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back to article E-cars are a dangerous myth, says top boffin

Politicians' obsession with electric cars is a waste of time - and costing British science and research dear. So says Richard Pike, head of the Royal Chemistry Society, in a hard-hitting contribution to Research Fortnight (pdf). Pike says the £250m tax boondoggle designed to induce us to buy electric cars would save less than 0. …

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Pike's past...

Seem to recall Pike worked for BP for 25 years and that they sponsored him as an undergraduate. Could that have a bearing on his view point?

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Boffin

TOP Boffin?

Sounds like a bit of an idiot if he thinks the govt's tax solution to rising use of electric cars will be an electricity tax. It's road pricing, of course, and only a popular revolution will stop it.

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Shhhhht!

Hush, spoilsport!

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He's right

The main thing about most electric cars is that the pollution is not emitted at the point of use, making cities relatively cleaner but is still emitted at the power station (fuel cell technology is an exception).

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From the article....

"And it's only "cheaper" because petrol is so heavily taxed. Once we all run dinky electric cars, the government will lose so much revenue, it will want to tax electricity, too."

Damn straight - that's exactly why they & their EU masters are so fixated on Road Pricing....for when petrol & diesel tax revenue has all but disappeared.

Two-hats, the lot of 'em!

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Sounds like Sir William Henry Preece

"The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys."

http://www.quotes.net/quote/21123

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Stop

Well, duh - kind of

He's roughly 1/2 right.

*Right now*, if you switched all the fossil fuel-powered cars to 'leecy, the net effect on CO2 emissions would be negligible. Maybe slighly better 'cos electric cars are small and slow and horrible so you won't want to drive as much <*grin*>

But he's missing the point. How does the good professor plan to power vehicles in, say, 20 years time when oil is too expensive/has run out/whatever?

We can make plentiful fuel for electric cars *right now* using nice low CO2 sources like nuclear, wind and solar.

Unfortunately, we don't know how to make large quantities of low-CO2 petrol or diesel. Biofuel and algae-fuel (or whatever) just don't cut it (yet) and nor does LPG.

Until that changes, liquid fuelled vehicles are a technological dead end.

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In other news...

World still a sphere.

No but really, it's like the big energy reality no-on wants to face is that we need to use less energy per person. We've been high on the hog of cheap oil for so long that we can't face the comedown.

What's the alternative?

Renewables? Probably can't supply us with all our energy wants.

More nuclear?

Yeah right. That'll be the one with fuel and by-products that remain toxic for 50,000 years. Or, to put it another way 10x older than Stonehenge, which is already unimaginably old on a human scale.

Sure I trust BNFL and the French, to have made adequate provision for keeping us safe. <wets myself laughing>

Inter alia, mate of mine was stopped by plain clothes coppers in rural Wales last week for taking photos. Turns out he was near a nuclear power station and they get twitchy about people with lenses.

Seriously, we have plain clothes cops permanently hanging out around our nuke plants due to terrorism fears. Well yes, makes sense. Highly vulnerable, tempting target, very toxic materials.

So: Vote nuclear for the surveillance society!

I bet half the people saying 'go noo-klear' on these pages are the ones objecting so vociferously to Phom.

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Missing the point...

Okay so while power stations rely on fossil fuels also there is a point being made here, but that also needs to change, we can no longer afford the dependency on fossil fuels!

Clean, natural energy is what is needed and at that point the cars running on it will live up to the hype!

Until then of course any supposed benefit to the environment is really non-existent but stopping the development of electric cars would be a huge mistake at this stage! It needs to continue unabated and the development of natural power generation needs to catch up with it!

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Mass Debate

I don't know if Pike's argument is valid or not, whether he's biased or prejudiced, but we do need informed debate and decision making on such matters, though that's often anathema to political leadership.

Whether E-Cars are the answer or not, petrol will run out or become non-economically viable in the future.

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Fuel Cells?

Not that much of an exception, their manufacturing still impacts the environment, and to be made at a justifiable cost it will for some time!

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Preaching to...

the converted here.

As for his 'past' having a "bearing on his view point", show me someone who's past doesn't do this. It's how we each form our unique world view. It's called experience.

Or were you just surreptitiously accusing the man of being biased, I wonder.

As for 'renewable' energy, there's only one source that's consistently and reliably available, tidal. (tide come in, tide goes out, tide comes in again, tide goes out again, you get the picture...)

Maybe we should be concentrating more of our research resources on solving the 'problem' of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels for electricity first.

