The detrimental effects of air pollution have been well documented. In 1970, a strict measure aimed at reducing air pollution was created. This measure, named the Clean Air Act of 1970, set a national goal to clean the air and reduce harmful emissions across the country in order to protect the lives of the American public. It established the first specific responsibilities for government and private industry to reduce emissions from vehicles (www.epa.gov/OMSWWW/11-vehs.htm). Although the Clean Air Act of 1970 has helped to clean up the air, increased urban development has created new pollution sources and challenges. For example, people are driving more cars more miles on more trips than 1970 (www.epa.gov/oar/oaqps/peg_caa/pegcaa04.html). Secondly, many people live far from where they work. Since public transportation is not adequate in most areas across the country, people are resorting to commuting to and from work. Finally, auto fuel has become more polluting. As lead was being phased out, gasoline refiners changed gasoline formulas to make up for octane loss, and the changes made gasoline more likely to release smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air (www.epa.gov/oar/oaqps/peg_caa/pegcaa04.html). Examples of volatile organic compounds are carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, particulates, and some air toxins such as benzene and formaldehyde. To meet the new challenges of urban development and to further enhance the cleansing of our country’s air, amendments to the Clean Air Act were made in 1990. Title II, Part C of the 1990 Clean Air Act pushed for the production of clean fuel vehicles in highly polluted areas (www.epa.gov/oar/caa/contents.html). Since Southern California has among the worst air in all of the country, the emphasis in the production of clean fuel vehicles took on new meaning. The passing of the Clean Air Act in 1990 initiated action from the California Air Regulatory Board (CARB) to create supplementary laws which, as a result, pushed car manufacturers to design and produce electric powered vehicles.Introduction
The goal of electric vehicles is to reduce air emissions associated with typical internal combustion vehicles (ICVs), thereby decreasing the emission of environmentally damaging products such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Since electric vehicles run on electricity generated from batteries and do not emit air pollutants, these vehicles are termed zero emission vehicles (ZEV). CARB mandated that ZEVs be 2% of the total automotive sales by 1998 and 10% by 2003. The push for ZEVs raises serious concerns about the environmental impacts of ZEVs due to their production and use. Is CARB’s push for ZEVs premature given the present state of battery technology? Will the production of ZEVs lead to unforeseen environmental destruction? Or are ZEVs the answer to our air pollution woes? This paper analyzes the feasibility of electric cars and the impacts of their production on the environment.
The components of air pollution have been attributed to a number of serious health and environmental consequences. For example, air pollution can lead to eye, nose and throat irritation, as well as complications in breathing. Some chemicals in air pollution, such as benzene, cause cancer while other chemicals may cause birth defects, brain and nerve damage and long-term injury to the lungs and breathing passages. Not only does air pollution create distinct medical problems, it also creates environmental problems as well.
Carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide are three examples of gases released into the atmosphere each year as a result of the combustion processes. Billions of pounds of pollutants are released each year from power plants and motor vehicles. These pollutants are causing serious problems for the environment. Motor vehicles are responsible for up to half of the smog-forming VOCs and nitrogen oxides (www.epa.gov/oar/oaqps/peg_caa/pegcaa04.html). Motor vehicles also release more than fifty percent of the hazardous air pollutants and up to ninety percent of the carbon monoxide found in urban air (www.epa.gov/oar/oaqps/peg_caa/pegcaa04.html). The carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides are known contributors to global warming, acid precipitation, or the depletion of the ozone layer (Rahman and Castro, 1995). With all of this taken into account, air pollution can be blamed for the destruction of plants, trees and animals.
The realization that air pollution must and can be reduced prompted the formation of the Clean Air Act in 1970. In an effort to clean up the air, the Clean Air Act mandated measures to reduce the emission of nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and volatile organic gases, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, particulates, and some air toxins (such as benzene and formaldehyde), all of which results in the formation of smog (Roque, 1995). Since California has a large density of motor vehicle use, the reduction of harmful emissions from motor vehicles was targeted. Tightening auto emission standards under the Clean Air Act included clamping down on gasoline volatility, improved vapor recovery both in refueling and during driving, tighter controls on cold start emission, on-board engine diagnostics, and reformulation of gasoline to make it and its tailpipe emission less atmospherically reactive (Gushee, 1992). To meet these standards, the California Air Regulatory Board (CARB) mandated minimum sales targets of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) of 2 percent of all automotive sales beginning in 1998. The mandate quickly climbs to 10 percent by 2003 (Tucker, 1995).
