11 February 2015

I Sing The Body Electric

It was sometime in school, might have been junior high or as late as undergraduate, when the instructor in some class brought up the topic of electric cars. Now, this was decades before Tesla, so it was somewhat abstract. The question raised: would an electric car be less polluting than the current gasoline/diesel ones? The class agreed that it would. Well, except myself.

My point: one can only answer the question with some specific technical information. To wit: at the point of use, yes the electric car emits no exhaust, so is cleaner than the internal combustion alternatives. But that's only half the point. The juice to charge the car has to come from someplace, and at that time, the answer was, mostly, coal fired power plants. And, at that time, these were about the dirtiest creatures on the planet. So, my answer was: it depends. Much to my surprise, and gratitude, the instructor smiled and agreed. One small victory.

What that has to do with today, is that Joe Nocera, in discussing a book on battery tech by Steve LeVine, normally sane and intelligent, falls into the same intellectual trap as my classmates of decades ago. Now, of course, today's cars are cleaner and many (most?) coal fired generation have scrubbers and such, but the issue remains: only testing knows for sure. Joe, on the other hand, is sure:
And with so much less exhaust spewed into the air, the effect on climate change could be lowered.

The standard article of faith. It is just faith. But he does, in paraphrasing LeVine, make one of these endeavors' major points:
[LeVine] told me recently, "a loss of confidence in the U.S. in our ability to create a real economy" -- one based not on financial instruments or a real estate boom, but real products that would help create entire new industries.
In other words, what QE exercises were supposed to do, but ended up just funneling all that moolah to the banksters and others of the 1%.

It is a worthwhile read, nevertheless. If only to emphasize that humans don't make the laws of physics or chemistry, just find out what they are. Whether chemical batteries can ever have the energy density of gasoline, or even diesel? It is the portability of gasoline that makes all the rest of automotive society possible. I wouldn't bet on it. Better to structure a transport system of public and private conveyance that fits the limits of chemical batteries. But that's Socialism, so it won't happen here. We'll choke to death on exhaust and road rage.

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