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DATE News (chronologically)
08/13/09
automotive
Volt, 230 MPG City, 100+ MPG HWY UPDATE A reader responds, Following your article on "Volt, 230 mpg City, 100+ MPG HWY" published today August 12, I would like to add some precisions regarding the Volt MPG rating, which does not seem to be realistic. 

I understand that electric power is not seen as polluting because it is not directly connected to an exhaust pipe or a chimney dispersing C02 in the air. Nevertheless, electric power is mainly made of fossil fuel such as coal, natural gas and uranium. 46.1% of our electricity is produced by burning coal, Natural gas (by the way, produced in the USA) constitute 20.5% of our electricity and 21% of electricity is made by converting nuclear power. Hydroelectric power produce 1.7% of the US electricity and “other” energy (biomass, geothermal, solar and wind) create 4.1% of our electricity. Finally, 1.2% of electric energy is from burning oil, which could very well be extracted here. (A sideline to say that electricity is mainly produced from fossil products extracted in the USA, except for uranium, which the USA has only 6% of the world market of recoverable mineral). 

If we want to evaluate the C02 foot print of 1 KW/H of electricity, we will have to make some estimation but as coal represent the biggest percentage, we can get close enough to have some sense of C02 quantity generated. 

Coal produce in average 950 grams of C02 per KW/H and natural gas about 600 grams of C02 per KW/H. Nuclear power require all kind of heavy duty manipulations from extraction of ore to extraction of uranium, which goes through a long list of processes, safety and other products needed, from extracting about 6000 tons of rock to finally have 1 kg of enriched uranium, transported and ready to be used in a nuclear power plant in the US. All the pre and post processes involved in creating and using uranium could be in average 115 grams of C02 per KW/H. 

Let’s consider that the “other” methods of creating electricity (4.1%) would represent about 25 grams of C02 per KW/H and the gas power plants would make 340 grams per KW/H, we can evaluate how much 1 KW/H of electricity produced in the USA would create of C02 in average, which would be 590 grams of C02 per KW/H. 

In the case of the Volt, assuming the figure published of 25 KW/H per 100 miles, this car would induce the generation of 14.750 kg of C02 per 100 miles or 147.5 grams per mile, which represent about 59.55 MPG based on gas production of 8.788 grams of C02 per gallon. 

When the Volt is using gas to produce electricity, the mileage is going to be a little less advantageous when the generator kicks in for 260+ miles to keep the batteries charged for more than 300 miles, according to the published data. 

The question remain that, if one is going on a trip, how long it would take to go on a 600 or 900 mile trip a day with 1 or 2 recharges. I also suspect that the 300+ miles are based on ideal conditions not representing what a common commuter or travelling family would encounter. If one is driving in Colorado on Interstate 70, going to his preferred ski station, cruising at 75 miles per hour (which would be about the speed on the right lane), going from an altitude of 5,800 feet high at the airport to 10,000 feet in the mountain, how many miles the car would run before making a recharge stop?  For how long? And at which station?

The cost per mile to own a Volt from purchase to sale plus the loss on unused capital invested in a more expensive car will define better the real cost of owning such vehicle. A car burning 27 MPH in average will cost in gas on 36,000 miles (3 years average) a sum of $4,000 based on $3 per gallon. A Volt will cost for the same mileage $990 or $3010 less considering electricity at only 0.03 cents per KW/H. Hopefully the Volt will not cost more than that in 3 years usage and capital loss.  We certainly all are interested to have true and honest figures to compare apples to apples, not the overdriven marketing ploys used to catch customer unaware of the real facts. 

It seems that the EPA is attempting to redefine MPG as one understand today. If GM insists to have another way to calculate MPG in order to favor their future new electric products marketing figures, it should be called otherwise, or simply and more honestly use the carbon oxide generation per source of energy as approached here above.

By the way, nothing wrong with almost 60 MPG. Alain Clarinval

Dear Alain, Thanks for the figures, but let's not forget that electric car technology is in its very early days.  As battery life improves through the years, especially if there is a major breakthrough in battery technology at some point in time, and as we convert to more and more nuclear power plants, use solar panels on our roofs to charge our electric cars, etc, the amount of CO2 used per mile driven in an electric car will decrease significantly.

Coal-fired power plants release 520 times more atmospheric carbon per megawatt-hour than Nuclear plants. That's right: 520 times.

There's no question that nuclear power is the most climate-friendly industrial-scale energy source. You can worry about radioactive waste or proliferating weapons. You can complain about the high cost of construction and decommissioning. But the reality is that every serious effort at carbon accounting reaches the same conclusion: Nukes win. Only wind comes close — and that's when it's blowing. A UK government white paper last year factored in everything from uranium mining to plant decommissioning and determined that nuclear power emits 2 to 6 percent of the carbon per kilowatt-hour as natural gas, the cleanest of the fossil fuels.

Embracing the atom is a key to winning the war on global warming: Electric power from fossil fuel plants generates 26 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions and 9 percent of the United States' — it's the biggest contributor to global warming. And that doesn't count the emissions from our fossil fuel burning cars.  Mark C.

08/11/09 In our feature article from this morning the Chevy Volt will be rated over 230 MPG in the city and late word says that the highway MPG will be over 100 MPG meaning that when this car hits the market the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight sales are going to take a major hit because their Hybrids get less than 1/4th those mileage ratings.  There is no question that 10 years from now the average car will be a plug-in electric.  We have written numerous articles on this topic. 

The late great Paul Newman had it right - his Newman Wachs Atlantic team still is sponsored by Nuclear Energy
And if the current administration can get their heads out of the sand and build 100 more nuclear power plants in the USA like John McCain wanted to build this country will rid itself of 1) Cancer caused by burning fossil fuels, 2) Respiratory ailments caused by burning fossil fuels, 3) The USA trade deficit being so high because of this country's dependence on foreign oil, 4) Enable us to stay out of wars trying to protect the world's flow of oil to market (they can pound sand in the Middle East), 5) Significantly reduce the carbon in our environment, 6) Eliminate the Greenhouse effect.

The beauty of the plug-in electric car is that it takes very little electric to recharge the batteries and it uses electricity from the grid at night when we sleep and electric consumption is low.  With it's backup gasoline engine for when it's batteries may run low before you can charge them, the Volt will have a range of 300 miles.

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