Discover more from COVEXIT Notes
Electric Vehicles: Are They Really a Solution? — Part 2
Part 2 of our journey into the EV paradigm looks at the high breakeven mileage to achieve CO2 benefits, and at battery issues such as high minerals content, high weight, poor energy density and fire.
As we already discussed in Part 1, despite all the rhetoric, there is no such thing as zero emissions vehicles, as carbon, CO2, is generated for the manufacturing of the electric vehicles as well as for generating the electricity to power them.
Note: an executive summary of the 2 parts of the analysis is available at this link.
Let’s immediately stress a critical point. When you purchase an electric vehicle, you actually induce, through your purchase, considerable CO2 emissions, that are much much higher than those associated with the manufacturing of a similar gasoline or diesel powered car.
Will the vehicle generate any CO2 emissions savings over time, to offset these higher initial emissions? Yes in some cases, No in other cases. It depends on a number of variables.
As we will see, in most instances, it will take years, it will require considerable distances, it will require having made the right choice of EV and it will also require some luck, for net CO2 emissions savings to actually occur. And such savings will be very limited in most cases, unless the source of the electricity is largely renewable or nuclear, which is very uncommon.
In the three examples that are discussed, the importance of the nature of the “electricity mix” that fuels the EV is highlighted. This varies from one country and region to the other. If the electricity mix has a low carbon footprint, for example thanks to a large share of nuclear (case of France) or of hydro power (Province of Quebec), then the EV offers much better CO2 emission performances than in cases where fossil fuels dominate the supply of electric power. Today, fossil fuels, particularly coal, remain the most common way, globally, to generate electric power.
Let’s stress, once again: using the term “zero emissions vehicle” for EVs is highly misleading and maybe even deceptive. In a number of scenarios, their emissions are higher than those of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. There are no zero-emission vehicles. It’s just delusional to believe otherwise. “Let that sink in” to take this favorite expression of Elon Musk!
EV batteries may also require replacement well before the CO2 emissions breakeven point is reached, something that is typically not taken into account in available computations of CO2 emissions breakeven points.
Gasoline and especially diesel powered cars can drive very long distances, hundred of thousands of km if well maintained, without requiring any massive part replacement like an EV’s battery.
On the other hand, the limited life duration of EV batteries may require one or even several replacements during the life of the vehicle, if the owner decides to keep it going for hundreds of thousands of kilometers.
Why High CO2 Emissions for Manufacturing EVs?
In his report “Electric Vehicles: The Impossible Dream,” Mark Mills discusses on page 8 the “sources of ‘hidden’ energy to mine and process” the materials needed for a single typical EV battery of 1,000 pounds / 450 kg.
A single such battery typically requires some 30 pounds of lithium, 60 pounds of cobalt, 130 pounds of nickel, 190 pounds of graphite, 90 pounds of copper and about 400 pounds of steel, aluminum and various plastic components.
While the computation does not include the large quantities of chemicals to process and refine the ores, or the mining/refining for the other 400 pounds of battery minerals used (e.g., steel, aluminum), the estimated amount of ore needed to produce a single 1,000 pounds / 450 kg battery is a staggering ~100,000 pounds, i.e. 45 tons, of ore.
Note that some EV batteries are much heavier than 1,000 pounds / 450 Kg. The heaviest EV battery appears to be the Hummer EV battery, which weighs around 2,923 pounds, i.e. 1.3 tons, which in turns requires over 100 tons of ore to be mined!
The average weight of a Tesla electric car battery is about 1,200 pounds. The battery is also where most of the car’s weight is concentrated. For example, the Model Y has a larger battery, of some 4,416 pounds, than the 1,200 pounds battery of the Model S.
The high weight of EV batteries is of course a hindrance to their performance and range.
By comparison, a hybrid vehicle only requires a much smaller battery. For example, Toyota Prius electric car batteries have an average weight of 118 pounds.
The battery weight of a typical ICE (non hybrid) vehicle is around 40 lbs (18 kg).
