Plug-in Vehicles, Unconscionable Waste and Pollution Masquerading as Conservation


John Petersen

For eighteen months I’ve been blogging about the energy storage sector and discussing the current and potential markets for batteries and other manufactured energy storage devices. A recurring theme that I’ve discussed many times is the unrecognized but undeniable truth that while plug-in vehicles masquerade as conservation measures at an individual level, they’re incredibly wasteful at a societal level. The conclusion is counter-intuitive and my articles on the subject invariably draw heated criticism from self-anointed defenders of the faith. Their arguments, however, do not change the inescapable truth that plug-in vehicles are one of the most wasteful concepts ever foisted on gullible government officials and an unsuspecting public.

Today I’m going to do my level best to simplify the numbers and expose the plug-in fraud for what it is. If you want to delve into more detail, you should visit my article archive at Seeking Alpha.

On December 31, 2009 Forbes published an opinion piece titled System Overload that questioned whether the lithium-ion battery industry was overbuilding global manufacturing capacity. The third paragraph said:

“By 2015 the new factories will have the global capacity to produce 36 million kilowatt-hours of battery capacity, enough to supply 15 million hybrid vehicles, or 1.5 million fully electric cars, says Deutsche Bank.”

The article then went on to question whether there would be buyers for all those vehicles. I firmly believe that every battery manufacturer that brings an automotive battery to market within the next few years will have more demand than it can satisfy. That being said there is no denying the fact that fully electric cars and plug-in hybrids are unconscionably wasteful.

In America, the average car owner drives about 12,000 miles per year. To power a car for that distance, he’ll need about 400 gallons of gasoline for a conventional internal combustion engine; 240 gallons of gasoline for a Prius class HEV; and no gasoline for a fully electric vehicle. The eco-religious among us are beside themselves with glee over the appealing but patently absurd idea that fully electric vehicles are the best way to slash dependence on oil imports and protect mother earth. The numbers tell an entirely different story.

If we stick with the Deutsche Bank numbers quoted in the Forbes article, 1.5 million fully electric cars would save 600 million gallons of gasoline per year. That’s a very impressive number until you realize that 15 million Prius class HEVs without plugs would save approximately 2.4 billion gallons of gasoline per year. In my book, the difference of 1.8 billion gallons of gasoline per year is subsidized waste on a massive scale.

While the gasoline consumption comparisons are miserable, the CO2 emission comparisons are nothing short of tragic.

Each gallon of gasoline used in an internal combustion engine releases 20.35 pounds of CO2. While fully electric vehicles are cleaner, they’re not CO2 free because the power plants that generate the electricity release a national average of 9.68 pounds of CO2 per gallon of gasoline equivalent. Returning to the Deutsche Bank numbers, 1.5 million fully electric cars would cut annual CO2 emissions by 2.9 million tons, another very impressive number. In comparison, 15 million Prius class HEVs without plugs would slash annual CO2 emissions by a whopping 24.4 million tons. In my book, the difference of 21.5 million tons of CO2 emissions per year is subsidized pollution on a monumental scale.

The final nail in the coffin comes from purchase price comparisons. Toyota’s (TM) base sticker price for a 2010 Prius is $22,400. In comparison the base sticker price for the planned GM Volt will be about $40,000. While Federal tax credits of $7,500 are expected to reduce the end-user cost of the Volt to $32,500, it will still cost the consumer $10,000 more than a Prius. The last time I checked, a $10,000 purchase price difference is important to the average consumer, particularly when study after study reports that the Volt is not expected to pay for the price difference in fuel savings.

On a micro-scale, fully electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are feel good eco-bling for the emotionally committed and the mathematically challenged. On a macro-scale they use more gasoline, emit more CO2 and are more expensive than established HEV technology. At this point I have to wonder, does anybody in Washington DC have a calculator?

I’m a lawyer, a battery guy and a policy geek. I know that six billion people on our planet would like to have a piece of the lifestyle that 600 million of us have and take for granted. I also know that as a result of the information technology revolution, about half of the 6 billion have access to electronic data and understand for the first time in history that there is more to life than subsistence. Even if we assume that they will only become consumers at 5% to 10% of purchasing power parity, the increased pressure on water, food, energy and every commodity you can imagine will be immense beyond imagining. The big challenge will be creating enough room at the table so that we can avoid the unthinkable consequences of inaction.

