Category Archives: climate change

The ecological challenges of Tesla’s Gigafactory and the Model 3

Many electric car advocates are heralding the advent of Tesla’s enormous battery factory, known as the “Gigafactory,” and its new Model 3 electric sedan as great advances for the environment.  What they are overlooking are the large quantities of energy and resources that are consumed in lithium-ion battery manufacturing and how these quantities might increase in the future as the production of electric vehicles (EVs) and battery storage ramps up.

Most of the credible life cycle assessment (LCA) studies for different lithium-ion chemistries find large large greenhouse gas emissions per kWh of battery. Here are the CO2-eq emissions per kWh with the battery chemistry listed in parentheses:
Hao et al. (2017): 110 kg (LFP), 104 kg (NMC), 97 kg (LMO)
Ellingsen et al. (2014): 170 kg (NMC)
Dunn et al. (2012): 40 kg (LMO)
Majeau-Bettez et al. (2011): 200 kg (NMC), 240 kg (LFP)
Ou et al (2010): 290 kg (NMC)
Zackrisson et al (2010): 440 kg (LFP)

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Obama’s mediocre record on the environment

Obama was both good and bad on the environment, and we should be honest about his record, rather than mindlessly praising him, since he appears so much better than the Republican administration that followed him.

On the one hand, Obama did some good things:

  1. Got additional funding for renewables and clean tech in the 2009 stimulus bill,
  2. Talked a lot about a Green Jobs program at beginning of his term, but only got it partially funded by the stimulus, because Republicans blocked it afterwards, so he gave up on it after 2 years.
  3. Worked hard to extend the incentives for renewables and had to negotiate with intransigent Republicans to do it,
  4. Dramatically increased the fleet fuel efficiency standards,
  5. Drafted the Clean Power Plan and tried to get it implemented despite Republican obstructionism,
  6. Implemented a hiatus on leasing coal on federal lands,
  7. Drafted new rules to prevent contamination of streams by coal mining,
  8. Negotiated bilateral deals with China and Canada/Mexico to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  9. Signed the Paris Agreement and did not work behind the scenes to block it.
  10. Appointed smart Secretaries of Energy and other administrators, who helped promote alternative energy, clean transport and clean tech and approve the infrastructure for clean tech.
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Questioning the rosy predictions about the transition to autonomous electric vehicles

The Stanford economist Tony Seba and tech investor James Arbib just released a report entitled “Rethinking Transportation,” which makes an number of predictions about the impact that autonomous electric vehicles will have on the demand for vehicles and petroleum. Many of these predictions are based on faulty assumptions about human behavior and a misunderstanding of the auto supply chain.
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My struggle for an adequate ideology

I often struggle to name a political or economic philosophy which defines my beliefs. In Bolivia, where I reside, I don’t like to call myself a “socialist,” because that would align me with the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party and I strongly disagree with a number of their policies. I agree in some concepts of anarchism on a local level, especially the anarcho-syndicalism of Latin America a century ago, but I see anarchism as a hopeless ideology for governing. Anarchists essentially assume that humans are good by nature and will do the right thing if freed from the coercive power of the state. I don’t see this as a viable philosophy for confronting the concentration of wealth and power that governs today’s society. Noam Chomsky, who is probably the world’s most renowned anarchist, observes that dismantling the state in the face of concentrated corporate power is suicide and we currently need an organization like the state to protect against organized corporate interests.
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Questioning the moral authority of the Catholic church

The Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas recently decided to sever its ties with the Girl Scouts. Instead, the Archdiocese will support the American Heritage Girls troops, which is a Christian-based scouting program. It is decisions like this which alienate me from my Catholic faith and make me question why I should invest much time or energy in organized religion in general.

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Dirty shipping: Low sulfur standards in marine fuels

The most energy efficient way to move things around the world is stick something in a 40 by 8 foot foot shipping container that is hauled to port by an 18 wheel truck and loaded on a gigantic container ship. These ships piled high with goods from all over the world can be as large as 400 by 59 meters and can carry up to 9000 of these 40 foot shipping containers at a time.

These ships are often designed to burn the dirtiest type of fuel, which is the residual sludge left over after oil distillation that is called heavy fuel oil. This sludge is so viscous that it has to be heated just to pump it into the ship engines to be burned. Most large ships operating today use a type of fuel known as intermediate fuel oil, which is a mixture of heavy fuel oil which has a viscosity up to 700 mm2 per second and marine gas oil, which is No. 2 distillate with a viscosity between 1.5 and 6 mm2/sec. This intermediate fuel oil is generally sold as IFO180 or IFO360, meaning it has a viscosity of 180 mm2/sec or 360 mm2/sec.
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Obama’s renewable electricity targets are nothing to celebrate

At the recent North American Leaders’ Summit in Ottawa, Ontario, US President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced that the North American continent would produce 50% of its electricity from zero or low carbon sources, such as nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, etc.

Before we applaud too loudly, we need to analyze the numbers to understand what this really means. Canada already gets 63% of its electricity from renewable sources (mainly hydro) and 18% from nuclear, so Canada helps improve the continental average (although it only generates 15% as much electricity as the US). In order to fulfill its goals, the US will have to move from 13.7% to 23% renewable electricity between 2015 to 2025.
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