Electric Cars

Saw a few minutes of the 60 minutes episode the other night about the electric car industry springing up in Silicon valley. It seems these tech bubble entrepreneurs are pouring many millions into car start-ups or making their dough available as VC. The Tesla coupe looks cool, beyond the concept-phase and they’ve already got a big backlog of orders. GM is getting on board with the Chevy Volt, but the troubles of the big three make this a sucker’s bet by them – too much like gambling really, like a last gasp, hail Mary. But hail Marys sometimes work.

For more Electric car pr0n, check out some of the offerings from the recent Paris Motor show. Slick.

But the whole thing brings up a bigger issue, what Kunstler refers to as the general American paradigm of “Happy Motoring.” The engine on which this model is based – cheap gas – is just not going to be able to continue. So whether electric cars are green seems to be academic when the model itself is pretty much over. But… are electric cars green?

It seems axiomatic to say that greenhouse emissions would drop considerably if we were plugging in our cars, even if they were running on energy from dirty coal plants. But it’s not true.

Coal generates more CO2 per unit of energy than petroleum. As a pure carbon, coal’s C atoms bond to each other. As a hydrocarbon, petroleum’s carbon atoms are also bonded to hydrogen atoms. These are the bonds that are broken in combustion (providing power), which releases molecules of, in the case of petro, H2O and CO2. In the case of coal, only CO2, because there is no H.

So… running cars on coal-fired power plants = double no good. But a long term advantage to developing electric cars is that they could and will be powered from a source of electricity other than coal.