<https://axlewise.com/electric-car-battery-weight/> & <https://interestingengineering.com/transportation/diesel-engine-vs-ev-which-is-better>
The mining operations for such massive amount of ore, to produce a single battery, is of course highly energy intensive. However, surprisingly, Mills notes that little is known about the precise impact of manufacturing EV batteries in terms of CO2 emissions.
“Accurately estimating the actual quantities of specific fuels used is complicated by the labyrinth of global suppliers and the lack of transparency with many of the companies.” he notes, further suggesting that “Without knowing all that, no one knows the ultimate real- world emissions from making an EV.”
There are however several estimates and comparisons that have been made about the CO2 emissions of EV versus ICE vehicles. Let’s have a look at such comparisons.
It should be noted that nobody knows precisely what’s the operational life expectancy of a battery, which typically degrades both with time and number (and quality) of the charges. Assumptions made in some reports, for example that a single battery can last up to 20 years, don’t seem realistic at all.
Nobody knows either what will be the technology used for battery replacement in 5 or 10 years - and there may actually be improvements to come in this regard. But with the high demand of the minerals needed to manufacture batteries, and the progressive depletion of the richest mines, there may also be even higher CO2 emissions impacts and higher costs associated with the mining for producing EV batteries.
Energy Density Matters
Before turning to our examples, let’s comment on two critical aspects associated with EV vehicles: energy density of the batteries, and efficiency of the motors, in the next section.
If you compare a tank of gasoline or diesel to an EV battery, you have very different animals. It’s caused primarily by the energy density of each option, but also by the fact that, contrary to gasoline or diesel powered vehicles, the far heavier batteries needed for EVs keep the same weight, whatever the level of charge. So you end up always needing to displace this massive extra weight, even if your range is already limited.
What’s the energy density of an EV battery? It varies, but let’s give here a typical example. Lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide batteries typically have an energy density in the range of 150-220 Wh/kg.
What about diesel fuel: it’s typically 12,666.7 Wh/Kg.
And what about gasoline: it’s typically 12,888.9 Wh/Kg.
So the energy density of a battery, even with the best available technologies, is around 100 times lower than that of a gasoline or diesel tank.
This is a huge difference. Let that sink in, again! Conventional gasoline or diesel tanks are about 100 times more efficient at holding energy than an EV battery of the same volume!
Let’s take an example to illustrate what are the implications of these numbers.
Take a car such as diesel powered VW Golf with a 50 litres tank.
How much energy can such tank incorporate?
Per liter, diesel will have 10,722.2 Wh. So the tank has a capacity of 536 100 Wh of power when filled with diesel.
Now, as a lithium ion battery is about 2.5 heavier than diesel, we can expect a capacity, roughly speaking of 50 x 2.5 x 150-220 Wh/kg, i.e. between 18 750 and 27 500 Wh.
Hence, the energy content of a battery with a volume of 50 litres (and about 3 times the weight compared to a normal gas / diesel tank) is between 19.5 and 28.5 less than that of a 50 litres diesel tank.
These are rough figures, but it helps understand the major differences that are involved.
Low energy density clearly is a major impediment to developing affordable and energy efficient electric cars.
At the present technology level, EV batteries need to be bulky and heavy, inducing considerable mineral extraction and costs, and negatively impacting the energy efficiency and the total CO2 emissions of the vehicle.
Motor Efficiency Matters Too
Now, there is an important factor that offsets, to some extent, this huge handicap suffered by battery powered vehicles. It’s the efficiency of the motors.
Many evolutions occurred since the first discoveries by Faraday and others in the 18th and early 19th century, that led to the presently available electric motor options.
Today, the most commonly used motors for EVs are Induction Motors (IMs) which require an inverter, to convert direct to alternative current.
“DC motors are an ideal option for low speeds because of simple and less expensive power electronics. However, when evaluated for a wide speed range, it is not preferred to use it in EVs due to its high maintenance cost, large size, and low efficiency.”
“IMs are seen as the best motor choice for EVs because they are of low cost, are robust, are of less maintenance, and are inherently safe in case of inverter fault.”
The efficiency of the conversion of electricity into mechanical power depends on a range of factors, yet efficiency seems typically high, usually around 90%.
