back to article E-cars are a dangerous myth, says top boffin

Politicians' obsession with electric cars is a waste of time - and costing British science and research dear. So says Richard Pike, head of the Royal Chemistry Society, in a hard-hitting contribution to Research Fortnight (pdf). Pike says the £250m tax boondoggle designed to induce us to buy electric cars would save less than …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Pike's past...

    Seem to recall Pike worked for BP for 25 years and that they sponsored him as an undergraduate. Could that have a bearing on his view point?

  2. Frank Bough

    TOP Boffin?

    Sounds like a bit of an idiot if he thinks the govt's tax solution to rising use of electric cars will be an electricity tax. It's road pricing, of course, and only a popular revolution will stop it.

  3. Bad Beaver


    Hush, spoilsport!

  4. Mark Rosher

    He's right

    The main thing about most electric cars is that the pollution is not emitted at the point of use, making cities relatively cleaner but is still emitted at the power station (fuel cell technology is an exception).

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    From the article....

    "And it's only "cheaper" because petrol is so heavily taxed. Once we all run dinky electric cars, the government will lose so much revenue, it will want to tax electricity, too."

    Damn straight - that's exactly why they & their EU masters are so fixated on Road Pricing....for when petrol & diesel tax revenue has all but disappeared.

    Two-hats, the lot of 'em!

  6. Michael Smith

    Sounds like Sir William Henry Preece

    "The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys."

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Well, duh - kind of

    He's roughly 1/2 right.

    *Right now*, if you switched all the fossil fuel-powered cars to 'leecy, the net effect on CO2 emissions would be negligible. Maybe slighly better 'cos electric cars are small and slow and horrible so you won't want to drive as much <*grin*>

    But he's missing the point. How does the good professor plan to power vehicles in, say, 20 years time when oil is too expensive/has run out/whatever?

    We can make plentiful fuel for electric cars *right now* using nice low CO2 sources like nuclear, wind and solar.

    Unfortunately, we don't know how to make large quantities of low-CO2 petrol or diesel. Biofuel and algae-fuel (or whatever) just don't cut it (yet) and nor does LPG.

    Until that changes, liquid fuelled vehicles are a technological dead end.

  8. frank

    In other news...

    World still a sphere.

    No but really, it's like the big energy reality no-on wants to face is that we need to use less energy per person. We've been high on the hog of cheap oil for so long that we can't face the comedown.

    What's the alternative?

    Renewables? Probably can't supply us with all our energy wants.

    More nuclear?

    Yeah right. That'll be the one with fuel and by-products that remain toxic for 50,000 years. Or, to put it another way 10x older than Stonehenge, which is already unimaginably old on a human scale.

    Sure I trust BNFL and the French, to have made adequate provision for keeping us safe. <wets myself laughing>

    Inter alia, mate of mine was stopped by plain clothes coppers in rural Wales last week for taking photos. Turns out he was near a nuclear power station and they get twitchy about people with lenses.

    Seriously, we have plain clothes cops permanently hanging out around our nuke plants due to terrorism fears. Well yes, makes sense. Highly vulnerable, tempting target, very toxic materials.

    So: Vote nuclear for the surveillance society!

    I bet half the people saying 'go noo-klear' on these pages are the ones objecting so vociferously to Phom.

  9. Richard Willetts

    Missing the point...

    Okay so while power stations rely on fossil fuels also there is a point being made here, but that also needs to change, we can no longer afford the dependency on fossil fuels!

    Clean, natural energy is what is needed and at that point the cars running on it will live up to the hype!

    Until then of course any supposed benefit to the environment is really non-existent but stopping the development of electric cars would be a huge mistake at this stage! It needs to continue unabated and the development of natural power generation needs to catch up with it!

  10. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    Mass Debate

    I don't know if Pike's argument is valid or not, whether he's biased or prejudiced, but we do need informed debate and decision making on such matters, though that's often anathema to political leadership.

    Whether E-Cars are the answer or not, petrol will run out or become non-economically viable in the future.

  11. Richard Willetts

    Fuel Cells?

    Not that much of an exception, their manufacturing still impacts the environment, and to be made at a justifiable cost it will for some time!

  12. dervheid
    Thumb Up

    Preaching to...

    the converted here.

    As for his 'past' having a "bearing on his view point", show me someone who's past doesn't do this. It's how we each form our unique world view. It's called experience.

    Or were you just surreptitiously accusing the man of being biased, I wonder.

    As for 'renewable' energy, there's only one source that's consistently and reliably available, tidal. (tide come in, tide goes out, tide comes in again, tide goes out again, you get the picture...)

    Maybe we should be concentrating more of our research resources on solving the 'problem' of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels for electricity first.

    Yay Nuclear!

    ps. Comments on an Andrew Orlowski article...


  13. dpg


    Wow, so much idiocy in such a small article. Does the Reg have shares in BP or something?