Yay Nuclear!

ps. Comments on an Andrew Orlowski article...

Oooh.

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dpg
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Wow

Wow, so much idiocy in such a small article. Does the Reg have shares in BP or something?

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Single point emissions are easier to control / manage

And improve societal health through cleaner air in cities.

When (not if) we do manage to get fusion running in a stable and productive fashion on the planet we'll be bale to run 'leccy cars with very low CO2 emissions (because no other pollutants count)

Lektricty is a good choice of power for a vehicle - zero burn while stationery - maximum torque at zero revs (i.e. when you're likely to need it).

Unfortunately we can't go and dig up Lektricity, we have to make it.

At the moment we use much the same tech as we have for many years - but centralising this energy production makes it easier to monitor and control. CSS (for example, not a definitive solution) isn't practical for liquid fuelled cars, it's relatively simple at a large power plant.

Solar and wind are poor choices for many things, but for charging a UPS (i.e. my car plugged into my house) they're actually quite reasonable.

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Anonymous Coward

hello, im the electric car

i cant go very fast, or very far

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Quite right too

This fixation on electric cars is ridiculous. Most CO2 is created by industry and industrial transport. These companies directly profit from the production of CO2 so they should be charged for it. Instead, they get a free pass, and we are expected to drive to work more slowly, losing more of our valuable free time so shareholders can make a tidy earner. Fuck that. You can have my hydrocarbon-powered Golf when you pry it out of my cold dead hands.

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Mostly true

As always, the political arguments are being swayed by a very narrow view of the issue (think "bio fuel"). It is true that oil is running out and that we need to get away from oil-powered cars, but equally there are issues that are clearly not being considered properly:

1) We are running out of electricity capacity in the UK and unable or unwilling to sort it out properly (bugger all investment in new plants of any sort: nuclear has the security/waste problems, renewable can't provide enough and/or consistent power, coal is also running out and a big C02/other pollution menace, etc).

How could we power enough cars/vans on top?

2) Infrastructure. I live in a 3rd floor flat, how do I charge a car overnight?

So we *must* have rapid (10 minutes?) garage-like charging to work, and that is not yet workable.

3) Battery chemistry. Do we have the natural resources to make the proposed batteries in the quantity needed for the ~billion vehicles world wide?

4) Pollution. Even with 'clean' electricity, which is currently a minor aspect, what about the process of doing (3) in (most likely) a cheap labour and lax-environment-law country like China, along with the damage to areas where the mining takes place?

Yes, we need a change and electric is the best option for fuel diversity, but I strongly suspect we can't do it without a major drop in use and alternatives like train/bus that so far have failed to get major gov or public support.

As pointed out already, we have got here on the back of squandering oil like it was going out of fashion, and now it is, and we can't really see a way out.

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@frank

So. No oil, no nuclear, and we all know that the amount of energy you can get out of renewables is a tiny fraction of what we're using.

Exactly *how* do you propose to cut down our energy consumption by a full order of magnitude?

Please provide a solution that does not cause ten times more problems than just building nuke plants.

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More Pike's past

Lets see Dr Pike has a 25 year carear at BP, followed by a few years at Gaffney, Cline and Associates (energy consulting outfit) where he worked as a consultant for petrochemicals and power production firms.

Also according to Dr Pike we will never run out of oil, he dosen't like most biofuels or teaching about climate change and global warming in schools.

So this completey unbiased source says electric cars are bad, well I'm convinced.

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Missing the point

Surely what is at issue in not how much the UK chucks at electric car R&D and adoption, but how little it spends on science and engineering in general! As for CO2, the UK is the windiest country in Europe, so wind power could be made to supply a very high % of our needs if only we would stop pandering to the NIMBYs who don't want a windmill within 200 miles of their house or the radical tree huggers who think its a mortal sin to build a wind farm on a blasted bit of moorland that nobody ever visits. Electricity can be produced without direct CO2 emissions and the only way to translate that fact into personal mobility is through electric cars.

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I'm going to work on taming some kind of giant lizard

they we can all ride around on them.

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What I like about this article...

...is the author's commendable commitment to reporting the facts, unbiased, without his own inexpert opinion bleeding in every two words.

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Problems with the counter-argument

"i cant go very fast, or very far"

Doesn't that argument basically boil down to: "Sod the world, I wanna hurtle about while making a really BIG noise"?

