USS Clueless - Carbon emissions

Stardate 20020722.1316

(On Screen): What with one thing and another, I'm beginning to think that Governor Gray Davis needs to return to college for a refresher course in basic Physics, not to mention some review of basic engineering principles. He seems to show, again and again, a complete lack of understanding of the physical realities of how energy works. (Maybe after he loses the next election he can find the time.)

In a blatant attempt to suck up to environmental activists, Davis just signed what amounts to a mini-Kyoto for the state of California, to be applied to individual vehicles.

The legislation, which has been fiercely opposed by the auto industry, requires the California Air Resources Board to adopt regulations that would achieve "the maximum feasible reduction" in emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, emitted by cars and light-duty trucks, the category that includes sport utility vehicles.

The regulations, which should be completed by 2005, would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2006. The amended version of the new law also gives automakers until 2009 to come up with technological changes or modifications to comply with the new standards.

With California making up some 10 percent of the national auto market, state officials say the new legislation could become a national model and will push auto makers to devise new ways to make cars and trucks run cleaner.

If what he wanted was an increase in car mileage, why didn't he say so? What's all this silliness about "greenhouse gases"?

And the only "feasible" way to do this is to reduce the size of cars, reduce their power, and thus increase their mileage, unless they can come up with some sort of way of coercing people into using them less.

I suspect that those in favor of this bill think that simply by passing it that somehow or other the transportation industry will suddenly magically pull a non-carbon-burning alternative out of its hat, one of those technologies they've been storing in their vaults and suppressing. You know, the conspiracy. (The one by the big oil companies who secretly run everything and own the President's soul and who planned the war in Afghanistan so they could build an oil pipeline and stuff like that.)

It's not that simple. For instance, electric cars are no solution. Or rather, it depends on the problem you're trying to solve. Back when the state of California was mostly worried about air pollution in major cities (Los Angeles) then the idea of electric cars at least had something going for it.

But if the goal is to reduce emission of CO2 overall, they are actually worse than using gasoline. That's because electricity isn't an energy source.

Electricity is the most versatile form of energy we have, but all the electricity we use is created from other things. The majority of the electricity used in the United States is generated by burning coal.

Transport of electricity is reasonably efficient, but it's not perfect, and there are line losses. The process of converting coal into energy is also not perfect, and a great deal of the energy in the coal goes up the stack as waste heat. (This can't be avoided. The Second Law of Thermodynamics requires it, and despite what you may have heard, the Second Law hasn't yet been repealed.) But the big loss with electric vehicles has been the batteries.

Most of the electric cars around now use lead-acid batteries for storage. You plug your car into the wall at night and charge up your batteries, and then discharge them again while driving. Charging batteries is extremely inefficient; electricity is used to create a chemical potential in the battery, but most of the electricity is converted to heat. And when the battery discharges again, a lot of the energy stored in it also heats the battery.

If the original electricity was created by burning coal, then what this means is that a lot more CO2 is released per passenger mile by the battery-based electric car than by a gasoline car. You need to generate the energy actually consumed to move the vehicle, but also all the energy which was wasted in transmission and in charging and discharging the batteries, which means you need to burn more carbon at the power plant than a car would have needed.

But that CO2 is released somewhere else. If your goal is to reduce air pollution in your cities, that may be a good deal; better to burn coal in a plant in Arizona than gasoline in Van Nuys.

But that's not the stated goal of this bill. The idea here is to reduce overall emissions, no matter from where. And the only way you could do that with battery-powered electric cars would be if the original source of the electricity was not based on combustion.

So what would be the best engineering solution if the goal was to eliminate CO2? Quite frankly, banning individual ownership of cars or imposing restrictions on how much they could be used. (The reality of the Kyoto accords always was that it was an attempt to reduce the lifestyle and consumption of the citizens of the wealthy nations.) The best way to do that is to ration gasoline.

But if we don't accept that (and not even the most starry-eyed conservationist can believe that gas rationing is politically possible in peacet

Captured by MemoWeb from on 9/16/2004