Published Somedays

Prius More Harmful than the Hummer?

(updated: Jul 30, 2007)

Last month Congress pushed forward a bill setting higher standards for fuel economy and for more electric cars and biofuels. Electric cars are definitely part of the future, along with nuclear power. But there's just one problem...the batteries. They are toxic to the environment. We need new battery technology that is safe and 100% renewable/recyclable, otherwise we're substituting one evil (overconsumption of oil and pollution) with another one (more pollution and damage to the environment).

So I did a quick search on google and I found a bunch of articles about how the Toyota Prius is more harmful to the environment than the Hummer. Thanks to it's complex design and manufacturing process, more exotic materials, shorter lifespan, more expensive repair and disposal costs, and batteries, it actually costs more to drive than the Hummer - the big one - in terms of energy cost per mile. Nearly 50% more.


You suck!


AA batteries included!

I won't repeat what's been written up enough already - you can read more about it here: Prius Outdoes Hummer in Environmental Damage

and here: Have You Hugged a Hummer Today?

I'm not advocating the Hummer. The point is that you can't simply compare the costs and enviromental effects of the car itself. You have to look at the cost of the entire process - from mining the raw materials to disposal of the vehicle, i.e., "dust-to-dust". When you look at it this way, the Prius is more expensive than at first glance.

To be fair, perhaps as more manufacturers move to the new materials and technology and the volumes increase, the costs will come down and the lifespan of the car will go up. And many folks that own Priuses have put well over 100,000 miles on them with no problems or battery replacements. We're talking about Toyota here. But the batteries are the worst offenders. In fact, take a look at Sudbury, Ontairo, where one of the largest Nickel mines is. This is where Toyota sources the Nickel used in its batteries. NASA also uses the area around it for rover testing because nothing will grow there - it looks like the moon!

Sudbury Nickel Plant


The Sudbury plant. Does the end justify the means?

Some have said that they've cleaned it up and it's getting better now. These people work for Toyota.

And you also have to consider the fuel (fossil fuel) burned to get it out of the ground. And the fuel to transport it to the refineries, to refine it, ship it to the battery manufacturer, ship it to the auto manufacturer, etc. Just imagine as oil declines the huge shift to electric/hybrid vehicles. It's a recipe for an environmental disaster and continuing oil consumption from further raw material mining and transportation.

And now auto companies have discovered that using an electric motor and batteries can boost performance. I hear Ferrari is putting batteries in its vehicles to get better acceleration.

And does putting hybrid drives in large SUVs make any sense? I can see the marketing people taking a somewhat noble effort and turning it on its head to sell more cars based on green consumer hogwash.

Toyota says its batteries last the life of the vehicle. However, a typical lifetime could be five or six years. Or it could be as short as two. And what about loss due to accidents? Toyota does have a battery recycling program which is good.

How about ditching the toxic batteries altogether? Flywheel technology has been around for years: Flywheel Hybrid. One company even built an 800hp flywheel car.

Imagine that with more and more hybrid choices someone thinks, "With the increased gas mileage I'll get, I can live further out and it'll still be cheaper to drive!" He'd almost have to drive more because the more expensive hybrid has a five to ten year break-even compared to a regular car. Don't forget to run more errands! Otherwise that extra money you spent wouldn't be worth it.

One Toyota Prius owner decided to see how long his Prius could go so he drove it everywhere. So the guy buys a Prius, and then proceeds to drive even more, thus negating any gas mileage benefits: Prius Owner: Jesse

Biofuels are definitely not the answer. A huge biofuel push would mean competition between food and fuel, not to mention another huge pollution problem. Countries that are getting into the biofuel craze are burning thousands of acres of forests to grow sugarcane and palm oil plants. Mexico is growing corn for fuel, driving the prices of food up. Same will go for America. It's the inevitable consequence of trying to continue the status quo rather than actually finding alternatives to driving and simply consuming less.

Imagine the US and Mexican government telling you that it's good for the economy because selling ethanol to the US will bring jobs to Mexican workers and prosperity. Sorry, the only ones getting rich are the owners. The poor Mexican worker has his wages eaten away by increasingly expensive food. He works harder and harder and never gets ahead.

Ditto for coal. Ask a West Virginian what they think of coal, and they'll tell you this: Coal keeps West Virginia poor. The environmental destruction is what's left behind for the W. Virginians to deal with after the coal companies have left town with all the profits.