That factor of efficiency needs however to be corrected for the energy lost in the transformation of direct to alternative current.
In this article “Real-time efficiency measurements of electric vehicle inverters and motors,” one reads:
“During drive, the inverter efficiency (bright green) exceeds 90% at high loads; and during energy recovery, the inverter reverse charging efficiency (bright green) can be as high as 90%. When the load changes to a lower current, the inverter efficiency and charging efficiency become worse.”
From the graph, one sees that the real world conversion efficiency from DC to AC is below 90%.
So if you combine the motor efficiency with the inverter efficiency, even with optimistic values, it seems that the EV efficiency in converting stored energy in the battery to mechanical power would not exceed 80%.
It’s however important to stress that, contrary to ICE powered vehicles, there is the ability, with EVs and hybrids, to convert mechanical power, associated with breaking, into electricity, thereby contributing to charging the battery.
Of course, and we will discuss it in the context of our examples below, the electricity used to charge a battery needs to be generated somewhere. Most electricity worldwide remains generated by fossil fuels, including coal, with substantial energy losses, usually exceeding 50%, at the level of the power plants generating the electricity.
In power plants, the efficiency of the conversion from fuel to electricity is a bit higher than the conversion of fuel to mechanical power in a car, but not that much higher, with the most efficient ICE motors that are available, with conversion efficiencies comprised between 30 and 40%.
What about the actual efficiency of a specific ICE powered vehicle? It all depends on the vehicle and the efficiency of the engine. There is also, typically, yet not always, an efficiency gain with hybrid vehicles, that combine ICE and electric power, via a battery (that is much smaller than in an EV) to generate mechanical power.
Why is high efficiency so important for ICEs? Because it will translate into much higher ranges, higher MPG (miles per gallon), lower number of litres to drive 100 km, and for those concerned with CO2 emissions, lower emissions.
It’s clearly an important factor but obviously not the only one: a light, aerodynamic car, with the right tires, will also achieve a higher MPG.
A car model that is remarkably efficient is the Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle, and the efficiency is typically around 40%. The estimated MPG for the 2023 model is 57 miles per gallon.
The next most efficient type of ICE powered cars are diesel cars. And then come the gasoline powered cars.
In the real world, there are huge differences in efficiency, as most driven cars will have some 20 - 25 % efficiency, but recent advanced models will have some 30% or more efficiency.
While emphasis has been put by the car industry on EVs, some manufacturers seek to achieve 50% efficiency with ICEs.
Yes there is room for improving the efficiency of ICE motors, while, for EVs, the only significant improvements can be expected from the batteries and the energy needs of the vehicle (weight, aerodynamics, etc.)
So, from what we discussed, we can see that the electric motors used in EVs are usually around 3 times more efficient than internal combustion engines, with efficiency improvements of the latter still being possible.
But if you take a highly efficient hybrid such as the Prius, with 40% efficiency, and you compare it to an 80% of efficiency the motor (with inverter) in an EV, you see that one already has the technology, today, to have ICE engines (combined with hybrid technology) that have just half the efficiency of their EV counterpart.
The 40% efficiency of a vehicle like the Prius is important to stress, as it’s around the kind of efficiency that is reached in power plants running on coal or other fossil fuels to generate … the electricity to be used in EVs.
There are however huge costs and considerable inefficiencies to take an “electric detour” with an EV rather than just having an highly efficient ICE combined with hybrid technology to do the job, instead of the sequence of using the power plant, the energy grid, the charger, the battery, the inverter, the motor, etc.
Also to be stressed, again, is that in cold climates, for example in Northern Europe, in Canada, in the Northern US States, in Alaska, etc. a significant share of the battery power of the EV is used to heat the car.
With an ICE powered car, the heat generated by the engine will be available to heat the car, which further increases the advantage of highly efficient ICE cars over EVs.
So, yes, there is higher motor efficiency in EVs, but it’s not as great as one would initially think, if you compare with the best available vehicles running on gasoline and especially diesel.
Is the higher EV motor efficiency enough to offset the considerable handicap of EVs? We will see that, from the available information, and at the present technology level, the only honest answer to that question is a flat no. (let that sink in! again!)
