The Truth About Cars » Lithium http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 02 Aug 2014 14:25:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Lithium http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Review: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-chevrolet-spark-ev-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-chevrolet-spark-ev-with-video/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 14:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=705962 Outside North America, this little blue pill of an A-segment car is known as the Daewoo Matiz Creative. It may look an obsolete computer peripheral (or a pregnant roller skate), but GM claims that the Chevrolet Spark has more torque than a Ferrari 458 Italia. As a self-described technology lover, and card-carrying resident of the […]

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2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior

Outside North America, this little blue pill of an A-segment car is known as the Daewoo Matiz Creative. It may look an obsolete computer peripheral (or a pregnant roller skate), but GM claims that the Chevrolet Spark has more torque than a Ferrari 458 Italia. As a self-described technology lover, and card-carrying resident of the Left Coast, I had to check it out.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Spark EV starts its life in Changwon, South Korea where gasoline and electric sparks are built by GM Korea, which was once known as Daewoo. But the heart of the Spark comes from America. GM is building the permanent magnet motors in Maryland, and instead of LG batteries made in Korea (like the Volt) GM is using American-made batteries courtesy of B456 (formerly A123. I’m not making this up). For reasons we don’t understand, GM isn’t “doing a CODA” and shipping cars sans-drivetran to America for assembly. The plant in Maryland ships the batteries and drivetrain to Korea, GM Korea inserts it in the car and ships the completed unit back to the USA.

The Spark EV exists because of my home state of California. The California Air Resources Board has mandated that Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford, GM and Chrysler make a total of 7,500 zero emissions vehicles available for sale by 2014 and 25,000 by 2017. By 2025, this number is expected to rise tenfold.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-006

Exterior

Overall length slots the Chevy between the two-door Fiat 500e and the four-door Honda Fit EV but the small Chevy is narrower than both by a decent amount. Like the Fiat and other small cars, there’s something “cartoonish” about the Spark that is endearing. It’s all about proportions. The headlamps, tail lamps and grille are all fairly standard in size, but they are large in relation to the overall vehicle. The Spark isn’t alone in this, the same thing can be said of the Mini Cooper, Fiat 500 and Fiat 500L.

Because small cars tend to value practicality in design, the Spark has a tall roofline and the wheels have been pushed as close to the four corners as possible. This mechanical necessity pays dividends in handling and interior space but causes the Spark to look unusually tall when viewed head-on.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-005

Interior

As with the gasoline version, the front seats are flat, firmly padded and offer little lumbar support. The hard plastics on the doors make for an uncomfortable place to rest your elbow, but there is a padded armrest in the center for the driver only. This isn’t unusual for compact cars, but electrification makes for strange bedfellows and the Leaf, Focus EV and Fiat 500e are direct competition that all offer more driver and passenger comfort.

Because of the Spark’s narrow width, the Chevy is a strict four-seater putting it on par with the 500e but one passenger behind the Fit, Leaf and Focus. It was surprisingly easy to put four tall adults in the Spark, a task that is more difficult in the considerably larger Focus because of its sloping roof-line. Still, passengers will be more comfortable in the Honda Fit which offers a bit more room for four, seating for five and more headroom all the way around. Despite the Leaf’s rear seat numbers being average, because of the way the seating position in the Leaf most people will find the Nissan roomier.

As with most gas to EV conversions, the Spark loses a bit of cargo volume in the process dropping 2 cubes to 9.6 cubic feet of cargo space. That’s slightly larger than the 500e, but a long way from the Leaf’s spacious 24 cubic foot booty. Unlike the Fiat 500e however, GM chose not sacrifice passenger footwell space for battery storage.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink-001

Infotainment

All Spark EVs get the same touchscreen head unit that is optional in the gasoline car. The system’s layout is simple, attractive and intuitive. Along the bottom of the screen sits a row of touch buttons for power, volume and a home button. After a week with Chevy’s entry-level system I was left wondering why every GM car can’t have this software. The system isn’t the height of modernity compared to uConnect or SYNC. It does not offer integrated voice commands, integrated navigation software or snazzy animations. This system’s claim to fame is in its simplicity and its integration with your smartphone.