After CARB passed its law, California became the first state to enact a law requiring automakers to produce and sell a set percent of electric vehicles to the public. Although innovative measures, such as the use and production of ZEVs seem necessary to meet the mandates of the Clean Air Act, the question arises; are ZEVs the solution? Despite the zero air pollution emission benefits of ZEVs, many scientists argue that the emissions are simply distributed to the environment in other forms. The purpose of this paper is to explore the feasibility of ZEVs as the answer to lowering air pollution in the United States and more specifically, Southern California. What would the introduction and use of ZEVs mean for the environment? The structure of this scientific paper will take on a dialectic perspective, analyzing the positive and negative consequences of ZEVs. Through the analyzation of the plausibility of ZEVs, many points will be uncovered, which will shed new light on the controversy of ZEVs.
There are numerous ways to analyze the effectiveness of electric vehicle on the environment. However, a comprehensive view must include a close examination of the entire life cycle of electric vehicle production. The term life cycle refers to all of the stages of manufacturing, use, and ultimate disposal (Roque, 1995). An examination of the life cycle will reveal the total impacts of production, use, and disposal of ZEVs on the environment. In addition to examining the life cycle of electric vehicle production, the effects of power supplementation from stationary power sources, ZEV recharging difficulties, the possibility of producing alternative fueled vehicles, and finally the implications of ZEVs on motorist safety will be discussed. With the widespread use of ZEVs, increased supplementary power will be required from stationary power plants to charge the ZEVs. Therefore, one must consider the emissions of stationary power plants versus tailpipe emissions from ICVs to see the total environmental benefits. On a consumer note, the recharging of ZEVs must be evaluated because recharging times may hamper continual and convenient use. Alternative fueled vehicles have also been discussed and researched as an alternative to standard ICVs. Moreover, some have encouraged the production of alternative fueled vehicles instead of ZEVs due to some perceived advantages in feasibility, practicality, and efficiency. Finally, we need to consider the safety standards of ZEVs to ensure that widespread use does not further endanger motorists and passengers in automobile accidents.
I. Life Cycle
The main concern for the production of practical electric vehicles is the reduction of vehicle weight. Present technology involving the use of lead/acid batteries requires heavy apparatuses. In order to extend the driving range and increase acceleration, electric vehicles need to be lighter in weight than internal combustion vehicles to offset the mass of the batteries they will carry. In order to achieve the reduction in weight, alternative lightweight materials need to be used. For example, aluminum and plastic components can become larger proportions of vehicle composition. Therefore, an increase in electric vehicle production means that aluminum and plastic production will also increase. Hence, how will increased production of aluminum and plastic impact the environment? Furthermore, will an increase in production of these materials offset the benefits gained from the zero emissions of electric cars?
The production of aluminum vehicle components is a multistep process that includes mining, extraction of primary aluminum from ore, fabrication of sheet metal or ingots, and formation or casting of the components (Roque, 1995). The major environmental impacts associated with the production of aluminum components arise in mining and primary aluminum extraction (Roque, 1995). Both are highly polluting and energy intensive. However, 60% of the aluminum found in vehicles today is comprised of recycled scrap, and more than 85% of it in junked cars is reclaimed and recycled (The Aluminum Association, 1991). The production of aluminum from scrap requires only 5% of the energy required to produce it from bauxite, thereby reducing the depletion of nonrenewable fuels and the pollution from their combustion (ISRI, 1992). Therefore, the production of aluminum does not call upon exhaustive measures which create increased air pollutants. In addition, recycling measures can be implemented to save exorbitant amounts of energy required for the generation of aluminum in the form of fossil fuels.
