Electric Cars - Saviours of our environment or just another fad?

We've put our $1,000 deposit down on a Tesla Model 3. Delivery expected "Late 2018" according to our Tesla account. 

Are electric cars the way of the future, or are we just seeing rich, trendy people doing something ultimately pointless?

Winky

Original Post

While electric cars are undoubtedly the future, my gut feeling is that the hydrogen fuel cell is perhaps the way forwards as opposed to batteries.  For one thing, the power generation and infrastructure is probably just not there for a big take up in car battery charging.  And there seems to be no appetite for the investment or build of large "green" power generation.  And as for atomic energy...  In the same way that local power generation is probably the future where every building has to provide some kind of power generation to put back into the grid, cars with their own onboard power station - i.e. hydrogen fuel cell,  are probably the most viable way forwards.  After all, Hydrogen is the most abundant fuel out there and surely must be easier to extract than getting oil out of the ground, shipped, refined etc.

However, there are a few others on here who really know their onions on this stuff so I look forward to reading their contributions to this thread (and doubtless discover that I know nothing on this subject).

Coming from the motor industry I have heard electric vehicles making a breakthrough for my whole career, now retired. The big battery breakthrough has yet to arrive. There is a lot of discussion on range, but people neglect that the ancillary equipment we have become accustomed to, are powered by an engine with spare power. The list is endless, heating, air conditioning, wipers, entertainment system, braking in part, power steering, lights etc. An electric vehicle does not deliver the range as expected by customers used to their normal comforts.

There are two problems here, one is common to fuel cells and batteries, the other is specific to hydrogen.

The first problem is the environmental impact of the mining and refinement of the metals (particularly noble metals and rare earths) needed to make the batteries and fuel cells.

The second problem is hydrogen itself.  It's a permanent gas (i.e. it can't be liquefied at normal temperatures) and so has to be stored either at cryogenic temperatures (taking a lot of energy to cool it) or at high pressure.  Both of these are hazardous, but pale into insignificance compared to the combination of its tendency to leak due to the tiny molecule size and its explosive nature when mixed with air - in air the explosive limits air between 4% and 80%, so even small quantities are exceptionally dangerous.

I remember a friend in the oil industry tell of a lucky escape when a refinery hydrogen pipe ruptured. Itwas only noticed by the water haze around the fire, it was like a Thermic lance which would have cut through a vehicle, let alone humans.

That being said, they drive like electric vehicles, have great torque, and are fun to drive. But they are way off in the future for mass production, if ever.....

With regards to the problem of power generation and infrastructure, there probably won't be a need for massive localised power generation and associated infrastructure. Domestic sized CHP units will heat your home or DHW and charge your car battery at the same time. Larger units will heat your place of work or local supermarket.

 Although, the power will still come from fossil fuels.

 

Not an expert but interested observer. In my neck of the woods (Southern California) electric and hybrid electric cars are very common and becoming more so. That market is growing despite very low gas prices.  Saw my first Tesla 3 on the road today and its very nice looking. 

But going foward I think you're going to see a mix of technologies. Batteries are getting better, hybrid systems are gaining real performance capability, plug in hybrids are seeing improved battery only mileage, and I saw my first Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car on the road just last week. All of these technologies are going to move forward in the near term to improve overall mileage and vehicle emmissions. There are also some new combustion chamber designs in the offing that promise to significantly improve efficiency and emmissions for the classic gasoline engine. Some really exciting potential going forward.

Richard Dane posted:

While electric cars are undoubtedly the future, my gut feeling is that the hydrogen fuel cell is perhaps the way forwards as opposed to batteries.  For one thing, the power generation and infrastructure is probably just not there for a big take up in car battery charging.  And there seems to be no appetite for the investment or build of large "green" power generation.  And as for atomic energy...  In the same way that local power generation is probably the future where every building has to provide some kind of power generation to put back into the grid, cars with their own onboard power station - i.e. hydrogen fuel cell,  are probably the most viable way forwards.  After all, Hydrogen is the most abundant fuel out there and surely must be easier to extract than getting oil out of the ground, shipped, refined etc.

However, there are a few others on here who really know their onions on this stuff so I look forward to reading their contributions to this thread (and doubtless discover that I know nothing on this subject).

