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Electric Cars Are Coal Powered

In Business, Economy, Local News, National News, Opinion, Politics on June 28, 2011 at 2:54 pm

By Gery L. Deer
Deer In Headlines

A few years ago gasoline prices were hovering around the 5-dollar per gallon
mark driving automakers around the world to meet the sweeping demand for
alternatively powered vehicles. Within a year, nearly every company had unveiled
its own version of either a hybrid or fully electric passenger car.

The first electrically-powered cars were introduced in the U.S. and Europe
around the mid-nineteenth century. Though it is unclear who actually invented
the concept back in those days, today there is every reason to believe that the
electric car is no better of a solution than its gasoline ancestors; at least
not yet.

According to the United States Energy Information Administration, almost half
(45 percent) of America’s electrical power is currently generated by burning
coal. Natural gas and nuclear power come in second and third, 23-percent and
20-percent, respectively. Wind and hydroelectric power providers barely even
register on the scale.

With these facts in mind, it may as well be said that an electric car being
operated in the United States is essentially powered by coal. Yes, coal; and
environmentally-minded drivers need to know that there’s nearly nothing green
about driving an electric car.

Coal mining requires the excavation of substantial areas of land and poses a
host of environmental hazards including soil erosion, excessive noise and
pollution of the air and water. In an effort to appear more environmentally
friendly over the years, mining companies have done a better job at covering
their tracks. However, backfilling and tree planting will ever undo the overall
destruction caused by the extraction process.

Mining also takes a toll in human life. In 2010, for example, 48 people died
working in American coal mines. At the same time, China lost more than 2,400
workers to mining accidents.

Once mined, coal is burned to boil water for immense steam turbines which
generate electricity. Burning coal is a dirty process; a statement that cannot
be easily disputed. Burning coal gives off a mixture of sulfur dioxide, carbon
dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

Any ideas that so-called clean coal technologies will help to curtail
environmental damage is idealistic but finally erroneous. Adding
chemical-filtering scrubbers to the chimneys of power plants will only slightly
reduce the amount of toxins released into the atmosphere over time because of
the increasing number of plants needed to meet power demands.

And what happens to the contaminants when reusable scrubbers are cleaned? Some
scientists claim that the filtered toxic waste ends up in the soil and water
supplies in close proximity to the power plants. There is no consensus on an
answer to this question.

Eventually, the world’s coal supply will be exhausted, just as petroleum stores
will be and vehicle designers will be back to square one. But the immediate
issue rests in how to limit America’s dependence on foreign fuel supplies. For
the moment, electricity seems to be the go-to technology, but even the cars
themselves pose an environmental threat.

While they may not directly create a pollution problem, electric cars have some
particularly toxic components, particularly the lithium-ion batteries which
power the motors. Currently, the federal government says these batteries can be
freely disposed of in normal municipal landfills.

Toyota, on the other hand, recently stated that lithium-ion batteries were far
too hazardous to be used in passenger cars at all. If sold en mass, these
batteries could create a significant amount of solid waste, with no
predetermined plan for their complete disposal or breakdown.

Trading one problem for another is not a solution. For now, the amount of
petroleum needed to generate wind and solar power prevents either from becoming
immediately affordable or practical. There is no perfect answer but until there
is a viable option, not just for gasoline but also for coal, the electric car is
not going to help the environmental problem.

In the end, using more electricity to run the millions of automobiles in the
United States will, at least in the short term, generate more pollution and
waste. Anyone looking down their environmentally-friendly noses from behind the
wheel of an electric car should remember just how much damage they may still be
doing.


Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer based in Jamestown,
Ohio. Read more at http://www.deerinheadlines.com.

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