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Does a car with a hybrid engine and Lithium batteries pollute more than a car with conventional technology?

We hear a lot about electric cars being the future. But we also heard a lot about corn ethanol being the future. Corn ethanol has suffered some public relations backlash and is no longer wholly in favour with the green industry. Most people still take electric cars seriously. However I am skeptical.

Here's why. Wikipedia says:

A 2011 report prepared by Ricardo found that hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars generate more carbon emissions during their production than current conventional vehicles, but still have a lower overall carbon footprint over the full life cycle. The initial higher carbon footprint is due mainly to battery production. As an example, the study estimated that 43 percent of production emissions for a mid-size electric car are generated from the battery production.

But that's not all of the story. There is also the fact that you then have to dispose of or recycle the battery. Also, what are these batteries made of? Can we really sustain switching all vehicles to these batteries? I assume the batteries are also made of non-renewable resources, so aren't we just switching non-renewable resource dependencies from oil to battery materials (whatever they are).

It seems this is just another side-step, not a real solution. Are electric cars really a good idea?

  • 1
    This question is too fuzzy, and not answerable. If "electric car" is defined more closely it will also only be answerable once electric cars have arrived en masse and so disprove the statement. The question also seems to focus not on electric cars, but on getting rid of carbon dioxide, which is not really the same thing. That said Honda plans to make a fuel-cell car, which is electric in my book, by 2018, so I would say "No". Jun 25, 2011 at 14:04
  • You gotta look closer. 1) regenerative braking recovers energy - good thing. 2) what drives the wheels is just an energy transducer - what really matters is how is the energy stored, distributed, & produced. Hydrocarbon is hard to beat, but then you get exhaust pollution and lose (1). Batteries could be good if the problems you mention could be reduced. Hydrogen could be good but it has its own problems. For either batteries or hydrogen, the actual energy source is more adaptable - wind, solar, as well as coal, methane, conventional energy sources. Jun 25, 2011 at 14:15
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    Ethanol could be good if it simply harvested solar energy, but that depends on how it's made. In Brazil, it's made from sugar cane more efficiently. In the US, it's made from corn, which is basically just oil turned into grain. Not to mention it drives up corn prices - food - hurting all the people on the planet with less money to throw around than Americans have. Jun 25, 2011 at 14:23
  • Not exactly the same question (but exactly the same answer, I guess): skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/351/…
    – Sklivvz
    Jun 25, 2011 at 20:23
  • @Lennart Regebro: I'm not sure I understand what you are saying. This isn't a fuzzy question, and whether it is answerable or not remains to be seen by the answers we get for this question. Also, saying that we can't know until "electric cars have arrived en masse" may be true, but that doesn't mean the question isn't worth asking and (if possible) answering. No question can be answered definitively until the events occur that make it true or not, but we still ask and answer them to the best of our ability.
    – richard
    Jun 26, 2011 at 7:24


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