified cars regardless of whether the car owner is paying for the line loss.  This is far from Green.
  • Advanced battery technologies have the very real potential of exploding in a collision. To protect our fellow drivers and emergency response service personnel, all vehicles that contain these battery technologies need to be well labeled with large warning stickers on all surfaces that the vehicle contains a battery that may explode in a collision or if the jaws of life are used in the wrong place.
  • In a serious vehicle accident, fluids are leaked - and in some cases sprayed - out on the road, road sides, on other vehicles, on drivers, on passengers, ...  Depending on the battery technology, the minerals and hot metals may also be spewed.  The chemistry of a lithium battery is rated as "low-toxic" which still requires a licensed HAZMAT cleanup.  Actually, the current battery in the Prius is rated "high-toxic" and is extremely dangerous. In comparison, an advanced diesel vehicle in the future will use B100 biodiesel which is rated non-toxic (1/10th as toxic as table salt) and can be hosed off with just water with no ill-effects.  Over the coming years, antifreeze will again be sourced from glycerin (99.9% pure) as it was before WWII, so future diesel vehicles will be far less toxic than EV's and plug-in hybrids.
  • Replacing liquid fueled vehicles with electric powered vehicles directly increases the most health impacting emission particulates into the air and our oceans - heavy metals from coal burning power plants.  So while the over-all volume of emissions from EV's is lower than gasoline and petroleum diesel vehicles, US power plants are primarily coal powered (please do not argue the majority is now NG - while the NG capacity may be in place, actual energy generation is still primarily from coal) and so an increase in electricity generation for EV's is worse from a health perspective than emissions from 2nd generation feedstock sourced biodiesel powered vehicles by 3 orders of magnitude (the emissions of one EV that is recharged from a coal powered plant have a greater negative health impact than thousands of advanced diesel vehicles burning B100).  Very simply, until EV's are only charged from renewable sources, they will be the direct catalyst for the health issues and deaths of many more people.  Please consider a migration to EV's shifts the pollution from a highly regulated, very low emission source, the car engine, to one that is much less regulated and much more polluting in most cases. Since most power plants in the country use coal and they produce considerably more pollutants than a gasoline or diesel car engine, it's a poor, uninformed choice for a true environmentalist.

    [Coal Plant Emissions:

    The combustion of coal, like any other fossil fuel, is an exothermic reaction between the fuel source and usually oxygen. Coal is made primarily of carbon, but also contains sulfur, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen. During combustion, the reaction between coal and the air produces oxides of carbon, including carbon dioxide (CO2greenhouse gas), oxides of sulfur, mainly sulfur dioxide (SO2), and various oxides of nitrogen (NOx). Because of the hydrogen and nitrogen components of coal, hydrides and nitrides of carbon and sulfur are also produced during the combustion of coal in air. These could include hydrogen cyanide (HCN), sulfur nitrate (SNO3) and many other toxic substances. Coal is the largest contributor to the human-made increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. Further, acid rain may occur when the sulfur dioxide produced in the combustion of coal, reacts with oxygen to form sulfur trioxide (SO3), which then reacts with water molecules in the atmosphere to form sulfuric acid (see Acid anhydride for more information). The sulfuric acid (H2SO4) is returned to the Earth as acid rain. Flue gas desulfurization scrubbing systems, which use lime to remove the sulfur dioxide can reduce or eliminate the likelihood of acid rain.

    However, another form of acid rain is due to the carbon dioxide emissions of a coal plant. When released into the atmosphere, the carbon dioxide molecules react with water molecules, to very slowly produce carbonic acid (H2CO3). This, in turn, returns to the earth as a corrosive substance. This cannot be prevented as easily as sulfur dioxide emissions.

    Coal and coal waste products, including fly ash, bottom ash, and boiler slag, contain many heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, mercury, nickel, vanadium, beryllium, cadmium, barium, chromium, copper, molybdenum, zinc, selenium and radium, which are dangerous if released into the environment. Coal also contains low levels of uranium, thorium, and other naturally occurring radioactive isotopes whose release into the environment may lead to radioactive contamination. While these substances are trace impurities, enough coal is burned that significant amounts of these substances are released.

    Heavy metal refers to any metallic chemical element that has a high density and is toxic or poisonous at low concentrations. Coal contains many heavy metals, as it is created through compressed organic matter containing virtually every element in the periodic table - mainly carbon, but also heavy metals. The heavy metal content of coal varies by coal seam and geographic region. A variety of chemicals (mostly metals) are associated with coal that are either found in the coal directly or in the layers of rock that lie above and between the seams of coal.