Yeah, electric cars aren't great (although they seem perfectly adapted to driving in cities) and anyone with a brain can see that they're not going to decrease carbon dioxide emmission at the moment. I think those pointing this out are kinda missing the point though. As commentators above have suggested, the value of electic cars is in their potential. Detractors should surely point out what they suggest we do instead, or risk their comments appearing trite and redundant..

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Anonymous Coward

reasons not to buy

There's been a discussion on here before about electric cars, and they're are plenty of arguments why they're not the solution to climate change!

And I'll simply repeat one of the arguments why people won't buy electric cars: running costs, and I'm not talking the price of electricity here! I'm talking the cost of replacing the battery after perhaps 4 or 5 years, we're talking thousands of £ !!

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And see here...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_Killed_the_Electric_Car

To see how mad the car and oil companies are.

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nuclear?

Nuclear? ( Have I spelt it right?)

Anyhows, seems to me we have the north sea littered with very deep holes and platforms. How come we can "renovate" these platforms into nuclear power stations. And all the nasty stuff we dont like can simply be flushed down tthe hole? (Dont they pump down concrete to fill any viods?)

There are even pipelines to bring in the electricity produced?

Hurrah!

adios amigas..

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Hope they paid you well for this

36% is the lower end of the efficiency scale for power plants, 35-48% is normal. New gas powered plants can hit 60%. A regular internal combustion engine will maybe get 20%.

As for cost, electricity doesn't require oil tankers, depots or filling stations, just nice cheap wires (compare to the costs of maintaining a fleet of tankers). Less people involved, less time and money wasted. Of course it will mean less jobs if you only have a Daily Mail level of understanding of economics.

Oh well, can't let the facts get in the way of a good troll. Wait, it wasn't even a good troll, frankly it was lackluster, 3/10.

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Anonymous Coward

@Palladius

that comment is a quote from the simpsons. to finish it off, "and if you drive one, people will think you're gay"

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The oil won't run out

"Also according to Dr Pike we will never run out of oil"

In this case, he's right. We won't, it'll just become more inaccessible and expensive to produce, which *may* have the same effect in the long run.

This is already what's happening as the oil companies turn to stuff like ultra-deep water, oil sands, hydrates etc.

Just look at what's happening in the sub salt plays off Brazil and tell me we'll run out of oil any time soon...

However, I'm all in favour of getting rid of the motor and replacing it with a leccy job, but not at the cost of bleeding off the little funding available for R&D in this country.

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What we need

Is for this guy to realize that the issue is more that we need to find something to replace our fossil fuel dependant vehicles with and one end of the erquation needs to be implemented first.

Personally, I'd prefer a decent, nationalized electric public transport system. Keep the cars for getting to/ from the hubs and try y'know cycling or walking more.

But then again, it's our RIGHT to drive isn't it?

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Shifting the problem...

Moving from combustion engines to battery power is simply moving the problem from one finite resource, to another.

How long, once there are 500 million battery powered vehicles on the worlds roads, until we run out of the resources required to build the batteries?

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Waiter! These grapes are sour

The rather irrelevant comparison between the money his lot get for research and the amount the government is prepared to "waste" on electric cars is a basically a rant. Even if the govt. cancelled the electric car scheme his scientist chums still wouldn't get any more cash - as it's been assigned to a different department of the government.

A better approach would be for the chemists out there to start thinking along the lines of "batteries use chemicals to store power ........ maybe we should propose some research initiatives to improve their efficiency and capacity?" rather than sitting in a corner grumbling about how all these other groups are much better at lobbying than they are.

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36% efficiency not bad compared with internal combustion engine

IC engines have around 15% efficiency, so even if you lost half of the energy generated at the power station in the supply network, you're still doing better with an electric engine. Also, electric engines are quieter, cleaner, more powerful and don't need any particular kind of fuel.

So while, of course, the current set of govt initiatives are probably bollocks, no doubt the result of lobbying from the car industry, there is nothing wrong with the technology.

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Biased

As usual with these one-sided, highly biased articles this one misses the point. Yes electric cars today suck, and yes they aren't hugely more CO2-efficient than petrol/diesel cars.

But the point is to get our transport system weaned off of oil, a resource which might not run out but will continuously get more expensive and more environmentally destructive as we have to go to much more trouble to extract and refine it (eg. from tar sands). Not to mention the huge political, economic and security problems of our entire economy being dependent on a resource we can only source from a small number of unfriendly and unstable countries.

An infrastructure of electric cars powered by nuclear plants would solve this problem neatly, and take a fair whack off CO2 emissions at the same time. We could then stop wasting oil in ground transport and leave it for where it's really needed (aircraft, plastics manufacturing and the military). Might not be so good for Pike and his backers at BP though...

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Anonymous Coward

Short sighted.

Petrol comes from abroad.

Electricity comes from here.

Yes, a bit simplistic, but true enough to make a big difference to the maths.

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Rob
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Just don't get it

They talk about electric cars like everyone is going to buy one.

The simple fact is that no not everyone is going to buy them, I tend to run my car into the ground so I should be driving it for another 5 years at least, my next motor needs to be about £2500 second hand cause that's all I'll be able to afford.

Mass adoption is the only way any benefits from electric cars will be seen and if you get mass adoption what happens to all the cars that will need to be scrapped. Surely it makes so much more sense to develop an actual liquid fuel that will require a modification to the engine at worst, less scrappage, quicker adoption etc. The fact that the Gov and industry are keener on electric smacks of corruption and a selfish interest in profits rather than actually helping the bigger picture.

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Go

blah

we've put up with fuel taxation for too long

that is all I have to say on this issue

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The comparison to fueled power plants is definitely a set-up

If your choice is burn the oil in the car or in the power plant, then indeed, there is not too much point in an electric car, except for the possibility of improvement single-point control of emissions.

However, we can built solar, wind, tidal, nuclear, and biomass-powered electric plants, but those technologies are not so practical when applied directly to auto transport (a "tidal car", that would be useful). "Smart" car-chargers could be made responsive to fluctuations in load/supply, so that your car could charge overnight using power as it was available (thus dealing with the issues of "but wind power is unreliable, tidal power has dead spots").

All of the problems with cars (of either sort) are improved by making the cars smaller. A half-size car needs a half-size battery, consuming half the resources per car, etc.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Quite right too

"Most CO2 is created by industry and industrial transport."

Check your facts.

Overall energy in the UK (in 2001) was 22% industry, 30% domestic, 34% transport.

Of that transport figure, 62% is for cars. Only 34% is for freight. The rest is motorbikes & buses.

Energy consumption in industry is falling (and has done so for years). On the other hand, transport energy consumption has almost doubled since 1970.

Source: http://www.berr.gov.uk/energy/statistics/publications/ecuk/page17658.html

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Energy audit

What we need is a (publicly available, fully transparent) national energy audit updated every 3 to 5 years. This would highlight what aspects of our economy use the greatest amount of energy, and in what form. This in turn would enable policy makers to focus resources on those aspects that would give the greatest return in lower carbon footprint etc for our pound.

Otherwise all we get is a piecemeal approach, grabbing at the latest "new thing", environmentally friendly gadget that will be the saviour of mankind, whether that is electric vehicles, nuclear energy, wind power etc ad infinitum.

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Exports

Trouble is, every other modern country is going the same way, ie going for massive token efforts: change every lightbulb to a more expensive version, change every car to a more expensive electric one...

What this means, is that if we can get ahead in this technology, then we can rake in a fortune from all of the other countries, enough money to actually do something worthwhile, and by then we may have worked out something that does make sense.

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It's just Bad Research

The "boffin" also failed to take account of charging efficiency - we have to assume whatever efficiency on the generation of electricity from the source it comes from, but the charging efficiency hits all cars.

It's a very misguided picture which is somehow trying to make a point about emissions (which, once charging is taken into account, may not be reduced if we use coal or gas to generate the electricity) and energy at the same time. If your electricity comes from a zero- or low-emission source, do the electrical inefficiencies matter much as they are - by definition - not contributing (or not contributing much) to additional emissions?

If it is a comparison between fossil fuels via a battery and fossil fuels in the car itself then yes, the figures should be quoted as MWe and MWth so people can make a fair comparison. That doesn't mean the whole electric vehicle thing is rubbish though.

I still think the whole issue is much more about diverse energy sources and electric vehicles give you the choice of how to get the juice rather than just sucking up oil, chucking it through some fractional distillation and sticking it in the tank. Hydrogen could give the same flexibility.

Somehow these other benefits are lost though in a pointless and obvious rant which comes down to "the units are different".

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Coat

confusion

facts vs opinion

seems a common theme

mine's the one without a label and the keys to an electric range rover sport

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Coat

Short Sighted too...

"Petrol comes from abroad. Electricity comes from here. Yes, a bit simplistic, but true enough to make a big difference to the maths."