The proportion of plastics within electric vehicles will also be increased since plastics are lightweight and durable. The two concerns over increasing the percentage of plastics in automobiles are, the energy requirements for their manufacture and their solid waste impacts (Roque, 1995). Plastics require marginal energy in chemical production and the disposal of plastics to the environment creates a large non-biodegradable source of solid waste. On the other hand, both issues could be addressed with recycling; the use of recycled plastics saves more than 80% of the energy required to produce the same components from virgin plastics (ISRI, 1992). In addition, generation of plastics can save energy. In comparison with steel and aluminum, manufacturers expend less energy generating plastics throughout the life-cycle of a vehicle component (Roque, 1995). However, recycling plastics is not easy because there are numerous kinds of plastics that must be differentiated before recycling can take place. Therefore, plastic recycling measures need to be improved before full-scale electric vehicle production is to take place; otherwise, an increase in solid and toxic waste may result from the production of new plastic.
The next component that must be considered is that of the engine. There are positive consequences to the production of electric vehicles as opposed to internal combustion engines. For example, the electric motors are much smaller and far simpler to disassemble for recycling and do not contain the oil and other fluids that internal combustion engines do (Roque, 1995). Therefore, once electric cars age, the engine components may be reused to create new vehicles. In addition, hazardous wastes created from oils and fluids found in ICVs will decrease with the introduction of electric vehicles.
The last component that needs to be considered to complete the life cycle evaluation of electric vehicle production is the energy source, the battery. With the available technology, the source of power for new electric vehicles will most likely be the lead/acid battery. However, research involving alternative battery fuels is currently underway. Information on lead/acid, sodium/sulfur, nickel/cadmium, and nickel/metal hydride batteries is provided in Tables 1-4. These tables offer information regarding production energy and total energy density of each type of battery. But in order to select the most practical battery type, criteria such as effective cost, feasibility of battery generation, energy density, weight, and number of recharges need to be considered.
Questions regarding the length of each charge have also been challenged. The available technology points toward the use of lead/acid batteries to supply the power for ZEVs. The negative consequences associated with lead/acid batteries are numerous. For example, lead/acid batteries contain a large amount of lead. When the life of the battery is lost, the disposal of the lead within the battery must be dealt with appropriately. An analysis by researchers at Carnegie-Mellon found that the mass production of electric cars using lead/acid battery packs would exponentially increase the public’s exposure to lead pollution (Peters, 1995). According to the study, electric cars would create more than 60 times the amount of lead pollution as compared to vehicles burning leaded gasoline (Peters, 1995). In addition to problems associated with lead pollution, lead/acid batteries also have the lowest energy density (compared to the batteries listed in Tables 1-4) because they use the largest mass of materials while offering the least amount of energy output. At 50 W· h/kg, a 25kW· h battery module would weigh 500kg (Gaines and Singh, 1996). The weight and inefficiency of the lead/acid batteries make them impractical to use and market as the main energy source of ZEVs. The technology to mass-produce lighter, longer running and affordable batteries does not seem to exist yet. Therefore, many argue that the hard push for electric vehicles will only contribute towards increased environmental damage.
Although the practicality and environmental consequences of lead/acid
battery use seem detrimental, the development of electric vehicles should
not be forfeited. Other battery sources are available and are under investigation
as a possible energy
|Material||Wt. %||Production energy (MJ/kg)||Recycling energy (MJ/kg)||Energy
per 25 kW·
|Sulfuric Acid||7.9||0.6 (est.)||NA||0.02||0.02|
|Material||Wt.%||Production energy (MJ/kg)||Energy per 25 kW· h Virgin Batteries (kJ)|
source for the electric car market. Sodium/sulfur batteries are one alternative to the lead/acid batteries. They have an energy density 300% that of the lead/acid batteries (Gaines and Singh, 1996). In addition, they have a life of 1000 charge and discharge cycles, which could eliminate the need to replace the battery during the life of the car (Gaines and Singh, 1996). Finally, the sodium/sulfur batteries would have a mass 250kg, half the mass of the lead/acid battery (Gaines and Singh, 1996). Therefore, car manufacturers would have to be less concerned about weight and towing impacts of the car. Environmentally, 63% of the elemental sulfur consumed in the U.S. is recovered as a by-product from processing crude oil natural gas (Gaines and Singh, 1996). Therefore, the environmental impacts of sulfur release into the atmosphere as a result of producing sodium/sulfur batteries are minimized. Other battery options under investigation are nickel/cadmium, nickel/metal hydride, and lithium batteries. Lithium is considered among the most promising designs for performance and cost, but safety and recharging questions still remain (Peters, 1995).