The implication is considerable: the countries pushing and pushing the EVs are misguided in doing so and should urgently revise their policies, to favor instead small highly efficient ICE powered vehicles.
Example 1: Volkswagen Golf EV vs. ICE
The analysis was carried out on the same car model in two configurations: a typical representative of the C segment—mid-range passenger cars, i.e., Volkswagen Golf VII generation.
The first configuration is a gasoline vehicle with a 1.4 TSI 140 KM/103 kW engine. The second vehicle is an e-Golf equipped with a 100 kW electric motor and 35.8 kWh battery capacity.
The complete study by Neugebauer, Zebrowski and Esmer can be found at: <https://api.semanticscholar.org/CorpusID:248009386>
The study authors estimate actual consumption, versus theoretical / catalog ones. For the gasoline version, they assume 7.7 litres/100 km and not the advertised 5.2 L/100 km. As for the electric version, they add 25% to the 12.7 kWh/100 km consumption announced by the manufacturer.
It’s important to note that the studied Golf is not the most fuel efficient model available in that market segment, and that the authors did not include a diesel car in their comparison.
For reference, the Volkswagen Golf 8 2.0 TDI 115HP is announced at a 3.5 litres of diesel / 100 km consumption. Despite its very low consumption, this is a performant car that can reach 126 mph (202 km/h) and has a range of 622 miles / 1000 Km.
If we include a 25% adjustment for actual use, and a 15% adjustment for the higher CO2 emissions from (more energy dense) diesel, one reaches an equivalent of 4.9 litres / 100 km, which is considerably lower than the study’s 7.7 L/100 km associated with the gasoline version.
This suggests that, if the EV version of the Golf had been compared not with the gasoline but with the above much more efficient diesel version, which is also much more lasting than 150 000 km, the EV would have been no competition and shown to be a much worse option.
The diesel would have been shown to be emitting much less than the EV, whatever scenario is chosen, except maybe the unrealistic scenario of all energy coming from wind or solar.
And the diesel version of the Golf offers many advantages over the electric version: cheaper, much longer range, much more longer lasting as no need to replace the battery after 8 years or so, which is the duration covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.
Presently (in UK): “Volkswagen AG therefore guarantees the customer buying a brand new BEV vehicle with an electric drive that the usable capacity of the battery in this vehicle will not fall below 70% within eight years (or up to 160,000 kilometres driven, whichever comes first)”
Diesel engines can last much much longer than 100,000 miles. According to coxautoservice.net, this could be up to 5 times more, which could require replacing up up to four times the EV battery to achieve similar mileage!
Of particular interest in the study is the sensitivity analysis done for the breakeven point, with several energy mixes and several mileage options.
In case the car is not driven much, in this case 3000 km per year, the gasoline car is always superior to the EV, even after 15 years!
If the car is driven 7 500 km per year, it takes 12 years for the breakeven to be reached if the European energy mix generates the required energy. It does not seem however that the replacement of the battery has been taken into account. Even if the energy was produced by wind or solar, it would take some 9 years to break even!
For a more intense, 15,000 km per year driving, it would still take 6 years for the break even point to be reached with the European mix.
The above sensitive analysis shows that the EV version does not make much sense, except maybe when long distances are driven, and when the energy mix feeding the grid is not too coal intensive. Yet, as already indicated, a more efficient ICE powered vehicle would have made the EV model look much worse.
Example 2: Volvo SUV: EV vs. Gasoline
This other study also compares electric to gasoline powered performance in terms of CO2 emissions. The study is reviewed in Mills report.
It shows a break even point for CO2 emissions that is pretty high: 77,000 km if the EV is charged with the EU-28 Electricity Mix, 110,000 km if the EV is charged with the Global electricity mix. Even if the car was charged with wind electricity, the break even would be at 49,000 km.
A key weakness of this report, like the Volkswagen one, is that it did not compare the EV to the most efficient possible gasoline or diesel powered car. If that had been the case, the results would have been even worse for the EV vehicle.