The next generation of hybrids will be plug-ins. So that means if you drive an electric car you may be burning coal too. You can thank an environmentalist for coal-fired plants instead of nuclear plants, and higher oil dependency by keeping more fuel efficient cars like diesels off US roads.

There's really nothing more efficient right now, energy-wise or production-wise, than crude oil. You find it, pump it out of the ground, refine it, and burn it. The "Well-to-Wheel" calculation for oil cannot be beat by any alternative energy source out there, because all alternative energy source must still rely on oil at some point in the process. The combustion engine is dominant and so refined it's really hard to squeeze much more out of it. You are limited by the Physics.

Everyone talks about how the auto companies could produce vehicles with much higher fuel economy but choose not to. That's true. Hence the reason for the Congress Bill. If they did, cars would be a lot smaller and less powerful. And the auto company would promptly go out of business because no one would buy these vehicles right now. They build what people want. And people want large powerful vehicles with rapid acceleration. Just like they want a vehicle that can potentially handle climbing to the top of the world...or handle the ice and snow of the North Pole... or carry the contents of a Super Wal-Mart. Which we all know is pure fantasy because the probability of doing any of this is so low. People will avoid taking their $55,000, 400hp Escalades through a puddle let alone drive it on the beach near salt water.

The problem with oil has been in the way we've used it. We are so wasteful and the reason is because it is so cheap. I still continue to see people sitting in their cars with the engine idling, people buying 12 mpg trucks so they can pull their boats. Gas is cheap, and we all know it. It's cheaper than water in the grocery store. And as long as it's cheap, people will not have an incentive to reduce consumption. And the people who want to do good and buy a Prius end up doing equal harm. If they wanted to do good they could just stop drinking bottled water. Seriously, this would have more of an impact than driving Priuses around. Or just drive less. Or buy a Honda Civic.

The fact that all the alternative energy programs still require the input of crude oil should be a source of great concern. You still have to mine the raw material, refine it, transport it, and manufacture products with it. All this cannot be done without lots of energy. The more complex the whole process is, as in the case with the Prius, the more energy required. And that energy has to come from somewhere. Is the increase in energy input offset by the efficiency gained? Presently, no. The solution is to stop driving so much.

Only pricing will reduce consumption. No other policy will work. That's how they do it in Europe. They make gas very expensive. They do it through huge taxes. They actually pay about the same for gasoline as we do in the US. If we did that in the US, however, the problem is we have developed an infrastructure in this country which makes it impossible to function with a high gas tax. But now the issue going forward is that since we didn't have taxes to help us conserve and help offset dependence on non-renewable energy from foreign sources, mother nature is going to do it for us. And mother nature doesn't need us or give a rat's ass about us. So this country is screwed.

The more I examine the situation, the more I must conclude that the only solution is to simply consume less. Consider the entire green movement: the number of "earth friendly" products is exploding, and there's more advertising for buying these green products. How about not buying at all? How about driving less?

Don't get me wrong. I much prefer the smaller hybrids over the gigantic SUVs that dominate the roads, if only because smaller, quieter cars don't freak me out as much when I'm riding my bike. And when hybrid manufacturers switch to Li-Ion batteries with higher efficiency it's going to be really hard to say no to a hybrid. Despite being more expensive up front you know the cost of gas is going to go up every year from now on.

But are we really solving anything by trying to figure out how we're going to keep all the cars running? Just switch to hybrids or biofuels and, presto, it's like nothing's changed? We have to break out of this mindset. It's going to take more than a crazy guy who rides bikes to do it.

-SBA



Filed Under: General Entries



16 COMMENTS:

1. Sean said...

Hope...is...fading. Anyway, according to my grandmother the problem with the environment is all the pollution caused by the illegal immigrants. If grandma says it, you know it's true.

Jul 30, 2007 @ 10:24 PM


2. brado1 said...

That's great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane,
Lenny Bruce is not afraid
Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn - world
Serves its own needs, dont misserve your own needs. Feed
It off an aux speak, grunt, no, strength,turn, ladder
Start to clatter with fear fight down height. Wire
In a fire, representing seven games, in a government
For hire and a combat site. Left of west and coming in
A hurry with the furies breathing down your neck. Team
By team reporters baffled, trumped, tethered cropped
Look at that low playing! Fine, then. Uh oh,
Overflow, population, common food, but it'll do. Save
Yourself, serve yourself. World serves its own needs,
Listen to your heart bleed dummy with the rapture and
The revered and the right, right. You vitriolic,
Patriotic, slam, fight, bright light, feeling pretty
Psyched

