After reading an article on Edmunds.com on the future of automobiles, the internal combustion engine vs the electric vehicle, I have to wonder who’s pocket the story really came out of.
The story was published today and has an honest-to-goodness ridiculous title “Why the Internal Combustion Engine is the Future – EVs Have a Lot of Catching Up to Do”. The two technologies, internal combustion engines [ICE] and electric vehicles [EV] are locked in a battle for consumer attention, and both of them have their advantages and disadvantages.
True, the ICE has seen a number of advancements in the last decade or so, and fuel consumption is getting lower. According to studies by Exxon Mobil and the US Department of Energy, by 2040 some 90% of vehicles sold in the US will be equipped with an ICE and that just 1% will be pure EVs. I would guess that the last 9% would be some other fuel, perhaps hydrogen fuel cell?
What reason does the author give for the prevalence of the ICE and why it is the future? Gasoline is “…relatively abundant and it exists in an easy-to-use liquid state at every temperature humans operate cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, scooters and airplanes. Best of all, it’s cheap.” This has to be my favorite reason for our continued use of fossil fuels, because they’re cheap and easy.
The author then goes on to mention that EVs need hours to recharge and have a limited range, while ICE vehicles refuel in minutes and have a greater range. This is actually a good explanation for the study finding that by 2040 up to 50% of vehicles sold will be hybrid electric vehicles.
The author then brings up pollution, which, I feel, was not particularly the right direction for the article to go. Depending on what part of the grid you recharge on, an EV might actually have more emissions than an ICE. Add to this the currently unstudied emissions of EV production and I have to agree that there might be some concern there. Automakers are already addressing part of this problem with recycling programs. Battery manufacturers are looking for new materials that are easier to recycle or are less toxic.
How is it possible that the author failed to mention some of the problems with fossil fuels? He was sure to mention China’s air-pollution problem, which is killing the elderly and babies at an alarming rate. The culprit in China is coal-fired power generation mixed with a largely unregulated ICE fleet burning gasoline and diesel fuel. Is Exxon Mobil the good guy in all of this? Have we forgotten so soon the problems with extraction and transportation of petroleum? Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Horizon, Mayflower, Arkansas – is any of this ringing a bell? [I'm sure the list is longer than this, but these are the few that came to mind quickest.]
Let’s go back to gasoline being the cheaper option. Is it really? What exactly is the cost of an oil spill? Exxon Mobil apparently believes that $15,000 for school equipment and untold thousands of dollars in sandwiches and hotel stays is equivalent to a recent spill in the town of Mayflower, AK. What exactly is the human cost, when automobile emissions are linked to increased instance of lung cancers and early death? What is the cost to society when greenhouse gas emissions are linked to climate change and untold trillions of dollars in property damage, crop losses, and extinctions?
It seems to me that the cost of fossil fuels is far beyond any benefit that we get from it. Electric vehicles may require thousands of dollars in upfront investment, but that’s not really the point. EVs offer environmental returns that just can’t be matched by those of an ICE, ever.
A Major Shift
Why clean up energy production and automobile propulsion? It’s too hard and it costs too much! Does it really? Think about it, the more fuel we burn, the more emissions we generate, and the more costs continue to rise in association with those emissions. We need a major shift away from fossil fuels in every sector, and it’s happening. Renewable energy is being implemented more and more, which also means that already-minimal EV emissions will be reduced or eliminated.
Why does the author believe that ICEs are the future of automobiles? The answer is clear, because it’s the quick and easy solution that doesn’t solve anything. The only reason is because we feel we need to go faster or have more powerful vehicles. The reality is that, with the exception of people who live in rural areas, we don’t need a vehicle with 500mi range, and we don’t need to refuel in just five minutes.
The Practical Case for EVs
The average driver drives just 30mi/day. Even the shortest-range EV on the market, the Nissan Leaf, can get you around for a couple of days. Even if you only get 6hrs of sleep at night, this is enough to recharge an EV, even on just an LII charger. More businesses are offering charging stations for the public and for their employees, so you can recharge there if you need to as well. If you need to take the occasional long trip, there are charging stations available that can recharge your vehicle in less than an hour. If you time your trip right, this is about the amount of time you need to recharge yourself, that is, taking a rest stop.
If anything, plug-in hybrid technology is the best balance for now, but if we’re really going to make any headway into cleaner automobile technologies, then developing the ICE isn’t the way to do it. Hybrids still use an ICE, but these are going to be just a stepping stone to full-on EVs, that is, if we can get our collective heads out from the oil wells they’re buried in. It’s going to be an adjustment, but it can be done.
By the way, did you catch how Exxon Mobil and DOE are placed so closely together in the story? On another note, I would love to see Phillip Morris sponsoring an American Medical Association study into the benefits of smoking.