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April 18, 2007



See, I think environmental hysteria boils down to smokestacks. People see huge, belching smokestacks that stink, and they say "Ewww." It's right on the cover of Inconvenient Truth, in fact. They get a whiff of a car's fumes, and they cough.
"How can that be healthy!" they say!

So they try to ban smokestacks. You can't use coal, because it's smokey. But wind power or solar power, even if vastly less effecient and far most costly to construct (with big, polluting construction vehicles), are perfectly fine, because they don't smog up the countryside.

I always chuckle when people praise, say, the Tesla Roadster or hydrogen cars for "reducing greenhouse gases." They don't. What they mean is "It's doesn't have a stinky tail pipe!", which is much more visceral.

Ties into your whole "What's wrong with science and the media!?" theme: What's wrong is that science is complicated and requires effort to understand. The media prefers to simply grab something intuitive and visceral: Smokestacks are hideos, therefore, they can't be good!

Everything else gets lost in the pursuit of that beautiful imagery.


I'm not thrilled with the alcohol fuel bandwagon, either. It sounds like a disguised farm subsidy to me.

I think the Tesla Roadster does actually make sense. The processes to generate the electricity to charge it can be much more efficient than burning gasoline in a car.


The best thing is that its power doesn't come from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, or Nigeria.

Paul Ding

Bob, that Tesla website is painfully dishonest. It assumes that you have a natural gas well in your back yard, and a natural-gas-powered electrical generator in your garage.

You or I would use public grid electricity, where there is coal-to-electricity efficiency of 35-50% and then we'd lose 7% of that electricity to transmission and distribution losses.

I can drive my wife, my dog, and a chest of drawers from Philadelphia to Chicago in my minivan in 12 hours, even with the air conditioning blasting in 100F weather, or the heater turned up in -10F weather. It takes four days to do that in a Tesla, and you have to turn off the air conditioning and the heater, leave the dog with someone who will feed it melamine, and ship the chest of drawers by truck at a cost of hundreds of dollars. How much sense did you say that Tesla makes?

Russell Seitz

Thank you for bringing the Tesla website to my attention -it is very stupid and dishonest website indeed. Expect to hear it celebrated on talk radio.


Maybe I'm equally stupid.

First, you are comparing apples to oranges. They are trying to develop the electric car market from the top down; the luxury sports car market first. The Tesla Roadster is a Ferrari or Porsche equivalent, not a Honda Civic or a Lincoln Navigator. How many people drive their Ferraris from Philadelphia to Chicago?

The Energy Efficiency section of the PDF starts with utility-generated electricity using natural gas. They give the well-to-outlet efficiency as 52.5%. They later give the average well-to-outlet efficiency of US electric generation as 41%. They give the outlet-to-wheel efficiency of the Roadster as 86%. That gives you 30% on the low end to 45% on the high end.

Don't get me started on the energy cost of replacing its batteries.

What have I missed? ANSWER : the half of the real world electricity that comes from coal . Multiply it by the reciprocal of 30 or 45 per cent and you have an electric car that is a de facto Stanley Steamer.

Yet there is hope for the Tesla enterprise- it could be elevated to the utmost respectability by a hostile takeover -- by Citroen or Dassault, say, for removing it lock stock and barrel to France , where wall plug electricity is three quarters nuclear would render La Tesla vraiment tres verte.



It seems my post and your answer got mingled together.

I calculated the low side efficiency from Paul's low figure for coal plan efficiency. It's *still* more efficient than a gasoline engine.

The five year projected lifespan brings the battery down to 80% capacity. You can still drive it. It would be interesting to compare the energy costs of casting and machining an engine block and all the other moving parts with manufacturing a lithium-ion battery. A lithium-ion battery can be recycled profitably.

Neither the energy to manufacture the battery or to charge it has to come from oil.

I too would prefer nuclear power. I don't like living downwind of a coal power plant.

To me the main attraction of an electric car (besides the cool factor) is that it doesn't burn petroleum products imported from people who hate us.

I think a viable electric car would bring a different set of trade-offs. You trade range for low operating costs.

Recharging it would involve plugging it in when you get home and unplugging it in the morning, like your cell phone. A four-seater electric car with 200 mile range would make a great second car. For that matter, you can always rent a car for long trips.

I addressed the car's CO2 footprint in practice , not its thermodynamic systems efficiency in theory- driving it in a nation where coal fired electricity predominates results in CO2 emissions per mile driven that obviate its claim to be carbon neutral.

As you note, the rapid decay of its battery capacity requires frequent recycling to sustain the performance that makes it a cool machine.
I could also postulate supercapacitor energy storage to get around the battery hysteresis and decay problem ,but at present energy storage densities it would ruin the range or the acceleration.

Please review the Battelle energy density of manufactured materials studies -- they should lead you to rethink your views on the matter .
this concludes my comment on the thread.

F. R. Anscombe

A trivial comment: the chlor-alkali industrial sector liberates hydrogen from water as a byproduct during its manufacture of chlorine and sodium hydroxide. Auto firms in need of hydrogen have gone to chlorine-makers, while chlorine firms are beginning to install hydrogen fuel cells in order to make their factories more energy efficient. This is not to dispute the view that cleaving hydrogen from water is expensive and energy intensive in its own right.

Thomas Philbrick

Coal processing (coal to plant to transformers to electricity in your house) has an overall efficiency of 1.6%. It's a simple matter of loss at each stage (or each stage's efficiency). In 2005 the US got 52% of their energy from coal. The 1.6% number comes from Tester's book Sustainable Energy (chapter 2). Tell me how off these numbers are, because I've commonly seen that the processing plants average 32% efficiency (coal to electricity). From this response "You or I would use public grid electricity, where there is coal-to-electricity efficiency of 35-50% and then we'd lose 7% of that electricity to transmission and distribution losses." I wonder how they only claim 7% loss in all of the remaining steps from the plant to the lightbulbs in our homes???

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