Where would the hydrogen come from? Elemental hydrogen is non-existent in nature. It needs to be extracted from water (using more energy than you get back, of course), or it comes from fossil fuels in a similar way that petrol does.

Global investment in renewable energy has outstripped investment in fossil fuels already. I take issue with the assertion that there is "no appetite".

I find it hard to accept the infrastructure argument against electric cars when we all have a charge station already. OK, the network may need to grow to as the uptake continues, but the demand will drive the investment.

Gazza posted:

Coming from the motor industry I have heard electric vehicles making a breakthrough for my whole career, now retired. The big battery breakthrough has yet to arrive. There is a lot of discussion on range, but people neglect that the ancillary equipment we have become accustomed to, are powered by an engine with spare power. The list is endless, heating, air conditioning, wipers, entertainment system, braking in part, power steering, lights etc. An electric vehicle does not deliver the range as expected by customers used to their normal comforts.

Battery "breakthroughs" have happened, but a lot of small ones, rather than one big one. Costs per kwh have come down by 60% to 70% in the past 5 years or so. But yes a "big" breakthrough is yet to arrive. Nevertheless, range has really ceased to be an issue for the vast majority of motoring.

Like the vast majority of motorists, we (my wife, actually) rarely drive more than a few hundred km in a day (I hardly drive at all). Most days are less than 100km. The range of current Tesla electric cars would not be an issue for us at all. Never having to visit a gas station to fill up would certainly be a great convenience. OK, cross country trips etc would be a bit slower and require more planning, but we hardly ever do that sort of thing. We would very, very rarely drive somewhere we couldn't reach with a 30-40 minute lunchtime stop at a Tesla supercharger. 400km-500km on a charge is achievable today, in the real world, wipers and all. Touring at 800-1000km in a day is certainly doable along most popular routes in North America.

That the range would be limitation for SOME people won't stop MOST people from eventually seeing the benefits.

Most of those functions you talk about use up extra energy in both electric and gasoline-powered cars. The energy isn't "spare", but comes from burning gasoline or battery power. The sole exception is heating in gasoline-powered cars which uses waste heat. And it's not an endless list. After heating and A/C, the rest are very much second-order power consumers and make virtually no difference to practical range of an electric car.

fatcat posted:

With regards to the problem of power generation and infrastructure, there probably won't be a need for massive localised power generation and associated infrastructure. Domestic sized CHP units will heat your home or DHW and charge your car battery at the same time. Larger units will heat your place of work or local supermarket.

 Although, the power will still come from fossil fuels.

 

CHP? DHW?

fatcat posted:

 Although, the power will still come from fossil fuels.

I did some calculations a while back, and using some fairly reasonable assumptions (I had access to good data from a GHG mitigation project we were working on) estimated that the CHG impact of an electric car, charged with Alberta coal-fired power would have about the same emissions (excluding the GHG of the mining process, but including allowance for electricity generation and transmission efficiency) as the equivalent petrol-engined car (excluding the GHG costs of mining, refining and transporting the petrol). If the incremental electricity comes from renewable energy, the electric car surges ahead.

As I like to say, electric transport is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for the transition to a renewable future. Other things also have to happen, but transport will NEVER be clean while we rely on ICE vehicles. If we all already drove electric cars, would we contemplate the switch back?

As an aside....

Pointing out the "rare earth" mining and processing costs etc of battery production is  little disingenuous unless the true life-cycle costs of manufacturing and running an ICE are considered alongside. The raw materials in Li-ion batteries are all recyclable. It should be pointed out that the "rare earths" aren't really rare at all from a supply/mining perspective. The term "rare" is an archaic term assigned many years ago when the periodic table was being developed. Having said that, there is a looming cobalt squeeze unless new production is brought on line fairly quickly. Long-term it's likely not really an issue as investment comes into the space. Lithium prices are also strong at the moment but in the long-term there should be no shortage of low cost lithium. It's quite abundant, and really just a question of mining catching up with demand.

While I think Tesla's are probably great cars and I love their styling, I've stated here before that electric cars are really a feel-good red herring. Ultimately the power comes from somewhere and at an environmental cost. There's no free lunch. The real goal, no matter what car you're driving, should be to reduce unnecessary trips and reduce miles driven. Electric cars can be seen as an entitlement to do the opposite.