What is presented to policy makers are the total emissions over 200,000 km, with apparently the same battery. This is not very realistic, as the battery will likely need replacement, and the gasoline car of the comparison does not offer the best available efficiency either.
The scenarios studied in the VW study are way more useful to understand under what conditions EVs can actually be superior to gasoline or diesel powered vehicles when it comes to CO2 emissions, as for all the other aspects (range, price, etc.) the EVs are consistently inferior to the gasoline or diesel vehicles.
Example 3: Reuters analysis based on Argonne model
This analysis compares, one the one hand, a Tesla 3 driving in the United States, where 23% of electricity comes from coal-fired plants, with a 54 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery and a cathode made of nickel, cobalt and aluminum, versus a gasoline-fueled Toyota Corolla weighing 2,955 pounds with a fuel efficiency of 33 miles per gallon. It was assumed both vehicles would travel 173,151 miles during their lifetimes.
Reuters found that the breakeven point, for this comparison, is 13,500 miles (21,725 km), yet the breakeven point largely depends on the CO2 emissions associated with the used electricity.
“If the same Tesla was being driven in Norway, which generates almost all its electricity from renewable hydro power (yet the country produces and exports lots of fossil fuels), the break-even point would come after just 8,400 miles”
But, “If the electricity to recharge the EV comes entirely from coal, which generates the majority of the power in countries such as China and Poland, you would have to drive 78,700 miles to reach carbon parity with the Corolla.”
Note that the Corolla’s fuel efficiency of 33 miles per gallon is pretty low, and that greatly favors the EV in the comparison. Similar diesel cars can easily have much lower consumptions. All the 10 vehicles in this article have MPGs superior to 50. The winner in terms of efficiency is a Vauxhall Astra model.
Are the recent diesel models clean enough?
“New, well maintained diesel cars, built to the latest standards have similar emissions to new petrol vehicles,” states in this article Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, (who cannot be accused of not being green).
The already implemented Ultra Low Emissions Zones (ULEZ) in London allow for many diesel car models, as can be seen in this article. Among those, there are a number of low consumption, low CO2 emission vehicles. We will get back to this in a next part of this article.
In this Reuters model, like with the VW and Volvo examples, large distances need to be driven before any net CO2 emission is achieved.
This brings me to commenting on incentives. If you buy an ICE powered car, you know you can potentially keep it for many years if you don’t drive it a lot. And if you decide not to use it much, drive say 5,000 km per year, so be it. It’s all normal, all good.
But with an EV, if you are concerned about reaching the breakeven point where your car achieves a net benefit in terms of CO2 emissions, and you want to drive your car before the battery looses too much capacity (with time, even if you don’t drive), you will be kind of be incentivized to use your car a lot, which is contrary to the whole idea of energy savings and reducing one’s footprint!
Making the Right Choice of EV Matters
Like for regular vehicles, the energy consumption of electric vehicles depends on the model.
This is typically measured in watt hour per kilometer.
The website ev-database.org provides an extensive list of models with associated energy consumptions. It goes from 142 Wh/km for the Tesla Model 3, to 295 Wh/km for the Mercedes eVito Tourer Extra-Long 90 kWh.
The list is not exhaustive, as models such as the Hummer, and other particularly heavy EVs, are not included.
The test for a Hummer reported in the article below gives an actual consumption of 38.75 kWh/100km, i.e. 387.5 Wh/km, which is nearly triple of that of the Tesla Model 3.
Generally speaking, the lighter the EV, the better it is for energy efficiency.
The trend in some markets towards heavy, energy voracious (and very expensive) EVs, like the Hummer or the newly announced Cadillac Escalade IQ, which features a massive 200 kWh battery, is clearly counter-productive if the goal is to contain CO2 emissions.
But well, those cars are welcome by regulators, while extremely efficient gasoline or diesel cars will be prohibited to be sold, new, from 2035, in the European Union and some other markets.
This does not make any sense, even in the perspective of containing CO2 emissions, but well, this is what the mainstream politicians and governmental decision makers have been led to believe to be good and are set to impose upon us.
