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Old 04-15-2011, 06:11 PM
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Default Algal biofuels - the oil of the future? Or not...

A culture of insanity: Algaeworld / Die Algenwelt


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The researchers found that 21 billion gallons of algal oil, equal to the 2022 advanced biofuels goal set out by the Energy Independence and Security Act, can be produced with American-grown algae. That's 17 percent of the petroleum that the U.S. imported in 2008 for transportation fuels, and it could be grown on land roughly the size of South Carolina. But the authors also found that 350 gallons of water per gallon of oil -- or a quarter of what the country currently uses for irrigated agriculture -- would be needed to produce that much algal biofuel.
Whew - amazing 17% of the petroleum "needed" and all it takes is an increase in water use by another 1/4, and covering a whole US state (albeit a smaller one) with algal farms...To be fair, the also try to work with wastewater and oceanwater to lessen the impact and actually find a proper use for wastewater, but there are no numbers yet on how much that can provide.

But evaporating water is a potent greenhouse gas - no matter where the water came from. And also the "spent" water has to go somewhere - it potentially is salty due to the evaporation and may contain additives used for growing these algal monocrops. Oh and of course they will want to use GMO algae and large scale nanotechnology for that. They do not mention how much energy is needed to keep the pumps running and cleaning the ponds and all that - this may reduce the energy gain...

Looks like at least land-based, open pond algal biofuels are not really a solution to anything. Other models include closed ponds, tubes (very expensive) or ocean based (giant floats) systems, but given the size of this, these seem less feasible - economically and technically.
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Old 04-16-2011, 02:55 AM
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All biofuels are a huge placebo... algae are better than most in that they don't take up areas needed for actual food... but this is typical of trying to replace sources of oil instead of trying to replace the oil itself.
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Old 04-17-2011, 01:14 AM
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We need to further our technology so the reliance on oil is gone. Algae biofuel production wouldn't be able to cope with the massive demand that the developed countries would place on it.
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Old 04-17-2011, 03:08 AM
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Before going green, we need to make our machines and processes more efficient. As many of you know, a gasoline engine is, typically, 14% efficient; a Diesel engine, at most, 50%. Before starting to throw food or dedicating enormous extensions of land to make biofuels, we need to make sure that the product will be efficiently consumed. Unfortunately, there's no way to improve the efficiency of the gasoline or diesel engine. Thermodynamics predicts that those efficiencies are the highest we will reach (or we will have to change the laws of physics, but that's impossible). Replacing oil will take decades, it will certainly happen.
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Old 04-17-2011, 08:18 PM
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Originally Posted by applejuice View Post
As many of you know, a gasoline engine is, typically, 14% efficient; a Diesel engine, at most, 50%. Before starting to throw food or dedicating enormous extensions of land to make biofuels, we need to make sure that the product will be efficiently consumed. Unfortunately, there's no way to improve the efficiency of the gasoline or diesel engine.
This, It would be more efficient to have electric motors and create electricity out of the oil ..
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Old 04-18-2011, 02:45 AM
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Yes, going completely electric is the way of the future. Electric motors are 85 to 95% efficient in transforming electric power into mechanical power. Electronics makes the electric motor a very versatile machine, but there's still a disadvantage: the batteries.
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Old 04-18-2011, 09:36 AM
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Yes, going completely electric is the way of the future. Electric motors are 85 to 95% efficient in transforming electric power into mechanical power. Electronics makes the electric motor a very versatile machine, but there's still a disadvantage: the batteries.
Indeed. Batteries are the main reason that electric cars will never work with current technology, when a charge is anywhere from 8-12 hours, while filling a car with petrol is maybe 5 minutes maximum. Future batteries are being developed which are capable of charging to 80% in ~3 minutes as well as having a much smaller capacity loss over time (the other big problem - many existing electric cars' range will drop to just over half over a few years depending on usage), which would be a solution, but these will most likely require specialised power systems (although as they become more common, that becomes less of a problem) and do not yet exist in anything more than concept and very early prototypes. Once they are at a usable state though, then the world can move to mostly electrical.
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Old 04-19-2011, 12:14 PM
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Electric motors are 85 to 95% efficient in transforming electric power into mechanical power.
... but generating electricity is very inefficient. Usually below 50% IIRC for the better power plants, more like 30%. Some solarthermals are at 50%, solarelectric are below 10%. Then transporting electricity (landlines) and storing it again (batteries, hydrogen) is inefficient. Overall, this is not at all more efficient really.