|Material||Wt. %||Production Energy (MJ/kg)||Energy per 25 kW· h Virgin Batteries (kJ)|
|Steel and Copper ***||4.1||108||1.9|
|LIOH, pure||0.7||11.6 (est.)||0.04|
|* Assumed produced from
** 88% Cd, 12% CdO
*** Assumed 50% Cu, 50% steel
|Material||Wt. %||Production Energy (MJ/kg)||Energy per 450 kg Virgin Batteries (kJ)|
|Metal Hydrides||12.9||116 (est.)||5.0|
In addition to life cycle considerations, we must also recognize that the production of electric vehicles shifts energy demands. Internal combustion engines need gasoline and oil (fossil fuels) where as electric vehicles need electricity. Therefore, energy demands will shift toward stationary power plants to supply electricity demands. The use of batteries may reduce air emissions from the city where heavy commuting takes place, but air pollution will in turn be increased in the areas where stationary power plants exist. In most areas of the nation, electricity is produced from coal, oil, nuclear, or natural gas-fired turbine. The pollution then stays in the area where the plant operates. In addition to transferring air pollution problems to other areas, the generation of electricity is less efficient. Not only is there an inefficiency of turning fossil fuel or uranium into electricity instead of burning fuel directly in an engine, there are line losses in getting that electricity to the vehicle plug (Savage, 1994). Roughly 63% of the world’s electricity is obtained by burning fossil fuels, 60% of which is coal. In other words, about 38% of all electricity is generated by coal. These fossil-fired plants, particularly coal, emit carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides which are known contributors to either global warming or acid precipitation, or the depletion of the ozone layer (Rahman and Castro, 1995). Therefore, the production of electricity from fossil-fired plants releases the same pollutants as ICVs.
On the other hand, there may one day be the technology available to produce energy without burning coal. Moreover, the use of electric cars does not yet apply to the entire world so energy demands of specific areas must be considered. In Southern California, Southern California Edison (SCE) currently has an oversupply of electricity and could power one million ZEVs, or twice that it they were recharged at night (Cone, 1992). Therefore, resources to support electric vehicles in Southern California are available and the increased strain of electricity generation on power plants would not exist. Hence, there would not be an increased contribution of pollution from stationary power plants in Southern California.
Besides utilizing stationary power plants as the main source of energy, other viable sources exist. There has been discussion about Solar Powered Satellites (SPS). The satellites would be used to harvest solar power from space which could then be transmitted down to Earth. The satellites will be equipped with solar cells, photovoltaic, and/or thermal dynamic cells to convert solar radiation into a form of energy that can be transmitted to other space vehicles or to the Earth (Glaser, 1994). The SPS system would be a complementary energy source which would offer an alternative to typical terrestrial energy sources (i.e. fossil fuels). SPS is proposed as a major option for the continuous generation of electricity to meet future global energy needs (Glaser, 1994). The SPS has been theorized to possess the capability of beaming 1GW of energy down to the Earth by 2020 (Glaser, 1994). Although the SPS system is not the answer to the energy demands of the world, it can be used in concert with existing energy production methods to supply the growing energy appetite of the world.
III. Recharging Difficulties
The disposal and practicality of the batteries themselves is also an issue which needs to be discussed. Although the disposal of batteries is a true threat to the environment, recycling centers could be produced to meet the need of expanding battery consumption. There are already battery recycling plants around the country. More than 90% of the lead and lead oxides from batteries are recycled now, providing ~66% of the U.S. lead supply (Gaines and Singh, 1996).
Along the same lines as batteries and energy sources, the problem of practicality of battery life remains to be a persistent problem. Some research has cited that the average recharging time of batteries may take up to 8 hours using household electric sources. Even with special equipment, recharging can take up to 2-3 hours (Tucker, 1995). The question that then arises is, how are individuals going to travel with ZEVs? The lengthy recharging times of the batteries make traveling long distances cumbersome.
