It's pretty common knowledge - especially if you're the type to regularly visit sites such as AutoblogGreen and its ilk - that it's simply cheaper to drive a mile on electrical power than on gasoline. We also know that it is inefficient to convert oil sands into usable fuel relative to other sources of oil. Yet the demand for gasoline remains high, mining the tar sands of Canada remains profitable and it has also undeniably created a lot of jobs, so that petroleum is coming out of the ground.

For a deeper look at the economics, look at this article from Hybrid Cars, which breaks down (and even quantifies) what is involved in producing gasoline from the bitumen mined in places like Fort McMurray, Alberta, and how that compares in cost and efficiency to filling up from the socket. Basically, it takes a certain amount electricity and natural gas to turn the bitumen into a gallon of gasoline in a multi-step process that even consumes some of its own product. It is much more efficient and economical to convert that natural gas into electricity to power our vehicles. The author compares it to feeding bread to cows instead of grain, with the oil sands crude industry as the baker.

Plug-in vehicles eliminate the middleman, along with the associated costs. And though the electric car industry is still young, it is here to stay, and will only grow and improve. What impact will this have on tar sands operations? The conclusion is powerful, particularly after following the journey of the tar sands to the gas tank. Dig deep over at Hybrid Cars.


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  • 39 Comments
      • 10 Months Ago
      How much pollution will be required to manufacture and replace the hundreds of million of gas powered vehicles with electric vehicles? Keep in mind a small fraction of the world can possibly dream of affording even the cheapest electric cars today. Despite the hyperbole, likely the best thing for the environment is what is happening. Electric cars are being slowly manufactured and produced, old gasoline cars are being slowly retired, and dependence on oil will go down with increases in efficiency. The all or nothing, black or white pictures that these articles paint are false dichotomies at the height of intellectual dishonesty meant only to cater, pander, and preach to the already converted.
        Spec
        • 10 Months Ago
        Really, dude? "How much pollution will be required to manufacture and replace the hundreds of million of gas powered vehicles with electric vehicles?" Around the same amount to build a gas car . . . except that the electric car won't ever release any direct emissions when driven. "Keep in mind a small fraction of the world can possibly dream of affording even the cheapest electric cars today." Only a small fraction can afford to buy a car, period. But in the USA, there are several EVs available for less than the average car price. And that is BEFORE the tax-credit and state incentives.
        ElectricAvenue
        • 10 Months Ago
        No, better for the environment would be for all replacement vehicles to be electric. Every gasoline or diesel burning car produced means a commitment to burn more fossil fuels. And you speak of intellectual dishonesty!
        Joeviocoe
        • 10 Months Ago
        Gasoline is being burned everyday... as much energy as it takes to produce any vehicle, it will at least last a decade or two. It takes only about a year to burn through enough gasoline that is the equivalent weight of an entire vehicle. Meanwhile, the vehicle itself requires less energy over its lifetime.
        purrpullberra
        • 10 Months Ago
        It is really ignorant to think manufacturing electric cars is a waste but making regular ICE cars is no problem. Major failure of logic.
        ElectricAvenue
        • 10 Months Ago
        No, better for the environment would be for all replacement vehicles to be electric. Every gasoline or diesel burning car produced means a commitment to burn more fossil fuels. And you speak of intellectual dishonesty!
          fairfireman21
          • 10 Months Ago
          @ElectricAvenue
          ElectricAvenue, I have to have a gas powered truck. I tow a work trailer that without materials weighs in at 4500 pounds, and in most cases I have to travel 40 or more miles one way to get to the job. No EV could do that. Not everyone can use an EV, or can afford one. Take traveling for example. Most EV's get right around 80 mile range, so if you took a trip of 300 miles @ 75 mph it would take 6 hours too do so IF there were fast chargers on your treck. If a fast charger will give you 80% in 30 min you would have to charge 4 times at a total time of 2 extra hours. So if the car gives 80 @ 100%, 80% would be 60 miles and at 75 mph would give you only 48 min of driving time between the 30 mins of charging. Here is another example we were called up at 10 PM from a relative saying my dads sister was dying so my parents and I went to be with her as she passed 1050 mile trip we made in 17 hours with gas stops, pee stops with an EV it would have taken us about 23.4 hours to do the same, by then she was gone. We would have needed 17 fast chargers compared to the 3 gas station and we averaged 37 mpg. Gas powered vehicles are going to be around for a long time yet.
