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EV’s: Crucial to Reducing CO2 Emissions

Posted on 6 February 2019 by Riduna

In June 1988 a leading climate scientist, Dr James Hansen, presented the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources with data showing that by burning fossil fuels humans had created a greenhouse effect, evidenced by global warming.  Unless carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were reduced he predicted that record breaking global warming would increase further, producing increasingly severe climate events and that these would be most marked in higher latitudes.

The Senate noted his submission and Congress took some action but none that would result in CO2emissions reduction in the short term. In December 1988 the concentration of CO2in the atmosphere was 351.4 ppm. At the end of 2018 it stood at 409.23 ppm., the highest in 3 million years.   As a result global climate and temperature have developed as Dr Hansen  predicted over thirty years ago.

Dr Hansen subsequently urged reduction of rising emissions so as to avoid a mean global temperature rise of more than 1°C above preindustrial levels.  He warned that an increase of 1.5°C above preindustrial times would result in dangerous climate and multi metre sea level rise and that an increase of 2°C could be catastrophic, producing a violent, destructive climate.  Most governments and emitters continued to ignore him.

As a result we now find ourselves living in a world where mean global temperature has risen 1°C above the preindustrial, the climate is characterised by more violent, destructive and frequent climate events.  Human greenhouse gas emissions are now increasing at an unprecedented rate and it is probably no longer possible to avoid the consequences of a 1.5°C increase above the preindustrial and a destructive climate accompanied by multi-metre sea level rise in coming decades, not coming centuries.

If we are to avoid catastrophic climate events which could threaten our survival as a species on this planet, it is imperative that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions be rapidly and immediately reduced.  Efforts to achieve this are being taken by reducing use of fossil fuels (1) for electricity generation, (2) for transport propulsion and (3) by adopting mitigating practices such as reduction of energy consumption and protection of carbon sinks.

These measures will not avert dangers posed by global warming unless both developed and emerging economies are decarbonised by mid-century. Burning fossil fuels to generate electricity accounts for ~30% of present-day global emissions and that percentage is declining as more economies transition to cheaper renewable energy, mostly wind and solar.  Market forces demand cheaper electricity 24/7 and this requires improved ability to store it.

The cheapest form of generating and supplying electricity will capture a growing market as new technologies emerge demanding its availability for an increasing range of applications.  The race is well and truly on to capture this emerging demand. 


Globally the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, probably exceeding 40%, is the internal combustion engine (ICE), widely used by the transport sector for propulsion and operation of other equipment in agriculture, extractive industries and manufacturing.  Replacement of these engines by electric motors is dependent on development and commercialisation of new technology making it possible to store sufficient electricity to do the work now done by oil based products – and, importantly, do it more cheaply.

The transport sector is the most dependent on and the largest user of the internal combustion engine.  Particulates released into the atmosphere by these engines, especially those fuelled by diesel, are the cause of air pollution which pose a serious, developing health problem in larger cities.  Particulate emissions may also be contributing to soot deposits on the Greenland Ice Sheet, reducing its albedo and accelerating surface melting and Arctic warming.

Fig. 1.  Smog in New Delhi at 12 noon, produced by vehicle exhaust.  Megacities (population >10 million) will become unliveable without exhaust-free electric vehicles (EV’s).  Source: ABC

By far the greatest damage is caused by the emission of greenhouse gasses, which are the largest single contributor to increasingly dangerous global warming and climate change. Yet there is an alternative to using the internal combustion engine which so seriously damages the environment and that is to use emission-free electric motors to propel all transport vehicles. So why are EV’s not replacing those fuelled by polluting fossil fuels?

In fact the transition from fossil fuelled vehicles to EV’s has begun but it is a slow process and one which at present has little impact because the number of fossil fuelled vehicles in use continues to rise as the global economy and population expand.

