• Nov 18th 2012 at 5:01PM
  • 53
Our dependency on oil for transportation is as futile as burning Picasso paintings for heat, according to Christian Science Monitor guest blogger Kurt Cobb.

The point Cobb makes is that oil molecules can be used for valuable resources by being transformed into substances with true value – clothing, medicines, building materials, carpet and myriad other products. In these applications, oil can be reused or recycled, but burning oil in internal combustion engines is a one-time event. It also has harmful side effects like greenhouse gases and pollutants.

There's always electricity for powering vehicles, as there was over 100 years ago during the early days of automobiles. Electric cars were common during that period, but by the 1930s, ICEs made up the majority and gasoline was plentiful and affordable, so electric vehicles went away.

Electric vehicles are much cleaner than ICEs, but they face the dilemma of being powered mostly by fossil fuel. Two-thirds of all electricity consumed in the world is generated by power plants using fossil fuel – coal and natural gas – and it's inefficient in its energy use. Only one-third of the heat energy from a power plant gets turned into electricity, Cobb wrote. While electric vehicles making their way to large numbers on our roads would reduce dependence on petroleum, the way that they're powered would not be reducing greenhouse gases.

Large-scale solutions are needed to change direction, he wrote. Fueling electricity by renewable energy sources and extending mass transit routes and ridership would make an obvious improvement, but we're still years away from seeing those solutions carry weight. The resources for changing over to renewable-powered electrification would be vast – reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution; ending oil imports to the US and other countries; and economic benefits of dollars that used to be spent on imported oil being spent domestically. Electrified transportation offers a full platter of improvements, but for now, the Picasso paintings are still being burned.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 53 Comments
      goodoldgorr
      • 2 Years Ago
      They carrefully omitted to suggest hydrogen as an alternative. These chaps that written this article are full of big oil stocks and they try to increase the price of the stocks by comparing their stuff to piccasso paintaings.
      raktmn
      • 2 Years Ago
      Picasso did use oil paint.
      Marcopolo
      • 2 Years Ago
      @ Letstakeawalk An incredibly sensible post ! In addition, Oil Companies pay the single largest contribution to the US Tax base, and provide most of the dividends for aged healthcare and retirement funding. The oil industry is over 20% of the US economy. Oil companies will be reviled until oil depletion will remove this source of income, and the US taxpayer will have to pay for all the missing tax revenue, with a depleted economy.
      MTN RANGER
      • 2 Years Ago
      Ironically, it was the electric starter that helped ICE vehicles become ubiquitous. Hand cranking was the No. 1 injury risk in those early days of the automobile. http://media.gm.com/media/us/en/gm/news.detail.html/content/Pages/news/us/en/2012/Feb/0215_cad_starter.html
      Tweaker
      • 2 Years Ago
      Anybody who claims gas fired generators are as inefficient as coal plants shouldn't be given the time of day, much less space here. We need to be grateful it is half as dirty as coal Stop the vilification of all "fossil fuels". Domestic natural gas will be a primary source of energy for another 100 years.
        winc06
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Tweaker
        Long before a 100 years are up, we will have poisoned most of our water while extracting it. If you are thinking energy companies are benevolent and will be good stewards of the environment, meditate on the BP oil disaster, the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the EXXON Valdez disaster and the many disasters in other countries that are not reported here.
          EZEE
          • 2 Years Ago
          @winc06
          They also pay 30 to 70 cents a gallon tax in the USA, while making 7 to 8 cents a gallon profit. They provide energy we all need to keep our houses warm, power our factories, and many other things we couldn't live without. Do you filthy hippies have to be angry and look on the the bad side of everything? Be happy. Watch a sun set. And no, the tears of your enemy do not count as happiness. Pet your dog.
        EZEE
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Tweaker
        Jeez... Happy happy joy joy...
          EVSUPERHERO
          • 2 Years Ago
          @EZEE
          Owe my eyes! I can't see as I looked at the sun as you instructed EZEE! Then I kicked my dog... Thanks for telling me to watch a sunset.
