Group 3 2014: Electric Vehicles

Abstract

An ongoing debate has been raging in recent years about the damaging effects vehicle emissions have on the environment. One of the most debated topic when discussing how to improve the situation is the use of electric vehicles. Will a worldwide switch to electric vehicles help prevent a global climate change? It is quite evident that using electric or hybrid automobiles as alternative methods of fueling will not significantly slow-down or prevent the impact of global warming. Since the industrial revolution, human activity has drastically increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the environment, which are inducing global warming. However, transportation is not the leading producer of greenhouse gases, inventors and scientists are trying to create alternative fueling methods such as electric fueling. The major problem with electric fueling in today’s society is that not only do electric automobiles account for such a small portion of active vehicles but also the way electric is currently produced is actually more environmentally affecting than the burning of gasoline itself. Even if the production of electricity becomes cleaner, making the switch to electric will be not only expensive to both the consumer and country but also would be an inconvenience to the consumer himself.

Background

Global warming is the rise of the average temperature of the earth’s climate and can have a detrimental effect on the earth’s environment and ecosystem. In the last century, the average temperature of the earth’s sea surface has risen 0.8oC. In the fourth assessment of the phenomenon in 2007, it was stated with 90% certainty that global warming is due to human activity increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are gases in the atmosphere that absorb and reemit solar radiation back to the earth’s surface. Though there are several greenhouse gases, the one that is having the largest impact on global warming is carbon dioxide. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has recently made a drastic increased from 280 parts per million (ppm) in 1750 to 392.6 ppm in 2012.

Though the automobile is not the number one producer for carbon dioxide in the environment, the automobile has a complex history that dates back to 1761. In 1761, Jonathan Holguinsiburg invented the first steam engine automobile that was able to carry human passengers. Following Holguinsburg there were a few other engine designs that were either complex or expensive and were not able to be produced for consumer market. However, a combustion engine that ran on petroleum was easy and eventually very economical to produce. A design similar to the modern internal combustion engine was invented by the German inventor Karl Benz in 1886. However, it was not until 1906 until an affordable automobile model known as Ford Model T was invented by Henry Ford. The Ford Model T contained a four-cylinder engine, ran on 13-26 miles per gallon, and could travel as fast as 45 miles per hour. Since then many other models of petroleum-powered vehicles have been produced.

As sales of automobiles rose exponentially, the major concerns for creating a car were to be able to travel longer distances and travel at fast speeds. The earliest car that considered fuel efficiency was the design of the Volkswagen in 1938. The Volkswagen could attain fuel efficiency as high as 30 miles to the gallon. In the 1970’s, the price of gasoline spiked and the demand for fuel-efficient automobiles increased. However, it wasn’t until the 1980’s that fuel efficient automobiles were created by American companies, one being the geo metro that could receive approximately 50 miles per gallon on the highway. Though the automobile has achieved fantastic fuel efficiently, an alternative fueling method must be found not only to protect the environment from global warming but because at current usage rates there is, only 60 years left of available petroleum fuel across the world.

There have been many attempts to create automobiles with alternative fueling methods other than gasoline. However, until recently creating automobiles that were propelled on electricity or other fuel sources were too expensive for consumer market and never took off. Several alternatively fueled automobiles have been created today including: the compressed air engine, solar power engine, the hybrid electric engine, the plug-in electric engine, ammonia fueled engine, hydrogen fueled engine and many more. However, the most popular alternative fueled vehicles in the United States today are the hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in electric vehicle, and hydrogen fueled vehicles. Hybrid electric automobiles are those that combine an internal combustion engine with one or more electric motors. Some hybrid electric automobiles use regenerative braking, which, unlike regular breaks, converts kinetic energy to stored battery energy. Plug- in electric vehicles, on the other hand, uses only one or more electric motors to propel itself. Lastly, the hydrogen-fueled engine uses hydrogen as a fuel source and uses either a conventional combustion engine or a fuel cell engine. A fuel cell converts chemical energy into electrical energy through an oxidation reaction or by reacting with oxygen itself.

Present

Personal and commercial land vehicles release about 1.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases every year. Most of these emissions are released in the form of carbon dioxide, which can negatively affect the environment. For every gallon of gasoline burned in the use of a combustion engine, as the ones found in automobiles and trucks, twenty pounds of carbon dioxide emissions are given off. That means that each year the average vehicle will emit roughly five to nine tons of carbon dioxide in the course of its regular usage. Not only from car emissions, carbon dioxide makes up a large majority of any greenhouse gases produced by human activity, totaling about 82% of all gas emissions that come from humans.