Once you have an Android or iPhone paired with MyLink you can voice command your phone, your tunes, and anything on your device with the voice command button on the steering wheel. This means the mobile services provided my MyLink are limited to the app selection on your device. GM has taken another step that other manufacturers would do well to copy: integrated smartphone navigation. For $5 you can download the BringGo navigation app to your smartphone and the MyLink system will use the app as the processing engine and the car’s display as the user interface. This gives you a large, bright map with controls that look like a standard integrated navigation system coupled with the ability to pre-program addresses using the app before you get into the car.

In the Spark EV the MyLink system also handles vehicle charging control. You can choose to charge immediately, at a specific time, or you can program your electrical rates into the system and have the car charge when it is most economical. We of course get the typical power flow meter which is getting a little silly in the 21st century and a display that shows what percentage of your battery was used for driving, cabin heating/cooling and battery conditioning. Driving your Spark, or any EV, in a “polar vortex” will reduce battery life due to both cabin heating and battery heating.
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain

Drivetrain

As with most EVs on the road power is delivered by a 3-phase AC motor connected to a fixed-speed reduction gear. EV’s don’t have a transmission in the traditional sense in order to reduce weight. If you want to go in reverse you spin the motor backwards and if you need neutral you simply disconnect the motor from the electrical path. Power output is rated at 140 horsepower and torque comes in at a whopping 400 lb-ft. (Most EV makers choose to electronically limit torque to reduce torque steer and improve battery life.)

Power is supplied by a 560lb, 21.3 kWh lithium battery pack located where the gas tank is in the gasoline Spark. As with the Chevy Volt, GM is taking the cautious path to battery preservation equipping the pack with an active heating and cooling system. That’s a stark contrast to the Nissan Leaf which uses a passive cooling system. Thanks to the lightest curb weight in the group (2,989lbs), the Spark scores 82 miles of EPA range and the highest efficiency rating of any EV to date. Depending on the weight of my right foot, my real world range varied from 70-100 miles.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Charging Port

For any battery, heat is the enemy. Especially when charging or discharging rapidly or when charging in hot desert climates. As a result I would anticipate that all things being equal, the Spark, 500e and Focus should suffer less capacity loss and battery degradation over time than the passively cooled Nissan Leaf.

The big news for 2014 is the world’s first implementation of the new SAE DC fast charging connector. I’m a bit torn on this twist in EV development. While I agree that the DC “combo connector” is more logical and compact than the competing CHAdeMO connector found on the Nissan Leaf and most EVs in Japan, there are already several hundred CHAdeMO stations in the USA and right now there is one SAE station. I’m told there is unlikely to be an adapter so this makes three charging standards on offer in the USA. One for Nissan and Mitsubishi, one for Tesla and one for GM and BMW (the i3 will use it as well.)

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Wheels

Drive

The biggest thing people forget about an EV isn’t charging related, it’s heat related. When you want to heat the cabin in a gasoline car you are using “waste” energy to do it. If you didn’t have the heater on, that heat would just end up dissipating via the engine’s radiator. Electric cars produce little heat when running and rely on resistive heating elements to heat the cabin and an electric air conditioning to cool the cabin. Heat pumps would be more efficient because they “move” heat rather than “creating” heat but so far the Nissan Leaf (SV and higher) are the only production cars to adopt this tech. In 50 degree weather on a 60 mile journey nearly 15% of the energy consumed went into heating the Spark’s cabin, while on my way home when it was 80 degrees only 8% of the energy was used to cool the cabin.