And just where do you think a huge (and ever increasing) proportion of the fossil fuels that go to make electricity come from these days then, JonB?

Go on, guess.

That's right, ABROAD.

Simplistic? - yes.

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Bit out of date with his numbers

'Only 36 per cent of energy available in the fuel in a power station is delivered as electricity'

Combined cycle gas stations like those that dominate UK energy production rate at over 60% efficient. Throw in distributed heating systems where they supply local populations with hot water and heating and you can be looking at round about 80% of the energy in the fuel going to useful purposes.

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Boffin

I scoff at the prof

The prof (if that is what he is) points out himself that "in the UK, 10kWh delivered into an electric car results in average emissions of 5.5kg. In France this is already close to zero, as more than 85 per cent of electricity is generated from nuclear and renewable sources." Why can't this become true of the UK too? This is the main point about electric cars and he ignores it completely. Petrol *has* to involve carbon emissions. Electricity doesn't.

There is another problem in that he does not make a fair comparison: he measures efficiency over different parts of the energy distribution process for each type of car. If he is going to look at electric vehicle's energy efficiency in units of 'energy content of fuel burnt at the power station per mile driven', he should look at diesel and petrol vehicle's energy efficiency in comparable terms, for instance 'energy content, including embodied energy of refining and distribution, of fuel burnt in the engine per mile driven'. That's not a very easy number to get hold of, but using it might increase the energy per mile of petrol and diesel cars by 30-40% (Treloar et al., 2004, cited in Without the Hot Air). That would obviously make electric vehicles look a lot better, even on TODAY'S technologies, and electric cars still have plenty of room for improvement. Although today's electric cars achieve around 20kWh/100km, many current prototypes approach double that efficiency.

In terms of carbon emissions, he aims to mislead again. He compares the CO2 emissions associated with feeding 10kWh to an electric car and to a petrol car: 5.5kg and 2.6kg respectively. We are supposed to conclude that petrol is better for the environment! Even using his numbers, 10kW gets you 50km in an electric and only 12.5km in a petrol car, so driving a petrol car means you emit just under twice as much carbon as if you went electric. That's because power stations are about twice as efficient as automotive internal combustion engines, even including distribution losses*.

Richard Pike accuses the government of woolly thinking but he's guilty of some himself - or else he has an anti-e-car agenda. If so then the real problem with what he's written is that he is spin-doctoring the facts for political ends, while wearing the scientific authority of the Royal Society of Chemistry. There are serious political questions here, about how to manage climate and energy security risk and what to do about them, but science should be about facts. If we let people treat science and politics the same it'll be bad for all of us - we expect to compromise in politics, but you can't negotiate with facts. Its hard enough to separate the science from the politics anyway, this guy should be ashamed of himself for debasing his scientific credibility to dress up his political opposition to electric cars.

*Whereas a decent petrol or diesel engine only converts 20-25% of the fuel's thermal energy to mechanical energy (http://mb-soft.com/public2/engine.html), or just 14-18% if you include the embodied energy of refining and distribution, even an old and creaky large coal power station can convert 36% of the fuel's thermal energy to electricity, and a shiny new one can convert 48% (ok I admit I looked on Wikipedia), which works out as 28-40% after distribution (8% distribution loss figure from National Grid). The equivalent numbers for gas, as already mentioned, are 60% and 52%.

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ian
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Damnit!

Where is my atomic car? THIS is obviously the answer to global warming.

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Arthur Scargill has the solution

reopen all the coal mines and generate non CO2 friendly lecky , well that's unless they can get carbon capture to work.

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Shipping *far* worse

Reading through Slashdot, I came across this article:

http://www.gizmag.com/shipping-pollution/11526/

In short, large container ships are *far* worse that cars - 15 of the largest container ships emit as much sulphur oxides as all the cars in the world. Seems to me that they should go nuclear. Of course, given they are run by commercial companies, we *would* have nuclear disasters. Sigh.

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second hand market

"The simple fact is that no not everyone is going to buy them, I tend to run my car into the ground so I should be driving it for another 5 years at least, my next motor needs to be about £2500 second hand cause that's all I'll be able to afford."

True but all cars only have a lifetime of 10-15, maximum 20 years. So 10 years or so after the first electric cars have come out you'll find your 2500 quid 2nd hand cars are those electric cars that were new 10 years ago. As long as the govt. doesn't go overboard the national fleet could get replaced like this through natural attrition, no unnecessary scrapping of working cars.

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