I love HEV technology because it minimizes waste of both gasoline and other natural resources. I’d love it even more if it were tied to a compressed natural gas fuel system that would eliminate dependence on imported oil, but that’s a different discussion. I’m also a big fan of micro- and mild-hybrid technologies that use less robust electric motors and simpler batteries from companies like Johnson Controls (JCI), Exide Technologies (XIDE) and Axion Power International (AXPW.OB) to reduce waste for drivers who can’t afford to upgrade to a Prius class HEV. I am offended by the P.T. Barnum class hucksters at Ener1 (HEV), A123 Systems (AONE), BYD Company (BYDDF.PK) and others that use the false promise of fully-electric vehicles to maintain bloated market capitalizations and lead investors down a garden path that will almost certainly end in massive losses once the market understands the true costs and illusory benefits.

Disclosure: Author is a former director of Axion Power International (AXPW.OB) and has a substantial long position in its stock. He also holds a small long position Exide Technologies (XIDE).


  1. A couple of thoughts
    This depends very much on the carbon intensity of electricity, which is higher in the US than in many places.
    What do you think of the idea that plugin vehicles should be developed because their benefit will be greater as the grid decarbonises, and they also have potential in grid load balancing (vehicle-to-grid ideas)? This is surely their eco-benefit, albeit I completely take your point that they’re pointless now?

  2. Even with a zero carbon grid, the best you’re going to get to is a situation where HEVs are better than PHEVs in a ratio of 1 to 4 because the HEVs save so much more gas in the aggregate than plug-ins do.
    A little bit of battery power is a wonderful thing to have. A lot of battery power is a terrible thing to waste.
    V2G talk seems to be mostly that – talk. A car that you’re driving home in the afternoon during peak demand periods has nothing to offer the grid. A car that is recharging during the day increases the load on the grid during peak demand periods. The last thing any consumer is going to want to face is a situation where he needs to go somewhere but finds that the local utility has depleted his battery for V2G services. Basically the only time there’s any real V2G potential is while the vehicle is parked for the night and the utility doesn’t need the help.

  3. I agree completely with your assessment of the unlikelihood of plug in vehicles being used in grid operations.
    In addition to your comments, John, say the battery is valued at $10,000 and is good for about 10,000 charges… is the utility going to credit their customers $1 each time they load cycle in order to save on grid operations?
    Two points: A) no. B) even if it were to happen due to public outcry, the $1 spent per battery cycle would surely undermine any and all savings made by carrying less peak generation capacity.
    This could only really work if, similar to the Project Better Place model, there was a central owner of all active batteries (i.e. the utility or third party) who would rent battery use out to drivers, could be compensated per cycle by the utilities, and who would have spare off-peak loaded batteries kicking around for everyone running low. But then its not really PHEV cycling, but rather LBSD (Large Battery Storage Depot) cycling.
    I really enjoy your work. Keep it up.

  4. Nothing like starting out with what you want to believe and then providing only those facts that support it. 12,000 miles a year…..average. Very convenient for your example. First, 400 gallons only gets you to 12,000 miles if you……average…..30 miles to a gal. The current fleet average here in the U.S. is well under 20. If we both drive just 30 miles a day, average, your ICE will be operating at it’s least efficient, most polluting mode twice every day, when you first start it cold, not so with my EV. Phev’s are a big improvment, but we still must buy and maintain two power trains.
    Your 20.35 lbs. of CO2 per burned gallon of gas ignores all the energy and therefore the pollution; looking for it, drilling for it, pumping it out, refining it and delivering it. Not to mention the price charged at the pump to pay for it all leaves the average citizen no alternative but to subsidize it all. As opposed to having the option to buy and install a small wind generator or photovoltaic array and generate no CO2 and not supporting with one dime the policies that include war and unnecessary pollution.
    Oh yes and EV’s don’t require any oil changes, most of the battery tech moving through the system allows much or in some cases ALL of the material to be recycled, after they have a second life as stationary energy storage units, and just like big screen TV’s and PC’s the cost will come down, a lot, when the technology matures and we are fully into mass production. But of course the top 10% of society have always found it in their self interest to defend the status quo, at all costs. Bravo. Marion Zaugg

