I am a geek and I love new technology, so I have been closely following news about the electric Tesla Model S, a car to which Consumer Reports gave their highest score ever, a 99 out of 100. The car is sleek, beautiful, powerful, fast, full of cool technology and has a battery that allows it to go hundreds of miles. What is there not to like (except, perhaps, the price). Living in a fairly affluent suburb of Washington, DC I see a lot of Tesla Model S’s (or perhaps I keep seeing the same ones over and over again). I also see very many Chevy Volts, another electric car that also has a lot going for it (my friend has one and it is great fun to drive).
Having said all that, I have always had some qualms about electric and hybrid cars to the extent that I annoyed my wife by discouraging her from buying a Prius. My qualms resurfaced yesterday when I read How Green Is a Tesla, Really? on Slate. While this article tries to determine how much pollution is generated by the electricity used by the Tesla (something for which they came up varied and ambiguous answers), they did touch on the issue which has always concerned me, the batteries. Everything I have read has led me to the believe that the production and disposal of batteries are very dirty and polluting processes. The batteries in the Tesla Model S are huge, they have to be to store the 85 kilowatt-hours of power required to propel the car for 265 miles. According to a report in the New York Times, “…each Tesla Model S battery pack uses more than 7,000 cylindrical 18650 cells. They are a variation on batteries commonly seen in laptop computers, but in a high-performance automotive grade…by 2014, production of the Model S might “soak up almost 40 percent of global cylindrical battery production.””
So while I will continue to admire and be amazed by Tesla cars, I will also continue to try to understand the impact of electric cars and hybrids on the environment; obviously, something that is not well understood, and for which you can find practically any answer you like.
For myself meanwhile, I think my next car will be a diesel. Modern diesels burning low-sulphur fuel are now as clean, or cleaner, than gasoline powered autos, and get far better mileage…but diesel vs gasoline is a story for another day…