    Small amounts of heavy metals can be necessary for health, but too much may cause acute or chronic toxicity (poisoning). Many of the heavy metals released in the mining and burning of coal are environmentally and biologically toxic elements, such as lead, mercury, nickel, tin, cadmium, antimony, and arsenic, as well as radio isotopes of thorium and strontium.

    Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury in the United States, accounting for about 41 percent (48 tons in 1999) of industrial releases (see Mercury and coal). Tuna and other fish absorb this mercury run-off. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eight percent of American women of childbearing age had unsafe levels of mercury in their blood, putting approximately 322,000 newborns at risk of neurological deficits. Mercury exposure also can lead to increase cardiovascular risk in adults. When mercury is deposited on land or in water, microorganisms convert part of it to a highly toxic form called methylmercury. When fish and animals eat these microorganisms, the toxins accumulate and can interfere with reproduction, growth, and behavior, and can even cause death.

    In August 2009, the U.S. Geological Survey released a study of mercury contamination in fish in 291 streams around the country. The study, which is the most comprehensive to date, was conducted from 1998 to 2005 and tested over 1,000 fish. Every single fish tested, including those from isolated rural waterways, had at least trace amounts of toxic mercury.

    In March 2010 the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) released a report using available EPA data that indicated half of the country's 50 largest mercury-emitting power plants have increased their emissions in recent years

    Radiation exposure:

    The radioactive trace impurities mentioned above expose plant operators to radiation levels above background levels but below that experienced by nuclear power plant operators. John Gofman, M.D., Ph.D, (Professor Emeritus of Medical Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and the co-discoverer of Uranium-233) compared the radiation dose per megawatt-year from operation of a nuclear generating unit to the radiation dose from operation of a coal fired unit and found that the dose from natural nuclides associated with nuclear power would be 35-81 times higher than the dose from coal. When comparing the radiational impact of coal and nuclear plants on the surrounding environment, however, coal plant wastes are more radioactive than waste generated by nuclear plants producing the same amount of energy. Plant-emitted radiation carried by coal-derived fly ash delivers 100 times more radiation to the surrounding environment than does the normal operation of a similar-productive nuclear plant.]

  • The U.S. EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality uses a testing method labeled, "worst case mode" to determine the true emissions of any vehicle.  To explain the basic premise by example: Consider a diesel powered vehicle that will run on B100 with emissions of "X". As with all vehicles operating on U.S. roads, it must be tested for its EPA emission certification.  If this vehicle has the potential of running on petro diesel, then the EPA will only test and rate the emissions of that vehicle as if the vehicle would only be operated on petro diesel which would present far less desirable emissions ratings (B100 burns 87% cleaner than petro diesel before additives - 97% cleaner with additives).  These undesirable petroleum sourced fuel emissions test results dictate the EPA requires an emissions control system for this diesel vehicle - based on the petroleum diesel only emission tests.  Actually no B100 fuel emissions testing is ever performed.  This "worst case mode" model has cost the U.S. public in the range of $2T in the purchase of higher volumes of fuel over the past 10 years in that the rest of the world's industrialized nations migrated to diesel and adopted biodiesel fuel mandates over a decade ago and this "worse case mode" regulation has kept the U.S. primarily on gasoline.