          EVnerdGene
          • 2 Years Ago
          @EZEE
          yeah, me thinks they should crush their FUV, and call the power company and cancel service.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Tweaker
        Its not just about the source Tweaker. Its also the waste from burning fossil fuels. Can we afford to pollute out air with Co2 and other greenhouse gases for another 100 years. Please get a grip. Your kids and their kids will inherit the planet as well.
          Marcopolo
          • 2 Years Ago
          What the hell !! EV nerdGene gets 5 down votes, and Mylexicon get's two upvotes, but they said basically the same thing !
          mylexicon
          • 2 Years Ago
          A vast majority of all greenhouse gas and particulate matter is produced by mother nature herself. Burning natural gas instead of coal is not going to worsen the ratio of carbon production to natural CO2 sequestration, in fact, natural gas will improve the plight of your children. If you want your children to live on a better planet, plant trees and protect the oceans. The 5% bump in CO2 production is not that big a deal when you consider the economic and humanitarian benefits. Chopping down 20% of our forests and killing off phytoplankton has accomplished next to nothing other than raising CO2 content of the atmosphere.
          EVnerdGene
          • 2 Years Ago
          CO2 a pollutant ? Plants need CO2 to live and thrive; then their output is O2 which we need to live and thrive.
      rü$╫
      • 2 Years Ago
      Blasphamizing petrol in replacement for electricity on an automotive enthusiast website is like Kurt Cobain on a bad hair day.
      Joeviocoe
      • 2 Years Ago
      Too bad "margins" are deceptive. When you are a multi-trillion dollar industry, smaller 'margins' yields larger profits than a smaller industry's larger profits.
      EVnerdGene
      • 2 Years Ago
      @EZEE "The governments do not subsidize the oil industry, the oil industry subsidizes the governments." Good one. Very much closer to the truth than most that read this site can comprehend - or admit if they could.
      bluepongo1
      • 2 Years Ago
      I commented on the US National Parks thread but it was kind of random: If the U.S.A. optimized the unpopulated deserts with solar tower / steam turbine generators it could probably shut down all other power plants...just sayin' again. To clarify: why not phase out older inefficient power plants and optimize solar first? The chargers while forward thinking, will get how much use? The solar towers equipped with a Hydra System fire ring can work in different conditions to suppliment solar power generation.
      TPGIII
      • 2 Years Ago
      "Only one-third of the heat energy from a power plant gets turned into electricity, Cobb wrote." I have my doubts this is correct. I've not worked for an electric utility for more than a decade, but I remember numbers in the 50% range and even approaching 60%. Maybe it you count all losses to the end use, like the wheels of an EV. But if you go that far, no ICE comes anywhere near that close. Most efficiency numbers for an ICE only count the energy in the fuel, but it takes a lot more energy to retrieve, refine and distribute that fuel. If you take the full losses from ground to wheels, it is probably less than 10% efficient. There have been studies that claimed that the amount of electricity it takes to refine a gallon of gas from crude would power the average EV farther than the gallon would power the average vehicle on the road in the US. In terms of straight efficiencies, EVs are a more efficient use of even fossil fuels.
        Dave
        • 2 Years Ago
        @TPGIII
        The average coal plant is about 31% efficient. The average natural gas plant is about 42% efficient. After that you have a distribution grid that is 93% efficient. So that yields 29% and 39% efficient to the plug, respectively. Then you have a 90% (or less) efficient charging operation. That yields 26% and 35% efficient up to the battery. And you have 90% (or less) efficent discharge and useage. That gives you ~23% (coal) and ~32% (natural gas) well to wheel.