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Batteries are the main reason that electric cars will never work with current technology, when a charge is anywhere from 8-12 hours, while filling a car with petrol is maybe 5 minutes maximum.
I think that is no reason to not do this at all. There is a very simple solution to it and that is exchangeable batteries. Just like you have several sets of batteries for your video camera or mp3-player or torchlight, you'd simply buy a full battery and return the empty one. Of course that is then not as easy as plugging the car into the wallplug at home, but the exchange could be fast and the batteries could be exchanged and recycled properly easily once their lifetime is over. It would require a standardization of battery sizes and connectors and some sort of mechanics at gas stations to replace the battery, but that is no technological problem - if anything it is one of design, regulations, standardization and acceptance. Most likely, each car manufacturer will instead produce their own batteries with own voltage and shape and connectors and at different places in the car and it sells easier if you can charge the car at home and do not need an infrastructure of refill stations that would have to be set up (though that could be combined, also - make the batteries exchangeable AND allow for homebased recharge).

The problem I see more is that using even more electricity will require massive amounts of new power plants to be built, more landlines and such. Also, the efficiency is a problem (as I said above). And to that adds the problem of getting Lithium and other materials like REEs for the huge amount of batteries and electric motors. All this has to be mined and processed and manufactured, which also costs a lot of energy and produces the usual problems with mines and mine processes. It may be a way to keep cars going, but it does not really deserve the label "green" or "clean" IMO. I think a lot more is gained if the number of cars is reduced, e.g. by easy car sharing and public transport or eliminating the need for too much transport. There is a neat project here locally that wants to put cars in the streets and you can with a membership card just rent it on the spot for a low price and leave it within the city afterwards. The organization then distributes them if they are not evenly distributed. If this is done with electric cars, at least the number of batteries would decrease.

A side fact by the way: Did you know where all the sulfur from the de-sulfurized gasoline goes to? It is dumped into the tanks of large intercontinental ships, who burn it over the open sea. So we do not have acid rain anymore on land, but the stuff just was exported to the oceans. And the 15 largest ships in the world produce as much sulfur emissions as all the land based transportation with cars together. Ugh!
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Old 04-19-2011, 03:57 PM
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Once I read an article about another way to get power out of algae. The idea was a relatively closed system where you grew algae in a sort of tank or bioreactor (which got its energy from the sun). The alage was then dried, burned and used to heat water that powered a generator. The heat from the burn also dried new algae. The CO2 from the process was fed back into the tank to give material for more algae. Perhaps though some nutrients must be added to grow the algae.
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Old 04-19-2011, 08:01 PM
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If you grow them in a closed loop tank and get them out by filtration, maybe add the processed residue back to the water as nutrients, it may be possible. Up to now, such plans are a lot more expensive than open ponds though and there is an issue with algae sticking to the glass surfaces that have to exist to let light in, blocking the light for the algae in the moving water. Overall, this would still cover a lot of land, require a lot of the energy produced by it and still require water and nutrients. But mainly it is way more expensive and certainly will not be built within a few years or decades.
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Old 04-19-2011, 10:13 PM
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Battery exchange and standardisation is a valid solution, but the infrastructure, both physical (battery exchange points, storage, charging facilities, distribution*) and nonphysical (billing systems, tracking of bevels of batteries in different areas and assignment of more as required, monitoring battery lifecycle). The technical issue of standardisation would probably require the use of multiple smaller batteries (for larger and smaller vehicles, both in terms of available space and power draw) but is not insurmountable. Of course, even if such a system was fully implemented today, then a battery small enough to be interchangeable without removing a significant amount of the internal structure to access it would only be enough for 10-20 miles.