    To apply this "worst case mode" model to an EV and plug-in hybrid as convention would require, the emissions of an EV are based on the energy generation source.  Since EV's are mobile, their emissions per this EPA methodology must only be rated as if the electricity generated for that EV (not limited to the electricity delivered) is sourced from the worst emitting coal plant in the U.S..  While many will balk at this argument, ETC Green engineers and attorneys are having these conversations with Administrators of EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality in Ann Arbor currently and the memos include references to a multi-$T Class Action litigation to motivate the EPA to adopt more responsible units of measure.
  • EV's and plug-in hybrids have marginal power levels and marginal reserve energy stores. They are specifically engineered this way for more miles per charge.  The range differential between a driver only with no baggage vs. a fully loaded advanced diesel vehicle is 10-15% less miles.  However, the range differential of an EV or plug-in hybrid vehicle between a driver only vs. a fully loaded vehicle has been tested to be 30-40% less miles.  While running the A/C or heater in a diesel powered car has very little impact to the MPG, reports show running the A/C or heater in an EV and plug-in hybrid radically effects the range - as much as 20% (depending on the configuration variables of the EV or plug-in hybrid).  Also, while the outside temperature (not road conditions) effects the efficiency of a liquid fueled vehicle by 10-15% at the extremes, test data shows the same extreme temperatures will effect the range of an EV by 20-40%.  All of these related performance variables will result in a significant increase in stranded drivers out on American highways miscalculating their driving range.  While running out of gasoline is easily solved with a 5 gallon container, ponder the complexities of tow trucks and rescue vehicles having to carry a power inverter with multiple couplers with the capability to recharge every type of EV car enough to get it to a service station that serves EV's and plug-in hybrids.  These stations are, and will likely continue to be, extremely few and far between.
  • EV's and hybrids require a factor to orders of magnitude more rare earth and heavy metals than a comparable advanced diesel vehicle depending on make and model.  For the past 2 decades, Chinese mines have produced over 95% of the world's rare earth minerals.  The official miner death count reported by the Chinese government for 2009 is 2,640 though it is suspected that the actual death count is some factor of this number with human rights activists suggesting numbers as high as 18,000 in 2009 alone (this includes the 2009 death of retired miners primarily from black, gray and white lung disease and also the people who were living in the immediate areas of the mines).  In the coming years as quality of life and safety issues continue to gain ground in China's mining operations, the costs of extraction and therefore the cost of the minerals will increase radically.
  • Chinese rare earth mines have the fewest environmental regulations of any in the world.  The resulting tailing ponds cover literally hundreds of square miles of lands and surrounding farms and villages have been abandoned due to contamination of the water table and the air emissions from the processing plants (see video below).  These conditions are truly an embarrassment to China so the government has initiated super-site clean up efforts on these large expanses of land.  Ultimately, the cost of these clean up projects will be added to the cost of the minerals so the price of rare earth minerals will radically increase yet again.
  • This next point should make crystal clear the fundamental message of this article - The Office of the Chinese Minister for Rare Earth Minerals has already publicly acknowledged they expect their supply of heavy rare earth minerals will be depleted in 10-20 years at current extraction levels and estimated world demand for the next 10 years is 35x the levels of extraction from the past 10 years.
  • When a plug-in Hybrid's battery runs low, the liquid fuel engine kicks in and at that point, that engine has to also move hundreds of pounds of dead battery.  Even worse, if the on-board computer is set to recharge the battery, then the engine is moving the car, its contents, the dead battery and recharging the battery.  To apply this energy model to the Chevy Volt, the battery with structural framework and recharging electronics weighs over 700lbs.  So when that battery runs out of power, the vehicle in recharging mode will achieve about 24mppg (Miles Per Petroleum Gallon).  If not in recharging mode, the vehicle achieves about 34mppg.  Why not drive an advanced 4 door sedan diesel powered vehicle that is engineered to run B100 and achieves 45mpbg (Miles Per Biodiesel Gallon) and never use any petroleum sourced fuel?  This is more Green by some factor.  ETC Green's AWD, full-sized SUV, Jeep Grand Cherokees achieve 52mppg, provide lower emissions than a Toyota Prius and we never have to plug them in.
  • The cost of maintaining our roads and bridges in the U.S. is increasing while our vehicles are becoming more efficient.  For nearly 100 years the tax structure that has supported these roads and bridges was based on a percentage of the fuel sales.  This business model no longer works and is contributing to the deficits in our state and federal budgets.  It is being suggested that a new tax structure be adopted that taxes the number of miles traveled paying attention to the weight of the vehicles being taxed.  Since an EV weighs far more than a comparably sized advanced diesel vehicle due to the on-board batteries, the EV will cause more wear to the roads and therefore should be taxed at a higher rate than a lighter weight vehicle.  This is yet another economic argument against EV's and plug-in hybrids.