        JakeY
        • 2 Years Ago
        @TPGIII
        The quote was "Only one-third of the heat energy from a power plant gets turned into electricity, Cobb wrote". So that pretty clearly is talking about the efficiency of the plant itself (ignoring distribution and usage at the EV). Using the numbers Dave posted for coal vs natural gas efficiency, if you scale by generation, coal makes up 55% and natural gas 45%, so you get 36%, so he's not off by much. http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=7090 But while that data point is correct, the conclusion it reaches is not. First of all, that kind of analysis ignores the fact that about a third of our electricity is made from non-fossil-fuel sources (like Nuclear, Hydro, or other Renewables). Second of all, it ignores the fact the average efficiency of passenger cars is 23mpg vs ~90+mpge for EVs (closer to 100mpge given the Leaf is by far the most popular model at 99mpge). Even factoring in power plant efficiency (considering ONLY fossil fuel plants) and transmission losses, that works out to 90mpg*36%*93% = 30mpg for the EV. Lastly, analyzing efficiency is not the same as analyzing the actual green house gases. http://www.eia.gov/beta/enerdat/ An actual analysis of greenhouse gases would take in the average CO2 emissions for the grid 1216 lbs/MWh = 1.216 lbs/kWh (using 2009 data from eGrid 2012). And figure out lbs/mile. The Leaf at 99mpge uses 34kWh/100mi. 1.216lbs/kWh *34kWh/100mi * 1/93% transmission loss= 44.5lbs/100mi. EPA says 19.4lbs CO2 for a gallon of gas (at tailpipe, ignoring emissions from refinery, distribution), at 23mpg works out to 84.3lbs/100mi. The Leaf on the other hand is quivalent to a 44mpg in tailpipe (not even factoring in refinery) CO2 emissions running on the average US grid. I would say that's a substantial reduction in GHG emissions. http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/how-clean.html
          Wm
          • 2 Years Ago
          @JakeY
          "EPA says 19.4lbs CO2 for a gallon of gas (at tailpipe, ignoring emissions from refinery, distribution)..." Why would the EPA ignore emissions from refinery, distribution? Wouldn't that be similar to ignoring emissions from generation and distribution for an EV? In a true apples to apples comparison (ignoring emissions from generation, distribution), EV would be emissions free using the way it is calculated for fossil fuel vehicles. I really don't understand this.
          Matt Fulkerson
          • 2 Years Ago
          @JakeY
          23 mpg is what you get for a minivan, not a Leaf-sized vehicle. You should be comparing to a vehicle with low to mid 30s at least. If you compare to a hybrid, you see that your 44 mpg number is about even with a hybrid.
          JakeY
          • 2 Years Ago
          @JakeY
          @Matt Fulkerson That's the fleet average for the US, we are still quite a ways from 30mpg average: http://green.autoblog.com/2012/11/04/2012-model-year-was-the-greenest-new-u-s-auto-fleet-ever/ @Wm Officially the EPA measures only tailpipe emissions, so an EV is considered emissions free according to the same criteria (it says so on the sticker when you buy the car). This analysis of upstream emissions is separate from that. And AFAIK, unlike the electricity industry (where you have to report emissions and efficiency data to the EIA), there isn't a regular emissions reporting requirement for refineries or for the distribution of gasoline from the refinery, so it's hard to come up with an emissions number for them.
      Spec
      • 2 Years Ago
      In the long run, this will be viewed as true. The large hydrocarbons in oil are put to much better use as pharmaceuticals, plastics (which can be recycled), etc. However, in the short term we really enjoy burning them because they can make are cars go fast. Our great-grandchildren will look back at us and think "You greedy jerks spent our inheritance."
        EZEE
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Spec
        In the late 1970's there was a PSA where this kid was bitching that we were 'using all his fuel' and that when he grew up, there wouldn't be any. It ends with him saying, 'stop using all of my fuel.' He's grown up now. Maybe we should stop spending all of our kids, grand kids, great grand kids (etc.) money instead... ;)
          EVnerdGene
          • 2 Years Ago
          @EZEE
          yeah, the way we're being led into financial collapse, we really don't need to worry about using too much petro
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Spec
        And when you think about it . . . I'm sure there are thousands of drawings that Picasso made as a young child and teenager that were thrown away when those drawings would have fetched thousands or millions today. People just often don't realize the value of something until much later.
