Are electrical cars clean?

Gas Better For Cars?

If you drive an electric there is no exhaust, right? Except for the exhaust from the coal-burning power-station that delivers the electricity you need to charge your car. And the exhaust from the mining and transport you need to get the coal to the power-station.

It is difficult to compare electrical and gas driven cars and the environmental impact they have. The energy goes from the coal mine or the oil well till the car's wheels hit the road, and every step is different. If the power-station is oil-burning it is easier, the steps are the same from the oil well to the refinery.

When you use gas to drive your car, your fuel passes through this production line: crude oil to refinery, refining, fuel transport to gas station, gas pump and finally car motor.

When you use electricity from an oil-burning power station, there are several more steps: crude oil to refinery, refining, fuel transport to power station, power station motor to drive the electrical generator, electrical generator, high voltage power line, voltage transformer, electrical charger, car batteries and finally car motor.

It is a question of efficiency. Together with gearbox and differential gear, a gas motor might be less efficient than an electrical motor. Still, with the recent development in motor technology, a modern car motor is much more efficient than an old power-plant motor. On the other hand, a power-plant motor can run at its most efficient speed while a car motor has to operate at different speeds.
In every step on the way to fill your car you lose power, and for all the power you lose you have to burn more fuel which means more carbon dioxide. This goes for all types of cars. With all the steps necessary to charge an electrical car, is the electrical car really better?

Modern exhaust systems are so efficient that in some heavily polluted cities the exhaust can be cleaner than the air outside. To avoid stringent demands on clean exhausts, many power plants are located far away from populated areas, polluting the nature around but saving humans. And no matter where you place them and how clean they are, you still get the carbon dioxide.

Hybrid cars, cars where you can alternate between electricity and gas, are even worse. One of the factors that most influences power consumption is weight. No matter what motor you use, in a hybrid car you have to pull an extra motor around.

If you build new "clean" power plants, for example wind-driven, just to charge electrical cars, it will help. Maybe it would help more if you sent the power to the common power net where it can replace power from "unclean" power plants.

There are some factors that work for electric cars. Fuel for a power plant is less refined than the gas used to drive a car, which means that less fuel is used in refining. A power station can be built next to a refinery, minimizing fuel transport. If the power station is not too far from human habitation, the excess heat can be used to heat buildings.

If we skip some steps we should get some indication, these figures ought to be available:
- How much oil do you burn to produce one kWh available at your wall socket?
- How many kWh from your wall socket do you need to drive your electric car one kilometer?
This can be compared with a gas-driven car of the same size, the fuel consumption of different cars should be easily available.

If you search on the net you will find a lot on this subject. For example, search Google for environmentally friendly electric car and see what you'll find. I have read far from everything but as far as I have seen, nobody knows what system is more efficient.
Why? It should not be difficult to find out, just multiply the efficiencies of the different steps. Even if nobody knows it all, all technology is well-known. For each step, there must be some engineer who knows the process well enough to know the efficiency. No matter if an electrical car is more or less environmentally friendly than a traditional car, you can be very sure it does affect the environment.

© Anders Floderus