  5. While I agree with you philosophically on this matter:
    1. A quick check indicates that the battery capacity of a current technology Prius is 1.3 kWh. 1.3 kWh divided into 36mm kWh results in ~28 million vehicles per year.
    2. The Tesla uses a 53 kWh battery pack. 53 kWh divided into 36MM kWh results in 0.68 million vehicles.
    So it is worse than you thought…or did I miss something.
    Also, the USA fleet average fuel economy is ~24 mpg. 12,000 miles per year divided by 24 results in 500 gallons per year, versus 400 gallons indicated. So the hybrids and electrics save even more than indicated.
    1. It seems likely to me that the cost differential between a “full” hybrid and a plug in hybrid will not be as extreme as indicated. I consider the first gen Volt to be a special case. In contrast, I expect the adder for the plug-in Prius could be on the order of USD 3 grand.
    2. Based on a variety of forecasts, including those that you have quoted previously, the likely number of plug-in vehicles and full electric vehicles will probably be relatively low during the next decade. So their impact on battery use will also be somewhat muted. Yes, it is better to maximize overall savings rather than optimize peak savings. But this is not a case of mutual exclusivity. And, yes the US will be subsidizing a suboptimal result. But if it substantially moves the ball down the field, I’ll accept that.
    3. I suspect a substantial portion of the battery production will be used for other purposes, notably scooters and bicycles.
    4.I feel you have a stronger argument contrasting advanced lead acid for micro & mild hybrids versus full hybrids, plug-ins & EVs, particularly as a “next step”.
    5. While I agree with you about using natural gas, I feel the short to medium term targets should be vehicles other than autos, e.g. buses, waste disposal trucks, delivery, etc. These offer the potential for much better “bang for the buck”.
    It is interesting that you mentioned the billions who want what we millions have. When I am discussing energy, particularly the price of oil in the future, I try to use the following comparison: The roughly 350 million people in the USA and Canada use about 25 barrels of oil per capita per year. The roughly 3.5 to 4 billion people in China, India and Africa use about 2 barrels. If they increased their consumption by just 1 barrel (and “all else remained equal”)the USA and Canada would need to cut consumption by about 10 barrels or roughly 40%!
    Which do you think will happen faster, increase in 3rd world consumption or decrease in North American consumption? This is one reason I think natural gas for fleet vehicles is inevitable.

  6. Mike, the new CAFE standards are 27.3 mpg for 2011 and increase from there. For purposes of a general discussion like this, a baseline assumption of a 30 mpg ICE is not unreasonable and it makes the numbers very easy to follow.
    To insure that I’m making an apples to apples comparison, I have to start with a new ICE, a new HEV and a new plug in. If we try and factor in the existing fleet the math gets way too complicated for readers to follow.
    The battery size numbers vary from car to car and as soon as I pick examples, I’m wrong. The Deutsche Bank estimates were more than adequate to prove the point and they saved me a lot of nit picking from people who would think any choices I made arbitrary.
    I also agree about lead-carbon, but if I beat that drum too hard I can be easily dismissed as a hack. So I try to exercise some restraint to avoid that problem.
    I can virtually guarantee that we’ll have a wide variety of solutions and they’ll all have markets. I also agree that CNG is more likely in the heavy vehicle than the light vehicle market, and that’s fine too. But it’s hard not to love a solution that offers a 1 for 1 replacement of imports with a domestic product.
    Somebody needs to point out simply and clearly that plug-ins are not the panacea the industry has made them out to be. There are other choices that are both cheaper and more beneficial for society as a whole. I really believe most people want to get as close to doing the right thing as possible. Telling people that the only right thing comes with a plug is patently false and I seem to be the only one pointing that out on a regular basis.
    I don’t know what I think about global warming and I really don’t care how people spend their own money, but I’ve spent enough time in Asia to be scared for my kids and grandkids if we don’t make more room at the table. Solutions like plug-ins that pretend to make room but really don’t bother me a lot.
    If I can get a few people to start using their heads for something besides hat racks it will be worth the effort.