Four reasons why EV uptake is not occurring more rapidly are:

1. The purchase price of EV’s is higher than fossil fuelled vehicles:

2. Concern that EV’s do not have the range or

3. the ease of refuelling of fossil fuelled vehicles and

4. Reluctance to invest in existing EV technology when much improved technology might be available in 2-3 years.


Rapid uptake of EV’s will not occur until they achieve price parity with fossil fuelled vehicles.  Although building an EV is more readily achieved by automated processes – and should therefore be cheaper – this efficiency is offset by the cost of batteries needed to store the electricity which powers the motors in an EV. Batteries make up around 40% of the cost of building an EV and parity of vehicle cost with mid-range fossil fuelled vehicles will not be achieved until the cost of a battery pack falls to $100/kWh.  Cost parity with the cheapest fossil fuelled vehicles is unlikely to be achieved until battery pack price falls to ~$60/kWh.

Because of stiff competition among battery producers a high degree of secrecy is maintained by them where advances in battery technology and production costs are concerned.  However we do know that in 2017 Audi purchased batteries for its new line of EV’s at a cost of ~$114/kWh, though it is unclear if this was a cell or pack price.  What is clear is that Tesla’s Gigafactory produced batteries for its range of EV’s at a cell price of $100/kWh in 2018. With improved automation processes it expects to achieve a pack price of <$100/kWh by 2020.

Fig. 2.  Tesla battery pack price is outperforming the BNEF outlook and sets the benchmark for competing Lithium-ion battery producers.  Source:  Cleantechnica.

As a result of ongoing battery price decline, price parity with fossil fuelled mid-range vehicles is likely to be achieved by 2020 and with the cheapest fossil fuelled vehicles by 2023.  Global sales of EV’s in 2018 are estimated to be 1.6 million and Bloomberg estimate that sales in 2020 could be 2.9 million EV’s and considerably higher when solid state battery technology is commercialised.

Range & Recharge

Most city car owners drive their vehicles to and from shops, workplace or other places. This involves driving less than 100 km/day, so the range of existing EV’s (150-400 km) means they can be used for this purpose with recharging 2-3 times per week.  Present range limitation are not a deterrent, though, as noted above, price is. If intercity or longer distance travel is needed, then range does matter since recharge is necessary before a journey can be completed and may take hours.

Vehicle builders can achieve increased range by using a larger battery pack to store electricity, by using batteries able to hold a greater charge than present batteries do or by improving recharge speed as discussed below. Improvement in lithium-ion technology has potential to achieve more efficient, cheaper battery production and can reduce recharge time to less than 30 minutes, as demonstrated by Tesla and others. However it seems less likely that lithium-ion batteries will achieve parity with fossil fuelled vehicles in refuelling time or range.

An extended range of 1,000 km or more has been demonstrated for passenger coaches and other large transport vehicles but it is generally agreed that a significant increase in range for cars and more rapid recharge time is unlikely to be achieved until alternative battery technology become commercially available.  Advances promising a range of more than 1,000 km are claimed by developers of an aluminium-graphene battery but this is not commercially available and details do not appear to have been patented.

Solid State

Battery manufacturers are highly competitive and ultra-secretive when it comes to disclosing information on development of solid-state technology and for good reason.  Leaders achieving commercial production of these batteries stand to supply the car industry in their region and make very significant financial gains.

Electricity used by EV’s and appliances is presently stored in lithium-ion batteries comprising a cathode and anode separated by a semi-liquid electrolyte which limits both charge density and speed of recharge. Research shows that if the liquid electrolyte is replaced by a solid electrolyte charge density can be more than doubled and recharge time reduced from hours to a few minutes.  Importantly, solid state batteries require much less cobalt used in lithium-ion batteries so are potentially 30% cheaper to produce – a significant factor in reducing the price of EV’s.  

A number of car companies are directly involved in developing solid state technology with a view to being among the leaders engaged in commercial production.  They include Hyundai, ToyotaHonda, NissanBMWVolkswagen and several others, all claiming to be close to commercial production and achieving it within 2-5 years.  In America, Fisker has produced and demonstrated prototype solid state batteries while in China, Quing Tao Energy is reported to have begun commercial production.