Thanks to a better weight balance vs the gasoline model and staggered tires, 185/55 front 195/55 rear, the Spark handles surprisingly well. Many have posited that this is simply a band-aid measure due to the weight shift in the car but all sources point to the Spark EV still being heavier in the front. This means the tire selection was likely done for handling reasons, which makes sense because the Spark beats the 500e in fun-to-corner metrics. The extra weight has also improved the ride in the small hatchback which, although still choppy on the freeway like many small hatches, it much smoother in EV trim. Steering is numb but accurate, a common complaint with EVs.

With 140 horsepower and 400lb0ft of twist routed through the front wheels, the Spark is probably the 2014 torque steer king. Is that bad? Not in my book. I found the effect amusing and perhaps even a challenge to control on winding mountain roads. The competition limits their torque output to reduce torque steer but in doing so they reduce the fun-factor as well as performance, something that really shows in the Spark’s 7.08 second run to 60, notably faster than the competition.

When it is time to stop the Spark comes up short. Stopping distances and fade aren’t the issue, it’s feel. The brake pedal is softer than average and the transition between regenerative and friction braking is probably the poorest, excluding the current generation Honda Civic Hybrid. When the system is entirely in friction braking mode (if the battery is full and you are going down hill) the brakes get even more vague, requiring more travel than when the system is regenerating to get the same effect.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-010

Pricing

At $26,685, the least expensive EV on the market excluding the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. For $27,010 the 2LT trim swaps cloth seats for “leatherette” and adds a leather wrapped steering wheel. That’s about the fastest and cheapest model walk in the industry. GM tells us that the DC quick charge port is an independent $750 option and it cannot be retrofitted to a Spark shipped without it. The Spark undercuts Nissan’s Leaf by nearly $2,000 and the Fiat by more than $5,000. While I might argue that the Nissan Leaf is more practical than the Spark, GM’s aggressive pricing screams value at every turn, especially if you lease. At the time of our loan GM was offering a $199 lease deal on the Spark with $1,000 down plus the usual miscellaneous fees.

The Spark’s main sales proposition for many is as a commuter car. When you factor in everything the Spark is the cheapest way to drive in California’s carpool lanes (you know, other than actually carpooling.) Despite not being less attractive than a Fiat 500e, less practical than a Nissan Leaf and less luxurious than a Focus EV, I’d probably pick the Spark.

 

GM provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.72 Seconds

0-60: 7.08 Seconds

 1/4 Mile: 15.78 Seconds @ 86 MPH

Average observed economy: 4.3 miles/kWh

Sound level at 50 MPH: 70dB

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Charging Port 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-002 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-003 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-004 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-005 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-006 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-007 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-008 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-009 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-010 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-002 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-003 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-004 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-005 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-006 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-007 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-008 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV LCD Gauge Cluster 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Wheels

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Review: 2012 Infiniti M35h Hybrid http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/review-2012-infiniti-m35h-hybrid/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/review-2012-infiniti-m35h-hybrid/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2011 18:15:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=410589 Let’s face it, hybrids are boring. They are slow, complicated, come with hard tires and soft suspensions, sloppy handling, and they look weird. We’ve heard the story before: this hybrid is different. First Lexus gave us the GS and RX hybrids claiming V8 performance with V6 fuel economy, but the result was more like V6 […]

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Let’s face it, hybrids are boring. They are slow, complicated, come with hard tires and soft suspensions, sloppy handling, and they look weird. We’ve heard the story before: this hybrid is different. First Lexus gave us the GS and RX hybrids claiming V8 performance with V6 fuel economy, but the result was more like V6 performance with V6 economy, not really a great sales pitch. Still, hybrids sell well and with Infiniti marching towards mainstream luxury success they “need” a hybrid. Of course, with Infiniti aiming to be the “Japanese BMW”, performance is obviously a prime concern, so the claim from Infiniti that the M35h will deliver “V8 performance and four-cylinder economy” was expected. But is it another case of leather clad disappointment? Let’s find out.

