Tesla And Nikola – A 21st Century Fairy Tale

Dave Emanuel
A recharging station powered by a diesel generator.

Tesla and Nikola save the world!

Once upon a time monsters ruled the streets and highways of the world. They drank gasoline and diesel fuel, belched fire, and spewed bad, bad chemicals and soot out of their tailpipes.

Some people looked at the monsters and said, “We must get rid of them. All that belching and spewing is putting too much carbon dioxide into the air. It is changing the climate and we will all die soon.”

But how could they get rid of the monsters? They hauled all the things people needed: men and women used them to go to work and families took vacations in them.

It looked hopeless. Then someone said, “It’s not hopeless. We will replace them with electric vehicles. They don’t belch fire and spew chemicals. They don’t belch or spew anything. We will be saved.”

Story continues below:

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Tesla Electric Vehicles’ Zero Emissions Can’t be Met

And so ends the fairy tale of Tesla and Nikola. But like Cinderella, Hansel & Gretel and countless others, it is pure fiction. Although battery-powered electric vehicles have no tailpipes and consequently no tailpipe emissions,
they emit carbon dioxide just like vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. The difference is that they do it remotely. Out of sight, out of mind.

The majority of electric vehicle (EV) recharging stations are powered by electricity received from power generating facilities that burn natural gas or coal. Consider the featured photo of a recharging station powered by
a diesel generator. Although there are relatively few of these, they are emblematic of the fairy tale that electric vehicles generate zero emissions. Consumption of electricity does not result in zero emissions unless it is generated exclusively by sources powered by nuclear, wind, hydroelectric, or solar energy.

That doesn’t mean that EVs don’t provide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, only that their use does not result in zero emissions. Consequently, unless there are major changes in methods of electricity generation, or a shift to a different fuel source, the requirements imposed by state and local governments to achieve zero emissions by a specified date cannot be met.

The impact of greenhouse gas emissions during manufacture is also a factor that interferes with the zero-emissions fairy tale having a happy ending.

Manufacturing EVs has issues

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists,

“Manufacturing a mid-sized EV with an 84-mile range results in about 15 percent more emissions than manufacturing an equivalent gasoline vehicle. For larger, longer-range EVs that travel more than 250 miles per charge, the manufacturing emissions can be as much as 68 percent higher.”

The concerned scientists also state that EVs make up for their higher manufacturing emissions within 18 months (or less) of driving. That’s largely because on a per mile basis, electricity generated by natural gas or coal-fired generating facilities emit less carbon dioxide that gasoline or diesel fuel. In areas where generation of electricity does not rely on the burning of fossil fuels, the payback is faster.

However, in spite of the advantages offered by EVs, the future is not all battery powered. Within the next decade, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which can truly emit zero emissions, will challenge conventional EVs. In fact, Nikola (named for Nikola Tesla) is currently producing both hydrogen fuel cell-powered trucks in addition to battery-powered models.

Hydrogen intended for fuel cell use is typically labeled grey, blue or green, depending on the levels of carbon dioxide or equivalent used to produce it. Green hydrogen is produced from water by using a renewable energy
source to split hydrogen from oxygen atoms.

Its primary drawback is the expense of production. However, as with most newer technologies, costs will drop as technology improves and use increases. Saudi Arabia is currently building a new $500 billion city that will be powered by green hydrogen. The Saudis, who evidently see the handwriting in the sand, are also gearing up to build additional green hydrogen manufacturing plants.

Vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells have been on the roads for a number of years. The fleet of hydrogen-powered vehicles is small because a robust supply infrastructure does not exist. But as it grows, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will challenge battery-powered EVs as the most environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuel-burning vehicles. It
appears that green hydrogen is the key to turning the zero carbon emissions fairy tale into a reality.

The question is, what do we do with all the dead batteries?

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