* Exchange load would not be equal between areas, and unless stocks were huge and there was an extensive system to move them around, areas would face over-or under-supply of batteries as people move around.

Having interchangeable batteries would, in a very best case situation, require twice as many, and in a more realistic scenario, it could be 10 times as many or more (due to distribution differences).

As for electricity demand itself - yes, it will require a much larger production capability (and wind/solar will not be able to fill it due to the peaks and dead times they create - over here and in many other countries, windfarm operators actually sell their produced energy below cost due to the nature of baseload systems meaning that there is often very little demand for it when it is available thanks to its intermittent nature, and they make their actual profit from subsidies and not energy - it would be perfectly possible for them to remain profitable while simply running the electricity to an earth instead of the national grid if the subsidy was still be available in that context), but the efficiency percentage is much higher, resulting in less total energy produced for the same amount by in the end consumer - even if all vehicles were electric and all the electricity was produced by oil, the oil consumption would be less than them using the oil directly.
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Old 04-20-2011, 01:04 AM
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Originally Posted by auroraglacialis View Post
... but generating electricity is very inefficient. Usually below 50% IIRC for the better power plants, more like 30%. Some solarthermals are at 50%, solarelectric are below 10%. Then transporting electricity (landlines) and storing it again (batteries, hydrogen) is inefficient. Overall, this is not at all more efficient really.
It depends on the type of generation. For thermal cycle generation, common efficiencies rank between 45% - 60% (for the combined thermal cycle). That's because the generator is attached to a thermal machine, and thermal machines follow Thermodynamics. If the generation is hydroelectric, the efficiencies rank from 80 - 90% (the bigger, the better). In my experience, you loss about 4 - 6% of generated power in the transmission line, add to that the transformers, typically 85% (the bigger, the better).
Let's make numbers then:
Hydroelectricity (large facilities > 5 MW)
Power available at consumer tap = Power at the turbine input x 0.90 x 0.85 x 0.95 x 0.85
= 61.77 % of power at the turbine input (that's the power that water is transferring to the machine).
Now, for thermal:
Power available at consumer tap = Thermal power at the beginning of the cycle x 0.6 x 0.85 x 0.95 x 0.85
= 41.18 % of power at the beginning of the cycle.
Storing that power in Lithium batteries is, nominally, 85% efficient. So, overall we have efficiencies of:
Hydro
.67 x .85 = 56%

Thermal
.41x.85 = 34%

Comparing that to the Otto cycle, electricity beats it by more than twice its efficiency, the only real competitor is the Diesel cycle. Coal powered electricity plants have efficiencies of 30%. So, it depends from where you are getting your electricity.
Quote:

I think that is no reason to not do this at all. There is a very simple solution to it and that is exchangeable batteries. Just like you have several sets of batteries for your video camera or mp3-player or torchlight, you'd simply buy a full battery and return the empty one. Of course that is then not as easy as plugging the car into the wallplug at home, but the exchange could be fast and the batteries could be exchanged and recycled properly easily once their lifetime is over. It would require a standardization of battery sizes and connectors and some sort of mechanics at gas stations to replace the battery, but that is no technological problem - if anything it is one of design, regulations, standardization and acceptance. Most likely, each car manufacturer will instead produce their own batteries with own voltage and shape and connectors and at different places in the car and it sells easier if you can charge the car at home and do not need an infrastructure of refill stations that would have to be set up (though that could be combined, also - make the batteries exchangeable AND allow for homebased recharge).
That's what Tesla Motors is trying to do. To standardize the batteries, so one can exchange them easily.
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The problem I see more is that using even more electricity will require massive amounts of new power plants to be built, more landlines and such. Also, the efficiency is a problem (as I said above). And to that adds the problem of getting Lithium and other materials like REEs for the huge amount of batteries and electric motors. All this has to be mined and processed and manufactured, which also costs a lot of energy and produces the usual problems with mines and mine processes. It may be a way to keep cars going, but it does not really deserve the label "green" or "clean" IMO. I think a lot more is gained if the number of cars is reduced, e.g. by easy car sharing and public transport or eliminating the need for too much transport. There is a neat project here locally that wants to put cars in the streets and you can with a membership card just rent it on the spot for a low price and leave it within the city afterwards. The organization then distributes them if they are not evenly distributed. If this is done with electric cars, at least the number of batteries would decrease.