  7. The numbers DO NOT tell a different story, for one you are giving only particular scenarios but let’s look at each a little more closely and fairly…
    Your first comparison is 1.5 million EVs vs 15 million Prius HEVs. Why don’t you compare 1.5 million vs an equal 1.5 million??? 15 million EVs blows the HEVs out of the water in gasoline savings. 60 billion gallons of gasoline saved with EVs and only 2.4 billion with your Prius.
    You then go on to think every EV is going to be getting it’s power via coal fire plants! How narrow minded are you? In my area it’s all hydro power, and coal is on it’s way out. More then half of America’s power is by other sources. Do things one step at a time, but you seem to think since this is still no good we may as well not do that? Please! Did you calculate the pollution it takes to drill, pipe, ship, refine & distribute that gasoline??? Of course not.
    Once again, your ‘final nail’ only compares the Volt? What about the Hyundai iMEV that will only be about 22k and pure electric? Oh another fact you conveniently left out, there are several more affordable EVs.
    Sorry but you can keep touting all you like but your blogs are extremely biased and I am willing to bet your tied in with big oil.
    Your article is nonsense and doesn’t hold water.

  8. John,
    Thanks for clarifying. I agree with your use of simplifying assumptions. I do it “all the time”. The reason I picked the nits this time was that the difference in results was potentially as much as 4x.
    I too have traveled “a fair bit” and am concerned for my grandchildren. Few people even partially understand what the developed world, and the USA in particular, is up against. Asia will be able to outbid us for oil. Their consumption is still so low, for them it will have tangible payback. In contrast, much of our consumption is discretionary if not frivolous.
    Closer to home, two years ago there were demonstrations in Latin America due to the spike in price for basic food staples, e.g. tortillas. And in Haiti, there was a thriving trade in “mud pies”. Patties of mud, water, lard and salt were being baked on the ground by the sun and sold as human food. Certainly that is not tenable long term.
    Regarding transportation alternatives, I think you are generally on the correct track. I suggest that it may be time to coalesce your thoughts into a more comprehensive document.

  9. Roy, Deutsche bank estimated 36 million kWh of total battery production in 2015.
    If all those batteries are used in plug-ins you’ll get 1.5 million energy efficient cars.
    If all those batteries are used in HEVs, you’ll get 15 million fuel efficient cars.
    Reality will be somewhere in the middle.
    These are the absolute limits of what is possible and the only way to get more of either class of fuel efficient cars is to build more battery plants.
    In the average US utility HEVs have a 10x advantage over PHEVs in terms of CO2 emission reduction. In a perfectly clean grid or tied to solar panels they have a 4x advantage over PHEVs. The numbers will never get better than that.
    I can explain this stuff to you but can’t understand it for you, particularly when you obviously don’t want to understand.

  10. John, I haven’t been too enthusiastic about your articles until I read that a pure EV in the US emits about 130-200gCO2/km with the current generation mix. Then, the new VW Polo diesel gets 90g/km, no batteries at all. Not too good a prospect for EVs right now. Now in Norway, this changes quite a bit, an EV will generate practically none. Of course there are also other issues here besides efficiency and CO2 reduction, particularly using energy from domestic sources. My guess is that it might be good for US to encourage PHEVs for this reason alone. Depending on Hugo Chavez isn’t too appealing to a lot of people. Not sure if you can quantify that one John…but give it a try. Last I heard the Iraq war cost us a pretty penny.

  11. Roger, the value I calculated for an EV plugged into the average US utility is 146 g/mile, or roughly 91 g/km. In countries like Switzerland and France that rely heavily on hydro and nuclear, the carbon footprint of an EV is much lower.
    While I’m no fan of plug-ins, I think HEVs are the greatest thing since sliced bread because they use a little bit of battery capacity to recover braking energy and boost fuel economy by 40%.
    Since I agree wholeheartedly that moving away from imported oil ASAP should be a high priority, my all time favorite is an HEV with a compressed natural gas fuel system. That particular combination uses no imported oil and is cleaner than plugging an EV into the average utility. It’s also way cheaper to buy than a car with a plug.

  12. I don’t disagree with your analysis – although I’m not an expert in this field at all, the assumptions you make to get your numbers seem pretty reasonable. Where I have an issue is your black/white perspective on the issue. 2015 isn’t a long way away, just a few years. There should be no doubt that many cars on the road today (mostly ICE, some HEV, no PEV) will still be on the road in 5 years when this new Li-ion capacity becomes operational. But you completely discount the demand side of the equation.
    Building a market for PEV/PHEV’s is important, since these vehicles are (or will be) obviously very efficient at reducing emissions and other negative externalities associated with oil extraction. Having a successful initial rollout is important (even if somewhat inefficient) because it can show that the technology is viable. It’s expected that the first generations of these vehicles will be somewhat expensive, subsidized (either publicly or by car companies) relative to their real costs, and still somewhat quirky in their operation, especially considering the infrastructure changes that will be required to operate them. But these are the products that the ‘early adopters’ flock to, and the same role that was played by, say, the first Honda Insights 10 years ago. Yes, there are many people who will pay an extra $10k to be completely removed from the oil economy. (There are many people who pay far more than that just to have an exclusive brand of car, one with zero additional functionality compared with a cheaper vehicle.) Sure, we expect HEV’s to be more efficient (per dollar) at reducing emissions, and to be a better choices for the masses. But fast-forward another 5 or ten years after than (2020-2025), the market strength and viability of EV’s and PHEV’s (and efficiency, in terms of dollars) will depend heavily on the success of the first gen rollout of these innovative cars.
    Thus, new battery factory production doesn’t need to be ’15 million HEVs or 1.5 million EV’s’, like the Forbes article suggested – a mix would be ideal, leaning heavily (but not entirely) towards HEV’s. I think you aknowledge this in your response to Roy above (‘Reality will be somewhere in the middle’). So it’s only your fanatical anti-EV tone that is misplaced, and, judging from some of the comments, drawing readers’ ire.

  13. I certainly can’t disagree with your analysis because I’m convinced that the market makeup will eventually be some combination of HEV and plug-in.
    When it comes to government policy, however, they need to be clear what the policy is.
    If the policy is reducing oil imports and CO2 emissions, then subsidizing plug-ins is beyond worthless, in fact it’s counter productive.
    If the policy is subsidizing an industry that won’t make a big difference in oil imports or CO2 emissions for decades, but is necessary farther out, then say so.
    Whatever the truth is, explain it clearly and own its consequences.

  14. Previewing your Comment
    A few quick notes:
    Forbes states the 5.6 million projected EV sales for 2015 includes HEVs, PHEVs, and EVs. Since this is a combo, it is implied that the number of HEVs will definately be much less than 15 million. It is certainly valid to speculate that much of the EV battery companies will go bust. However, these numbers indicate to me that based on projected demand for the different EV types, they will have an adequate amount.
    I believe that while your numbers show correctly a short term benefit to focusing on HEVs, it is dangerously myopic. If the goal is reduced carbon emissions, reduced crude imports, or simply a cheaper car to run, a mix of EVs and PHEVs is without a doubt the better long term solution, and incentives should be given to promote them. Yes, it may take 10 or 20 years before they truly (sans incentive) compare in price tag, but if we don’t start now, when? Not all vehicles will turn into EVs and PHEVs, so HEVs are clearly a good alternative to the current standard vehicle. HEVs will be a dominant force in the near-term regardless. I think the push now should be on getting HEVs to keep increasing their market share (more than doubled in the past 5 years), and to make sure PHEVs and EVs have as start reminiscent of the prius’s.
    Another comment brought up the actual carbon cost of these different types. HEVs are obviously better than regular cars as they can be directly compared. I will leave the detailed explanations to the url below, but PHEVs are much better than HEVs and EVs are far better yet. This is because of the higher efficiency of electric motors. It is also because of the higher efficiency of the fuel source, even if you are burning coal 100% of the time which you wouldn’t be. When you add everything up–carbon cost of car materials, full path of fuel sources, etc.–EVs followed by PHEVs are a clearly superior choice. There is also an incredible $ cost savings for using electric as opposed to gasoline.
    For reference:
    I know, it’s from a biased website, but if you leaf through the article it cites many reputable sources. (obnoxiously many).
    On combustion fuel types: In the long run we need to move away from all of these–as much as reasonably possible. Natural gas, while better than gasoline from crude, is far from good. While ethanol and other renewable carbon fuels may also emit less and even be carbon neutral in some respects, they still release CO2 and other greenhouse gases/pollutants which we breathe and which still affect the greenhouse effect. I want to point this out because the carbon going into the upper atmosphere from renewable fuels would be coming from sources in or near the ground, so in reference to global warming they are not carbon neutral. I am not against these fuel sources, I think they will be very important as a near and probably mid-term solution. They just aren’t as flawless as they are touted.
    Finally I wanted to touch on Roger’s comment about diesel cars. They are certainly vastly improved from where they used to be. That being said, they are my last choice of all. Not even taking hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle into account, they are the worst choice as far as emissions among similar sized regular vehicles. I’m not going to dive into this much further, but I will say that while they might decrease the CO2 count, they dangerously increase other worse gases. Worst of all they greatly increase particulate matter (PM) emissions which is a huge cause of recent spikes in children with asthma. There is simply no such thing as clean diesel.
    Cheers 🙂

  15. I’ve been corresponding with a member of the original EV1 engineering team on unrelated matters and a message from him provided some clarity when he said:
    “Your article pointed out the lack of understanding the whole picture when it comes to vehicle efficiency. It’s been some time now since my days in that industry, but even then a few of us were speaking of system efficiency as the goal and talking hybrid. ”
    When the analysis focuses on a single vehicle, then EVs look far better. When you look at the transportation system, however, including all of the required resource inputs, then EVs look terrible in comparison to less ambitious, more affordable and more reliable HEVs.
    Subsidizing the worst choice for the system is insane policy.