Not too long ago Infiniti dropped off a new M56x at my doorstep, at that time I didn’t much care for the styling, commenting: “Every time I approached the car I felt as if an enormous box-fish was going to devour me.” While the Infiniti M still looks hungry to me, seeing more of them on the road has perhaps warmed me up to the design and I find the form more attractive than before. As we often point out on TTAC, style is terribly subjective and subject to our own personal leanings, so take my opinion with a grain of salt if you like the look. My informal lunch group’s opinions were mixed with some loving the flowing curves and some preferring sharp creases in their sheet metal alá Cadillac and Mercedes.

Inside the M35h (and much like the M56x) there is little to find fault with. But there is also little to identify this M as the hybrid that saves the world and your testosterone. The only change to the well put together cabin for hybrid duty is the charge/power gauge in the cluster replacing the engine temperature gauge found on other M models. The center stack, nav system and trim are all the same (with the hybrid specific software teaks of course) and there are no blue back-lit hybrid badges, EV mode buttons, or displays with growing leaves to be found. This is the sleeper hybrid if there ever was one.

The lack of hybrid bling does not mean the M35h lacks tech, quite the contrary. The M35h gets the same suite of standard and optional gadgets as the base M37, not a bad list to pull from. The 7-inch standard infotainment screen does everything but navigation, iPod and USB integration with Bluetooth speakerphone is standard as is the 6-speaker Infiniti auto system with a single in dash CD player and XM satellite radio. Opting for the $3,350 “premium package” gets you Infiniti’s easy to use navigation system with a high-resolution 8-inch display, Bose 5.1 channel surround sound system with speakers in the seat backs, voice controlled functions, heated steering wheel and cooled front thrones and active cabin nose canceling.

Should you desire the latest in driving nannies, Infiniti is happy to oblige with radar cruise control, collision warning and prevention, lane departure warning and prevention and an accelerator pedal that fights back. The accelerator pedal is perhaps the nanny that people will find the most fault with, especially if you are an aggressive driver. The feature can of course be turned off, but if dialed up to full-on German-au-pair, it will fight you hard, forcing the pedal back at you if you’re driving uneconomically or if it thinks you are getting too close to a car, or if it feels like it needs to stop the car NOW. While I dislike the thought of a car that drives for me, honestly at least half the drivers on the road need this pedal stat. Not that we condone distracted driving, but if you needed to, this car could help you accomplish the feat more safely.

The hybrid system is where the M35h departs from the regular M or the hither-to-normal hybrid. Until recently if you bought a hybrid in North America, you had one of three systems. Honda’s weak-sauce Integrated Motor Assist system just puts a motor between the engine and transmission and is essentially a start/stop system with some extra oomph. GM/BMW/Mercedes developed a crazy-expensive and crazy-complex 2-mode hybrid system which seems to be dying a slow death in the market [Ed: until CAFE rescued the investment]. And lastly we have the original true hybrid system, the Toyota/Ford system which uses a planetary gearbox to allow the engine, motor or both to drive the vehicle. Infiniti took a different approach to “hybridification” by removing the torque converter from a regular 7-speed automatic transmission and in its place stuffing a slim electric motor with two clutch packs (similar to the Hyundai/Kia hybrid system). These clutch packs are what make the Infiniti system innovative and different from the Honda IMA system.


Starting at the front of the car and working your way back, you first find a Nissan 3.5L V6 engine running on the Atkinson cycle (like most hybrids) putting out 302HP and 258lb-ft of twist. After the engine sits a dry clutch pack that allows the engine to start and run while decoupled from the electric motor. Next up we have a 360V AC motor that’s good for 67HP and 199lb-ft directly coupled to the Nissan 7-speed automatic transmission. Located inside the rear of the transmission is a wet clutch pack that allows the engine and motor to be connected with one another to charge the batteries with the vehicle stationary (it also slips to help make gear changes smoother). Decoupling the V6 reduces mechanical losses boosting the electric drive efficiency; this is an area where Honda’s system suffers. Behind the rear seats a 1.4kW lithium-ion battery, wedged where you’d put the 5th bag of golf clubs (Infiniti says a quartet of golfers can still be accommodated and they kindly print a diagram in the trunk to tell you how to manage it). And the final  change is a tall 2.6:1 final drive ratio allowing the V6 to spin leisurely on the freeway (1,600RPM at 60MPH).