Bad Luck Risk #1: Battery Capacity Retention
As we have seen, an electric car would make sense only, from a C02 emissions viewpoint, with a relatively high annual mileage.
Yet not everybody is to drive such long distances, and may want to keep his vehicle for many years.
This brings us naturally to the issue of the degradation of the batteries and their actual lifespan.
Remember, EV batteries are very expensive, and a replacement can cost over US$ 20,000. The last thing you want to do is to have to replace the battery on a vehicle you don’t even drive much.
There is quite a bit of literature on the topic, and we will not get into the details. Here is an example of article worth reading.
What can be inferred from such article is that the warranty provided by the manufacturer regarding the battery is the key aspect to take into consideration, to have a realistic estimate of the life span of the battery.
“All new Tesla vehicles come with a limited warranty that covers the repair or replacement of a malfunctioning or defective lithium-ion battery and/or drive unit for either eight years or 100,000 to 150,000 miles, depending on the model.”
“For all models, Tesla guarantees a minimum 70% battery capacity retention over the warranty period. If you buy a used Tesla that is still under warranty, the coverage will transfer over to you,” reads this article EV Batteries 101: Degradation, Lifespan, Warranties, and More.
So, it looks reasonable to attempt amortizing your vehicle in the 8 years timespan during which you have insurance coverage.
There is also the limitation of 100,000 to 150,000 miles according to the model, which seems fair, but again, would lead to a non-covered expensive battery replacement if the vehicle is driven a lot beyond these distances, and the battery degrades.
Also to be noted is the 70% reduction in capacity retention, which may sound good, but with the already limited range offered by electric vehicles, it’s really not exciting to know that if your battery has lost say 25% of capacity after 5 years, i.e. has lost 25% range, you would still not be eligible for a replacement, as such degradation is considered acceptable by the manufacturer.
What about other manufacturers?
“The Ford Mustang Mach-E, Nissan Leaf, and Audi e-Tron all come with the standard 8-year/100,000-mile battery warranty. Hyundai and Kia go beyond that, ensuring their EV batteries for 10 years or 100,000 miles,” reads the article.
Chances are significant that, if you intend to keep your EV for 20 years, you would need to replace at least once the battery, and this means not only a steep expenditure, but it also ruins the prospect of your driving of an electric car to have any positive impact in terms of CO2 emissions.
So, you need to be lucky that your battery will last long. And it’s an expensive bet. Good luck on that!
But this is not the only luck factor to take into account …
Bad Luck Risk #2: Battery Spontaneous Fire
You may have seen some videos of EVs on fire. EV battery spontaneous fires are not uncommon. Even if it’s usually suggested they are rare, they are very real.
In 2021, LG Electronics agreed to reimburse General Motors up to $1.9 billion to recall Chevrolet Bolt EVs due to fire risks caused by faulty batteries provided by the South Korean supplier.
Fires are very difficult to extinguish, and lead to substantial pollution. This leads to the total loss of the vehicle.
Here is an account by popular commentator Scotty Kilmer.
Fire can transmit from one vehicle to another when parked or transported, for example on a ship. This is apparently what happened on this ship, off the Dutch coast.
Even the fire from an electric bike can get a house on fire, and lead to injury or death.
So imagine, if you have an EV in a garage within your house, not a detached one, or even in your driveway.
And if you have several EVs, or even e-bikes, you further increase your risks.
The fire, if it occurs in the basement of a house, or of a building, can lead to get the whole building on fire and/or endanger its structural integrity.
Remember, EV fires are intense and hard to contain, which is a nightmare and also a personal danger for fire fighters.
Of course, any fire of an EV leads to substantial pollution, and completely destroys any calculation of benefit in terms of CO2 emissions.
Yep, EVs have a fire hazard issue, which may be resolved with new technologies, yet, presently, it is not properly addressed, like it should be.
OK: this ends of Part 2 of this article on EVs.
There is lots more to cover, I will do my best to at least have a Part 3. Time will tell.
But I hope Part 1 and Part 2 already provide you with a better understanding of what’s at stake with these supposedly zero emission EVs, that are falsely presented to us as saviours of our planet.
If you haven’t read Part 1, please do: