Despite some claims to the contrary, green cars will get downright emerald when it comes to environmental friendliness, as electric production gets cleaner, according to a recent Natural Resources Defense Council blog post. Electric vehicles contribute as much as 53 percent fewer "cradle-to-grave" emissions than gas-powered vehicles, even factoring in such elements as the lithium that goes into EV batteries. The NRDC argues that EVs are the "cleanest vehicles on the road today" and – more importantly – will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

Working in EVs' favor is the fact that 29 states have enacted renewable-energy targets for power production, replacing coal with sources like solar, hydro and wind power. Additionally, the lithium supply is sufficient enough to support plug-in vehicle sales through the end of the century, the blog says, citing the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

Americans appear to be buying into the NRDC's theory. US plug-in sales last month almost doubled year-earlier totals to hit almost 5,900 units, with the Nissan Leaf more than quadrupling year-earlier sales and Tesla Motors continuing to rack up better-then-predicted sales of the Model S.


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  • 26 Comments
      Marcopolo
      • 1 Year Ago
      I am, and have been for 17 years, an ardent EV enthusiast. So I welcome any reason to advance the adoption of EV technology. I have never accepted the idea that EV's are less environmentally positive than gasoline/diesel/ethanol, or even natural gas derivatives. However, when I read the comments by some EV enthusiasts, all sense of reality seems to disappear ! The pollution created by motor vehicles, is not the biggest threat to the environment , nor will the impact of Electric Vehicles contribute significantly to decreasing emissions for many decades to come. This is not to say that EV development shouldn't be encouraged, just that the positive environmental impact of EV's is very small, when measured on a global scale. Although solar, wind, Geo-thermal, hydro, (and more importantly natural gas), can replace coal as as a method of generating power in some areas, currently only only natural gas and nuclear power generation can generate sufficient power on an industrial scale. Oil , coal (and other hydro-carbon) fuel sources will remain the planets most economically viable power sources for decades to come. North America alone has more than 280,000,000 passenger vehicles, but less than 90,000 EV's. For the North American EV fleet to significantly reduce emissions, EV sales would have to average 2,000,000 per year for the next 40 years ! In contrast, the same emission reduction could be achieved over 5 years, at a fraction of the cost, by switching the US fleet from gasoline/diesel to a Natural Gas derivative like LPG/CNG. ( but there's no reason why both technologies can't be developed simultaneously). But, by far the cheapest, and most efficient method of reducing vehicle emissions in North America, is to immediately stop the production of Ethanol derived from corn ! The result would be an immediate reduction of passenger motor vehicle CO2 emissions, by the approximate equivalent of 3-5 million cars per year ! (, or 50 times the current number of EV's !) [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BioethanolsCountryOfOrigin.jpg ] These sorts of facts may be very difficult for passionate environmentalists and idealists to embrace. However, 'green' progress is dependent of public support. If future the public is going to continue supporting 'green' programs, and not become disillusioned with the gap between the Hype and real progress, realistic interim goals must be not only achievable, but achieved ! As the US economy begins to improve, thanks to a growing energy boom, the danger of an anti-environmental backlash also increases. In order to maintain public support for 'green' projects, inefficient products like corn based ethanol, must be abandoned and real progress and priorities emphasized. Environmental hype, rhetoric and wild Utopian claims, must be replaced by genuine, well thought out, practical technologies, easily understood as beneficial to the voting taxpayer.
        raktmn
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Marcopolo
        Why do you keep linking to a graph that includes delivery of these fuels to the UK? This graph (which was withdrawn from UK government's website after their 2010 revisions) is to be used only for fuel IMPORTERS, and it is used to determine how much credit the importer should get for clean fuels. All you have done is to show it is insane to ship ethanol half the way around the world, and import it into the UK. That is why corn ethanol from France gets a rating of 49 grams of CO2 and US corn ethanol gets a rating of 103 grams of CO2. Did you seriously believe that corn ethanol made in France was somehow magically twice as efficient as US corn ethanol? It is sad when trolls keep using BS links that they know misrepresent the truth.
        Joeviocoe
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Marcopolo
        I don't what you are crowing at. I am not reading any hype, rhetoric or wild Utopian claims here. --"pollution created by motor vehicles, is not the biggest threat to the environment ," Who here made that claim? It may seem like a few here believe that because we get vocal and argue. But motor vehicles and the environment is the EXACT theme of this blog. And I may not believe it is the 'biggest', but it certainly is the lowest hanging fruit. This is something we can choose to do ourselves, today. So it is a GOOD thing that we are activists for this cause now... so much so, that we've got you convinced that we think it is bigger than it is.
      Oolly
      • 1 Year Ago
      Many will still bury their heads in the sand (or another place) and claim this is all a liberal conspiracy or something else retarded.
      Spec
      • 1 Year Ago
      Not only is the electric grid getting cleaner, but OIL IS GETTING DIRTIER. We now use a lot more energy to get oil than we used to. Tar sands surface mining using monster diesel cranes and trucks to collect the tars sands. The tar sands are then processed in energy intensive processing plants. The SAGD tar sands system uses massive amounts of natural gas to inject steam in the ground to melt oil. Ultradeepwater oil rigs use huge amounts of energy to create and lots of diesel to operate. Heavy oil requires lots of steam creation. Hydrofracturing requires thousands of heavy water trucks driving back & forth. Huge diesel pump systems are used to pump the frack fluids down in the well with huge pressures to break the shale. The refining of the tar sands oil and heavy sour crudes requires more energy and more natural gas input to reduce the sulfur and refine into high quality product. Thus the exploration, drilling, and extraction of modern nonconventional oil is much more polluting than the old simple land-based rotary drilling rig down to a conventional liquid crude oil deposit. The pollution from gas cars is not just what comes out of your tail pipe . . . it is also from the exploration, drilling, steaming, mining, refining, and transport equipment which now pollutes more than ever.
        Marcopolo
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Spec
        @ Spec Well observed ! Oil extraction is a difficult, dirty and sometimes very dangerous business. I don't think there is a person on earth who wouldn't agree with that description. But so what ? Huffing and puffing about the evil oil industry, is pretty pointless ! Just as all the politicians who traveled, with staff, journalists, security and other hangers-on, in giant private airliners to Kyoto, or Copenhagen to take part in meaningless 'talk-fests' . Those politicians, traveled in a large fleet of fossil fueled cars, to a fossil fueled aircraft, to be greeted on arrival by another fossil fueled car (some even took their cars with them !). All this in order to discuss how to reduce fuel emissions ! Vast amounts of public money, and a huge diversion of public resources have squandered on 'political' and ' ideological ' gestures, that have produced very little real benefit, mainly for low priority, 'feel good' , 'show' targets, and have ignored the really difficult issues. The truth is that over 4 billion 'engines' world wide use oil products. In addition, the oil industry creates 35,000 products from medicines to plastics, from ceramics to fertilizer. This huge industry created the twentieth-century, and is still the most important resource of the 21st century. Is alternate energy research important and valuable? absolutely ! Is EV development important to be encouraged ? absolutely ! Is the oil industry difficult, dirty and sometimes dangerous ? absolutely ! Can civilization survive without the oil industry ? Absolutely not ! So you're correct, it's bleedin' obvious that EV technology is more environmental than ICE technology ! But until 3 billion tractors, trucks, Aircraft, generators, ambulances, fire tenders, machinery, combine harvesters, excavators, bulldozers, tanks etc can be powered by batteries, oil remains a very important part of your life (and mine) !
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Marcopolo
          --"Huffing and puffing about the evil oil industry, is pretty pointless" --"Can civilization survive without the oil industry ? Absolutely not ! " And it is exactly that attitude that allows them to get away with so much crap. It is agreed that we cannot just get rid of oil.. but we don't have to lie down in front of them or give them everything they want.
          raktmn
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Marcopolo
          This is the same logic that was used to justify the use of whale oil for energy, despite the fact that we decimated their population. This is the same logic that was used to justify slavery, despite the inhumanity of it. It is undeniable that slavery built great things, but at what cost? This "ends justify the means" mentality is where the term "Mendacity of Evil" finds its roots.
      jeff
      • 1 Year Ago
      Even if the electricity comes from coal the electric car is still significantly cleaner for two reasons: 1) It takes about 6KWhr of electrical power to refine one gallon of gasoline. In most states oil refineries are the second or third larges consumer of grin power. However, they almost always have their own coal fired power plants that they use to generate their own power and steam. These plants are exempt from most of the EPA regulations that coal powered utility plants have to adhere to so they almost always emit more pollution than Grid plants for the same KWhr output. The same amount of electrical power will drive most EV's 2-30 miles... 2) An ICE engine is very inefficient (about 25% at best) most of the energy in the gasoline is lost as heat. A gallon of gasoline has the equivalent of 33Kwhr of electrical power in it. This will drive most ICE cars 20-30 miles. The same amount of energy will drive most EV's 120-150 miles. These two simple facts make all of the claims to the contrary pointless....
        Joeviocoe
        • 1 Year Ago
        @jeff
        sorry jeff... that 6kwh of electricity per gallon was debunked a while ago. I see the myth lives on. It originated from a slight mistaken alteration in the claim. It is 6kwh equivalent energy per gallon of gasoline. Most of that energy is NOT electrical. It is from heat (usually steam from burning off of waste hydrocarbons).
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          Curiously enough... on another thread http://green.autoblog.com/2013/08/22/forbes-columnist-says-tesla-model-s-is-great-coal-car/#aol-comments Darin Caggiano posted this link: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/industry/petroleum_refining/pdfs/refining_roadmap.pdf And I ran the calculations: There was an ambiguous chart labeling 54 TeraBTU's out of 496 TeraBTU, as electricity. This calculates to about 10.89% of a refinery's TOTAL energy usage to electricity. And since a refinery's total output is about 19.15% gasoline.... the rest are various other oil products. That is about 2.08% of the energy needed to refine a gallon of gasoline. And with a total kwh value of 34kwh for a full gallon of gasoline... 2.08% of that being electricity... That is 0.7kwh of electricity needed per gallon of gasoline. Precisely what usbseawolf and myself came up with last year when we did the calculations. If I can remember correctly, anywhere from 0.5kwh to 1.2kwh. No where near 6kwh. It is hard to pin down definite numbers since refineries hide their internal numbers. But they do report external inputs and outputs. And this is in line what we found last year. About 0.6kwh of electricity. And since we know that refineries DO consume a lot grid power for their refineries... I am seeing ZERO proof that they produce any significant electrical power internally... and certainly not from coal. The most I would think would be a bit from waste gasses to run ancillary equipment, not the refining process.
          Dave D
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          Joe, Do you have good data on how much is used and a reliable source? I did the math on Exxon's Baton Rouge facility which is supposed to be the cleanest, most efficient in the US a couple of years ago and a straight calculation of electricity they pulled from the grid divided by the gallons of oil they use came out a little shy of 3kWh/gallon. That is the "cleanest" of the refineries and that was only grid electricity and didn't include things like NG used in the process or any of the chemicals used in that giant chemistry set we call a "refinery"...and you KNOW that all those chemicals used electricity in their manufacture before they were used at the refinery. If you've got a good source I'd really like to see it because I had to piece my calculations together based on what I found from different publications they made.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          " they almost always have their own coal fired power plants that they use to generate their own power and steam. " What evidence do you have to support this? Where are they getting coal stock from... they are oil refineries.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          Jeff... please provide what proof you have that Oil refineries are buying any coal. Coal is heavy and difficult to transport. It would make little sense to constantly be hauling coal from the mountains to the coast... where most oil refineries are located... just so they can burn coal... instead of their plentiful waste gases. Please provide a source for your claim.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          raktmn, do you have a link to that.... I want to confirm whether they say "electricity" or "energy". Did That Texas refinery's release statemtent actually say 10 kwh? Or was that your take?
          jeff
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          Sorry but you ar wrong... It is simply the amount of power consumed by the refineries vs the output in gallons of gas... Those who tried to alter the facts only used the power taken from the grid. They DID NOT include the power generated by the refineries and the steam generated internally...
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          I am all for bashing coal, oil and other dirty energy... but I want to bash using facts. You are saying oil refineries have there own coal plants. Where do they get coal from? Is it cheaper to bring a train carrying heavy coal into an oil refinery to produce electricity, rather than use the power lines they already have? You say the EPA doesn't regulate these coal plants? Huh? Where is your proof?
          raktmn
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          unfortunately, the oil industry has managed to evade public disclosure of information like this, calling their refining process a "trade secret". We will never know much of this information. They could be using 10 kWh equivalent, and there is no way for us to know. The closest we have to information has come from a lone Texas refinery that claims to be an "Energy Star" refinery. They released what they claimed to be their data (unconfirmed by any third party or gov't agency). But that just tells us the best it can be. Not the worst, or the average.
          jeff
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          Joe almost all of them buy large quantities of coal. What do you think they do with it?
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          Dave D.... yes, me and usbseawolf did the same calculations when we got into a Leaf debate last year. We had to piece it together too. We made the same points about lack of transparency. It was anywhere from 0.3 - 1.5 kwh of grid electricity per gallon of gasoline produced. We did not use gallons of OIL used. Gallons of GASOLINE produced ! Which was the whole basis for the argument of "6 kwh per gallon of gasoline." About 19.5% of oil is used to make gasoline.... so your 3 kwh becomes almost 0.6 kwh for every gallon of gasoline. Which is what me and usbseawolf confirmed. It is not ethical to blame gasoline vehicles for the electricity use of the other 80% of refined products coming from the refinery. That is a debate for another venue. The argument is about the electricity requirements of Gasoline... not everything that Oil is used for. To be very effective in our arguments... we MUST be factual.
      brotherkenny4
      • 1 Year Ago
      "Americans appear to be buying into the NRDC's theory." This is great, specifically because it is correct. In general though, it would be nice if americans also understood that there are many who seek false debates on issues that are actually straight forward science. This "debate" on whether electric cars are cleaner is one such example. Global climate change being another. It is a general strategy of people who would like to obfuscate the real facts since the real facts don't support their case, or more specifically their industry, and the status quo. When people have doubts and are left to "believe" or "not believe" in the scientific data, because there appears not to be consensus they can be more easily lead to believe a falsehood. It only requires a few doubters and industry can hire them, there is always an expert loyal to his paycheck.
      BipDBo
      • 1 Year Ago
      "Electric vehicles contribute as much as 53 percent fewer "cradle-to-grave" emissions than gas-powered vehicles" I want to know how they did the math. Did they compare EVs to average gas powered vehicles including larger, more powerful sedans, even SUVs or did they compare apples to apples, just looking at vehicles of comparable size and performance? Most available EVs are compacts or subcompacts. How does the cradle to grave compare between a Chevy Spark EV and a Spark ICE? How about when compared to an efficient comparatively compact hybrid like the Prius C, which is also completely gas powered?
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BipDBo
        Well even relatively big EVs like the Tesla Model S use very little energy. They just don't make many big EVs because the cost of the big batteries makes them very expensive and no one thought people would pay for them. Tesla proved them wrong (though it is probably a small market).
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          --"... very expensive and no one thought people would pay for them" Tesla did not proven that wrong. They simply gave the consumer a different reason (other than just fuel savings) to pay such a huge price premium. An EV (or even PHEV) pickup truck set at the same price as a Model S, will not be able to sell. If it won't have a ROI for the fuel savings, it will not make sense to buy an EV as a Work Truck.
        DaveMart
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BipDBo
        The report is available through the links given as a free download. If you want to know, why don't you download it and find out?
          BipDBo
          • 1 Year Ago
          @DaveMart
          It doesn't seem that the report is, actually available. "We examined six peer-reviewed academic studies and found that in every case, electric vehicles win by a substantial margin, with estimates ranging from 28 to 53 percent lower cradle-to-grave emissions than conventional vehicles today." I don't think that this is an actual, original research project. This is a reporter who has read a few abstracts and has very briefly summarized what he has read. There is a link to a pretty extensive study, however, which does seem to account for PHEV market penetration into vehicles up to 19500 lbs. "The study assumes that PHEVs will be available in vehicles up to 19,500 lb gross vehicle weight (Class 5 Heavy Duty Vehicles). PHEVs will also be available in configurations offering different levels of electric range—the number of miles a vehicle can travel on the energy in its battery for a single charge." This study, however, is pretty old, 2007. It has a picture of the original Volt concept on the front. I suspect it might have been written as pro-Volt propaganda. This report doesn't really show anywhere close to a 53% improvement when all power sources are averaged. It shows well to wheel efficiency to beat ICE by 66.7% only when electricity is derived entirely through nuclear or renewables. Using more conventional fuels to get the electricity, that well to wheel is 28% (old coal) to 51% (Advanced combined cycle natural gas) when compared to ICE. That PHEV well to wheel efficiency improvement of 28% drops to 12% worse when compared to traditional hybrids, using old coal. The 51% for natural gas drops to 26%. The 66.7% for renewable electricity drops to 48%.
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