  14. John Robson Silver badge

    Single point emissions are easier to control / manage

    And improve societal health through cleaner air in cities.

    When (not if) we do manage to get fusion running in a stable and productive fashion on the planet we'll be bale to run 'leccy cars with very low CO2 emissions (because no other pollutants count)

    Lektricty is a good choice of power for a vehicle - zero burn while stationery - maximum torque at zero revs (i.e. when you're likely to need it).

    Unfortunately we can't go and dig up Lektricity, we have to make it.

    At the moment we use much the same tech as we have for many years - but centralising this energy production makes it easier to monitor and control. CSS (for example, not a definitive solution) isn't practical for liquid fuelled cars, it's relatively simple at a large power plant.

    Solar and wind are poor choices for many things, but for charging a UPS (i.e. my car plugged into my house) they're actually quite reasonable.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    hello, im the electric car

    i cant go very fast, or very far

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Quite right too

    This fixation on electric cars is ridiculous. Most CO2 is created by industry and industrial transport. These companies directly profit from the production of CO2 so they should be charged for it. Instead, they get a free pass, and we are expected to drive to work more slowly, losing more of our valuable free time so shareholders can make a tidy earner. Fuck that. You can have my hydrocarbon-powered Golf when you pry it out of my cold dead hands.

  17. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Mostly true

    As always, the political arguments are being swayed by a very narrow view of the issue (think "bio fuel"). It is true that oil is running out and that we need to get away from oil-powered cars, but equally there are issues that are clearly not being considered properly:

    1) We are running out of electricity capacity in the UK and unable or unwilling to sort it out properly (bugger all investment in new plants of any sort: nuclear has the security/waste problems, renewable can't provide enough and/or consistent power, coal is also running out and a big C02/other pollution menace, etc).

    How could we power enough cars/vans on top?

    2) Infrastructure. I live in a 3rd floor flat, how do I charge a car overnight?

    So we *must* have rapid (10 minutes?) garage-like charging to work, and that is not yet workable.

    3) Battery chemistry. Do we have the natural resources to make the proposed batteries in the quantity needed for the ~billion vehicles world wide?

    4) Pollution. Even with 'clean' electricity, which is currently a minor aspect, what about the process of doing (3) in (most likely) a cheap labour and lax-environment-law country like China, along with the damage to areas where the mining takes place?

    Yes, we need a change and electric is the best option for fuel diversity, but I strongly suspect we can't do it without a major drop in use and alternatives like train/bus that so far have failed to get major gov or public support.

    As pointed out already, we have got here on the back of squandering oil like it was going out of fashion, and now it is, and we can't really see a way out.

  18. Filippo Silver badge


    So. No oil, no nuclear, and we all know that the amount of energy you can get out of renewables is a tiny fraction of what we're using.

    Exactly *how* do you propose to cut down our energy consumption by a full order of magnitude?

    Please provide a solution that does not cause ten times more problems than just building nuke plants.

  19. Seno

    More Pike's past

    Lets see Dr Pike has a 25 year carear at BP, followed by a few years at Gaffney, Cline and Associates (energy consulting outfit) where he worked as a consultant for petrochemicals and power production firms.

    Also according to Dr Pike we will never run out of oil, he dosen't like most biofuels or teaching about climate change and global warming in schools.

    So this completey unbiased source says electric cars are bad, well I'm convinced.

  20. Peter Bond

    Missing the point

    Surely what is at issue in not how much the UK chucks at electric car R&D and adoption, but how little it spends on science and engineering in general! As for CO2, the UK is the windiest country in Europe, so wind power could be made to supply a very high % of our needs if only we would stop pandering to the NIMBYs who don't want a windmill within 200 miles of their house or the radical tree huggers who think its a mortal sin to build a wind farm on a blasted bit of moorland that nobody ever visits. Electricity can be produced without direct CO2 emissions and the only way to translate that fact into personal mobility is through electric cars.

  21. Noogie Brown

    I'm going to work on taming some kind of giant lizard

    they we can all ride around on them.

  22. Robert Grant

    What I like about this article... the author's commendable commitment to reporting the facts, unbiased, without his own inexpert opinion bleeding in every two words.

  23. Palladius

    Problems with the counter-argument

    "i cant go very fast, or very far"

    Doesn't that argument basically boil down to: "Sod the world, I wanna hurtle about while making a really BIG noise"?

    Yeah, electric cars aren't great (although they seem perfectly adapted to driving in cities) and anyone with a brain can see that they're not going to decrease carbon dioxide emmission at the moment. I think those pointing this out are kinda missing the point though. As commentators above have suggested, the value of electic cars is in their potential. Detractors should surely point out what they suggest we do instead, or risk their comments appearing trite and redundant..

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    reasons not to buy

    There's been a discussion on here before about electric cars, and they're are plenty of arguments why they're not the solution to climate change!