The single largest producing source of carbon dioxide is the combustion of fossil fuels to create electricity. In 2012, 38% of all carbon dioxide emissions and 31% of the total United States greenhouse gas emissions came from the production of electricity by burning fossil fuels. The next largest source of carbon dioxide emissions is the use of fossil fuels in transportation. However, this includes all forms of transportation, not just personal vehicles. Planes, boats, and trains all contribute a significant amount of carbon dioxide emissions by using fossil fuels in their combustion engines. In 2012, the transportation industry contributed 32% of the total carbon dioxide emissions in the United States and 27% of the total greenhouse emissions in general.

The third largest contributor of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is industrial processes, including factories chemical plants. Not only do these industries burn fossil fuels in their combustion engines to run the machines they need, some of the processes themselves produce carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. These processes include the production of cement, iron, steel, and various chemicals. Then, on top of that, almost all of these plants are using high amounts of electricity, which, as stated before, is the largest producer of carbon dioxide emissions, and the increased demand for electricity by industry only makes that production larger.

Not counting the use and demand for electricity, in 2012, industry in the United States was responsible for 14% of all carbon dioxide emissions and 12% of greenhouse emissions in general. The rest of the emissions of carbon dioxide are attributed to residential and commercial usage (9%) and other miscellaneous sources (6%). Therefore, as you can see given this current breakdown of carbon dioxide creation (at least in the U.S.) personal electric automobiles cannot hope to solve the problem of significantly reducing the emissions to the point of environmental impact. On the surface, the most they could do is reduce the emissions from the transportation industry by a mere fraction and even then, by increasing their use, they put more demand on the creation of electricity, which in turn causes more emissions. So unfortunately, and while it was a good attempt, the current employment of electric vehicle and hybrid vehicle technologies is just not enough to significantly help the global environment.

According to the United States Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the amount hybrid vehicles sales, from 1999 to 2012, total 2,569,795 in the United States. The total amount of battery-only electric automobiles sold from 2010 through June 2014 was 97,872 and there were no battery-only vehicles sold before December 2010. If we compare these numbers to the 162,180,360 new automobiles sold in the United States between 2002 and 2012 and assume these are the only automobiles in use, hybrid automobiles only equal about 1.6% of the total amount of automobiles. As well, purely electric automobiles only total about .06% of that amount, which is hardly enough to make a significant impact on the environment. Together the amount of low-emission automobiles still only equal less than 2% of the automobiles being driven every day. Even if hybrids and electric automobiles gave off zero emissions, and we ignore the indirect emissions caused from both the demand of electricity to charge the automobiles as well as the industrial emissions caused by producing them, then the most these low-emission automobiles do is reduce less than 2% of the total yearly emissions from automobiles. This comes out to electric automobiles saving 24,009,003 tons of carbon dioxide emissions while 1,435,614,237 tons of carbon dioxide is still given off each year. So as seen by the statistics presented, even under the most optimistic conditions, the emissions saved by the employment of electric and hybrid automobiles is not all that significant when compared to the emissions given off by the vast majority of other automobiles.

Even though they are a good improvement compared to their conventional combustion engine counterparts, hybrids and electric automobiles still produce greenhouse gas emissions. While conventional combustion engine automobiles give off on average eighty-seven pounds of greenhouse gases per 100 miles driven, hybrid electric automobiles only give off fifty-seven pounds per 100-miles driven, on average. Plug-in hybrid electric automobiles give off sixty-two pound per 100 miles and pure electric automobiles (battery-only) give off fifty-four pounds per 100 miles driven. For 2011, the rough average of miles driven per car was 6,630. This means that, per year, the average conventional car give off 5,768 pounds of greenhouse gases while hybrids give off 3,779, plug-in hybrids 4,111, and pure electric 3,580. Therefore, as far as average yearly emissions are concerned, electric automobiles do see a significant reduction in tailpipe gas emissions. However, given their less frequent occurrence, this significance quickly is outweighed by the abundance of their conventional counterparts.