Solid state batteries have the capacity to make EV performance as good as fossil fuelled vehicles, even better and cheaper.  It is likely that this will be widely achieved within the next 4-7 years, possibly sooner and result in mass uptake of EV’s, marking the beginning of the demise of fossil fuelled vehicles and the oil industry.  

The advent of solid-state batteries has wider implications – particularly for the capacity and cost of storing solar and wind generated energy for domestic and commercial use and ensuring grid stability.  It is also likely to speed up the use of batteries for communication appliances, tools, other equipment such as street lights, remote water pumps and possibly aircraft.

Self-Driving Vehicles

‘No one born in 2019 will ever need to learn how to drive or hold a drivers licence’  is the claim made by proponents of self-driving cars – and they are probably right!

Self driving technology could come into wide use over the next 3-4 years and seems more likely to be initially trialled in new (electric) vehicles in the public transport sector.  The technology has already been proven to be safer than human driving, so less accident prone and facilitates more efficient transport.  

As the public become more trusting of driverless vehicles, they are more likely to be used in preference to older, privately owned fossil-fuelled vehicle.  This is likely to be encouraged by governments since public transport can be provided more cheaply and efficiently.  Being safer than human driving, it will reduce accidents and produce savings in the cost of public health adding further attraction to its adoption and speeding up the transition to electric vehicles.


  •       If catastrophic global warming and climate change is to be avoided, a sharp reduction in the burning of fossil fuels must be achieved over the next decade.
  •       This is being partly achieved by an increase in the transition from use of fossil fuels to renewable sources for generating electricity but can not be fully achieved until internal combustion engines are replaced by electric motors.
  •       The largest use of internal combustion engines occurs in the transport sector and their replacement with electric motors has been inhibited by cost and capacity to store electricity for propelling vehicles.
  •       Air pollution from fossil fuelled vehicles, particularly diesel, makes the use of fossil fuelled vehicles in megacities increasingly dangerous to public health, significantly increasing the cost of health services.
  •       Lithium-ion battery technology has reduced electricity storage cost to ~$100/kWh and that cost is expected to fall further, putting the price of most electric vehicles on par with or below the price of fossil fuelled vehicles, possibly by 2021.
  •       Solid state battery (SSB) technology has produced safer batteries able to hold x2 – x3 times the charge of present lithium-ion batteries.  SSB's can be recharged in a few minutes, thereby overcoming present price, range and recharge constraints on mass up-take of EV’s.
  •       Solid state batteries  are likely to become commercially available within 5 years, possibly sooner, when it is likely that global EV sales will double, producing the first reduction in demand for diesel and petrol.
  •       Adoption of self-drive vehicle technology over the same period could speed up the transition to electric propulsion by making public transport more affordable, efficient, accessible and safer than presently growing private vehicle use.
  •       The world is on the verge of a second Industrial Revolution where fossil fuelled energy is fully replaced by energy produced from limitless renewable sources.



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Comments 1 to 16:

  1. Leaving aside for a moment that anybody who must drive and can afford an EV has a moral obligation to adopt this modernized approach: once you've driven an EV you'll never want to return to a "thrasher" with all the attendant noise, stink and tragically elliptical path from the energy source to the wheels. 

    It's like getting a faster computer, or finding a better roast of coffee. There's no going back; the old way suddenly seems completely unacceptable. 

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  2. Yes the slow uptake of electric vehicles has been due to price, range, recharging and possible fears about technological redundancy, but I think there are a couple of other equally important factors:

    1). The cheaper electric cars have had terrible body styling, (and the Prius was not great either). Appearance and style is really important to consumers which was probably a key reason the Iphone was so successful. It might not say much about the priorities humans place on things, but its a powerful factor.

    2) The car companies haven't really marketed and advertised electric cars, possibly because they are reluctant to retool their production lines for electic cars and retrain staff. Governments should force them, or alternatively do the promotional job for them.

    3) There has been media spin that that electric cars are unreliable. They aren't.

    4) Lack of a good enough network of recharging stations. People will not tolerate being stranded, or having to hunt around. However most recharging is actually done at home.