    And I'll simply repeat one of the arguments why people won't buy electric cars: running costs, and I'm not talking the price of electricity here! I'm talking the cost of replacing the battery after perhaps 4 or 5 years, we're talking thousands of £ !!

  25. Kevin Bailey

    And see here...

    To see how mad the car and oil companies are.

  26. scub
    Thumb Up


    Nuclear? ( Have I spelt it right?)

    Anyhows, seems to me we have the north sea littered with very deep holes and platforms. How come we can "renovate" these platforms into nuclear power stations. And all the nasty stuff we dont like can simply be flushed down tthe hole? (Dont they pump down concrete to fill any viods?)

    There are even pipelines to bring in the electricity produced?


    adios amigas..

  27. Stephen Jones
    Thumb Down

    Hope they paid you well for this

    36% is the lower end of the efficiency scale for power plants, 35-48% is normal. New gas powered plants can hit 60%. A regular internal combustion engine will maybe get 20%.

    As for cost, electricity doesn't require oil tankers, depots or filling stations, just nice cheap wires (compare to the costs of maintaining a fleet of tankers). Less people involved, less time and money wasted. Of course it will mean less jobs if you only have a Daily Mail level of understanding of economics.

    Oh well, can't let the facts get in the way of a good troll. Wait, it wasn't even a good troll, frankly it was lackluster, 3/10.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    that comment is a quote from the simpsons. to finish it off, "and if you drive one, people will think you're gay"

  29. goggyturk

    The oil won't run out

    "Also according to Dr Pike we will never run out of oil"

    In this case, he's right. We won't, it'll just become more inaccessible and expensive to produce, which *may* have the same effect in the long run.

    This is already what's happening as the oil companies turn to stuff like ultra-deep water, oil sands, hydrates etc.

    Just look at what's happening in the sub salt plays off Brazil and tell me we'll run out of oil any time soon...

    However, I'm all in favour of getting rid of the motor and replacing it with a leccy job, but not at the cost of bleeding off the little funding available for R&D in this country.

  30. Lottie

    What we need

    Is for this guy to realize that the issue is more that we need to find something to replace our fossil fuel dependant vehicles with and one end of the erquation needs to be implemented first.

    Personally, I'd prefer a decent, nationalized electric public transport system. Keep the cars for getting to/ from the hubs and try y'know cycling or walking more.

    But then again, it's our RIGHT to drive isn't it?

  31. Mark Wills
    Thumb Down

    Shifting the problem...

    Moving from combustion engines to battery power is simply moving the problem from one finite resource, to another.

    How long, once there are 500 million battery powered vehicles on the worlds roads, until we run out of the resources required to build the batteries?

  32. Pete Silver badge

    Waiter! These grapes are sour

    The rather irrelevant comparison between the money his lot get for research and the amount the government is prepared to "waste" on electric cars is a basically a rant. Even if the govt. cancelled the electric car scheme his scientist chums still wouldn't get any more cash - as it's been assigned to a different department of the government.

    A better approach would be for the chemists out there to start thinking along the lines of "batteries use chemicals to store power ........ maybe we should propose some research initiatives to improve their efficiency and capacity?" rather than sitting in a corner grumbling about how all these other groups are much better at lobbying than they are.

  33. Ben Wilson

    36% efficiency not bad compared with internal combustion engine

    IC engines have around 15% efficiency, so even if you lost half of the energy generated at the power station in the supply network, you're still doing better with an electric engine. Also, electric engines are quieter, cleaner, more powerful and don't need any particular kind of fuel.

    So while, of course, the current set of govt initiatives are probably bollocks, no doubt the result of lobbying from the car industry, there is nothing wrong with the technology.

  34. Happy Skeptic
    Thumb Down


    As usual with these one-sided, highly biased articles this one misses the point. Yes electric cars today suck, and yes they aren't hugely more CO2-efficient than petrol/diesel cars.

    But the point is to get our transport system weaned off of oil, a resource which might not run out but will continuously get more expensive and more environmentally destructive as we have to go to much more trouble to extract and refine it (eg. from tar sands). Not to mention the huge political, economic and security problems of our entire economy being dependent on a resource we can only source from a small number of unfriendly and unstable countries.

    An infrastructure of electric cars powered by nuclear plants would solve this problem neatly, and take a fair whack off CO2 emissions at the same time. We could then stop wasting oil in ground transport and leave it for where it's really needed (aircraft, plastics manufacturing and the military). Might not be so good for Pike and his backers at BP though...

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Short sighted.

    Petrol comes from abroad.

    Electricity comes from here.

    Yes, a bit simplistic, but true enough to make a big difference to the maths.

  36. Rob

    Just don't get it

    They talk about electric cars like everyone is going to buy one.

    The simple fact is that no not everyone is going to buy them, I tend to run my car into the ground so I should be driving it for another 5 years at least, my next motor needs to be about £2500 second hand cause that's all I'll be able to afford.