The global climate being affected by the carbon dioxide emissions is in constant fluctuation. This means that the rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are very strongly affected by the natural cycles of the earth. However, given the relatively high levels of carbon dioxide that have been increasing since the industrial revolution, it would be impossible to deny that the natural cycles are solely responsible. In 1950 the carbon dioxide levels rose above 300 parts per million, a level that has not been exceeded for at least 650,000 years, and continued to climb. As of July 2013 the carbon dioxide level is roughly 395 parts per million. This, combined with other factors, provides decently compelling evidence that the rising global temperatures, rising sea temperature and level, and melting ice sheets are mostly due to the increase in human activities that emit greenhouse gases.

Future

It is difficult to see how electric vehicles will make an impact in reducing the future emissions released into the atmosphere. Electric vehicles made up roughly one-tenth of a percent of the vehicle market in 2012; almost too small of a percent to account for the emissions put off by plants to produce them. A skyrocket in future sales, while possible, seems unlikely due to a group of factors.

A major issue involving electric vehicles, especially ones that use plug-ins for charging purposes is the lack of available charging stations. Roughly forty-three percent of Americans live in apartment or apartments and that number only increases when looking at other highly populated places such as Hong Kong or larger cities in Europe and Asia. These percentages appear destined to increase in the future leading to a concerning question when discussing electric vehicles; if a person does not have a garage where will he or she be able to charge the electric car? Using an ordinary 120 –volt outlet it would currently take around ten hours to charge a Chevy Volt and even longer for other automobiles such as the Nissan Leaf.

As technology continuously improves, the ability for manufacturers to develop better electric vehicles that charge at faster rates will follow suit. However, many people who cannot readily charge their automobiles in a garage will find this issue annoying and opt to purchase a gas-powered model for shear convenience purposes. Currently, the Illinois Institute of Technology and Argonne National Laboratory is researching technology to cut down the recharging time to a few minutes and increase battery life to nearly 1,000 miles, but nothing has neared a developmental stage yet. If ever created, a relatively quick recharge time may lead to a larger portion of people willing to consider purchasing an electric vehicle, but others will still see the process as more of a hassle than a helping cause. Many companies have plans to build charging stations, such as BMW in Shanghai or Tesla, but the lack of convenience for an everyday consumer makes it difficult to see the type of global change in automobiles needed to affect the environment in a positive way.

Even though the market is limited to certain users as discussed above, sales of electric vehicles have continually increased in recent years and it appears that trend will repeat itself in the near future. However, it does not appear that the increase in sales will ultimately lead to a better global climate in the future. Total emission given off by automobiles is small in comparison to that of large industry and other plants. Until companies and manufacturers can efficiently incorporate the process of mass-producing electric vehicles, much of the benefits electric vehicles have cancel out with the increase in emissions from their own power plants. Even as the process becomes refined and more people accept the idea and concept of an electric car, the overall reduction in emissions will not have a great effect in preventing a future global climate change due to the small market size.

In the United States, along with other countries, electricity has been the highest carbon dioxide producing section in recent years, with an increasing trend. In the United States alone, it accounted for over thirty percent of the emissions released into the atmosphere. Increasing the number of electric vehicles will only increase that percentage in future years. As more electric vehicles are brought into the market, the amount of electricity being used around the world, more natural resources, such as coal and natural gas, will be burned in order to produce enough electricity to charge the vehicles. The average American drives over thirteen thousand miles per year and that number is only increasing year to year as people become more willing to travel further for their job. Even if a battery can go from lasting roughly 300 miles now to around a thousand in the future, the electricity used will dramatically increase. The increase in emissions put off from producing electricity will cancel out a large portion of the benefits of electric vehicles. Between an increase in emissions from electricity and plants producing the vehicles, it is difficult to see how a future switch from gas powered to electric vehicles will positively affect the global climate.

The use and disposal of the batteries is another issue of concern when discussing the cons of electric vehicles. The batteries used have a long lifespan, with a projected usage of 100,000 miles before replacement, which will only improve with technology in the future. The cause for concern, however, is the disposal of the batteries and the impact they will have on the environment afterward. Currently, about 34.1% of recyclable waste is reused, with Switzerland leading the way by recycling 52% of such waste. The world percentage is projected to go up in the future as the environment becomes more of an issue, but is not expected to drastically increase to the overall goal of 75% anytime soon. A battery takes over a century to decompose in a landfill and even then can lead to water contamination and other issues. If electric automobiles become an everyday standard, the unwillingness of the world population to recycle will ultimately lead to contaminated water supplies throughout the globe, if not something more severe. Even if the 75% goal of recycling is reached, the damage that can be done by the remaining batteries could be catastrophic to the ecosystem and global climate. The use of batteries may seem like an improvement, but in reality can do the same level of damage as gasoline.