A side fact by the way: Did you know where all the sulfur from the de-sulfurized gasoline goes to? It is dumped into the tanks of large intercontinental ships, who burn it over the open sea. So we do not have acid rain anymore on land, but the stuff just was exported to the oceans. And the 15 largest ships in the world produce as much sulfur emissions as all the land based transportation with cars together. Ugh!
As mentioned above, the bigger, the better. Efficiency is improved when the needed quantities of power are big, real big. There are ongoing projects involving Ultra High Voltage transmission lines expected to improve transmission efficiency. New materials are being developed for better transformer efficiency and the distributed generation schemes are emerging as a competitive alternative to the centralized generation (which also are expected to improve efficiency). The ideas that you mention will certainly make its way to the industry and regulatory entities. Stop using the car if there's public transportation, turn off the lights you're not using, unplug the things you don't use, etc. Many small things that most of us can do can also make the difference, globally and in our pockets.
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Old 04-20-2011, 07:10 PM
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Originally Posted by applejuice View Post
So, overall we have efficiencies of:
Hydro
.67 x .85 = 56%

Thermal
.41x.85 = 34%

Comparing that to the Otto cycle, electricity beats it by more than twice its efficiency, the only real competitor is the Diesel cycle. Coal powered electricity plants have efficiencies of 30%. So, it depends from where you are getting your electricity.
Most electricity currently comes from coal. Hydropower can never fill the demand. I do not know where you get that number for the efficiency for Otto engines - it is about twice as much as you say and about 2/3 to 3/4 of Diesel, AFAIK. That would be around the 34% you calculated for "Thermal" (what exactly are you referring to there if you do not mean coal?) and way above what would come out if you use coal.
So electric cars are indeed wasteful, but of course some things speak for them, like that oil is running out.

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As mentioned above, the bigger, the better. ... the distributed generation schemes are emerging as a competitive alternative to the centralized generation (which also are expected to improve efficiency). The ideas that you mention will certainly make its way to the industry and regulatory entities.
That sounds kind of contradictionary...

In any case, this all would require huge investments in terms of money, energy and resources and probably there are not enough resources availabe to make this happen for all the 7 bil people on the planet.
In times of economic crisis, I am not sure if there will be the political will, money and determination to make all this happen. Technically it may be possible though I do not think that this is really sustainable or a good way to go (electric cars still need toxic fluids, metals, a lot of copper and lithium, roads, energy)

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Stop using the car if there's public transportation, turn off the lights you're not using, unplug the things you don't use, etc. Many small things that most of us can do can also make the difference, globally and in our pockets.
Yeah, little things are little though. You may drop the energy input of the couontry by a percent or two if you turn off lights and such, but somehow I think there are big pieces of the pie that have to be adressed. As in water consumption which is largely contributed by industry and agriculture, same is happening with energy. Most energy is not used in private households. Certainly doing all these little things will help though, just they will not solve the big scale problem unless everyone does them and everyone does a lot more. And unless industry and agrobusiness also start to cut down on consumption.

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Originally Posted by Human No More View Post
Battery exchange and standardisation is a valid solution, but the infrastructure....
Oh certainly to set all this up, it would require an enourmous effort and I doubt it will happen. I was just pointing out that the speed of loading batteries - a technical problem that is solvable - is not what really will stop such technologies to get a hold fast.

Quote:
Of course, even if such a system was fully implemented today, then a battery small enough to be interchangeable without removing a significant amount of the internal structure to access it would only be enough for 10-20 miles.
I do not understand - you could either use larger batteries that have to be changed with a machine and not by manually lifting it out - or you could put in a dozen of the smaller ones, easily accessible in some way. These are technicalities.