It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine

Six o'clock - TV hour. Don't get caught in foreign
Towers. Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself
Churn. Locking in, uniforming,and book burning, blood
Letting. Every motive escalate. Automotive incinerate
Light a candle, light a motive. Step down, step down
Watch your heel crush, crushed, uh-oh, this means no
Fear cavalier. Renegade steer clear! A tournament,
a Tournament, a tournament of lies. Offer me solutions,
Offer me alternatives and I decline

(chorus)
It's the end of the world as we know it (it's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it (it's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (it's time I had some
time alone)

I feel fine

(repeat chorus)

The other night I dreamt of knives, continental
Drift divide. Mountains sit in a line, Leonard
Bernstein. Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester
Bangs. Birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom! You
Symbiotic, patriotic, slam book neck, right? Right

(repeat chorus)

It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (it's time I had some
time alone)

Jul 30, 2007 @ 10:44 PM


3. Jonathon said...

Well you settled it for me. . .

I am going to buy a Hummer and put the Prius inside on my new Toyota Prius rack. Then I am going to drive my Hummer onto my new Yacht. Gas the Yacht up with 1.5 million in gas, sail the yacht into international waters and dump both into the sea. That will be two less demons (is it deamons daemons or demons?) on the road.

Peace

Jul 31, 2007 @ 10:47 AM


4. mud said...

That's perfect; all of the above. And it's demons, or el demonio if you're the most common form of illegal immigrant.
I don't know if preservation of our earth is possible anyway from the looks of how we're rolling now. And it won't matter because man cannot get along well enough with one another to make it anyway. We will all utimately end up killing each other in some form of violence and/or ignorance due to simple greed and man's obsessive ego and desire for power. Then who will be here to enjoy the fading lush green earth, dissipating oil supply, and the new model Hummer and/or Pria?

Jul 31, 2007 @ 12:35 PM


5. beachbummer said...

What a shock alot of this enviromentalist crap is just a knee jerk reaction to make people feel good. I cant wait to buy my carbon ticket!! I would like to have come up with that idea that guy who started that company will soon be 1 of the richest men in the world. Follow the dollar if you want the truth. Which is worse for the enviroment my suv that i drive 20 miles a day or your toyota that you drive 50 miles a day?

Aug 1, 2007 @ 9:46 AM


6. Sean said...

Probably my bike that I ride 12. That's just to work though. Sometimes I let off a lot of emissions, damn burritos.

Aug 1, 2007 @ 5:28 PM


7. Eric said...

I'd say your SUV is worse for humanity because if you're anything like the rest of the lot who drive those things, you do so like a jack ass.

I seriously doubt people who drive hybrids are going to intentionally drive them more just because they think they can - anyone who's going to research and seek out one of those things is aware enough of the energy crisis the world is facing to know the key in this endeavor is to drive less.

That being said, Beachbummer, there is no justification for you driving an SUV. But hey, at least it looks good in the parking lot of Dockside.

Aug 2, 2007 @ 12:45 AM


8. drew said...

fwiw-

electric motors are still in their infancy right now..but the strides being made are enormous...there is a motorcycle drag bike that has broken the 8 second 1/4 mile barrier at around 270mph... speaking solely on performance an electric motor applies 100% of it's torque instantly whereas a combustion engine needs time to rev up...for short duration applications such as drag racing the electric motor WILL surpass the combustion engine in the near future...it already has with the exception of top fuel..

here is the thing though: all the advancements being made to combustion engines in terms of output vs consumption/performance are about expended... unless something comes out of left field (this is not expected) the technology advancing that application has reached its end and the main focus is on improving the horsepower/weight ratio... lighter parts basically... sorta like all you weight weenies.

Electric however is a work not even close to a tenth of it's potential... there is research being done where coated aluminum pellets are being placed in fuel cells and are subjected to a simple hydro wash- the result? electricity.. enough to go for a very long time, and when it is expended all you do is either allow it to rest and recharge itself or wash the pellets again. wham- back in business... Another project is Lith-ion gel- stupid lightweight and rechargeable up to 5000 times in its current technological state....folks believe they can extend that to over 100k charges in quick order..

personally I would like to see the industry of auto makers standardize the cells and make them interchangeable throughout every make and model. If you drive a compact, then you would roll up to a 'filling' station and swap cells- a single cell unit- if you drove a large SUV, you would need to swap 4 or five cell units.... self service would no longer be an option but the exchange of cells could be similar to exchanging batteries in your flashlight- just on a larger scale...with pallet jacks and such... all this is neither here nor there tough...

what I am humored about though is the grip on this country the auto makers have- it has been etched into our conscience newer is better- I would LOVE to see a grass roots company start to purchase used vehicles and modernize them with hybrid newer age electrical plant engines like the hydro wash.... then play on nostalgia to resell them at a much lower cost than new cars... lessen the mining of steel, and the environmental impact of production all together.... it would in effect domino and there would be hundreds of manufacturers in the country much like that of the early 1900's... and strip away the larger industries stranglehold.....