  16. There are a couple of flaws to your argument:
    1. Your comparison of 1.5 million EV compared to 15 million HEVs is a little uneven. Please compare 15 million Extended-Range Electric Vehicles (EREVs, also known as “Series” PHEVs) like the GM Volt to 15 million HEVs like the Toyota Prius for a completely fair comparison. EREVs (“Series” PHEVs) are far superior to HEVs in both mpg and CO2 reduction. (I do understand the reason for the uneven comparison is based on battery availability, but this is a false premise, see #3 below.) EREVs (“Series” PHEVs) blow HEVs away in both categories, mpg and CO2 reduction. Full EVs are better still. It’s all about getting off fossil fuels for light truck and car transportation. The advantage will fall increasingly to pure electric transportation.
    2. Your claim that the $10,000 price difference for the GM Volt will prevent the wide spread purchase and use of PHEVs like the Volt is myopic. This is the exact same argument made for why the Prius did not make sense compared to improved mpg ICE vehicles. Ten years ago, and even five years ago, the Prius was regarded as too expensive. Yet after tens years of hearing this argument, the Prius is now considered a fine and economically sensible choice, it is selling gangbusters, other companies are trying to imitate Toyota, and past naysayers are now completely sold on HEVs like the Prius. Paradigms are at play here. The Parallel-Series HEV is an overly complicated designed necessitated because electric motors were not light-weight enough and batteries did not have the energy density, power density, or deep cycle life to push the vehicle on their own. That was ten years ago and it’s no longer true today. Lithium Ion batteries and new more powerful light-weight electric motors make Extended-Range Electric Vehicles a better option now. A fully electric drive system is much simpler than the drive system of a typical ICE vehicle, and will therefore be cheaper at future large scale production levels. (…and simpler still than Toyota’s Hybrid “Synergy” Drive used in the Parallel/Series HEV Prius) The simpler drive will easily make up for the higher cost for the 16kWh battery in the GM Volt in the future. (…if the battery even stays at a higher cost) Yes, the Volt is higher cost now, most new technologies are, the Prius was. No, it won’t be in the future. The GM Volt and other EREVs are going to find market acceptance much faster than the Prius did.
    This Wall Street Journal on-line article makes the point that the technology is simpler for me: “Technology Levels Playing Field in Race to Market Electric Car” – January 2009
    “Indeed, BYD’s all-electric e6, has just two motors (45 parts each), one powering the front axle and the other the rear, and two gearboxes (60 parts each) to go with each of the motors. That means the whole system has 210 primary parts, excluding nuts and bolts. In comparison, BYD’s F6, a gasoline-fueled vehicle, has a total of 1,400 powertrain parts: a V6 engine composed of 840 parts and a transmission with 560 parts.”
    210 parts for an EV compared to 1,400 for an ICE. The EV is far simpler. Initial cost of the vehicle will be less, except for the battery, and maintenance will be less. An EREV is essentially just an EV will a small battery and a small range-extending fuel generator. It is still much simpler and will be cheapest of all in large production volumes …without any of the range anxiety EVs might have.
    Since 78% of USA drivers travel less than 40 miles per day, driving all-electric for the first 40 miles provides huge reductions in fuel use. EREVs (“Series” PHEV) can easily achieve over 100 mpg in typical USA driving conditions. EVEN SUV VERSIONS OF EREVs CAN DO THIS. HEVs are going to be completely out classed, as are high mpg ICEVs. There is no down-side to EREVs and they are the perfect mass-production transition to Full EVs whenever batteries, fuel-cells, or whatever, become even more cost effective. EREVs are the next sweet spot. HEVs were the last sweet spot. Technology marches on. The world is not flat. The lithium sky is not falling.
    3. Your basic claim is an “either or” one. Why? Soft HEVs like the Prius will continue to be produced. PHEVs like the GM Volt and Fisker Karma will be sold. Full EVs like the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi iMIEV will also be sold. There are plenty of materials to do this and manufacturing can be scaled to produce the batteries needed. Remember that something like 2/3 of the USA auto-industry was converted in a few years to produce the tanks and other military vehicles needed during WW2. We also tripled our plane output.
    If this does not happen, then pricing in the market will sort things out and we will have a different mix. You still don’t get to decide and you should not want to!
    There is plenty of lithium available: “Lithium in Abundance” – April 2008
    “He estimates it at 28.4 million tonnes of lithium, which is equivalent to 150 million tonnes of lithium carbonate.”
    28.4 million Tonnes of lithium
    1 Tonne = 1,000 kilograms
    28.4 billion kilograms of lithium total
    Using 80 grams per kWh for 16kWh battery = 1280 grams = 1.28 kilograms / battery
    (The GM Volt uses a 16kWh battery for an all-electric range of 50 miles.)
    28.4 billion kilograms / 1.28 kilograms = 22.1875 billion
    ~ 22 billion EREVs like the GM Volt. This should be more than enough.
    …especially with improvements in NiMH, Pb-carbon, Pb-graphite, Pb coated nanotubules, NiZn, Zn-air, NaS (GE trains & grid), LiS, NiH2, NiNaCl, super-capacitors, fuel cells, and whatever else, over the next decade or two of Lithium Ion battery dominance. I don’t think the improvements in mpg for the traditional ICE are going to cut it. Lithium Ion based EREVs (“Series” PHEVs) have arrived and EVs will be part of the mix.
    Axion (Pb-carbon) and Anzode (NiZn) and PowerGenix (NiZn) claim 1,500 cycles, 1,200 cycles and 500 cycles respectively. First two are twice the life of NiMH at reduced price. This is certainly good enough for Soft HEV use. There does not have to be a conflict with lithium availability here.
    4. Lastly, natural gas for light trucks and cars is a great idea for fools who want jump out of the fire and into the frying pan. (…and yes, I know it’s backwards. Analogy fits better that way.) It is another limited fossil fuel. Why use it for transport? Very short sited! Battery electric transport is going to solve this problem and EREVs are ready to fill our light truck and car transport needs now.

