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American Energy Policy IV: The Price of Transition

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As an example of our foolish measures, DOE's support of electric vehicles stands out as another blunder, not unlike its support of commercial nuclear power and ethanol subsidies. If one calculates the energy equivalents for all the manufacturing, distribution, and utilization of electric vehicles, you will find that the average miles-per-gallon-equivalent for the Tesla is less than 6 MPG, for the Volt is 12 MPG, and for the Leaf is 16 MPG. So much for beating the competition.

The "battery pack" for the Tesla made from thousands of computer Li-ion batteries uses the equivalent of 10,000 gallons of gasoline for its manufacture, and costs $30,000. You go 100,000 miles over 7 years, and you get 10 MPG just for the manufacturing energy alone. BTW, you'll need a new battery pack at that time.

You may find the following article of interest, which does not address net energy analysis  
http://seekingalpha.com/article/183543-death-of-the-electric-car-li-ion-batteries-too-valuable-for-plug-in-vehicles  

Peterson briefly mentions the Tesla, Volt, and Leaf, but correctly identifies the shortages facing the industry in such high-resource-energy-intensive products such as lithium, rare earth elements (the Prius uses a kilogram of neomydium in each 200 kg battery pack), nickel-based specialty steels, aluminum, and copper. You would be astonished at how much energy is required to make lithium batteries, which makes up between 60 and 70 percent of its economic cost. The battery pack on the Prius hybrid, NiMH-based, is much cheaper than that of the Tesla. It only holds about 2 kWh. The Tesla holds 57 kWh, and is pure Li-Ion based.

You can independently calculate the energy requirement for each vehicle. The easy method is to find its economic cost (usually the price less about 30% for profit and middlemen mark-up) and take 25% of that value. Divide by $2. That's the number of gallons of gasoline equivalent embedded in the cost of its manufacture. Example: The Chevy Volt is priced at $40k. Its cost is about 70% of that, or $28k. The energy cost is about a quarter of that, or $7k. Its energy value for manufacturing and delivery is thus about 3500 gallons of gas equivalent. If the car runs 100,000 miles, it will use about another 2000 gallons at the pump and about 34000 kWh of electricity. Disposal costs will not be insignificant. The batteries must be recycled. Taking the 34 MWH of electricity generated at 10 million BTU/MWh and delivered at 80% efficiency to the plug and another 90% to the battery, this equates to another 3300 gallons of gas. That comes to 8800 gallons to go 100,000 miles, or 11.4 MPG.

The Leaf is better since it costs less. The Tesla is absolutely terrible, worse than an old Hummer.

The steel in the frame and body has about the same energy content per unit weight for all mass-produced autos and trucks. Energy costs for these components are relatively negligible per unit mass compared to that of the engines, motors, and batteries of the plugins and all-electrics. Some descriptions are here re: the batteries, but only tell part of the story. See http://www.hybridcars.com/hybrid-car-battery   . A more definitive array of issues is outlined at Wiki, as seen at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium-ion_battery#Specifications_and_design   .

DOE knows that it's lying about lithium ion batteries, but it's following orders from above. See http://www.altenergystocks.com/archives/2009/02/doe_reports_that_lithiumion_batteries_are_not_ready_for_prime_time.html

Cutler J. Cleveland has a Web site that goes into these net energy analyses in some depth, including one on wind systems that I found informative. His Encyclopedia of the Earth is a magnus opus of some import. His findings are conservative. Ours were more accurate. The EIA has industry-by-industry tabulations of energy use which correlate well with the energy use for manufactured goods.

I performed net energy analysis for MITRE for NSF and DOE back in the '70's with consultants such as Edward Teller, Marcel Barbier, and others on all known energy technologies at the time.

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Our earlier work at MITRE was buried by DOE during the Reagan years. Our findings about ethanol, photovoltaics and nuclear power were not well-received. All have negative energy ROI. It takes more energy to build, operate, and retire these facilities than they produce during their lifetimes. No one has yet successfully torn down a nuclear plant and fully disposed of the carcass of the nuclear generator and its waste materials and spent fuel. No one. Not a single nation has yet to finish out its Faustian Bargain. The closest is the Germans who are tearing one down along its northern coast. It has taken 15 years so far and 5 billion euro. It's about 2/3 done. The US has a nuke disposal fund with $23 billion to close down the 104 nukes in our fleet. They average 35 years of age. Think that'll be enough?

Most net energy analyses are quite conservative in that they do not consider the energy used by the workers who created the equipment and installed it, their families, the energy used by the workers who support the logistics of the people who are directly involved, or the entire multiplier effects of non-manufacturing jobs which stand on the shoulders of the folks doing the work. When all the beans are counted, if the EROI is less than 8:1, the economy shrinks when that technology is chosen. Examples of those choices are nuclear (5:1), fracked natural gas in the US (7:1), oil and tar sands (5:1), geothermal (5:1), photovoltaics in the sunbelt US (3:1) and elsewhere (1:1), ethanol based on non-ag sources (3:1) and ag (1:1), biodiesel (4:1), algae (4:1), and secondary oil in the US (5:1).  

These are all losers. Not one nickel should be wasted on any of them.

Sadly, that's where all the money was and is being spent.

The best choices are those with an EROI significantly higher than 10:1 -- offshore wind, land-based wind in class 5 areas or better, ocean thermal in the tropics, and solar thermal in high insolation areas, receive almost no help.

As for electric vehicles, they depend on a backbone of antiquated power plants and a distribution network dating back over a century. They also depend on non-existent materials and manufacturing processes for the nextgen batteries and very limited rare earth elements that do not have a large supply. Depending on these selections reflects poor judgment.

And yes, ammonia is the only answer left for transportation fuels. It can be made from air and water and ANY SOURCE of heat and electric power. If you're smart, you'll use one that has an EROI higher than 8:1. Right now that is the short list of renewables above, imported gas from cheap international sources, and coal. If you care about the environment it's a really short list.

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Designed first all-solar home for Ryland Homes in 1974. At MITRE, led a group of 35 of the best minds in the world (including Dr. Edward Teller, among others) who performed detailed engineering, scientific, socio-economic, and political analyses (more...)
 

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