You can ride a bike or walk, but you might get hit by a Tesla. Best choice is to stay at home unless absolutely necessary.

joerand posted:

While I think Tesla's are probably great cars and I love their styling, I've stated here before that electric cars are really a feel-good red herring. Ultimately the power comes from somewhere and at an environmental cost. There's no free lunch. The real goal, no matter what car you're driving, should be to reduce unnecessary trips and reduce miles driven. Electric cars can be seen as an entitlement to do the opposite.

You can ride a bike or walk, but you might get hit by a Tesla. Best choice is to stay at home unless absolutely necessary.

There's an element of truth in what you say. There's no free lunch, but some lunches are cheaper than others. All environmental impact is reduced by us consuming less. If lack of guilt causes more driving then many benefits are lost.

Do you think that at least moving pollution away from where people live and improving their health is a good thing?

winkyincanada posted:

Do you think that at least moving pollution away from where people live and improving their health is a good thing?

No. We all live in a cage. There is no "moving of pollution" and hence no presumptive human health improvement in the long run.

Look at the interaction between terrestrial run-off, the atmosphere, and the oceans. The key to the world's health ultimately lies in the oceans and driving an electric car has no real affect thereupon.

winkyincanada posted:
fatcat posted:

 Although, the power will still come from fossil fuels.

I did some calculations a while back, and using some fairly reasonable assumptions (I had access to good data from a GHG mitigation project we were working on) estimated that the CHG impact of an electric car, charged with Alberta coal-fired power would have about the same emissions (excluding the GHG of the mining process, but including allowance for electricity generation and transmission efficiency) as the equivalent petrol-engined car (excluding the GHG costs of mining, refining and transporting the petrol). If the incremental electricity comes from renewable energy, the electric car surges ahead.

As I like to say, electric transport is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for the transition to a renewable future. Other things also have to happen, but transport will NEVER be clean while we rely on ICE vehicles. If we all already drove electric cars, would we contemplate the switch back?

As an aside....

Pointing out the "rare earth" mining and processing costs etc of battery production is  little disingenuous unless the true life-cycle costs of manufacturing and running an ICE are considered alongside. The raw materials in Li-ion batteries are all recyclable. It should be pointed out that the "rare earths" aren't really rare at all from a supply/mining perspective. The term "rare" is an archaic term assigned many years ago when the periodic table was being developed. Having said that, there is a looming cobalt squeeze unless new production is brought on line fairly quickly. Long-term it's likely not really an issue as investment comes into the space. Lithium prices are also strong at the moment but in the long-term there should be no shortage of low cost lithium. It's quite abundant, and really just a question of mining catching up with demand.

Winky, Canadian mining of the rare earths (e.g. Nd) is relatively clean, Brazilian mining isn't too far behind, but Chinese mining (about 60 - 99% of the worlds production, varying by element) is environmentally disastrous. To supply sufficient quantity for a significant proportion of world transport needs would entail an environmental disaster of global proportions.  Yes sources of some rare earths are quite common (as in the case of neodymium) but some other are a lot less common.

Furthermore, unlike the recycling of the major elemental composition such as the Li in the cells, the recycling of these minor elements (i.e. materials such as the lanthanum from Chinese sources, used in 'doping' concentrations or as in the case of La in surface treatments, rather than as the main material) is relatively inefficient, and this compounds the problem.

winkyincanada posted:
fatcat posted:

With regards to the problem of power generation and infrastructure, there probably won't be a need for massive localised power generation and associated infrastructure. Domestic sized CHP units will heat your home or DHW and charge your car battery at the same time. Larger units will heat your place of work or local supermarket.

 Although, the power will still come from fossil fuels.

 

CHP? DHW?

The second part of the second video appears to indicate hydrogen could be produced in a domestic environment.

GHG ???

joerand posted:
winkyincanada posted:

Do you think that at least moving pollution away from where people live and improving their health is a good thing?

No. We all live in a cage. There is no "moving of pollution" and hence no presumptive human health improvement in the long run.

Look at the interaction between terrestrial run-off, the atmosphere, and the oceans. The key to the world's health ultimately lies in the oceans and driving an electric car has no real affect thereupon.