  17. @ Cathryn Symons,
    “What do you think of the idea that plugin vehicles should be developed because their benefit will be greater as the grid decarbonises, and they also have potential in grid load balancing (vehicle-to-grid ideas)?”
    I also don’t know about V2G, but you are correct about CO2 reduction and Mr. Peterson is wrong. PHEVs and EVs are way better long term solution.

  18. @ Cathryn Symons,
    “What do you think of the idea that plugin vehicles should be developed because their benefit will be greater as the grid decarbonises, and they also have potential in grid load balancing (vehicle-to-grid ideas)?”
    Like Mr. Peterson, I’m not sure how practical V2G will be, HOWEVER I think you are completely correct about improved CO2 reduction using PHEVs and Mr. Peterson is wrong. PHEVs and EVs are a way better long term solution. There is no reason to hold off for HEVs. They are already being produced. Mr. Peterson’s idea that HEVs and PHEVs/EVs are mutually exclusive is silly and self serving.

  19. @ Marion Zaugg,
    “Phev’s are a big improvement, but we still must buy and maintain two power trains.”
    This is true for modified Prius PHEV which is “Parallel/Series” PHEV. It is not true for the GM Volt which is a “Series” PHEV or Extended-Range Electric Vehicle (EREV). The Volt is essentially an EV with smaller battery for an all-electric range of 50 miles and a small Range-Extending fuel based generator. The drive is exactly the same as an EV. I think of EREVs like the Volt as reduced cost EVs without any range anxiety.
    EREVs like the Volt are all-electric for short ranges that most of us drive on a daily basis…
    …AND they have better long-range HEV performance because the Lithium Ion battery allows for superior regenerative breaking performance. The very best of both worlds!

  20. In connection with the preparation of my recent article “Lithium ion batteries are too valuable to waste on plug in vehicles” I prepared a detailed spreadsheet that shows the gasoline consumption and CO2 impact of using available batteries for HEVs rather than plug ins. The bottom line is that HEVs are 5 to 6 times more effective at reducing gasoline consumption and 9 to 12 times more effective at reducing CO2 emissions. Even with a pristine electric grid which won’t happen for decades, the best CO2 result you can get to is that HEVs are 5 to 6 times better at C02 reduction. You can download the spreadsheet here and check the numbers yourself:
    You are currently laboring under a set of demonstrably false assumptions based on lies promulgated by EV advocates and battery companies. The only way to work past the problem is to review the numbers for yourself.

  21. Again, your calculations were based on your assumption of mutual exclusion. I don’t agree with that assumption. Throw it out and PHEVs+EVs annihilate HEVs.

  22. Again, your calculations were based on your assumption of mutual exclusion. I don’t agree with that assumption. Throw it out and PHEVs+EVs annihilate HEVs.

  23. You can only eliminate the mutual exclusion assumption in a world with unlimited battery manufacturing capacity. Since money, factories and raw materials are never unlimited, you can’t eliminate the mutual exclusivity assumption.

  24. For those who wondered about the comparison of 1.5 million plug-ins vs 15 million HEV, this paragraph explains why these are equal:
    “By 2015 the new factories will have the global capacity to produce 36 million kilowatt-hours of battery capacity, enough to supply 15 million hybrid vehicles, or 1.5 million fully electric cars, says Deutsche Bank.”
    You can allocate this resource to 1.5 million plug-ins, or 15 million HEV. So the comparison is to equal calls on resources.
    The V2G discussion never mentions the power adapter that is required to go from the DC battery to the AC grid. Who pays for that?
    Whether they are in your flashlight, your laptop or power your car, batteries have a few consistent characteristics. They don’t experience an infinite amount of recycles. Where are all these batteries going to go when they die? Before they die, they slowly lose potential. How are drivers going to know what power and range they really have in their vehicle from day to day?
    Many Americans live where there are four seasons. Some, like those in Minneapolis, have 2 seasons: winter, and July 4. For all those people, the internal combustion engine provides the heat. What is going to heat the passenger compartment of the plug-in? Will that heater drain battery? Yikes!


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