    Mass adoption is the only way any benefits from electric cars will be seen and if you get mass adoption what happens to all the cars that will need to be scrapped. Surely it makes so much more sense to develop an actual liquid fuel that will require a modification to the engine at worst, less scrappage, quicker adoption etc. The fact that the Gov and industry are keener on electric smacks of corruption and a selfish interest in profits rather than actually helping the bigger picture.

  37. Ricky H


    we've put up with fuel taxation for too long

    that is all I have to say on this issue

  38. dr2chase

    The comparison to fueled power plants is definitely a set-up

    If your choice is burn the oil in the car or in the power plant, then indeed, there is not too much point in an electric car, except for the possibility of improvement single-point control of emissions.

    However, we can built solar, wind, tidal, nuclear, and biomass-powered electric plants, but those technologies are not so practical when applied directly to auto transport (a "tidal car", that would be useful). "Smart" car-chargers could be made responsive to fluctuations in load/supply, so that your car could charge overnight using power as it was available (thus dealing with the issues of "but wind power is unreliable, tidal power has dead spots").

    All of the problems with cars (of either sort) are improved by making the cars smaller. A half-size car needs a half-size battery, consuming half the resources per car, etc.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Quite right too

    "Most CO2 is created by industry and industrial transport."

    Check your facts.

    Overall energy in the UK (in 2001) was 22% industry, 30% domestic, 34% transport.

    Of that transport figure, 62% is for cars. Only 34% is for freight. The rest is motorbikes & buses.

    Energy consumption in industry is falling (and has done so for years). On the other hand, transport energy consumption has almost doubled since 1970.


  40. Richard Brown

    Energy audit

    What we need is a (publicly available, fully transparent) national energy audit updated every 3 to 5 years. This would highlight what aspects of our economy use the greatest amount of energy, and in what form. This in turn would enable policy makers to focus resources on those aspects that would give the greatest return in lower carbon footprint etc for our pound.

    Otherwise all we get is a piecemeal approach, grabbing at the latest "new thing", environmentally friendly gadget that will be the saviour of mankind, whether that is electric vehicles, nuclear energy, wind power etc ad infinitum.

  41. Dave


    Trouble is, every other modern country is going the same way, ie going for massive token efforts: change every lightbulb to a more expensive version, change every car to a more expensive electric one...

    What this means, is that if we can get ahead in this technology, then we can rake in a fortune from all of the other countries, enough money to actually do something worthwhile, and by then we may have worked out something that does make sense.

  42. Gordon Jahn
    Thumb Down

    It's just Bad Research

    The "boffin" also failed to take account of charging efficiency - we have to assume whatever efficiency on the generation of electricity from the source it comes from, but the charging efficiency hits all cars.

    It's a very misguided picture which is somehow trying to make a point about emissions (which, once charging is taken into account, may not be reduced if we use coal or gas to generate the electricity) and energy at the same time. If your electricity comes from a zero- or low-emission source, do the electrical inefficiencies matter much as they are - by definition - not contributing (or not contributing much) to additional emissions?

    If it is a comparison between fossil fuels via a battery and fossil fuels in the car itself then yes, the figures should be quoted as MWe and MWth so people can make a fair comparison. That doesn't mean the whole electric vehicle thing is rubbish though.

    I still think the whole issue is much more about diverse energy sources and electric vehicles give you the choice of how to get the juice rather than just sucking up oil, chucking it through some fractional distillation and sticking it in the tank. Hydrogen could give the same flexibility.

    Somehow these other benefits are lost though in a pointless and obvious rant which comes down to "the units are different".

  43. Anonymous Coward


    facts vs opinion

    seems a common theme

    mine's the one without a label and the keys to an electric range rover sport

  44. dervheid

    Short Sighted too...

    "Petrol comes from abroad. Electricity comes from here. Yes, a bit simplistic, but true enough to make a big difference to the maths."

    And just where do you think a huge (and ever increasing) proportion of the fossil fuels that go to make electricity come from these days then, JonB?

    Go on, guess.

    That's right, ABROAD.

    Simplistic? - yes.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bit out of date with his numbers

    'Only 36 per cent of energy available in the fuel in a power station is delivered as electricity'

    Combined cycle gas stations like those that dominate UK energy production rate at over 60% efficient. Throw in distributed heating systems where they supply local populations with hot water and heating and you can be looking at round about 80% of the energy in the fuel going to useful purposes.

  46. xamboz

    I scoff at the prof

    The prof (if that is what he is) points out himself that "in the UK, 10kWh delivered into an electric car results in average emissions of 5.5kg. In France this is already close to zero, as more than 85 per cent of electricity is generated from nuclear and renewable sources." Why can't this become true of the UK too? This is the main point about electric cars and he ignores it completely. Petrol *has* to involve carbon emissions. Electricity doesn't.

