Last year I announced I wanted to buy an electric car. After a little research, I concluded a plug-in hybrid, rather than all-electric, was needed because we frequently take trips that are further than the range of electric cars. If my needs were limited to in-town commuting, an all-electric car would be perfect.
Since that time, I’ve added another consideration into my purchase decision, namely, will the gasoline I save with the new car offset the energy expended in the production of that new car? Bob Schildgen, who works with the Sierra Club, provided some insights to the question, citing a study conducted a few years ago. As you might expect, the answer depends on how much you drive per year and the efficiency difference (miles-per-gallon) between your current car and the replacement car.
To make a 3,000-pound car requires the energy roughly equivalent to 260 gallons of gasoline. A hybrid car requires 25% more energy (because of the battery) or around 325 gallons of gasoline. Over the past 2 years, I’ve driven my car approximately 1,600 miles per year. My car averages about 18 miles per gallon and if I replaced it with a new hybrid plug-in, I should expect to realize around 50 miles per gallon. Doing the math tells me I currently use 89 gallons of gasoline per year as compared to 32 gallons that would be used by the new car – a savings of about 67 gallons per year. This tells me it would take 4.85 years for the energy savings of the new vs old car to “break even” (325/67). Of course, there are other factors such as the gasoline savings – around $200 / year assuming gasoline costs $3.00 per gallon. The new car would emit fewer emissions by burning less gasoline. But five years is a long time for the energy saved in gasoline to offset the energy needed to build the new car. And, my current car is running fine and the trend for my miles per year driven continues to decline.
The limited range, and long recharging times of electric vehicles have made it difficult for many people to switch. But that is about to change. A fascinating article by Chris Thomlinson in the 8/17/2020 Houston Chronicle discusses new breakthroughs in new electric vehicle batteries that are expected to be game changers. Several companies are competing to have the best, and the first of these new battery designs, all of which incorporate a solid-state electrolyte. These new batteries are expected to become commercially available beginning around 2023 and widely available in 2025. According to this reporting, these new batteries will eliminate the shortcomings (range, charging time) of electric cars when compared to gasoline cars. The new capabilities of the battery prototypes are impressive:
- They hold three times more energy;
- They charge in minute rather than hours;
- They work in hot and cold weather;
- They can survive more than 1,500 charging cycles;
- They pose no fire hazard.
Thomlinson, who owns a Chevrolet Bolt, puts these new capabilities in personal terms: ”With a solid-state battery, charging my Chevy Bolt up to a 230-mile range at home would no longer take six hours. Instead, I could conceivably add 750 miles in 30 minutes at a commercial charging station.”
Electric vehicle companies like Tesla and newer companies, including Rivian, Fisker, Karma Automotive and Nikola Motors are currently building factories from scratch and will begin reaching their full potential around 2025. “Old-school automakers” are also active in developing electric cars. For example, General Motors has recently unveiled the Cadillac Lyriq and has plans for 23 more all-electric models.
If I want a new car, I don’t think the trade-off in efficiency is worth it, so I’m inclined to sit tight. By waiting, I should have more options available. Of course, if my old car gives up, I’ll need to buy something – perhaps a plug-in hybrid or a conventional hybrid. Many hybrid models get 50 MPG. If my old car can last until 2025, I’ll be able to take advantage of these new battery breakthroughs and buy an all-electric one and skip the gas stations completely. And for me, getting that new car would be Quite A Charge!
…… Of course, I could also consider buying a used hybrid. The energy required to make that car has already been expended so I wouldn’t be initiating any new demand for energy – just saving it by having a more efficient vehicle!