There is no sustainability at all in the long run, but would we do tend to prefer living somewhat distal to power stations, factories and oil refineries. We only live near our tailpipes because it's convenient.

I'd love to have an electric car and if I did I would fit solar panels on my large south facing roof to charge it. At the moment I don't use enough electricity to make the investment worthwhile but an electric car would probably change that. It would not be my only vehicle but it would probably be the one that got used the most.

winkyincanada posted:

We've put our $1,000 deposit down on a Tesla Model 3. Delivery expected "Late 2018" according to our Tesla account. 

Are electric cars the way of the future, or are we just seeing rich, trendy people doing something ultimately pointless?

I think electric cars will pick up momentum not because of environmental considerations but because of performance ( acceleration -speed- quietness ), let alone the large diminution of maintenance cost compared to combustion engines

Skip posted:

I have a friend who drives a Toyota Mirai.   It is a fuel cell car that runs on hydrogen.    Not many places to get fuel but they are working on it.    I am happy with my diesel.

Skip

Recently saw my first Mirai on the road. My lord what an ugly car. The technology is wonderful but the Toyota designers were having a major off day.

 

cat345 posted:
winkyincanada posted:

We've put our $1,000 deposit down on a Tesla Model 3. Delivery expected "Late 2018" according to our Tesla account. 

Are electric cars the way of the future, or are we just seeing rich, trendy people doing something ultimately pointless?

I think electric cars will pick up momentum not because of environmental considerations but because of performance ( acceleration -speed- quietness ), let alone the large diminution of maintenance cost compared to combustion engines

Inclined to agree. They're a bit pricey, but better in just about every way that counts. And it has only just begun. I've driven a Tesla Model S and it is stunningly good. The friend that owns it has only had high-end european cars for years and he rates the Tesla above all them.

Skip posted:

I have a friend who drives a Toyota Mirai.   It is a fuel cell car that runs on hydrogen.    Not many places to get fuel but they are working on it.    I am happy with my diesel.

How extensive were the modifications needed to their garage to deal with storage of Hydrogen at 70MPa?
Or do they store the car outside just under a (permanent?) rain cover and shade? - that'd be much safer.

Here in Quebec, electricity is relatively cheap, and gas prices are the highest in Canada. I bought a used Chevy Volt 3 years ago, mainly to reduce my dependance to petrol. People are put on a waiting list to get their EV's, having to wait 6 months to get their Chevy Bolts. I see many Tesla's, and Leaf's on the roads everyday.

So, at least, here, yes, it is the future. The future would be closer, if not for manufacturers not really wanting to sell EV's...

pt109 posted:

Here in Quebec, electricity is relatively cheap, and gas prices are the highest in Canada. I bought a used Chevy Volt 3 years ago, mainly to reduce my dependance to petrol. People are put on a waiting list to get their EV's, having to wait 6 months to get their Chevy Bolts. I see many Tesla's, and Leaf's on the roads everyday.

So, at least, here, yes, it is the future. The future would be closer, if not for manufacturers not really wanting to sell EV's...

Here in Britain we used to have many tens of thousands of EVs, all used on a daily basis... they were known as 'Milk Floats'.

fatcat posted:

 

The second part of the second video appears to indicate hydrogen could be produced in a domestic environment.

GHG ???

That is a truly scary prospect given that we occasionally have methane explosions from people not handling natural gas properly...
Hydrogen is 4 times more difficult to contain, 3 times more likely to explode and 10 times more violent when it does explode!

While I guess we will see more and more cars with electricity, I am still doubting it's contribution to emission problems. So in other words how much energy needs to be used to create the electricity to refill the car, what about disposal of batteries. Even given the diesel gate I still belief diesel when properly used is a good alternative.

Huge posted:
fatcat posted:

 

The second part of the second video appears to indicate hydrogen could be produced in a domestic environment.

GHG ???

That is a truly scary prospect given that we occasionally have methane explosions from people not handling natural gas properly...
Hydrogen is 4 times more difficult to contain, 3 times more likely to explode and 10 times more violent when it does explode!

Oh come on Huge...what could possibly go wrong with hydrogen?