Hybrid systems like Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive combine the motor and engine numbers in a way that is not simple addition (google is you must know why), however Infiniti’s system is easy to figure: the peak number is achieved where the HP and torque curves of the engine and motor meet, making the M35h good for a combined 360HP at 6,500RPM and approximately 410lb-ft at 5200RPM. Note: Our combined torque number is an estimate as Infniti does not officially list a combined rating; the “online” 457lb-ft numbers floating around are not accurate according to Infiniti because when the V6′s 258lb-ft peak does not align with the motor’s 199lb-ft peak.

The high torque of the electric motor from very low RPMs make the M35h far faster than the numbers on paper would imply, we easily recorded 5.2 second runs to 60MPH with our lowest taking only 5.03 seconds. The low 1.9 second sprint to 30MPH (the M56 takes 2.3) is perhaps the most telling number because by the time the spedo crested 100 the M35h had lost its lead on the V8 powered M56 clocking a 13.5 second ¼ mile at 103MPH (vs 13.4 at 106 for the V8). Part of the reason the performance is so good is the weight gain, at only 276lbs heavier than the M37, the M35h manages to be 99-lbs heavier than the M56 and slips in just below the AWD M56x on the scales. (The Lexus GS450h is only five pounds heavier.) Stoplight racers be warned however, that after a few 0-60 runs the battery and motor heat up enough that the control circuitry puts the kibosh on at least a portion of the electric assist and by the 6th back-to-back 0-60 run our times had risen to 6.2 seconds.

If you drive the M35h on a normal commute and not a track day, the EPA claims you’ll achieve 27MPG city, 32 highway and 29 combined. In our 7 days and 820 miles with the M35h we averaged a quite respectable 29.1MPG (excluding our track adventures, photo shoots, etc) in our mixed driving of mostly California freeway and rural mountain highway. Our numbers were no doubt buoyed by moderate traffic and a general inability to exceed 72MPH on the highways in the SF Bay Area. Infiniti claims the system will allow you to drive electric only up to 62MPH but in reality there didn’t seem to be much of an upper limit for the EV functionality provided you were gentle on the go-pedal. This is also a key area where the M35h differs from a Prius, to drive at 65MPH, the Prius has to use the engine because of the design of the transmission, the M35h on the other hand just disconnects the engine from the equation. While on a level highway with the cruise control set to 67MPH the hybrid system would switch in and out of electric only mode fairly often with my daily commute spending some 19% of the time in “EV mode” (22% for the lifetime of the car) as figured by the trip computer.

Since the M37 delivered some 22MPG on the same commute, the efficiency gain is noticeable. Thankfully hypermiling skills were not required to achieve our test numbers, but perhaps more strangely a daily jaunt testing all the hypermiling skills from Prius forums didn’t appreciably bump the numbers either. Since Infiniti opted to keep the grippy all-season tires from the non-hybrid M, and thanks to the nearly perfect weight balance, it was possible to test the economy figures on some of my favorite mountain roads. When driven this way the economy certainly drops like a rock (17MPG for that trip), which may sound bad, but put in perspective the lighter G37 convertible scored 11MPG on the same route.