    There is another problem in that he does not make a fair comparison: he measures efficiency over different parts of the energy distribution process for each type of car. If he is going to look at electric vehicle's energy efficiency in units of 'energy content of fuel burnt at the power station per mile driven', he should look at diesel and petrol vehicle's energy efficiency in comparable terms, for instance 'energy content, including embodied energy of refining and distribution, of fuel burnt in the engine per mile driven'. That's not a very easy number to get hold of, but using it might increase the energy per mile of petrol and diesel cars by 30-40% (Treloar et al., 2004, cited in Without the Hot Air). That would obviously make electric vehicles look a lot better, even on TODAY'S technologies, and electric cars still have plenty of room for improvement. Although today's electric cars achieve around 20kWh/100km, many current prototypes approach double that efficiency.

    In terms of carbon emissions, he aims to mislead again. He compares the CO2 emissions associated with feeding 10kWh to an electric car and to a petrol car: 5.5kg and 2.6kg respectively. We are supposed to conclude that petrol is better for the environment! Even using his numbers, 10kW gets you 50km in an electric and only 12.5km in a petrol car, so driving a petrol car means you emit just under twice as much carbon as if you went electric. That's because power stations are about twice as efficient as automotive internal combustion engines, even including distribution losses*.

    Richard Pike accuses the government of woolly thinking but he's guilty of some himself - or else he has an anti-e-car agenda. If so then the real problem with what he's written is that he is spin-doctoring the facts for political ends, while wearing the scientific authority of the Royal Society of Chemistry. There are serious political questions here, about how to manage climate and energy security risk and what to do about them, but science should be about facts. If we let people treat science and politics the same it'll be bad for all of us - we expect to compromise in politics, but you can't negotiate with facts. Its hard enough to separate the science from the politics anyway, this guy should be ashamed of himself for debasing his scientific credibility to dress up his political opposition to electric cars.

    *Whereas a decent petrol or diesel engine only converts 20-25% of the fuel's thermal energy to mechanical energy (, or just 14-18% if you include the embodied energy of refining and distribution, even an old and creaky large coal power station can convert 36% of the fuel's thermal energy to electricity, and a shiny new one can convert 48% (ok I admit I looked on Wikipedia), which works out as 28-40% after distribution (8% distribution loss figure from National Grid). The equivalent numbers for gas, as already mentioned, are 60% and 52%.

  47. ian


    Where is my atomic car? THIS is obviously the answer to global warming.

  48. Anonymous Coward

    Arthur Scargill has the solution

    reopen all the coal mines and generate non CO2 friendly lecky , well that's unless they can get carbon capture to work.

  49. Chris Gray

    Shipping *far* worse

    Reading through Slashdot, I came across this article:

    In short, large container ships are *far* worse that cars - 15 of the largest container ships emit as much sulphur oxides as all the cars in the world. Seems to me that they should go nuclear. Of course, given they are run by commercial companies, we *would* have nuclear disasters. Sigh.

  50. Happy Skeptic

    second hand market

    "The simple fact is that no not everyone is going to buy them, I tend to run my car into the ground so I should be driving it for another 5 years at least, my next motor needs to be about £2500 second hand cause that's all I'll be able to afford."

    True but all cars only have a lifetime of 10-15, maximum 20 years. So 10 years or so after the first electric cars have come out you'll find your 2500 quid 2nd hand cars are those electric cars that were new 10 years ago. As long as the govt. doesn't go overboard the national fleet could get replaced like this through natural attrition, no unnecessary scrapping of working cars.

  51. Apocalypse Later

    @Mike Richards

    You missed out "delivered".

    "Only 36 per cent of energy available in the fuel in a power station is delivered as electricity"

    Efficient conversion of fuel to electricity is only half the story. Much is lost in transmission. Power plants near residential areas are not popular, and in the case of wind farms and hydroelectric, not possible. The further the power must travel, the more is lost in the transmission lines, so "delivered" is an important word in the above.

    I grew up near a large hydro-electric plant that had a large aluminium smelter right next to it. They brought the bauxite ore half way round the world and up the river in huge barges, but they had to be as near as possible to the source of the electricity. Very little of the bauxite was lost in transmission.

    My favourite solution- hydrogen. Internal combustion engines can run on it, so we don't need undiscovered battery technology, and you can make it from electricity and water. You can also transport it to the point of use with existing technology, much as we deliver gas and LPG, and without loss. Yes, storage in liquefied form will be tricky, and leaks dangerous. More care needed, but petrol spills and gas leaks are also dangerous and we cope.

  52. Rune Moberg

    Solar energy

    I'd like to point out that fuel grows on trees... It exists in abundance. Powered by the sun -- just add some water.

    Sugar canes grown in Brazil, not only supplies Brazil with ethanol, but also Sweden+Norway, plus other countries too.

    Granted, at some point it might affect the prices of food.