        DarylMc
        • 10 Months Ago
        I think everyone is being a bit harsh on Geoff Wilks. Improvements are being made to fuel efficiency, there is growing availability of renewable energy and more and more availability of electric vehicles. Maybe not as fast as everyone would like but the trend is positive. All mining is messy business and I think consumption of resources is just as important issue as environmental concerns. You can't get everyone to dump their ICE for EV's in the next few days or even the next few years. Not only would it be impossible to implement it would also be an environmental disaster. I do agree with Ryan though that fuel taxes could be increased to steer fuel supply in a more sustainable direction and reflect the damage to the environment we live in.
          Spec
          • 10 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          Yes, gas vehicles have become a bit more efficient. But they remain FAR less efficient than an EV and they will always spew emissions whereas EVs can be powered by green electricity. Lithium mining is the lowest impact mining around. It would not be an environmental disaster . . . you are just perpetuating misinformation based on your thinking about lead-acid and NiMH batteries.
          DarylMc
          • 10 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          Hi Spec I didn't mention anything about lithium or batteries. It was probably a mistake for me to use the negative example (eg dump ICE vehicles = wasteful use of resources) Yes of course I agree EV's are more efficient.
          DarylMc
          • 10 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          Hi Spec I think we both want to see more EV's and more renewable energy used. What I thought was reasonable about Geoff's comment was this " likely the best thing for the environment is what is happening. Electric cars are being slowly manufactured and produced, old gasoline cars are being slowly retired, and dependence on oil will go down with increases in efficiency."
          skierpage
          • 10 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          "All mining is messy business and I think consumption of resources is just as important issue as environmental concerns." Sure, and the 10 tons of gasoline a 35 mpg car will burn through in 120,000 miles, and the 33 tons of resulting CO2, are a FAR BIGGER and "messier" resource issue than making a 2 ton recyclable electric car. "it would also be an environmental disaster." Saying that doesn't make it true. Electric cars are a big win for the environment because they're more efficient well-to-wheel. The more the merrier. Yes a car that weighs 1/3 ton more due to batteries is probably worse to manufacture, but again compare that just to the weight of the gasoline.
          DarylMc
          • 10 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          Hi Spec I didn't say anything about lithium or batteries what on earth are you going on about? To change the automobile fleet overnight would be a disaster and also impossible as I said.
          DarylMc
          • 10 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          Hi Spec Please excuse the Jekyll Hyde reply. I was having a bit of trouble with the comment system.
        Ryan
        • 10 Months Ago
        What a joke. I see hundreds of brand new gas guzzling cars around here. People are back to buying whatever car, SUV, or truck they want since the oil dealer will give them their next fix still. And the gas tax hasn't even been increased to pay for the increase pollution and mess that is happening.
        Ryan
        • 10 Months Ago
        What a joke. I see hundreds of brand new gas guzzling cars around here. People are back to buying whatever car, SUV, or truck they want since the oil dealer will give them their next fix still. And the gas tax hasn't even been increased to pay for the increase pollution and mess that is happening.
          Ele Truk
          • 10 Months Ago
          @Ryan
          First step is to fix the gas tax. It hasn't been raised since 1993. It needs to change, it was based on everybody getting 10 to 20 MPG, now with cars getting more than twice that, (and of course labor costs on roadway maintenance has gone up too) the old model doesn't work. A vehicle miles traveled tax makes the most sense, you pay for what you use.
          fairfireman21
          • 10 Months Ago
          @Ryan
          Ele Truk, I agree with you on that.
      Aaron
      • 10 Months Ago
      All very true, Just plug in your EV into a magical outlet of free electricity from Unicorn Farts.
        Spec
        • 10 Months Ago
        @Aaron
        Actually, it is powered by the solar PV system on my roof which generates 130% of my net electricity usage. There are those that do something and there are those that whine & complain .
          musiclevelz5
          • 10 Months Ago
          @Spec
          I would have to surmise that Spies1 is the latter of your comment.
      Aaron
      • 10 Months Ago
      All very true, Just plug in your EV into a magical outlet of free electricity from Unicorn Farts.
      PeterScott
      • 10 Months Ago
      I think there are some misplaced numbers in there. 13-14KWh is about what I get if I look into on my own. But crucially, that is the amount of total input energy. Most of it thermal from burning fossil fuels of various sorts. You would be lucky to get 7KWh after conversion to electricity. That is the amount that you should consider for powering an EV. If it were 13-14KWh after conversion, that would imply up to 28 KWh of input energy before conversion, meaning the energy gain from Tar sands to Gasoline is essentially 1:1. Which is absurd. The reality is Oil was originally returning 100:1 in the early days, but that has fallen to about 15:1, and Shale/Tar Sands around 5:1 (worse than renewable). A lot of people use 10:1 as a benchmark for supporting a thriving industrial society, and that one way or another an energy crunch is coming.