What’s the M35h’s competition? By my estimation it competes most directly with the Lexus GS450h, a sedan that is not long for this world. Since the 2013 GS450h has yet to be announced officially, a comparison to the current hybrid GS is all I can offer. In this match up the GS offers a suitably swish cabin that has aged well but is a definite step behind the M35h’s silver-dist rubbed goodness (the 2013 GS I was able to preview at Pebble Beach has a competitive cabin, but is not a substantial step above the M35h). The GS is also significantly behind the M when it comes to fuel sipping delivering only 22/25/23 (city/highway/combined) EPA numbers, a substantial 26% lower than the 27/32/29MPG numbers Infiniti scored. If that weren’t enough of a shot across the bow of the company known for their hybrid tech, the M also wears a 20% smaller CO2 footprint, if you care about that sort of thing. Driving pleasure in the GS is limited by the CVT that is the heart of the Lexus Hybrid Sybergy Drive system, but that may be balanced out by the M35′s less polished transitions between gasoline and electric power.

With a base price undercutting Lexus by $5,250 and offering more interior room, a real transmisison and improved economy I’d take the M35h over the GS450 any day. Unfortunately like most hybrid cars the M35h has less of a value proposition when compared to its own non-hybrid brethren. The M37 which is cheaper, delivers 8/10ths the speed, 8/10ths the fuel economy and perhaps 11/10ths the luxury feel due to the sometimes quirky nature of the hybrid clutch packs the M35h uses. At the end of the day the M35h is far from a leather clad disappointment like other luxury hybrids, but as long as the M37 is available for sale, I just don’t see the M35h enjoying a place in my garage.

Not a fan of our Facebook page? Too bad. For out Facebook peeps, here’s what you wanted to know: Jason M: Smugness level is similar to a Prius, 1/2 the economy but 2X the car. Andy A: No paddle shifters. Clay C. I tried, but BlendTech doesn’t carry a car-sized blender. Phillip W: We never reached battery depletion levels, try as we might. This is easier in Toyota hybrids because putting the car in N disconnects the generator, the M will still connect the generator whenever it feels like it, N or not. Mirko R: Yes. Marc C: Mileage depends greatly on how you drive, we did however average 29.1 which is the combined EPA number in mixed driving, moderate speeds, moderate acceleration. Sergio P: No idea what the batteries will sell for, my dealer didn’t know either. J S: Not quite sure why Autoblog thought it was more refined than the Lexus system. Infiniti’s solution is perhaps more interesting, and it is newer, but it isn’t as smooth. Given the choice, I’d take the Infiniti.

Infiniti provided the vehicle for our review, insurance and one tank of gas.

Specifications as tested
0-30: 1.9 Seconds
0-60: 5.0 Seconds
¼ Mile: 13.5 Seconds @ 103MPH
Average Fuel Economy: 29.1 MPH
Miles Driven: 820

 

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Swiss Environmental Study Finds EV Battery Production Impacts Outweighed By Operation Impacts http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/swiss-environmental-study-finds-ev-battery-production-impacts-outweighed-by-operation-impacts/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/swiss-environmental-study-finds-ev-battery-production-impacts-outweighed-by-operation-impacts/#comments Tue, 10 Aug 2010 20:19:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=362603 What about battery production? It’s one of the most popular criticisms of the green halo surrounding battery-electric vehicles, and one that’s widely circulated in anti-EV circles. Battery production, it is argued, requires the mining, transportation and processing of minerals which puts EVs at an environmental disadvantage compared to ICE vehicles. Needless to say, quantifying the […]

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What about battery production? It’s one of the most popular criticisms of the green halo surrounding battery-electric vehicles, and one that’s widely circulated in anti-EV circles. Battery production, it is argued, requires the mining, transportation and processing of minerals which puts EVs at an environmental disadvantage compared to ICE vehicles. Needless to say, quantifying the impacts of ICE and electric drivetrain production is extremely difficult, due to the complexity and global supply chains required to produce both (not to mention the inherent difficulty of quantifying environmental impacts). But a study by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology [via Green Car Congress] took on just that question, and indicates that

the impact of a Li-ion battery used in BEVs for transport service is relatively small. In contrast, it is the operation phase that remains the dominant contributor to the environmental burden caused by transport service as long as the electricity for the BEV is not produced by renewable hydropower.

