/ Motoring

Electric cars – stop saying they’re emission free

Car with electricity streak

Everyone’s talking about it – ‘save the planet, drive a hybrid’ or ‘electric cars, they’ll stop global warming.’ But surely the focus is in the wrong place, since none of these cars are actually green.

Toyota and Honda were first with well-engineered petrol-electric hybrids. And now Nissan plans to launch its all-electric ‘Leaf’, with other makers to follow.

But are they the answer? They’re quite efficient it’s true, partly because they’ve been optimised to death, but mostly because they have regenerative brakes. Dumping the long-lived tradition of wasting all that braking power (as heat), they recover significant energy, storing it to propel the car round town.

But hybrids still burn fossil fuels, emitting noxious gases into the environment. Ok, maybe not in the city, but certainly on the motorway.

Electric cars aren’t so ‘green’

It’s even less clear with so called ‘emission-free’ electric cars. The electricity powering them has to be generated somewhere, and that’s more likely to use fossil fuels than renewables.

Again, the emissions are simply transferred to a different place. Out of sight, out of mind? And even this ignores the inefficiency of moving electricity round the grid.

Then there’s the inconvenience. You only get about a quarter of the range (90-100 miles) of a conventional car – no match for modern needs. And filling a conventional tank takes minutes, compared to several hours to recharge an electric car.

It’s like reverting back to a coach and horses – the animals’ (batteries) limitations set the pace and every so often you have to wait for them to recover.

When will electric cars be truly ‘green’?

What’s the answer? Vastly bigger capacity batteries with a shorter charge time? Or a way of ‘changing the horses’ – swapping the battery pack in an instant?

Sure, all those clever engineers should focus on maximising efficiency. All cars should have regenerative braking, efficient power-trains and sound aerodynamics. But we need an urgent effort before electric cars are truly viable:

  • Renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro-electric and hydrogen) to generate serious sustainable power.
  • Better batteries or giant capacitors to let us store more energy and recharge faster.
  • And while we’re reliant on fossil fuels, we need practical ‘carbon capture’ – instead of pumping pollution into the atmosphere, we should store it in tanks (yes, that means no exhausts) and empty it as part of our motor’s routine service.
  • Why not even remove chimneys from power stations and pump the waste back to where it came from (into the earth’s crust)?

Until these eco goals are met, electric cars and their hybrid cousins will only ever be ‘green’ when compared to their traditional predecessors – the common petrol car.


Sorry – I think you are missing the point.

Electric cars are in themselves emission free. That is as they operate they do not emit pollutants.

Hybrid cars are definitely NOT emission free – as they use fossil fuel to move and that emits pollutants.

Petrol cars are far worse than Hybrid cars as all their motive power comes from fossil fuel emitting the maximum pollutants for a given Km.

The question you should be asking is WHY the facilities do NOT exist NOW to exploit the advantage of the Electric Car.

The advantage of the electric car have been known for many years – The technologies for producing that motive power have been known since I first became interested in the middle 50’s.

Remember when petrol cars were invented – petrol was bought by the bottle from the chemist – It wasn’t long before OIL companies built petrol stations to supply the demand across the country.

Why haven’t battery stations been built?? . This would be a practical method of gaining motive power – swapping the battery (could be done with clips – no effort required). Really for a town car 100 mile capacity is all that is required..

Why not use induction to pick up charge? The big disadvantage with electric only cars as they stand is the need for access to a charging point for those of us without a garage.

The reason for the very slow progress of the electric car is OIL.

pickle says:
17 August 2010

Electric cars are emission free at the point of use. BUTas above, the fuel thy use id far from emission free. Hybrid cars are no better. It seems to me that the best cmpromise is to go for a diesel engined car with very low emissions. There are many such – look for those with no annual tax.


The whole point as far as I’m concerned is the Electric Car is the only one with the potential to be entirely pollutant free using renewable generation – AND – not use fossil fuels AT ALL. except for very limited lubrication.

All of the pollutant free generation technologies have been known about for many years – Certainly since I took my Degree in the late 50’s – (I did research in electrical generation) That’s 55 years ago – The petrol stations did not take 55 years to become universally available. The reason is the OIL Industry had a vested interest in selling vast amounts of petroleum products –

Whereas I think the reason for the very tardy progress of Electric Cars is again the Oil Industry not investing in electrical distribution a major reason for small numbers of electrical cars. .



one can imagine a story in a newspaper in some 20 years time leading with ‘new power stations to be built to provide power to deal with the 25 million electric cars to enable the after work recharge between 5 & 7 o,clock’. these of course will be either coal or nuclear, unless we want to be subject to the whims of the russian authorities which may change frequently, & buy gas from them. We cannot guarantee the wind will blow continuously, carbon capture has not been proved to work on the scale proposed at present, & is a potential timebomb for future generations which leaves nuclear with similar characteristics. The problem is too many cars & too many people, this planet will have a solution for that in the fulness of time. So unless we want to limit ourselves to perhaps one car per household or an annual mileage cap for every car perhaps with a ban on obvious wastes of energy such as motor racing & t.v. shows like top gear, to emphasize the problem, it is difficult to see what can be done.


I’d just like to add a few things to the conversation …

I would suggest that 80-90% of all car journeys are within the 100 mile range.
(I believe that the Tesla Roadser holds the current world record at 313 miles on a single charge, and will easily do 200 miles).

Fast charges are available on electric cars that can re-charge the battery to 80% in about 20-30 mins. I realise that this is not the quick as a petrol tank refill, but could be managed as part of planned break at a service station for example on those longer, planned journeys.
(The fast charge can also be used proportionally, i.e. 10mins 30 miles, 5 mins 15 miles).

30 years ago people ‘laughed’ at the emerging mobile phones with big batteries, short talk time and little infrastructure. Today the batteries have become smaller, lighter and last much much longer. The infrastructure has developed enormously and the mobile phone is part of our busy modern day lives (together with laptops, cordless drills, electric toothbrushes, etc).
Surely it would make sense to believe that the technology behind batteries is only going to improve with time.

Clearly cars are here to stay, until someone events the teleport. However, the fossil fuels used to power it are going to get more expensive and then eventually run out.

Electricity can be generated via fossil fuels, wind, solar, wave, nuclear, etc. Petrol can only be created from fossil fuels.

Lastly, I don’t fully understand the after work re-charge Andy.
Do you mean the charge when people get home from work, or the charge to enable them to get home form work ?

Nick Phillipps says:
19 August 2010

Hydrogen power anyone? Better efficiency and only emissions water…. never refill your washer bottle.


Urine powered cars look like they might be the next big thing. If you run out of fuel, just pull over at the side of the road and take a leak into tank. Kills two birds with one stone. http://bbc.in/aPNgrm


What is more important is that the government scientists have now published a report that categorically states that electric cars are more polluting over their lifetime when compared to modern eco diesels.

This only became evident when they added the overheads of changing the batteries every three years.

They also said that because of the short range of the batteries, it was almost impossible to do the ‘average annual mileage’ figures that they used.

So the only advantage that electric cars have is that they don’t emit poisons as you drive. The downsides are so numerous as not worth listing.

I’ll reiterate what I’ve said a million times: with current technology, electric cars are a total waste of the earth’s resources.

Roll on the Olympics when all those competitors and dignitaries are stranded with flat batteries.