    If you look at smartphones, growth became exponential quite quickly but certain things had to come together for this to happen, and it looks like this included affordable prices with the android phones in particular, good looks, reliability, and functionality. The interesting thing is they took off despite needing to be recharged basically every day, so functionality is clearly more important, and electric cars have multiple advantages in this area, and it will probably just be a matter of a little more time for people to fully digest the advantages.

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  3. The CBC has an item about EV owners in a very cold place, Winnipeg, Manitoba. It not only dispells the myth that EVs are not suited to cold climates.

    It points out that the need to use the battery power to heat the vehicle reduces the range between repowering. But they never have to worry about their car starting in the cold (ICE vehicles need a block heater and almost new batteries to be sure to start after being in the colkd for a few hours).

    And there is a side benefit for owners of EVs like Teslas who can have a toasty warm car when they get into it after something like a restaurant visit on a cold winter day (they can start the interior warming by using their phone, no engine starting required).

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  4. If the free market competition for popularity and profit had correctly responded to the initial indications of the unacceptability of fossil fuel burning (way back in the 1970s), we would not be needing to have this discussion today. EVs would be very common. And public transit systems powered renewably would be the more common modes of transportation everywhere.

    However, we are not yet discussing the required corrections today. We are still having pointless arguments with people who want to resist any correction of what has developed that would not personally benefit them, and especially not wanting corrections that would reduce the incorrectly developed perceptions of status for themselves and 'their tribe'.

    A significant portion of the popuation in the most advanced nations still do not share the understanding that all human actions need to be governed by the Universal Objective of improving awarenss and understanding and applying that knowledge to help develop sustainable improvements for the future of humanity (doing no harm to the future of humanity, no matter how popular or profitable the harmful activity may be for a portion of humanity).

    Because of the successful efforts of those who have been resisting correction of understanding and actions through the past 50 years, humanity now needs to collectively force correction to occur at a more rapid pace (with actions like significant government interventions), which just makes the resistance to correction 'hotter' because many of the 'undeserved larger perceptions of status relative to others' that have developed during those 50 years will have to be more significantly corrected.

    Some rich and powerful people do not deserve their status. And all of the rich and powerful people know it, and know who the undesrving are among them. It is just a matter of time until enough of the rest of the population clearly understands who among the rich and powerful are undeserving to make the required corrections occur.

    The undeserving among the rich and powerful can be seen to be abusing every psychological marketing trick in the book to delay that inevitable corected future reality. Tragically, they are still able to Win power in supposedly more advanced regions of the planet.

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  5. Regarding the appeal of EVs, a great orator once put it this way.

    "Resistance is futile."

    If you drive one, you will want one. A few cons, yes. But many more pros!

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  6. As a follow-up to my comment@3, it would appear that EVs are better than OK compared to ICE vehicles in cold climates.

    In very cold climates diesel engines are never turned off because the combustion cylinders need to be warm to start them again. That would not be a problem for an EV, though the increased range of a hydrogen fuel cell system may be the better option in that sort of condition.

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  7. Electric cars in cold climate and heaters draining the battery. Double glazing can reduce heat loss by up to 80%. This would mean less need to use the  heater. Could be an optional extra.

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  8. >>Globally the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, probably exceeding 40%, is the internal combustion engine (ICE), widely used by the transport sector for propulsion ......<<

    But, acording to:

    ..all transport (which includes aviation) emits some 20% of CO2.

    I suppose we are all getting used to wildly varying figures in the emissions debate, but it doesn't help discussion with deniers when they can point to different numbers and you can't counter them.

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  9. Wol,

    I agree the claim made about ICE being 40% of CO2 emissions is wrong.

    The World Bank data also shows transportation being 20% of CO2 for 2014. And electric power generation is nearly 50% (clearly the largest source of CO2).

    A portion of that electricity would power transportation (mainly trains and city transit trolleys). But to make a total of 40% for transport, about 40% of that electricity would need to be for transport. And even if that was what was evaluated, that should have been stated rather than the lazy claim that all of the 40% was from ICE.