Impacts for the study are measured in Global Warming Potential (GWP), and Cumulative Energy Demand (CED), which were

chosen for their broad acceptance and relevance in decision making.

Abiotic depletion potential (ADP) was also used to track potential impacts on mineral resource stocks, and Ecoindicator 99 was used to measure

(toxic) effects on human health and ecosystems, as well as damage to resource quality.

PM10, SO2, and NOx emissions are also measured and compared to complete the environmental impact as part of the overall Life Cycle Assesment (LCA). ICE and Battery-Electric Vehicles (BEV) were modeled as follows:

A new efficient gasoline car (Euro 5 standard) was chosen as a basis for comparison. This ICEV consumes 5.2 L of gasoline per 100 km in the NEDC, resulting in a direct emission of 0.12 kg CO2 per km. The car chosen was representative of neither the European fleet nor the fleet of new cars sold in Europe in 2009: 51.4% of the latter consists of diesel fuel cars with an average fuel consumption of 5.7 L/100 km diesel or 6.6 L/100 km gasoline (calculated from CO2 emissions reported in ref). However, the ICEV was chosen to represent a technological level similar to that of the BEV.

The key finding:

The Li-ion battery plays a minor role regarding the environmental burdens of E-mobility irrespective of the impact assessment method used. Transport services with an ICEV cause higher environmental burdens than with a BEV (ADP, + 37.47% or 261 kg antimony equivalents; GWP, + 55.3% or 37,700 kg CO2 equivalents; CED, +23.5% or 593,000 MJ-equivalents; EI99 H/A, +61.6% or 2530 points). The share of the total environmental impact of E-mobility caused by the battery is between 7 (CED) and 15% (EI99 H/A). Analysis with EI99 H/A showed a relative share of E-mobility caused by the battery that is twice as high as analysis with the other impact assessment methods, and this is mainly at the expense of the operation phase.

Though very different than the NiMH chemistry used in most hybrids, and other cobalt or nickel-based Lithium-ion chemistries, the lithium-manganese-based chemistry modeled for this study uses very little actual lithium (0.007 kg per kg Li-ion battery).

In addition, the processes used to extract lithium from brines are very simple and have a low energy demand. Although lithium occurs in average concentrations lower than 0.01% in the Earth’s crust and hence can be considered to be a geochemically scarce metal, assessment with ADP does not result in a high impact for the lithium components. Li2CO3, the base material for the cathode active material and the lithium salt have an impact of only 1.9%. Compared to other components, for example, Mn2O3 (4.4%), copper (5.3%) or aluminum (15.1%), the abiotic depletion of lithium resources does not seem to be critical. However, these results are valid only as long as Li2CO3 is produced from brines. If the lithium components were based on spodumene, a silicate of lithium and aluminum, the extraction of the lithium would require a considerable amount of process energy… The major contributors to the environmental burden for the production of the battery, regardless of the impact assessment method used, are metal supply and process energy.

Of course, this finding is limited to a certain chemistry of lithium-ion battery, made under certain circumstances, and measured using imperfect (though widely-accepted) standards. Still, it’s something to think about the next time someone argues that EV batteries do more environmental harm than good. The major limitation of EVs, it seems, continues to be the fact that most electricity is generated from highly dirty sources, which hurts the EV’s operational efficiency advantages.

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Peak Lithium? Fohgeddaboutit http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/peak-lithium-fohgeddaboutit/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/peak-lithium-fohgeddaboutit/#comments Thu, 29 Jul 2010 15:24:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=361787 Some folks are convinced that EVs are taking over the world. So convinced they are that they are already publicly worried about peak Lithium. Lithium is found in unstable places. An internal Pentagon memo states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” writes the New York Times. Then there are distressing news that […]

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Some folks are convinced that EVs are taking over the world. So convinced they are that they are already publicly worried about peak Lithium. Lithium is found in unstable places. An internal Pentagon memo states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” writes the New York Times. Then there are distressing news that countries like Chile, Bolivia and China sit on piles of lithium. Should we be worried? Nein, says a study from Germany.

The Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoff-Forschung in Germany published a study that says that there is enough known lithium to power 10 billion cars. The world produces around 60m cars a year. If all of them would be EVs (and they won’t), then we have enough lithium for 166 years. And a few cell phones. Currently, most of the lithium is used to make glass or ceramics. Batteries come second. There will be enough lithium to go around, and around , and around.

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And Now: Peak Lithium http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/and-now-peak-lithium/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/and-now-peak-lithium/#comments Thu, 15 Jul 2010 13:52:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=360900 If you want to play the commodities, forget pork bellies, soybeans or gold. Get into lithium. Not to treat the bipolar disorder exposure to the commodities market could trigger. Lithium to power cars. The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry figures that global lithium demand will more than triple from about 92,000 tons in […]

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If you want to play the commodities, forget pork bellies, soybeans or gold. Get into lithium. Not to treat the bipolar disorder exposure to the commodities market could trigger. Lithium to power cars. The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry figures that global lithium demand will more than triple from about 92,000 tons in 2010 to 310,000 tons in 2020. Who’s gobbling up the stuff? The automobile industry is expected to use 60 percent of the global lithium supply in 2020, up from less than 5 percent this year. No wonder there is a run on the material.

Mitsubishi signed a long-term deal with Galaxy Resources Ltd., reports The Nikkei [sub]. Galaxy owns a lithium mine in southwestern Australia that sits on 16 years’ worth of lithium. The lithium ore is shipped to a plant near Shanghai that will make the lithium carbonate needed for batteries

Japanese Itochuwill invest in a U.S. company that extracts lithium from underground water used in geothermal power generation. Annual production is expected to reach 16,000 tons in three or four years.

Mitsui has signed an exclusive lithium sales contract for Japan, China and South Korea with a Canadian mining company.

Toyota Tsusho plans to mine lithium in Argentina starting in 2012. The output should mainly go into Toyota car batteries.

If you gamble on lithium, you basically gamble on the success of plug-ins. If they take off, there will be a surge in lithium demand. The capacity of batteries in plug-ins must be much larger than in hybrids. If plug-ins don’t take off, well, there still remains the medical application.

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Toyota Takes Their Lithium http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/toyota-takes-their-lithium/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/toyota-takes-their-lithium/#comments Wed, 20 Jan 2010 19:51:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=342434 After years of spurning lithium ion batteries in favor of Nickel metal hydride cells, it seems Toyota might changing their mind. The Wall Street Journal reports that Toyota Tsusho Corp, which is 21.8% owned by Toyota Motor Corp., has secured the loans it needed from the Japanese government to buy a stake in a lithium […]

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Argentina's lithium salt lakes (courtesy:nasa.gov)
After years of spurning lithium ion batteries in favor of Nickel metal hydride cells, it seems Toyota might changing their mind. The Wall Street Journal reports that Toyota Tsusho Corp, which is 21.8% owned by Toyota Motor Corp., has secured the loans it needed from the Japanese government to buy a stake in a lithium project in Northern Argentina. The article states that “people with knowledge of the matter” (read in to that what you will), values Toyota Tsusho’s investment somewhere between $100 million and $200 million.

Toyota Tsusho will pay for a feasibility study on this lithium project, which is being operated by Orocobre, an Australian firm, and will take a 25% stake in the project. “We think we should start preparing to supply the market,” Naoto Yamagishi, general manager of the metal-and-mineral resources department at Toyota Tsusho, said. Mr Yamagishi went to mention that the project area is located near an area of Chile, which is affectionately known as “the Saudi Arabia of lithium.” As opposed to Bolivia, which one might term the Iran of lithium.  Toyota’s first lithium ion battery vehicle will be the plug-in version of its Prius, which is planned for releases next year.

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