Sunday, October 22, 2017

10 Myths & Criticisms of Electric Cars Explored & Exploded

Tesla Shuttle Road Trip (Credit: Tesla) Click to Enlarge.
If electric cars suddenly went mainstream, traditional automakers and fossil fuel companies could lose a lot of business.  Some of those companies are actively spreading misinformation in an attempt to slow the transition away from conventional cars.  That wrong information becomes the basis of myths that can make people decide to delay buying an electric car.

Often, those myths contain a kernel of truth that has been distorted.  Let’s take a look at the most frequent myths and try to figure out which are true and which are not.

Myth #1:  More CO2 is emitted during production of electric cars than regular cars.
Conclusion: True, but misleading

Studies show that manufacturing an electric car uses significantly more energy than manufacturing a conventional car.  Much of the difference is attributable to manufacturing the battery.  Mercedes makes the B-Class and the B-Class Electric.  About 45% of the emissions from the B-Class Electric occur during manufacturing.  For the conventional B-Class, the number is only 18%.

So, it is fair to say an electric car has higher emissions right up until it rolls off a dealer’s lot.  But after that, the conventional car rapidly catches up and eventually passes the electric car in total lifetime emissions.

How much of a difference there is depends on the source of the electricity used to recharge the electric car, how much a person drives, the carbon intensity of the car’s manufacturing process, and other factors.  Using electricity from fossil fuel plants, the electric car will emit 25% fewer emissions during its lifetime.  But if the electricity comes from hydro, wind, or solar, it will emit 64% fewer emissions while it is in active service.

Myth #2:  Electric car batteries are a ticking environmental bomb.
Conclusion: False

Electric car batteries are largely recyclable (~95% of the materials in them can be recycled) and there is little chance they will simply be discarded in landfills at the end of their useful life as some fossil fuel advocates like to suggest.  (And it’s not like burning fossil fuels hasn’t had some pretty disastrous environmental consequences over the past century and a half.)

There aren’t enough used electric car batteries for economies of scale to kick in yet, but many companies are experimenting with reusing the ones that are available for residential and commercial electrical storage.  When a lithium-ion battery is no longer able to power a vehicle, it still has about 80% of its power remaining.  It just can’t charge and discharge as rapidly as it needs to for transportation use.

Myth #3: Electric cars create more particulates than conventional cars
Conclusion: False

The theory is that electric cars have heavy batteries.  All that weight wears roadways faster, which puts more particulates into the atmosphere.  The first thing you need to know is that there are two kinds of particulates — those less than 2.5 microns in size and those up to 10 microns.  The small particulates can get into the lungs and actually cross into the blood stream.  The larger ones cannot.

Virtually all particulates 2.5 microns and smaller come from internal combustion engines.  None come from electric cars.  Studies showing heavy vehicles cause more wear and tear to roads involve heavy trucks.  The extra weight of a Volkswagen e-Golf (about 500 pounds) compared to a conventional Golf is too small to make any significant difference.

In addition, brake dust is the primary source of larger particulates.  Electric cars use mechanical brakes far less frequently than conventional cars because they make use of regenerative braking, which recharges the battery when the car slows down.  That means electric cars create far less brake dust.  In fact, brake pads in electric cars may last 100,000 miles or more.

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