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  10. High CO2 level develops health problem in larger cities and its reduction can definitely be good of our hearts and languages but is it really a major contributor to the greenhouse effect and global warming?

    Climate change has been caused by many natural factors, including changes in the sun, volcanoes, Earth’s orbit, and CO2 levels.
    Does anyone know the contribution rate for each factor?

    Also if climate change is inevitable, what can we do to prepare for it?

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  11. KateAllatRaIPM@10 Earth's orbit varies in 20,000, 40,000, and 100,000 year cycles. This is too slow to explain warming that is occurring at a rate of 0.1-0.2C/decade.

    Volcanoes cause warming by emitting CO2 over time periods of 1000's of years. No volcanoes have been seen doing that over the recent 800,000-year ice-records. But you correctly mention volcanoes as a possible source, which they were in the deep past, which means that you should accept that they cause warming through CO2 emissions. They are simply not a problem now because there have not been any large eruptions in the last million years or so.

    NASA watches the sun very, very closely, because it can be a problem for their satellites and astronauts. In the satellite era NASA has not recorded any solar activity that could account for the current warming.

    Because you accept that volcanoes can cause warming, and because the link between volcanoes and past warming is CO2, then you should appreciate why human CO2 emissions are linked to the current warming by looking at the following graph. Over 400,000 years of ice-core data CO2 goes up and down in a very narrow range of 180-300 ppm. In the last 60 years CO2 has risen 100 ppm, and it is rising 2.5 ppm/year. This is much much faster than volcanoes can emit CO2.

    We are the problem.

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  12. KateAllatRaIP @10,

    In addition to Evan's response:

    • The health problems in cities are due to other pollutants from burning fossil fuels (NOx, SOx and particulate matter), not CO2. Ending the burning not only ends the climate change impacts, it ends the other harms of the ultimately unsustainable activity (future generations cannot continue to benefit from burning up non-renerwable resources. The future generations only get the future problems).
    • What can be done to adapt to the reality of human caused climate change? Stop the human causes of climate change quicker to reduce the magnitude of the impacts. And have the portion of the current generation that benefited most from making the problem pay for all the adaptations required for the created climate change impacts.


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  13. KateAllatRalPM@10: "Does anyone know the contribution rate for each factor?"

    Here is a great visualization which graphs the various factors which influence the earth's temperature.

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  14. Cities have higher concentrations of C02 from vehicle traffic but I have not seen evidence this is a serious problem for peoples health. However if concentrations of C02 build up inside homes from keeping the windows closed it can cause headaches, and even be fatal if there is absolutely no ventilation.

    However the main toxic effects of increased CO2 concentrations on human health are CO2 causes warming, which can create a pathway towards more ozone production which is toxic for humans, and more atmospheric water vapour, creating acid rain. Of course global warming causes more heatwaves and exacerbates various tropical diseases.

    According to the last IPCC report all the warming since approx. 1980 is attributed to human causes. Free copy can be downloaded here.

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  15. I saw on twitter that Tesla have recently bought a super capacitor company and the comments about the acquisition were that it was a natural fit for them. Super capacitors can charge and discharge very quickly so maybe they’ll be used as an interface between the batteries and the motors/chargers, presumably reducing charge time and improving battery reliability and utility. It’ll be interesting to see if this produces a step improvement for EVs.

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  16. Right on in all respects but one.  I don't believe that self driving cars will ever become the industry standard.  Have you ever seen a computer program that didn't have a raft of glitches when first released.  Have you ever seen one that couldn't be hacked.  With an electric car without bells and whistles, it should be so easy to maintain that we will reverse the helplessness we feel when we look under the hood of a modern car.  Changing a motor, for instance, should be as easy as undoing 6 nuts, extracting the faulty motor and inserting a new one.  The old one goes for refurbishing or recycling.  Ditto inserting new up to date batteries and using the old one at home to store energy from your solar array.  The car manufacturer that produces the simple but hugely reliable, easy to repair electric car (bolt on and off bits that tend to get dented for instance) will sweep the market.

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