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I published an article on my company's weekly internal website about the Volt. I posted a copy on gm-volt.com Image1.jpg

One employee posted a comment questioning the "green-ness" of manufacturing lithium batteries and later disposing or recycling them, asking if mass producing cars like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf poisoning the environment worse than they are helping.
This is the exact comment:
As a point of feedback that I would like the NI Green Team to address, is what is the total energy input of electric cars and is it really worth it (in a strict energy savings sense) to purchase an electric vehicle. How much energy is spent in making (or more importantly, disposing) of the battery? Are these batteries going to pose an environmental risk to the areas they are disposed in? Do electrical batteries for these vehicles support enough charge cycles to gain the benefit of not having to pay for gas (even if the answer is yes just to develop the network)?
I remember only a few years back that ethanol was being pushed as a big idea for helping us to cut our dependence on oil until everyone realized that it actually took more energy to produce and distribute the ethanol than it ended up saving us. Are electric cars (with their very big batteries) really the way to go, or are they just a temporary measure until we find a truly sustainable answer?
I would like to give an honest informed answer, even if it doesn't look good for lithium powered electric vehicles. Does anyone have any insight about this?
 

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Lithium looks to be a fairly green, especially when compared with say lead acid batteries. And there appear to pretty good options for recycling/repurposing the batteries after the use in vehicles. But I think the guy is right on about ethanol, it doesn't make economic sense. Ethanol is only able to be considered because we subsidize corn big time. Without that subsidy ethanol is an absolute no go. And even with it, the economics are still shaky at best. But I don't think the same can be said of lithium. True there are subsidies for these early EVs, but the auto makers understand that is a time limited thing, and that at some point these things have to pay for themselves, hence the limit of 200k per manufacturer.

My view is that electric motors will power the car of the future, but what is in question right now is what will be the source of the electrons. So lithium may be an interim step, but right now it is the best game in town.
 

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Lithium itself is not toxic. In contrast, I don't think I'd care to drink any of the gasoline it will displace. I read about a demonstration where the chairman of BYD drank a cup of his Li Ion electrolyte though.
 

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But I think the guy is right on about ethanol, it doesn't make economic sense. Ethanol is only able to be considered because we subsidize corn big time. Without that subsidy ethanol is an abosulte no go. And even with it, the economics are still shaky at best.
Corn ethanol may be a "no go" now, but ethanol can be produced out of other "green" matter", such as weeds, grass clippings and undigestable vegetable material (for example, corn stalks and husks). The amount of ethanol may be lesser, but I believe there will be a way to grab grass and brush clippings, ferment it, and produce a few gallons of ethanol a month, which will be enough for E85 vehicle owners. Combined with photovoltaics roof panels, future Volt owners could be energy free for life. I am expecting to see the next generation Volt with a E85 engine when I have the opportunity to buy it locally.

Raymond
 

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Sustainable? Nothing is sustainable, really. Everything takes "industry" to sustain it. The only sustainable form of travel is floating down a river on a log or nature's travel - wind. Sailboats appear to fit his needs well.

I was watching shows called Megafactories last night and they showed the mega factory in Mexico that builds the Chevy Hemi engines for the Dodge Challenger. Sure looks like they use a lot of energy to make such engines. Now, for the Volt, they need an engine and a electric motor. If you had a pure EV with battery and motor, you seem to need less resources than a full gasoline engine. Fewer resources like radiator, coolant, exhaust, gas tank, fuel system, etc. Those take resources to make including machining the stamping plants dies, getting the ore, refining into metal roll, stamping the metal into shapes using huge iron dies which need energy to melt again into new dies for the next model.

He didn't ask the right question. That is the resource consumption of rare earths to make the LiON batteries an the traction motor magnets. China has much of these in their country and the USA has some in Utah, I believe. Also, Bolivia is a great source of Lithium. There will be a limited supply of that (just like oil) so if we make billions of LiON batteries - over time, there will be a resource shortage just like oil. Prices will rise, etc. There just isn't a battery material yet that can be recharged an indefinite number of times. Once that is designed - it's less of a problem.

An EV should use less resources to make than a gasoline vehicle. However, even if it were equal, the savings comes in the constant energy usage and resource consumption savings you are imparting on the oil industry. If you use 5000 gallons less in a car over its lifetime using an EV and if 1 million people did the same, the overall savings would grow.

And, I know it's a touchy subject, but you also save jobs - an EV should require less maintenance at the shop due to no oil changes, radiator flush/fills, catalytic converter replacements, environmental system repairs (oh, I hate oxygen sensors), hose leaks, heater core failures, etc. At the factories, not many jobs are lost as most factories now use heavy-automation already to make cars. Those repair-shop guys can then go work for tow-truck compaies so that Leaf owners who run out of charge can be towed to a charging station :) Had to end with a Leaf-joke there. :)
 

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A detailed study that answers some of these questions is "Contribution of Li-Ion Batteries to the Environmental Impact of Electric Vehicles" which is available at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es903729a.

The study concludes that "The Li-ion battery plays a minor role regarding the environmental burdens of E-mobility irrespective of the impact assessment method used".
 

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Regarding ethanol, I think its funny that in all of the statistics nobody considers the byproduct, and uses outdated statistics from a 2001 Study.

Corn used for ethanol has the starch distilled into alcolhol for fuel leaving behind the nutritious distiller grains which are used for animal feed. The Distillers grain sell for more money than corn alone that would be fed to the animals anyways. So esentially we are producing the corn for animal feed, borrowing it and removing the fuel for our cars, and then giving it back to the animals in a form that is more nutritious for them. Also Ethanol today (not from 2001 study that still get s quoted daily) has about a 1.4 net energy gain. 1 Unit of energy created 1.4 units of energy - Ethanol has advanced leaps and bounds in the last 10 years.

That being said - Lithium is not environmentally toxic as a lead acid battery, and after the automotive life is over they can be used for Energy grid buffers to level out Wind and solar. GM has already contracted with companies to reuse end of life volt batteries. Every small step is a step closer to energy independance.

My hope is an E85 Range extender in my volt. My fuel would be produced (grown/distilled) within 25 miles of my home rater than in Sudi Arabia and shipped halfway around the world. The corn would be irrigated with only rain (no irrigation in iowa) and the leftovers would be fed to animals as it would have been anyway if ethanol was not made. My community will be 100% wind powered in 2012.

Wind and corn powered vehicle in my garge.
 

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>> My community will be 100% wind powered in 2012.

Wow - cool. Are you near N. Dakota? That state has the highest average wind speeds of all the states. Wind in the mid-west is where a lot of RE will come from there.

I also read about a colossal Solar farm to be built in Nevada. If this true, the 250MW will dwarf the Sarnia ontario 80MW site.

http://www.solarindustrymag.com/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.7241
 

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>> My community will be 100% wind powered in 2012.

Wow - cool. Are you near N. Dakota? That state has the highest average wind speeds of all the states. Wind in the mid-west is where a lot of RE will come from there.

I also read about a colossal Solar farm to be built in Nevada. If this true, the 250MW will dwarf the Sarnia ontario 80MW site.

http://www.solarindustrymag.com/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.7241
The 250MW near Primm is only one of many in SoCal/Nev. Several thousand MW of Solar have been permitted in the last couple of years.
 
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