However, Boston Edison has already obtained permission to establish quick-recharge facilities at gas stations along the Massachusetts Turnpike beginning in 1996. Service will take 15 minutes (Tucker, 1995). Future upgrades to meet expected demand will also reduce servicing time to 6 minutes (Tucker, 1995). Therefore, it is evident that technology does exist for quick recharging apparatuses to increase convenience for electric vehicle use.
IV. Alternative Fueled Vehicles
Due to the lack of technology and resources available to mass-produce electric vehicles across the country, car manufacturers have spent considerable energy developing alternative fueled cars and modifying present internal combustion engines to accommodate reformulated gasoline. Due to the stringent specifications of the Clean Air Act of 1990, oil refineries were pressed to produce "Phase II reformulated gasoline (RFG)" in the smoggiest areas in an effort to reduce air pollution emissions. Phase II gasoline is expected to remove about 1 billion lb. of pollutants from the air during the first year alone (Johnson, 1995). The reformulated gasoline contains less VOCs. In addition to reformulation, all gasoline will have to contain detergents, which, by preventing build-up of engine deposits, keep engines working smoothly and burning fuel cleanly (www.epa.gov/oar/oaqps/peg_caa/pegcaa04.html). Although the RFG costs more to produce and will cost consumers more at the gasoline pump, the new gasoline will be effective in greatly reducing harmful auto emissions. The 1990 Clean Air Act also mandated the removal of lead from gasoline.
Alternative fueled cars are ICVs which have been redesigned to accommodate other natural gases (such as methanol, ethanol, methane, and propane). A list of alternative fuels may be seen in Table 5.
|Fuel||U.S. annual production, billion gallons||BTUs/gallon||Boiling Point, ° F||Reid Vapor Pressure|
|Gasoline||110||115,000||7.8 (summer)-13.0 (winter)|
|Methane (natural gas)||17.9||20,000+||-263|
There are a few benefits deemed from creating vehicles that run on alternative fuel. Alternative fuels are perceived as being less likely to evaporate or otherwise find their way into the air before combustion and are less ozone-forming and less toxic if they do (Gushee, 1995). Another benefit that may be reaped from the use of alternative fuels is that gases burn cleaner than gasoline (see Table 6). As a result, less harmful emissions are created as a result of burning alternative fuels.
There are of course disadvantages to the use of alternative fuel driven cars. Vehicles that run on compressed natural gas will cost $2,500-5,000 more than a conventional car (Derr, 1994). Methanol does not offer convincing benefits over standard reformulated gasoline. Research shows that methanol does not offer any environmental benefits over reformulated gasoline and it is considerably more expensive
|1. Carbon Monoxide||X||X|
|2. Carbon Dioxide||X|
|3. Nitrogen Oxides||X||X||X|
than RFG-30-50% more (Derr, 1994). Therefore, although alternative fueled vehicles sound promising, their advantages do not seem to exceed that of electric vehicles. Perhaps an analysis of vehicles which run on alternative fuels and electricity may have more potential than electricity or alternative fuel alone.
Before the widespread introduction of electric vehicles can be initiated, there must be sufficient research done on the crash standards of the vehicles. The electric vehicle poses a different threat to motorists than internal combustion engines. Although, internal combustion engines are highly flammable with the presence of gasoline and oil, the presence of batteries in electric vehicles present toxic risks. Many of the compounds that compose batteries are toxic and harmful if contact is made. Leaks in the battery pack – and the possibility for the release of explosive hydrogen gas (a byproduct of all lead/acid batteries)- are of particular concern (Peters, 1995). Therefore, crash tests and safety standards should be made by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before widespread use of electric vehicles is made. Perhaps regulation on housing specifications for the batteries shall be mandated. In addition, emergency professionals should be prepared to handle accidents which involve battery spills and electric vehicle accidents.