Quote:
* Exchange load would not be equal between areas, and unless stocks were huge and there was an extensive system to move them around, areas would face over-or under-supply of batteries as people move around.
That I also do not understand - you always return one battery in exchange for a new one. Like camping-gas bottles. And as the exchange stations could recharge the batteries themselves, the only reason for them to be transported would be for recycling. Of course areas with higher demand need larger stocks or more powerful rechargers. Again, this is all within the technical possibilities, the reason it will not happen are sitting in many other places.

Quote:
over here and in many other countries, windfarm operators actually sell their produced energy below cost due to the nature of baseload systems meaning that there is often very little demand for it when it is available thanks to its intermittent nature, and they make their actual profit from subsidies and not energy
Well, one of the major obstacles towards using these intermittent energy sources is that the base load is fulfilled by plants that cannot adapt quickly. If they would be able to shut down when wind comes online, that would be a lot better then. This is why the current plans for Germany include the use of hydropower for storage of energy (as it is a way of generating power that is highly adaptable) and to use natural gas, geothermals or air pressure storage to fill in the gaps. What is the worst option is a baseload by plants that can not change their output at all - like nuclear, but also coal. A energy generation system that includes intermittent sources HAS to complement the intermittent sources with quickly available and dynamic sources. It has to be a highly dynamic network.

Regarding subsidies - all energy is subsidized usually in some way or another (and if it is only a reduced tax, cheap government loans or government financed R&D). In Germany, coal is subsidized to keep the coal workers in their jobs, nuclear is heavily subsidized, there are few taxes and the state paid for a lot of the R&D and the research on the waste storage, solar/wind/biogas is subsidized by giving the owners a minimum price per kWh. I am not so firm about hydro, geothermal or natural gas, but I suspect that they also get some subsidies. There is a reason why a lot of the energy generation is originally state owned, because it used to be a business that cannot make profit unless the people all have to pay more. It is in that respect similar to roads or rails. Of course privatization can take hold, with all the consequences that followed (either deteroating infrastructure, rising prices or the need for subsidies). But I am getting offtopic
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Old 04-20-2011, 10:49 PM
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Most electricity currently comes from coal. Hydropower can never fill the demand. I do not know where you get that number for the efficiency for Otto engines - it is about twice as much as you say and about 2/3 to 3/4 of Diesel, AFAIK. That would be around the 34% you calculated for "Thermal" (what exactly are you referring to there if you do not mean coal?) and way above what would come out if you use coal.
So electric cars are indeed wasteful, but of course some things speak for them, like that oil is running out.
Here's a good reading about the internal combustion engine and why my numbers are coherent: Physics In an Automotive Engine
Thermal machines involve all machines that use heat as a source of energy. You can get heat from several sources: coal, oil, natural gas. In my country, most power comes from natural gas-powered plants that are much more efficient than coal plants because the exhaust gases are recirculated in the cycle, so it makes the fuel consumption lower.
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That sounds kind of contradictionary...
It might seem as a contradiction, but seems there are some interesting facts about distributed generation. First, reliability. Second, length of the transmission line. But is only a new approach, it might work, it might not.
And, yes, the bigger the better the motor is. A small motor, lets say 400 HP is about 85% efficient (a Siemens motor, I think, I may be wrong), but a 1000 HP motor is 95% efficient (Siemens). The same goes to generation, but there's a convergence point where the efficiency will be no better, there's ongoing debate about that and that's where the distributed generation was born.
Quote:
In any case, this all would require huge investments in terms of money, energy and resources and probably there are not enough resources availabe to make this happen for all the 7 bil people on the planet.
In times of economic crisis, I am not sure if there will be the political will, money and determination to make all this happen. Technically it may be possible though I do not think that this is really sustainable or a good way to go (electric cars still need toxic fluids, metals, a lot of copper and lithium, roads, energy)
I tend to differ with the last argument, gasoline cars also use a generous amount of toxic fluids and metals. They have more parts than a electric car, especially in the power plant. An electric motor is basically an iron core with coils of copper surrounding an iron rotor with copper bars in it. and that's it. Less materials, less moving parts, less exotic materials. As a point of fact, there are only three moving parts in a electric motor: the rotor and the two bearings where it is mounted. The battery technology is a settled one and schemes for recycling those will make their environmental impact lower, considering that a battery does not transform into gas, but remains mostly the same through its life. As for if our resources will be enough... only time will tell. But we have a powerful tool to resolve problems that lies over our necks, I am certain that we will live a new era of scientific discoveries like the early - mid 20th century, that brought us the tiny transistors, without which none of this would be possible.
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Old 04-21-2011, 12:39 PM
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Erm - no offense but I have no idea on the credibility of that site, the design is not really professional to begin with, and I do not have the time to read though about 30 pages of text. The claim is made there, that only 21% of the energy is converted to motion compared to about 35% as I estimated (I think Wikipedia gives a slightly lower number). Both are above the 17% you stated. If the 20% are correct, then the 50% of a diesel engine have to be wrong. I have driven both, diesel cars and otto cycle cars and the savings in gas consumption are not bad, but you do not use 3 times less diesel than regular gas. My current otto cycle car uses about 6 liters per 100 km, a diesel engine car of the same size will need about 4-5 liters of diesel. Even if the energy content in diesel is a bit higher, all of this does not make a 17% vs 50% comparison look realistic.