Some may consider electric vehicles the “automobiles of the future”, but in reality they have as many environmental issues as modern day vehicles. Unfortunately for purely electric vehicles, the issues listed above are looming overhead and will create major issues if a complete switch is ever brought about.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, electric vehicles are not the answer as we move forward in trying to preserve what is remaining of the global climate. It is unrealistic to assume that in the future, everyone will have fully committed to an electric car with the issues listed above lurking overhead. Automobiles and society both have come a long way from their early years, but neither is ready to make the switch to completely electric power anytime soon. Unless emissions from industry and other factors significantly decrease, the threat of a global climate change may become a reality. Other options that can improve the globe are developing stricter emissions regulations throughout and even placing solar panels on automobiles. The solar panels would allow the user the option to use gas or solar energy to run the car, meaning that once the solar panels energy is exhausted, the driver could switch over to using gasoline. This would cut back on emissions, while avoiding any hassles involved with recharging the vehicle. Electric vehicles may not be the answer to the global warming crisis, but it is a sign that people are starting to address the issue and figure out ways to improve the world.

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Peilin Zhang
Overall, I think it is a great article addressing the raised problems precisely, and perfectly solved my doubt, which is why people still do not use E-car today. Great work. And I got a few minor suggestions, this article only has three main sections, background, present, and future. I think it would be better if you have more sections. Maybe have a section introducing how the E-Car works before the background section, and introduce some popular cases too.


Aaron Mabee

I think that this article did a great job at addressing the question that was being asked. The use of electric cars is something that is starting to come up more and more and to investigate the impact that they would have is a great idea. I thought that the group did a great job with how they presented the information and they gave some great background information leading into the issue. One suggestion that I would have would have been to add more figures for cost analysis. It would have also been interesting to investigate if other types of all electric vehicles are being produced or if there are any plans to produce them. Either way it was a great article and I found it very informative.


Van VanKerckhove

I think this group did a great job setting up the article to show the chronology of the debate on electric cars, their usage, and possibilities for the future. I am close to this article because my hobby is working and fixing up older cars and off-road vehicles, but I really like the electric auto idea and potential. I liked the detailed analysis of where the debate started from reducing emissions and creating the electric (zero emission) vehicles then moving into where we stand today and where the debate could go. The way the article ended was well written discussing the potential to truly incorporate electric cars into the industry and the economy or driver base is interesting because there are many obstacles to overcome. Based on what I have read here and have read/researched on my own I think the future does hold prosperity for electric vehicles due to environmental, economic, and technology factors. However, I don't believe it will be in the near future, possibly in the next few decades as fossil fuel prices rise and the environmental debate gets more heated electric cars will begin to shift towards being the major part of production and sales. Well done group 3.


Wesley Thurston

Firstly, I'd like to say that you all did a great job. I am highly interested in electric vehicles and have closely monitored the market for them. Companies such as Tesla have pioneered the electric vehicle and have allowed it into the homes of today's drivers at a reasonable cost. I love anything to do with electric vehicles and I'm glad you created this article. I would love to see a deep comparison to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, in which Toyota has recently sparked interest. They recently denounced electric vehicles and have stated that hydrogen fuel cells are the wave of the future in fuel efficient vehicles. I think it was well organized and you all did a fantastic job!


Runtian Lu
I like this article's structure, logic connection between paragraphs and parts. Except the advantages of this article, I want to talk about some places in the article that I think needs to be improved. In the beginning of "Background" section, the article introduced the average temperature of earth's sea surface has risen 0.8oC. In the "Present" section, the article also stated that 1.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases are released every year. These data are absolutely strong evidence to prove the pollution from carbon dioxide were huge and negative. However, with mentioning where are these data come from would be more persuasive to audiences. Such as which organization or team did a research or survey would make the article to be more professional. In the third paragraph of the "Background" section, at the last sentence, article stated that only 60 years left for the usage of available petroleum fuel across the world. But I am not sure that 60 years started from when. I think authors may also need to add the in-text citations.
Except these small places, I think the overall article is great. I like the way that authors talked about this controversial problem from the past, present and future point of views.


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