    But... That is unfortunately to be expected. We have to ask ourselves how many people this planet can hold. If the population continues to grow, then food will become scarce anyway. The less we do now to curtail the number of people, the more will die of starvation in the future.

    What is worse, many farmers had no viable income prior to the biofuel venture. Our economic system is not suited to provide poor people with cheap food. We are already in the process of making a choice for them, biofuel or no biofuel.

    Both in Russia, EU and USA we subsidized farmers NOT to grow anything at all, because of the overproduction. That is the main reason for the surge in prices. The price of grain was at record low levels in the previous decade. Now we see a small 'bump' and everybody starts panicking (the price is still much-much lower compared to the end of the 70s).

    My solution: Use oil to produce plastics we can make contraceptives from. Encourage people to reduce the number of off-spring they produce. And start growing fuel large-scale while we research technology that will allow us to produce electricity in a clean way.

  53. Kurt Guntheroth

    Pike and Orlovski get it wrong

    Pike's opinion piece (no citations, etc) says that other studies have shown electric cars to be about 3x as efficient as petrol cars, but then says that power plants only deliver about 36% of the energy in their fuel to the plug, so there is approximately zero efficiency gain.

    Ahem, what about the cost of mining, refining and transporting the petrol? What about power plants that do not burn fossil fuels? Pike's weak-minded analysis exploits a fluke in the numbers to stoke an opinion. There is no methodology here.

    We need more efficient electric cars, AND we need more efficient power distribution, AND we need more renewable power sources. This would be true even if we could continue to externalize the cost of carbon emissions.

  54. John Smith Gold badge

    @Paul Crawford

    “We are running out of electricity capacity in the UK and unable or unwilling to sort it out” properly” this probably is *the* ultimate elephant in the tent. IIRC 20% of UK electricity is nuclear and those sites are getting past their sell by dates. The nub of this is the generating companies like *big* gobs of capacity. They hate the relatively titchy gobs by micro-hydro (we have a lot of rivers in this country and the force of gravity is unlikely to fail any time soon), the wind turbines or even rubbish burning (which considering what they burn should be close to carbon neutral). In perspective total UK generating capacity (any unit over 1 MW) is c58GW. A usual sized landfill gas driven gas turbine is 1MW. Of course the UK has a lot of landfills but they do have finite lives.

    “Infrastructure. I live in a 3rd floor flat, how do I charge a car overnight?” This is a lot easier to handle. With an agreed Europe wide plug standard it would make sense for the government to encourage charging points in car parks, particularly the ones at train stations and large office blocks. With one plug fitting all whatever rolls up can be dealt with. Rapid 10 min charge necessity eliminated. Boris Johnson's announcement in reg hardware may be relevant on this point.

    “Battery chemistry. Do we have the natural resources to make the proposed batteries in the quantity needed” If the infrastructure is mostly chemistry neutral and can handle any reasonable current/voltage range it only becomes an issue on vehicle re-sale. The range of rechargeable battery chemistries available is quite large. Outside Li types NiCds and even the humble Pb/H there is the Air cell under development in Scotland, Metal Hydride (Normally Ni but presumably could be other core metal), and the high temperature (270-350c) ZEBRA cell which is a molten Na salt system. ZEBRA's core materials are Al, Na and Ni. It does run hot but not very hot, so cheap insulation is feasible (rock wool, vermiculite, glass fibre). It's claimed to have reached about the 1800 cycle range already.

    “Pollution. Even with 'clean' electricity, which is currently a minor aspect, what about the process of doing (3) in (most likely) a cheap labour and lax-environment-law country like China”

    AFAIK the cells out of which batteries are made are highly standardised. I'd be very surprised if all standard cell sizes are not manufactured on integrated and fully automated transfer lines, where raw materials enter at one end and the complete cell pops out the end. So no labour to squeeze out.

    So most of his comments can be dealt with fairly easily, but the capacity issue is a big one. OTOH the actual use of the infrastructure is likely to be slow enough that capacity could be grown. And given nukes don't like to be ramped up and down overnight recharging seems like a better use for the electricity.

    But hey maybe some people like pulling down big gulps of ground level ozone, partially burnt hydrocarbons and particulate combustion products. A shorter life, but a happier one.

  55. jake Silver badge

    @Happy Skeptic

    "True but all cars only have a lifetime of 10-15, maximum 20 years."

    Tell that to my '66 Sunbeam Tiger or my '70 Mercury Cougar and they'll bite you ...

  56. Richard Silver badge

    Erm, most of you seem to have missed the point

    The *fundamental* flaw with electric cars is the infrastructure. The article pointed out part of the infrastructure problem - they aren't actually 'green' because you still have to make the electricity somewhere.

    So, how do you charge them?

    How long does it take to charge that battery? How much current do you need to draw to do so? Where are you going to plug it in?