      Marcopolo
      • 2 Years Ago
      This is very good article to appear in such a normally conservative newspaper as the Christian Science Monitor. For many years I have been advocating that the most valid reason for funding alternate replacement energy technology, is to conserve oil for the thousands of non-fuel, yet indispensable, products Oil provides. Ranting about Oil companies,auto-manufactures, and drivers of V8 ICE cars being 'capitalist spawns of Satan' is pointless, while remaining silent about the most poisonous of all Oil fuel products. Each large ship transporting Tesla batteries, is more toxic to human health than is saved by Telsa's entire projected production for 10,000 years ! It's staggering to think that the world would have to be operating over 50 million EV's ( all powered by renewable energy) just to equal the toxic pollution of 1/100,000th of the world shipping fleet ! This doesn't take into account the long term environmental damage created by food chain and oceanic destruction of plankton and other marine life, severely inhibiting the oceans ability to act as a carbon-sink. If a timber company were applied to be issued a licence to kill over 100,000 humans a year, expose millions to the risk of cancer, most of whom will eventually expire, and cut down 10% of the world rainforest, while destroying all the wildlife, the outcry would be deafening ! The media loves to stir up passionate protest, and popular outrage at incidents like the Gulf Oil spill. Yet in comparison to the environmental damage done by the use of marine grade no, 6 fuel (Bunker Oil) on a daily basis, it's like comparing WW2 to a bar fight ! Real environmental solutions require priorities, which I get frustrated to see the biggest source of pollution remain virtually unnoticed.
        bluepongo1
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Marcopolo
        In your libelous comment:"Each large ship transporting Tesla batteries" / where are they coming from?
          EVnerdGene
          • 2 Years Ago
          @bluepongo1
          Tesla batteries from Panasonic: http://www.teslamotors.com/about/press/releases/panasonic-enters-supply-agreement-tesla-motors-supply-automotivegrade-battery-c Hey, I can make any car a convertible in about 20 minutes. uuurrrrrear uuurrrrear uuurrrrear Man, you need to get back on those meds.
          EVnerdGene
          • 2 Years Ago
          @bluepongo1
          you don't believe Tesla's own website ?
          bluepongo1
          • 2 Years Ago
          @bluepongo1
          I guess I have to repeat :There's no arguing with someone who belives everything on the internet and has never been to the Tesla (manufacturing) sites. If it makes you feel better in the information bubble you live in I wont judge you.
          Marco Polo
          • 2 Years Ago
          @bluepongo1
          @ bluepongo1 Good grief ! Is that all that concerned you ? Someone might be casting aspersions on Tesla ? How sad ! Actually, I was only trying to show that even a paragon of environmental virtue like Tesla, can have it's efforts unintentionally undermined by the damage done by bad shipping practices. But none of the vast environmental damage wrought by bunker oil matters to you ! Your only concern is defending Tesla (who need no defending) against an imaginary slight. You are exactly the sort of 'green supporter' I'm talking about. Your priorities are very narcissistic, concerning only your own narrow interests, at the expense of larger issues. BTW, Tesla sources battery cells from the Japanese battery giant, Panasonic. Tesla assembles those cells into battery packs for installation in the model S. Tesla does not manufacture battery cells. (This is just a fact, not a criticism of Tesla). Panasonic has a $30 million investment in Tesla.
          EVnerdGene
          • 2 Years Ago
          @bluepongo1
          it is indeed true Tesla's batteries are from Japan, the motor from china, etc. Volt's batteries are Korean, transmission from Japan, etc. ocean traffic is filthy air travel (burning kerosene at high altitudes) is probably even worse in the overall scheme of things
          bluepongo1
          • 2 Years Ago
          @bluepongo1
          I guess there's no arguing with someone who belives everything on the internet and has never been to the Tesla sites. Tesla never had anything to do with Panasonic, Lotus ( both teetering on bankruptcy) or China (EVnerd Gene). If you research the patents you will find the real connection is to Aptera.Au and VW. The companies that invested in Tesla want to use Tesla patents(too numerous to list) So far Tesla hasn't needed to use outside vendors inferior technology and doesn't use the fictional shipping you evaded by trying to cover your libel with your misguided, misinformed and misanthropic attack on the truth. You liked projecting your own narcissim on the Fisker threads claiming people you never met were jealous of that greenwashed hybrid junk with thousands of point of failure. In a Tesla thread you paraphrased an imaginary coachbuilder saying it wasn't practical for a Tesla to be a convertible, yet it can be done easily. In summary : I hope you get help for your obvious delusions and stop telling others what their comments mean. I hope you stop making up imaginary friends and adress the lies you tell yourself and others to fill that void in your life.
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