BU-1008: Working towards Sustainability

Compare battery energy with fossil fuel and other resources

Private transportation is a much desired and emotional issue and governments are promoting this culture by subsidizing roads and even handing out grants to buy certain vehicles. Already in the 1950s, the car was given the status of supreme ruler and commuter trains were removed in favor of freeways. With pollution hitting the tipping point and roads in gridlock, the lack of long-term city planning is becoming evident. Commuting by car in an urban setting is not sustainable as the road system cannot accommodate the population growth in urban areas.

In the 1930s, Europe had a different vision for the car. With a large rural population, farmers needed low-cost transportation and Citroën, a French carmaker, designed a “rugged umbrella on four wheels.” The car was to carry four workers and a payload of 100kg (220 lb), traveling at a top speed of 60km/h (37mph) on a well-suspended chassis that did not break farm eggs when driving across a ploughed field. The vehicle was to consume no more than 3 liters of gasoline per 100km (78mpg). The first models had a 375cc motor developing 9hp; the 2CV (my first car in Switzerland) had the larger 425cc engine with 12hp (9kW). With a tailwind the car would reach a top speed of 85km/h (53mph). Figure 1 illustrates a 1958 Citroen 2CV.

1958 Citroen
Figure 11-22: 1958 Citroen 2CV. In 1930, the main objectives were economical transportation for people and goods and the Citroen 2CV met this criterion with a 425cc air-cooled two-cylinder motor producing 12hp.
Courtesy Classic Car Catalogue

In 1934, then chancellor Adolf Hitler gave Ferdinand Porsche specifications to build the Volkswagen: a “people’s car” capable of transporting two adults and three children at 100 km/h (62 mph) while consuming no more than 7 liters of fuel per 100 km. The engine had to be powerful enough to maintain cruising speeds on Germany’s new freeways, which Hitler is said to have promoted to ease mass unemployment. Hitler asked for a simple design to make the car affordable and to ensure that worn parts could be exchanged quickly and cheaply. The car was to be made available to citizens on a savings scheme at a price that was less than a worker’s 2-year income.

Today’s luxury cars are powered with 275hp (200kW) engines, enough to provide electrical energy for 10 houses. Most vehicles carry only the driver, and few restrictions exist as to vehicle size, horsepower and distances driven. Our highways are mostly free to use; general tax revenue and gas tax pay for them. A research group said that gasoline would need to cost five-times the current price if drivers were to pay for the highway costs.  

Free-roaming takes a toll on the environment. According to the US Department of Energy, 71 percent of the oil consumed in the USA is for transportation and 51 percent goes to passenger cars and light trucks. 

Concerns about pollution by burning fossil fuel were first published in 1971; governments acknowledged an environmental demise in 1991, and today our leaders are taking note but cannot halt the rise of greenhouse gases. Over the past 400,000 years, CO2 concentrations have fluctuated between 180 and 280 parts per million; today’s level is at 410 parts per million.

The US burns 19 million barrels of oil a day (one barrel has 159 liters). Europe, with twice the population and a comparable standard of living, consumes only half this amount. More could be done to reduce consumption, and concerned citizens feel that climate change is not being taken seriously in the West. An analogy is vodka consumption in Russia that causes drunkenness. Stopping the flow, economists say, would bring the country to a halt.

Scientists say that developed nations consume a level of energy that is one-and-a-half times what mother earth can produce. Folks living in the next millennium might fret over the environmental damage their forefathers have caused, forcing millions of farmers in water-starved territories to flee the once fruitful land because of encroaching deserts. Schoolbooks may describe how wealthy businessmen lined their pockets while politicians looked the other way and denied any connection with human activity and unusual weather patterns. Questions will be asked why past leaders did nothing to slow a frivolous and unsustainable lifestyle.

No one likes change, and when the medical associations realized in the 1970s that smoking tobacco was harmful to human health, the then US president Ronald Reagan hinted, “Yes, we must do everything to cut down on smoking, but let’s not hurt the tobacco industry” (paraphrased).

New European cars under the 2015 law can only emit 130 grams of CO2 per kilometer. This is equal to 5.6 l/km (42mpg). The 2021 target will be 95g/km and 4.1 l/km (57mpg). Car makers must pay 95 euro per gram of excess emission premiums for each vehicle that exceeds this limit. Japan is following the lead and also requires and achieves emission levels of about 130g/km.

The US president said that America is getting tough on car pollution as well. Progress was made and the CO2 release of 268g/kg in 2010 was lowered to an average of 190g/km, or 8.15 l/100km (29mpg), on 2015 model cars. Much work still lies ahead to reduce fuel consumption as burning 1 liter of gasoline generates 2.3kg of CO2 (19 lb per US gallon).

Resource-rich Americans dislike limitations while resource-lean countries in Europe and Asia were enticed to conserve and get innovative. Our European and Japanese friends have demonstrated that protecting our environment is possible without sacrificing standard of living. Much work will revolve around the electric powertrain, but no battery exists yet that can match hydrocarbons in net calorific value. Limitations will continue as long as the battery operates on an electrochemical process.   

Pledge to Humanity

The goal for humanity is to maintain an environment that is sustainable, finds contentment and provides social justice. Rich nations may not reach this objective without the help from poorer lands, These caring and resourceful folks may one day come forth to teach the well-established that material possession does not satisfy and that the deeper meaning of life is love, relationships and spiritual fulfillment. They will tell rich nations to go back to the basics and rediscover the bounty of this fine earth by letting go of excess baggage. Those who find the virtue of simplicity will finally begin to enjoy life more abundantly.

Last updated 2018-07-19


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Comments (3)

On September 29, 2015 at 12:20am
Moose wrote:

Whats the issue with CO2? Its a grow gas, nature needs it tot sustain life and it is not even capable warming the planet. That’s thermo-dynamically impossible.

On October 16, 2015 at 1:27am
hrncirik wrote:

at cca 20 cm of text, below the Picture of car
at .... . Under 2015 law….is wrong 5,6l/km ...
must be 5,6l/100km   4,1/l100km

On July 12, 2018 at 4:43am
Richard Reis wrote:

This is a very insightful article. Of course, it needs to be updated as CO2 levels have exceeded 400 PPM and are increasing.

Moose apparently did learn in junior or middle high school, as I did many years ago that carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases heat the earth by blocking the infrared radiation of energy into space. Humans developed civilization during a mild and hospitable climate of the past 10,000 years, with mild CO2 levels. Before the industrial era, animal respiration and plant photosynthesis balanced CO2 levels. Using glacial ice cores, scientists can trace greenhouse gas levels back almost 1,000,000 years. As greenhouse gases rise to levels above those detected in those cores, humankind faces very difficult challenges including sea level rise of 10s of meters and unusually severe storms.

Rising greenhouse gas levels are the unfortunate and unnatural result of burning fossil fuels. This article shows that humankind can live sustainable and healthier lives by drastically reducing our use of fossil fuels..