    And how could the National Grid cope? It probably wouldn't. Several parts of the Grid are already at maximum capacity, and the UK generating plants sit at extremely high utilisation most of the time. We simply don't have any spare capacity, partly because of NIMBYs but mostly because they are really, really expensive to build so all the power companies have been putting it off as long as possible.

    Wind will never (and I mean NEVER) be able to supply more than ~5% of the UK's needs, and as that can't be relied upon its only use is combined with pumped storage hydro to cover the surges in demand. Wind is not a base load supply.

    Tidal isn't a base load supply either - twice a day tidal produces no power at all.

    Solar electricity is a very bad joke - the older generation of photovoltaic panels used more energy in manufacture than they could produce in their lifetime. This isn't quite true any more, but it isn't far off.

    There is a very simple solution to all this - Hydrogen.

    You can use it to run either fuel cells or infernal combustion engines, and it's not much harder to store, transport and refuel than LPG. There are already millions of LPG cars around the world, so the problem of infrastructure is already solved.

    Creating hydrogen is relatively easy - solar furnaces can do it quite well, you can make it from electricity when nobody else is using it (keeping the base load stations at maximum efficiency), I'm practically certain that you could get bacteria to make it, and I'm sure there are a few other ways that nobody has thought of yet.

    So why not invest in a technology that actually does have a future?

  57. Tony
    Paris Hilton

    Lonf term thoughts...

    I think electricity is the way to go, how that electricity is made at this moment in time is irrelevant, precisely because we have so many options.

    Different communities can get their electricity from different sources - not something that can be said for petrol or hydrogen which require specialist processing.

    I think future transport will utilise various different fuel methods; mains electric for those who can rely on the existing infrastructure, hydrogen fuel cells for those who need more flexibility & renewables for those outside any available infrastructure the first 2 options need. The common factor in many of these will be power provision by electric motors. What will differ is where that electric comes from...

    And undoubtedly other options will present themselves over time.

  58. John Smith Gold badge


    “There is a very simple solution to all this – Hydrogen.”

    Only if you don't look too closely.

    “...and it's not much harder to store, transport and refuel than LPG.”

    I think that sentence should end “I hope.” You might like to compare it with Propane (the P in LPG)

    Propane boils (at 1 atm pressure) at -44c (a cold calm day in Siberia). Hydrogen boils at -253c (a calm day on Titan). At 1 atm Propane is about 8x denser than Hydrogen. LPG and LNG pipes can use foam insulation with bolted joints. LH2 uses welded double layer pipe forming a vacuum jacket. LPG pipes with faulty insulation build up a layer of water ice. LH2 pipes condense Oxygen, which will encourage anything combustible to burn.

    But say you go with GH2. Hydrogen is *very* good at diffusion. Using the natural gas network would loose a lot of H2 for 2 reasons. Its mostly mild steel with bolted connections. GH2 normally used welded stainless steel as certain grades are much more diffusion resistant. You could always make the H2 on site from Methane, air and a lot of heat, perhaps by burning some of the Methane.

    You're right that H2 can be made by bacteria (first efforts seem to date from 2006 covering at least 2 different universities) but so can Methane (and there are signs of Propane production in ocean sediment due to bacteria as well). Such processes run 24/7, unlike a solar furnace (I've never heard of one in the UK). You might also consider micro-hydro. The UK has a lot of rivers. Some never freeze and all run 24/7. Now about cars. Current H2 cars use either the 5000psi GH2 method or the cryogenic (double walled vacuum tank) system. The Honda Clarity has a TNT equivalent of about 4Kg (Hydrogen is explosive over a very wide range and the high pressure is a safety hazard in its own right. H2 in O2 has been detonated by visible light)

    My point is Hydrogen is a very poor energy carrier with virtually *zero* infrastructure in place. Upgrading the (effectively laying new) gas network would be staggeringly expensive. It's physical properties are extremely inconvenient. If your concern is CO2 keep in mind 2 things. 1)It is much easier to manage CO2 release from a single very large source, which can justify complex hardware and special procedures to do so. 2) energy carries using carbon are carbon neutral *if* made from biological sources like animal carcasses, faeces and starch. This could include domestic waste incineration to make electricity. If you must have a carbonless energy carrier you might look at Ammonia. It has been made using solar thermal methods (in Australia) and has been tested under EU grants in fuel cells.

    You might like to read alternative "Alternative Energy without the Hot Air."

  59. Michael

    science funding!

    Most people seem to have missed the point here. The eco-turrurists harping on about the benefits of mass leccy tech adoption when we're facing going back to tallow lamps and horse and cart.(Boris, you've been warned!!!...get a shovel)


    1. Every academic has the duty to search for the truth and the right to teach it.

    2. Every academic has the right and the duty to question anything that interests him, provided he does it in a rational manner.

    3. Every academic has the right to make mistakes and the duty to correct them upon detecting them.

    4. Every academic has the duty to expose bunk, whether popular or academic.

    5. Every academic has the duty to express himself in the clearest possible way.

    6. Every academic has the right to discuss any unorthodox views that interest him, provided those views are clear enough to be discussed rationally.