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Thermal machines involve all machines that use heat as a source of energy. You can get heat from several sources: coal, oil, natural gas.
Yet you erote later in the article that coal is only about 30% efficient. Same goes for nuclear BTW - also 2/3 of the energy goes to rivers ususally. natural gas and oil are probably better than that.

In any case, I stick to my assessment that electric cars are at least not more efficient, but rather less compared to many means of transport currently in use.

Quote:
It might seem as a contradiction, but seems there are some interesting facts about distributed generation.
Oh, I really like distributed power generation a lot better than single point structures. Solar panels on houses and a generator attached to the houses heat generating facility would be much better than what is in place today. I was just wondering about the seeming contradiction

Quote:
I tend to differ with the last argument, gasoline cars also use a generous amount of toxic fluids and metals. They have more parts than a electric car, especially in the power plant. An electric motor is basically an iron core with coils of copper surrounding an iron rotor with copper bars in it. and that's it. Less materials, less moving parts, less exotic materials.
Well, the electric cars do need that power plants and all that goes with it - landlines (lots of copper and metal and land), generators (copper, neodynium), plant facilities, mining (coal, nuclear, gas, oil), transport (fossil fuels) more land (solar, wind), drilling (oil, gas, geothermal)... but that is less than gas driven cars of course. Electric cars however use toxic materials like brake or transmission fluids, oil and grease, rubber tires. The motors need copper and neodynium to work and the batteries require lithium. Especially copper and neodynium are not exactly cheap and abundant, have to be mined and processed. Lithium - I am not decided - it seems possible that there is a desert salt lake that has plenty of it to supply a lot for batteries, but that has to be seen.

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As for if our resources will be enough... only time will tell. But we have a powerful tool to resolve problems that lies over our necks, I am certain that we will live a new era of scientific discoveries like the early - mid 20th century, that brought us the tiny transistors, without which none of this would be possible.
Well, that is hope in a unreliable way. I think it is not so great to rely on "we will think of something" as a basis of where we go, especially if some of the things we think of end up destroying ecosystems or the world we live in. I am sure, oil seemed like a marvellous idea at the beginning of the 20th century and see where it has lead us. Also fertilizers and pesticides lead to a "better file through chemistry" - but ended up poisoning bees, rivers, oceans, groundwater and deplete soil. If new innovastion is created out of desparation or the "need" to replace something else, one is all too willing to accept more of the negative consequences compared to innovation that is optional. If we now "need" electric cars because oil runs out, my prediction would be that this culture will be all too willing to accept a bunch of negative effects in return, because the only other option they look at is oil driven cars and that is also not good.
So the seeming choice is "gasoline cars OR electric cars" - one of them it has to be. No one will like or consider talking about "no cars", because that is unthinkable, a regression, a decline in standard of living or a return to the 19th century or a descent into a "third world country". So "we" stick to debating over which of the cars is a bit less toxic, kills a bit less people, animals, life on this planet - but "we have to have cars, right?"...
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