It's just one proton and one electron...

pt109 posted:

Here in Quebec, electricity is relatively cheap, and gas prices are the highest in Canada. I bought a used Chevy Volt 3 years ago, mainly to reduce my dependance to petrol. People are put on a waiting list to get their EV's, having to wait 6 months to get their Chevy Bolts. I see many Tesla's, and Leaf's on the roads everyday.

So, at least, here, yes, it is the future. The future would be closer, if not for manufacturers not really wanting to sell EV's...

The pace of the mainstream manufacturers in terms of developing true electric vehicles is glacial. (I don't count the emissions-regulations cheating hybrids.) Reminds me of IBM's "Nah, personal computers will never be popular. Not powerful enough. Too expensive. - we'll stick with main-frames".

Clay Bingham posted:
Skip posted:

I have a friend who drives a Toyota Mirai.   It is a fuel cell car that runs on hydrogen.    Not many places to get fuel but they are working on it.    I am happy with my diesel.

Skip

Recently saw my first Mirai on the road. My lord what an ugly car. The technology is wonderful but the Toyota designers were having a major off day.

 

Yes, why do electric/hydrogen cars need to look so damn weird? Teslas notwithstanding. 

Huge posted:
fatcat posted:

 

The second part of the second video appears to indicate hydrogen could be produced in a domestic environment.

GHG ???

That is a truly scary prospect given that we occasionally have methane explosions from people not handling natural gas properly...
Hydrogen is 4 times more difficult to contain, 3 times more likely to explode and 10 times more violent when it does explode!

It is actually much more than 3X more likely to explode. It has a much,much wider explosive range, and has no effective "lag on ignition" meaning that even the briefest spark can set it going. Methane/natural gas is much more difficult (relatively) to ignite.

Being a very small molecule hydrogen diffuses through membranes more readily than other gases, such as methane, and seals are much more prone to leak, so risk from unintended gas build up from leaks is greater - precautions are easy to take, but it is indeed potentially a more dangerous gas to use than methane.

Interestingly it burns with an invisible flame, so you can have a leak burning in air and not see it.

The two issues that are commonly cited as impediments to electric cars replacing diesel/petrol is much smaller range and lack of infrastructure for recharging. Both have been aired earlier in this thread.  But i think there is a related third issue and that it the time it takes to recharge.  This can be hours.  On a journey exceeding the car's range, how many people are going to accept that they must plan a long break while the car is recharged at various way-points?  When I fill up my diesel at the service station it takes just a few minutes and I then have a range of 600+ miles before I need to fill up again. In today's world patience is short and we all expect to be able to do things quickly so I think the speed of recharge is going to have to be addressed as well. 

winkyincanada posted:
Huge posted:
fatcat posted:

 

The second part of the second video appears to indicate hydrogen could be produced in a domestic environment.

GHG ???

That is a truly scary prospect given that we occasionally have methane explosions from people not handling natural gas properly...
Hydrogen is 4 times more difficult to contain, 3 times more likely to explode and 10 times more violent when it does explode!

It is actually much more than 3X more likely to explode. It has a much,much wider explosive range, and has no effective "lag on ignition" meaning that even the briefest spark can set it going. Methane/natural gas is much more difficult (relatively) to ignite.

Yes, the 3x was based solely on the lower explosive limit.
I was being conservative rather than going for the dramatic (which will usually describe the result if you do get a hydrogen explosion!).

MDS posted:

The two issues that are commonly cited as impediments to electric cars replacing diesel/petrol is much smaller range and lack of infrastructure for recharging. Both have been aired earlier in this thread.  But i think there is a related third issue and that it the time it takes to recharge.  This can be hours.  On a journey exceeding the car's range, how many people are going to accept that they must plan a long break while the car is recharged at various way-points?  When I fill up my diesel at the service station it takes just a few minutes and I then have a range of 600+ miles before I need to fill up again. In today's world patience is short and we all expect to be able to do things quickly so I think the speed of recharge is going to have to be addressed as well. 

While patience may play some role, it is also a case of viability: when I drive to visit my father for a couple of days, I have an 11 hours drive each way. I can pull that off in one day, spend a couple or 3 days with him, and then another day burned coming back. With an extended refueling time, even once (and at present technology I believe it would be more than once), the whole trip falls apart, and I either have to stay in a hotel, or drop the whole operation.

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