/rambling....

Aug 2, 2007 @ 9:07 AM


9. Sir Bikes said...

I tend to agree with Eric's assessment of SUV drivers. I lived in CA, and the people driving vanity SUVs were the worst. I don't drive fast, so I used to watch and count who would climb up my ass on the road. At least 80% of offenders were large SUV drivers. In TX they drive those things 95mph. I'm not exaggerating.

I mention the Escalade because the auto companies keep increasing the horsepower in these gas guzzlers every year despite the looming energy crises (they know that that's what these asshole buyers want and they know gas is cheap to them). So the '08 model is 406hp standard.

As far as electric motors, I agree with drew. They are extremely powerful. One electric car even beat a Ferrari in the quarter mile (which is why Ferrari is now adding an electric motor). But it's going to take a lot of fossil fuels and time to switch over to the new electric infrastructure. The longer we wait and the more money we waste (currently $1 Billion a day) fighting a pointless war, the less likely this country will survive. Unless we plan to continue bombing the crap out of other countries and stealing their oil.

You can thank BushCo for screwing our country and the rest of the world.

Aug 2, 2007 @ 10:46 AM


10. mud said...

i have an suv that i do not drive like a super A-hole in, except when i'm trying to score points with road bikers. joking,damn. i make practical use of my vehicle due to my livelihood,contrary to the belief that i love spending assloads of my paycheck on guzzling gas and that i have it just to look cool. i recycle and donate to earth friendly charities. but i use aerosol canned products sometimes, oops! what the hell? is it impossible for us to move forward as one human race to try to make this a better environment or are we constantly going to bash each other due to difference of opinion because i KNOW that none of you is totally ecologically correct.
oh yeah, i was looking for a biking website. can anyone direct me? i love my riding my bike.

Aug 2, 2007 @ 4:07 PM


11. Sir Bikes said...

I'll get back to biking. I just do this in between posting videos - I haven't even started working on the next one - Hall Ranch. I've got to do something different each time.

What got me started on this was my sister thinking about buying a Prius because she wants to be environmentally friendly. I told her that it was a bunch of BS.

I think the conclusion we're coming to is that we're totally f'ed no matter what. We're being lied to about energy, and nobody can see the hurricane coming until it's upon us, and then everyone will be wondering why nobody saw it coming. It's quite the bad situation we've gotten ourselves into. We reap what we sow.

Aug 2, 2007 @ 9:56 PM


12. blueheel said...

I am pretty close to eco friendly. More so than people-friendly. I only drive to move my bike when I can't ride it fast or far enough to meet my commitments.

Aug 2, 2007 @ 11:25 PM


13. Sir Bikes said...

I do work for people that travel a lot. I mean, A LOT. It's how it goes with consulting. You live in the air.

Someone said the airlines are like the canaries of the oil industry. You'll know the energy crisis is here when they start going under.

Seems ironic since the backlog at Boeing is growing. The airlines expect to add 10,000 jets in the next 10 years. Airports are expanding. There is a total disconnect here.

So compared to people I work with, you are orders of magnitude more eco-friendly.

Anyone that rides a bike anywhere is eco friendly. What I can't understand is the attitudes toward cyclists in this town, like the jerk who wrote a letter to the editor in the Star News. I had to fire off a response, which hopefully they will publish next week.

Aug 3, 2007 @ 12:59 AM


14. Sean said...

What letter would you be speaking of? I don't think I caught this...

Aug 3, 2007 @ 7:49 AM


15. Sir Bikes said...

Hey I test drove a Prius the other day, just for the fun of it. Not bad car. In fact, it exceeded my expectations. Because it's a hatchback, I could fit my bike in it too. It was great, until I saw the price tag, $24,000 for the mid-range model. And they're selling as fast as they can make them. It does have a lot of expensive technology in it and it is more expensive/complicated to make.

Aug 5, 2007 @ 12:59 AM


16. Josh said...

There's a good response to the letter I think you're talking about in today's Star News. It actually makes the guy look pretty foolish.

Aug 13, 2007 @ 9:14 PM


 

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