One Graph Is Worth A Thousand Back Room Deals: Which Coal-Driven Transportaton Option Is Best For Both Climate And Security?

The Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center (CEIC) has released a life cycle study of prospective US transportation C02 emissions, comparing plug in hybrids to conventional ICE vehicles under a variety of coal energy input scenarios. The bar graph (pictured) pretty much tells all. Keep in mind that this is a full life cycle study, encompassing resource extraction, electricity and liquid fuel manufacture and distribution, vehicle manufacture, and vehicle use, of course.Right now you are probably leaning forward and wondering what "CCS" means: it seems to be Coal C02 Sequestration, which includes C02 from a Coal To Liquids (CTL) diesel plant or from a coal fired electrical generator, per each scenario. Following is the Introduction from the full report, which can be downloaded as a password protected pdf file, with advance permission, from here. "The House Committee on Energy and Commerce (2007) is considering enacting policies to subsidize the production of transportation fuel from coal-to-liquid projects (CTL). This policy would enhance national security by lowering oil imports, but encouraging plug-in hybrids is a less costly policy that also reduce oil imports and does more to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This paper compares GHG emissions of CTL gasoline to the emissions of plug-in hybrid vehicles powered with electricity generated with coal. A life cycle approach is used so that all stages of the life cycle of each fuel, from production to use, are included. This analysis allows us to better identify benefits, or disadvantages, of an energy future that includes coal as a transportation fuel." Note that CTL plants are likely to consume coal fired electricity that may or may not include the CCS option and this dilemma seems to be accounted for in the study. A key imprecision, of course, is the emission burden(s) for making battery packs for plug in hybrids. However, if other battery systems are used as a guide and recycling occurs, then vehicle use phase will always be more critical than component manufacture. Below is the study's life cycle burden summary table used to estimate unit CTL emissions.

TreeHugger comments:- The CEIC is an impressive organization and this report looks sensible and well done. We very much hope that US Congressional staffers on both sides of the aisle are seriously examining the findings. For anyone who wants a talking point to pass on to their elected representatives, just to make sure they "get it," here it is. Allocating taxpayer dollars to create a secure, climate healthy future need not be viewed as a zero sum game. Look at the vehicles and their life cycle energy inputs as a single concept. Do that, and plug-in hybrids win at both security and climate protection. Lets get on with making vehicle batteries a US jobs creating engine.

Perhaps some of our clever readers can help expand and simplify these talking points with their comments. Let the blogosphere resound!

Oh...and it wouldn't hurt to give General Motors a pat on the back for their Volt concept vehicle. Just wish they'd picked a US-based company for their pre-commercial battery supplier of choice.

Tags: Transportation

Best of TreeHugger