After analyzing the benefits and costs of ZEVs a few important benefits should be highlighted once again. In order to decrease the weight of electric vehicles, the proportion of aluminum in the cars will increase. As ZEVs become more prominent, the demands of aluminum will effectively increase. The environmental impacts of increased aluminum production are minimal due to the fact that sixty percent of aluminum is comprised of recycled scrap and the production of aluminum from scrap only requires five percent of the energy required to produce aluminum from bauxite. Therefore, the production of ZEVs may lower total energy consumption due to the low energy requirements of recycling. In an effort to make lighter vehicles, the proportion of plastics will also increase in ZEVs.
The generation of plastics saves energy in comparison with steel and aluminum throughout the life-cycle of a vehicle component.
Yet another advantage of ZEVs, is the composition of the motor. Electric motors are smaller and simpler to disassemble for recycling purposes. Therefore, once electric cars age, the engine components may be reused to create new vehicles.
The utilization of ZEVs in the Southern California region is especially plausible due to the availability of surplus electricity. The surplus of electricity by Southern California Edison is enough to recharge one to two million ZEVs. The surplus of energy could then be utilized to power ZEVs and as a result, lower total air pollution emissions from Southern California.
The practicality of ZEVs for consumers was also discussed. Current technology has made available quick-recharge stations which require a few simple minutes to recharge ZEV batteries. Therefore, consumers are allowed to travel conveniently without wasting hours recharging their vehicles. All of the points discussed are important benefits which illustrate the feasibility and practicality of ZEV production. Moreover, the information provided allows us to draw some important conclusions.
For the safety of the environment and human morbidity and mortality rates, current evidence shows that measures must be taken to reduce the emission of particulates and pollution. Consequently, focusing on the reduction of the emissions from motor vehicles seems amply justified. However, through the course of this paper, the costs and benefits of zero emission vehicles have been carefully scrutinized. With the available technology, the mandates set forth by CARB were not prudent. Although, swifter deadlines may be used to motivate car manufacturers to increase technology and designs, negative effects may result as well. The lack of experience with alternative fueled batteries has pushed automakers to utilize lead/acid batteries. The use of lead/acid batteries is extremely harmful to the environment and may lead to increased environmental damage. As previously mentioned, the widespread use of lead batteries equates to more lead exposure to the environment than the use of leaded gasoline.
Although the technology does not presently exist to produce a reliable alternative battery, the pursuit of electric vehicles should not be ceased. Considering the life-cycle of electric vehicles discussed earlier, overall environmental impacts from ZEVs as opposed to ICVs are lowered due to lower emissions. For example, there will be a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions which contribute to the effects of the greenhouse effect.
Considering the recorded surplus of electricity from Southern California Edison, the resources to power electric vehicles in Southern California is definitely plausible. The surplus of energy means that there will not be an increase in the emission of air pollutants from stationary sources, such as power plants. Therefore, the number of electric vehicles mandated to be on the road by 1998 and 2010 may be justified with the available Southern California electricity sources.
Another positive outcome from the use of ZEVs is that electric vehicles are more efficient in terms of global energy consumption. The use of electric cars requires less overall energy. An electric vehicle using 160 W· h/km will, over a lifetime of 160,000 km, use electricity requiring 275GJ to generate. A similar, small, conventional vehicle, using 6.7L of reformulated gasoline would consume ~335 GJ of fuel. Therefore the energy use of the electric battery would be less than 20% of the vehicle’s lifetime fuel consumption (Gaines and Singh, 1996).
After the development of environmentally safe batteries, alternative and environmentally safe energy sources, such as photovoltaics, wind, biofuels, and SPS, should then be developed to help complement available energy sources presently used. Therefore an increase in the energy appetite of the world would be supported by the introduction of complementary sources of energy. With continual improvement in energy sources and battery technology, the use of electric cars seems like it will be an integral part of our future transportation needs.
Vehicles which run on alternative fuels also, seem to have potential. However, a closer analyzation of resources and practicality of production of such vehicles is warranted. Perhaps vehicles may be introduced which integrate alternative fuels and electricity. This paper has compared ZEVs to ICVs and there is research which has compared alternative fueled vehicles to ICVs. Perhaps the next logical step is to conduct a life cycle comparison of ZEVs to Alternative fueled vehicles to see which is most environmental and consumer friendly.
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