    7. No academic has the right to present as true ideas that he cannot justify in terms of either reason or experience.

    8. Nobody has the right to engage knowingly in any academic industry.

    9. Every academic body has the duty to adopt and enforce the most rigorous known standards of scholarship and learning.

    10. Every academic body has the duty to be intolerant to both counterculture and counterfeit culture.

    (Excerpt taken from Bunge, Mario; Charlatanism in Academia; Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Volume 775, The Flight From Science and Reason; pp. 110-111; New York, NY, 1996

  60. Dave

    @Happy Skeptic

    And a Hat-Tip to Jake as well.

    When I were a lad, 30 odd years ago, the average lifespan of most vehicles *Was* about 10 years. Mainly down to the poor corrosion resistance of the time, also allied with metallurgy that was adequate, but not brilliant, and lube technology that certainly wasn't as advanced as now.

    The average 20 year old car has loads of life left in it, provided you can get spares, and are prepared to do repairs. I take the fact that I use vehicles, none of which are under 15 years old, as regular transport, as a indication that it is truly better to Reduce (Keeping it in good condition) Re-use (Breakers are good sources of bits), and recycle (Worn bits are recycled, reconditioned etc, and when the vehicle is truly end of life, the good bits go to keep the rest of the fleet going, and the rest is smelted)

    Currently driving a 15yr old Discovery, which replaced a 22year old Nissan, which is being used to keep others on the road as above, and we don't mention the other Landrover built in '73, which by judicious replacement of the engine with a cutting edge unit will quite happily cruise at the legal limit and return 30-40Mpg.

    Don't get me started on the 10year old scrapping scheme, which requires the vehicle to have a MOT to get pennies off a badly made piece of import either!

  61. davefb

    probably best to read the pdf first.

    Makes it all clearer. The gov is trying to get a 'standard' value to compare non-alike vehicles. Except the argument is, that is isn't a standard metric because it's being extremely biased to the electric vehicle. It also points out that none of the science has been actually shown ( 0/10 no working if I recall from school) and yet this is being used to justify immense amounts of money into projects.

    10/10 for trying to get a standard metric, but 0/10 for seemingly not doing it accurately.

  62. P

    Expert Comment?

    This sort of commentary sounds alot like those clowns they dig up from obscurity who tell us global warming isn't happening!!!! Who pays this bloke to come up with this crap? To say that Evs are no better than the status quo is like saying we should never have moved on from steam locomotives. This self appointed expert needs to quote a couple of facts in his augment 1) ALL petrol ICE powered cars are 15% energy efficient at the wheels! That's right up there with incandescent light bulbs for converting expensive energy into useless waste heat. 2) Evs REGENERATE and with aggressive regen it is possible to DOUBLE the range of an EV by recovering up to 50% of the energy it uses... there is no ICE equivalent... friction brakes are about as sophisticated as dragging your feet on the ground by comparison.

  63. Michael Necaise


    Several posts comment that we'll run out of resources to build batteries. This thinking assumes that the components are limited and non-reusable like petroleum. The batteries use metals like lithium, nickel, iron, manganese and carbon.

    1. All of these elements are available in large amounts. The so called problems with future lithium supply shortages are based on supplies of lithium salts that can, literally, be scrapped off the ground. Known readily accessible reserves are 30 million tons or so. However, it's a common enough element found in many minerals which could be exploited once these resources are used up. Technically, there is 230 billion tons of the stuff disolved in seawater; although, technically, it would be difficult to extract.

    2. The batteries can be recycled. So, at the end of the batteries life, the metals can be put back into the resource pool.

  64. scatter

    Unfortunately Pike's analysis is flawed

    But hey ho, nothing like someone sounding off about something they don't really understand, eh Andrew?

    Pike misleadingly uses the extra-urban drive cycle fuel consumption to compare against EVs when the first wave of EVs are going to be commuter vehicles. They completely outshine combustion engine vehicles in the urban and combined cycles. The CO2 emissions from EVs already beats all but the very best internal combustion engine vehicles and it will only get better as the grid decarbonises.

    And get this - the entire energy consumption for a whole year's worth of driving an electric car can be generated by a UK-based domestic scale PV system (~2,250kWh). You'd need to eat quite a lot of chips to be able to run your car off home made fuel.

    The fact is that the necessary cuts in transport emissions will be impossible without the electrification of road transport. Sticking to combustion engine vehicles could produce maybe a 30% to 40% reduction *at the very most* and that was if the manufacturers pulled out all the stops and everyone downsized as much as possible.

    By the way, why are you allowed to use the Register as a propaganda platform for your rants against action on climate change? Where's the opportunity to respond to these often poorly researched diatribes? e.g.

    It's really quite pathetic and it discredits the whole website.

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