Tag Archives: environmental engineering

Electric cars are twice as harmful than conventional cars to the environment during manufacturing

There’s a general belief, most likely resulting from extensive marketing ploys, that electric cars are the cleanest mean of transportation, and an adoption should be hastily made in order to save our planet. While it’s true that electric cars have virtually zero emissions and not even one part per million of CO2 is released during operation, a new research by scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that  electric cars can be twice as harmful to the environment than conventional cars, during the manufacturing process, while the electricity sourced from fossil fuels needed to power the vehicles harm the environment also needs to be factored in. The study suggests that electric cars aren’t that green as previously thought.

During the researchers’ extensive analysis, they locked down the life-cycle impact of conventional and electric vehicles. More precisely, every carbon emission from the very first bolt that goes into a car, until the vehicle rolls down from the factory to commence operation, to its very dismantlement at the end of the product’s life has been taken into account.  The findings were surprising.

“The production phase of electric vehicles proved substantially more environmentally intensive,” the report said, comparing it to how petrol and diesel cars are made.

“The global warming potential from electric vehicle production is about twice that of conventional vehicles.”

The main issue lies in the battery, most often made from toxic materials nickel, copper and aluminium. Scale this to millions of cars in the world and you’ve got yourself a frightening acidification potential.

“Across the other impacts considered in the analysis including potential for effects related to acid rain, airborne particulate matter, smog, human toxicity, ecosystem toxicity and depletion of fossil fuel and mineral resources, electric vehicles consistently perform worse or on par with modern internal combustion engine vehicles, despite virtually zero direct emissions during operation,” according to  co-author Prof Anders Hammer Stromman..

Electric cars are not that green after all

The researchers conclude that electric vehicles significantly pollute the environment before they even get a chance to hit the streets, and also once operation commences, they’re far from being completely emissions free since in most countries the electricity which is needed to power such automobiles is generated from fossil fuels. This is not to say that electric cars are more harmful to the environment than conventional vehicles.

The truth of the matter is, electric cars need to reach an operation threshold for them to become significantly superior to diesel or petrol powered cars, as well as supplying them with electricity generated from alternative, more environmental-friendly sources. The researchers estimate that for a life cycle of 200,000 km, electric cars improve on gas and diesel engines by around 28% and 19% respectively. At 100,000 km however its relative environmental impact is much larger, and shows an improvement of only  9% and 14%, compared to gas and diesel, respectively. If the electric car is powered from an area where the electric mix is more environmentally favorable, like in Europe, an extra 10% boost in favor of the electric car is gained.

As battery life is improved, and production is made more environmentally favorable, electric cars should experience a significant decrease in their carbon footprint. Now the take away of this study is not that electric cars are bad or, in extreme cases, worse than diesel or gas powered internal combustion engines, but that the zero emissions vehicle is a pure myth. Personally, even now despite its shortcomings, I honestly believe a massive shift towards electric needs to be made. Oil during the extraction process itself causes a lot of harm to the environment, without counting the social aspects of its exploitation (see wars), not to count the environmental impact it has during its actual combustion – that’s a whole different fish soup. Also, greenhouse emissions can be trapped at a coal plant, while emissions running rampant from an exhaust pipe from hundreds of millions of vehicles around the world can not. Wind, hydro and solar power sources are increasing their relative margin in the electricity production pie every year, albeit with slow progress, and anyone with an ounce of reason could see that oil is far from being a sustainable model – it needs to be dropped fast. But it’s oh-so profitable…

“A more significant reduction in global warming could potentially be achieved by increasing fuel efficiency or shifting from petrol to diesel,” the report said.

“If you are considering purchasing an electric vehicle for its environmental benefits, first check your electricity source and second look closely at the warranty on the batteries,” said Professor Stromman.

Findings were published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

Bill Gates is paying for artificial clouds to fight greenhouse gases

To be quite honest, I was never really fond of the man, but ever since he quit his executive positions at Microsoft, I’m starting to like him more and more. The reason is not that he’s giving money away, but the causes he’s giving the money for. I’m not really sure how practical this idea is, but if it has any chance of becoming reality, it’s definitely worth looking into (plus it’s the first time I’ve read about such a thing).

The first trials of the controversial sunshielding seem to come at the right time, as the UN failed to secure an agreement on cutting greenhouse gases. The American and British researchers are not going to wait for an international law to pass (which, the way things are going, is not going to happen tomorrow) and see gas emissions levels rise to the sky.

Instead, here’s what some of them have planned: machines that basically suck up 10 tonnes of seawater per second and throw it in the air, to form white clouds and help reflect the Sun’s rays away from Earth. There have been numerous proposed methods of technologically cooling our planet, but according to an efficiency study, this is among the best candidates. It’s estimated that the ships needed to manage such a task would cost only £5 billion. However, the atmospherical consequences are still up for debate, with both sides coming with good arguments. I haven’t been able to get some good documentation though, there just doesn’t seem to be much information about this, but it seems to be a really interesting project nonetheless.

Giant Wave Experiment Reveals Poorly Understood Behavior Of Tsunamis

People, as a society, find it hard to learn from their mistakes. Since the tragic events caused by tsunamis we have not been able to shelter ourselves from them. But this doesn’t mean researchers are just hanging around – on the contrary. Many scientists are working and they are trying to understand the exact mechanism of how a tsunami is formed; this could mean saving lives and preventing environmental and structural damage.

They do this by making mini-tsunamis in Oregon. A tsunami is a series of waves created when a body of water, such as an ocean, is rapidly displaced. Earthquakes, mass movements above or below water, volcanic eruptions and other underwater explosions, landslides, large meteorite impacts and testing with nuclear weapons at sea all have the potential to generate a tsunami. The effects of a tsunami can range from unnoticeable to devastating.

Their focus is the incoming rush of water and they are ignoring the effect of the powerful forces that a tsunami wave can exert on the earth beneath when it draws back into the ocean.

“This was the first experiment of this kind and it will allow us to develop a realistic model to show us what really happens to the sand during a tsunami,” said Yin Lu “Julie” Young, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Places like Hawaii lack buildings which are able to resist the force of a tsunami and that brings danger.

“This is absolutely necessary in a place like Waikiki because in the event of a tsunami there is no place to run,” she said. “It is too populated and the near-shore bathymetry is too flat. The building has to stay intact so that people can evacuate vertically.”.

Their interest is enhanced sediment transport and potential “liquefaction” of the soil, which occurs when a tsunami wave recedes.

They are trying to establish “performance-based tsunami engineering”. This means that they are searching for guidelines for building structures which are able to resist tsunamis. The problem is that there are a lot of variables in the dynamics of sand and water, according to Young. “Sediment transport during tsunamis hasn’t been studied well at all,” said Young. “We plan to use this research to create a benchmark test that everyone can use to compare their numerical predictions. Ultimately we want to come up with a design procedure that can give a sense of the risk and the reliability of a structure and its foundation.”. This should be a big step in shielding from this and reducing the damage from tsunami.