The Top 5: EVs Need Petrochemicals

05.20.19 | Blog | By:

Hello friends! Here’s my monthly take on the five most interesting developments in future fuels and vehicles trends. Items I selected include:

  • EVs Need Petrochemicals: EVs are not fossil-free, this infographic points out.
  • ICEV Ban in California?: California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols threatened it last week.
  • Air Pollution: The latest comprehensive review says air pollution may be damaging every organ in the body, and implies that there is no safe level. What could this mean for fuels and vehicles?
  • Refillable Batteries: Are flow batteries the answer to quicker EV charging?
  • E-Scooters in Paris: The city is setting new rules to govern e-scooters that are strewn about the city.

1. Visual Capitalist: How Much Oil Is in an Electric Vehicle? ― This infographic makes the point that plastics and other materials made using petrochemicals make vehicles more efficient by reducing a vehicle’s weight at a reasonable cost, including EVs. It notes that petrochemicals will play a critical role in their mass adoption by reducing their weight and thereby improving their range and efficiency. “Although it seems counterintuitive, petrochemicals derived from oil and natural gas make the major advancements by today’s EVs possible – and the continued use of petrochemicals will mean that both EVs and traditional vehicles will become even lighter, faster, and more efficient.” A fact that is easy to forget.

2. Automotive News: California Regulator Threatens Ban on Gasoline Engines ― California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols said last week that the state would match any relaxation of federal auto rules (presumably emission and fuel economy standards) with its own more stringent requirements on everything from fuel to the refineries producing it. “CARB will be exploring ways to ensure communities get the reductions of air pollution they so desperately need to keep the air clean and breathable ― and continue to fight climate change. That might mean, for example, tougher requirements for low-carbon fuels, looking at tighter health-protective regulations on California refineries, doubling down on our enforcement efforts on mobile and stationary sources ― and might lead to an outright ban on internal combustion engines.”

3. The Guardian: Air Pollution May Be Damaging ‘Every Organ in the Body’ ― Air pollution may be damaging every organ and virtually every cell in the human body, according to a comprehensive new global review covered in The Guardian.  The research shows head-to-toe harm, from heart and lung disease to diabetes and dementia, and from liver problems and bladder cancer to brittle bones and damaged skin. Fertility, fetuses and children are also affected by toxic air, the review found. The systemic damage is the result of pollutants causing inflammation that then floods through the body and ultrafine particles being carried around the body by the bloodstream. Prof Dean Schraufnagel, at the University of Illinois at Chicago and who led the reviews, said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if almost every organ was affected. If something is missing [from the review] it is probably because there was no research yet.” Two diseases highlighted? Parkinson’s and autism.

Moreover, the review notes that harmful effects occur even at levels below air quality standards previously considered to be safe. “The best way to reduce exposure is to control it at its source,” said Schraufnagel. That’s going to be eliminating fossil fuels. I have said many times and continue to maintain that air pollution and its health effects are going to end up being the primary driver (beyond climate change) for shifting away from fossil fuels. It will continue to drive car ban, zero emission vehicle (ZEV) and other clean fuel policies. My bet is in the future (2040+), if a fuel-vehicle combination doesn’t tick the “zero air pollution box”, it won’t be allowed in the market or at least in major/megacities. The question is going to be the method by which this is determined. Cradle-to-grave? Well-to-wheel?  Such pathways provide different answers; for example, for battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

4. Futurism: Recharge Electric Cars by Filling Them at the Pump ―”Flow batteries” may be an answer to recharge times, as noted in this story. Flow batteries are refillable lithium ion cells which, when the electrolyte that powers them gets depleted, can be refilled with freshly-charged liquid instead of getting charged in-situ. The result: an electric car that can be refilled at a pump. “You drive 300 miles, drain your tank and pump in new [liquid] — as long as it would take to fill your car with gasoline — and drive off,” said John Cushman, a researcher at Purdue who’s working on liquid battery technology.

5. Euractiv: Paris Takes Pesky E-Scooter Fleets to Task ―On May 13 e-scooter companies that launched services in Paris signed a “code of good conduct” with the mayor’s office, which says the city is now “saturated” with the devices. There are now 15,000 such scooters in the city. Fans love them as a quick and cheap way to get around, since the “dockless” devices are unlocked with a phone app and can be left anywhere when a ride is finished. But critics say this is the problem with scooters strewn across the city’s stately squares or abandoned in piles littering narrow sidewalks and endangering the passerby. I was in Paris last week and did more of my fair share of ducking and dodging as they whizzed by ― not easy in a business suit and dress shoes!  I also found myself walking around and even stepping over scooters that were strewn about. 

Paris has already introduced fines for riding electric scooters on the pavement to €135 and will levy €35 fines for users who cause an obstruction by parking on a pavement. Under the new code signed with the city, scooter fleet operators must promise to distribute the devices in “clearly designated and listed” parking areas, and make sure their clients use them. “If self-regulation fails, the only solution is to temporarily outlaw their use while waiting for a new law” on transportation that is set to enacted by the national parliament in July, Jean-Louis Missika, the deputy Paris mayor for urbanism, said last week.

Tammy Klein is a consultant and strategic advisor providing market and policy intelligence and analysis on transportation fuels to the auto and oil industries, governments, and NGOs. She writes and advises on petroleum fuels, biofuels, alternative fuels, automotive fuels, and fuels policy.

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