  • The purchase of an EV or plug-in hybrid without purchasing a high capacity charger makes little sense in that a full charge from complete depletion from a 110V regular outlet is over 24 hours for some of these vehicles.  Therefore, when calculating the cost of ownership of an EV or Plug-in hybrid buyers need to include the $5K-$120K purchase and installation of the high capacity charging unit.  We now have the records and history of 5 high capacity charger installations that also required that the neighborhood PDU (Power Distribution Unit) also be upgraded.  Based on the Public Utility Commission regulations that governed 2 of these particular installations, the cost of the PDU's were then distributed and billed to all the residents being serviced by these PDU's.  Since no other resident on these PDU's had any interest in purchasing an EV vehicle, they were understandably upset about having to help pay for their neighbor's installation of his high capacity charger.  In both cases, the neighbors hired attorneys and filed civil complaints against their respective EV and plug-in hybrid owning neighbors to secure compensation to off-set their increased electric bills.  In one case the settlement was over $100,000 - which was twice the cost of the Chevy Volt and high capacity charger.  When faced with this cost, the Volt owner offered to get rid of the vehicle and charger and requested the utility company replace the new PDU with the original.  The utility replied with the cost estimate to do so - another $30K which would be distributed back out to all the residents of the PDU.  Consider that as more EV's and plug-in hybrids are purchased in more densely populated and older grid technology services areas, these types of situations will become quite common.  As anyone who understands the power grid will attest to, this PDU/1st high load demand scenario will be routine and is one of the most significant challenges a large scale migration to EV's is facing.  We have reviewed one estimate for the total national grid upgrade cost for just a 50% EV vehicle fleet replacement at $14T (we thought it interesting that this is the same as the current U.S. National Debt).
  • Anyone considering the purchase of a Tesla, Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt should have a long discussion with their insurance agent.  The repair cost actuarial models for EV's and plug-in hybrids are very different than a liquid fueled car.  A moderate accident that damages the battery compartment will likely total the car as the replacement cost of the batteries exceeds the value of the rest of the vehicle. This higher initial purchase cost and investment exposure will increase the insurance premium and while government incentives radically reduced the initial cost of the car, there is no government incentive to help with the repair costs so the insurance company has to price their premiums accordingly.
  • By current national statistics, less than 20% of the US population has and uses their garage for daily vehicle storage.  Recharging an EV or plug-in hybrid while in a driveway or car port or apartment/condo parking space or in an unsecured office space is a bad idea for a list of reasons - liability of children in the neighborhood, the potential of being shocked or killed in rain, sleet, ice, snow, someone hijacking the power cord to charge their EV, people simply tripping over the cord between the charging unit and the vehicle, etc.
  • The advertised cost of operating an EV and plug-in hybrid typically includes average residential electricity rates - $.08KwH, yet we have reviewed business plans for service stations and recharging centers and none of them list electricity sales at below $.50KwH and many are over $1.00KwH.  This is equivalent to paying $24-$48 per gallon for gasoline based on the ratio between residential electric rates and what the AAA projects will be the common highway charging station costs.
  • While all replacement car parts cost more than their new manufacturer installed costs, EV's and plug-in hybrids currently have the initial cost advantage of being government subsidized.  If you are considering owning one of these vehicles, you may wish to get a complete listing of parts costs before purchase in writing from the Dealership.  Parts and subsystems do fail and based on the rapidly rising cost of rare earth minerals, the replacement parts may double or triple in cost during the period of your ownership of that vehicle.
  • Have you researched the towing capacity of a Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf or Toyota Prius?  Towing any sized trailer is not recommended.  An advanced diesel powered car with similar MPPG (Miles Per Petroleum Gallon), will typically have a 1,000-4,000lb towing capacity.  And keep in mind that these advanced diesel vehicles can run on 20%-100% biodiesel so they are far more Green and biodiesel is made in the USA.
  • We all experience emergencies from time to time that require us to be somewhere ASAP.  In a regular ICE vehicle, refueling is a few minutes and you are on your way.  With an EV, a full charge requires several hours.  How many times have you thought you plugged in your cell phone and discovered the next morning it had not been plugged in?  Ponder the household rule of "Who ever uses the car last must plug in the car".  How long will it be before the first Family Court Judge hears the argument, "He constantly forgot to plug in the car your Honor, so I frequently had to take a taxi to work" (and the car would then be charged during the day which is a higher cost electric rate period).

The Emerging Technology Corporation (ETC) - Green Division includes Professional Engineers, seasoned Project Managers, Scientists and Researchers in various related disciplines and experienced Field Staff - a total of over 30 committed individuals.  ETC Green and the Emerging Technology Corporation have established relationships with U.S. National Laboratories, USDA, EPA, DoE, NRC, DoI, BLM, DoD, USGS and several universities.  We are active in the development and authoring of new Renewable Energy legislation working with current and past state governors, state and federal legislators, county governments and municipalities.

 

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