      Aaron
      • 10 Months Ago
      All very true, Just plug in your EV into a magical outlet of free electricity from Unicorn Farts.
      Aaron
      • 10 Months Ago
      All very true, Just plug in your EV into a magical outlet of free electricity from Unicorn Farts.
      Aaron
      • 10 Months Ago
      All very true, Just plug in your EV into a magical outlet of free electricity from Unicorn Farts.
      goodoldgorr
      • 10 Months Ago
      Me I use gas to max efficiency because I drive a small car with manual transmission and I accelerate gently and drive 55 on the highway on the right lane. I been pass by tons of suv doing speeding. When going downhill or before a stop sigh I let the car coast in neutral. I do it to save money AND to alleviate pollution. I never understood peoples buying extra big cars and trucks and doing speeding, they are destroying the eco-system and depleting ressources. One day I saw a big f-150 towing a big boat on a trailer on a weekend day, this was a nightmare view.
        Koenigsegg
        • 10 Months Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        Small cars are the most fun to drive too. My dad got a brand new truck and i do not want to drive it because i dont want to waste gas and i just dont care for a truck
          goodoldgorr
          • 10 Months Ago
          @Koenigsegg
          Even if I won the lottery or receive an heritage I will buy a small car as I prefer the agility of small cars and they are easier to maneuver in parking lots and it pollute less, a happy combination. I hate petrol companies and they have the minimum of my money but something weird and contradictory will happen soon because I decided to buy a motorcycle but I cannot resist, LOL so I will buy more gasoline in the near future.
      Randy C
      • 10 Months Ago
      Oil industry's big secret! It takes a lot electricity to get that gallon of gasoline to your tank. So much electricity that you're essentially driving an EV just burning gas in the process. And no they don't use oil to generate it, to expensive, they use natural gas.
        Spec
        • 10 Months Ago
        @Randy C
        And a massive amount of natural gas. A lot of natural gas is used for extraction in SAGD operations. And more natural gas is used to refine the heavy tar.
        Neil Blanchard
        • 10 Months Ago
        @Randy C
        It also takes electricity to get the natural gas, and it takes water, as well. Getting the water - takes more electricity. All in all, it takes more electricity to drive an ICE than it does to drive an EV. So, the long tailpipe argument is moot. Go figure.
        Spec
        • 10 Months Ago
        @Randy C
        And a massive amount of natural gas. A lot of natural gas is used for extraction in SAGD operations. And more natural gas is used to refine the heavy tar.
          Ele Truk
          • 10 Months Ago
          @Spec
          Nobody is talking about peak natural gas yet, but it's coming faster than peak oil. Everybody is in such a hurry to convert to natural gas because it's cheaper and easier to get to. But remember that oil was once cheap and easy to get to. Now we have to drill 5 miles under the ocean to find new oil. Natural gas is already using latest technologies to access it (as well as poisoning water tables and creating earthquakes), I don't think it even has 75 years before we see peak natural gas.
      Aaron
      • 10 Months Ago
      All very true, Just plug in your EV into a magical outlet of free electricity from Unicorn Farts.
      Alexander
      • 10 Months Ago
      Article is generally correct. Electric is here to stay since it is more efficient. The question is only how long will the transfer take. I would guess 20 years. But in the meantime, the big 3 automakers in the US are going to die a painful death unless then go electric. But tar sand operations will be around for another 100 years. Petroleum has other uses than being burned up to power your vehicles. Just as they thought coal would go away, it has not and neither will petroleum from tar sands or oil wells.
      Warren
      • 10 Months Ago
      So tar sands gas is basically an energy carrier, like a battery, rather than a source. One gallon of gas = 33.7 kWh - 13 kWh for tar sands conversion (enough to go 44.8 miles in a Fit EV vs 41 mpg for an ICE Fit) The energy used to produce a gallon of tar sands gas will take you about 1.09 times as far in the identical vehicle...without the additional CO2. The electrical energy for either car could come from renewable sources, but the burning of fuel in an ICE will always produce the same amount of CO2. You are still left with the CO2 used to produce the battery. But this will improve with battery improvements.
        Warren
        • 10 Months Ago
        @Warren
        For what it is worth, at least one organization trying to calculate lifetime CO2 for cars scores 5 of the 10 best vehicles as EVs, one plug-in hybrid, 3 hybrids, and one ICE. http://www.greenercars.org/index.htm Interestingly, the only ICE was the Smart at number 10. It came in as number one as an EV!
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