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Zero Emissions... Really?

A post after a long time. I have hardly found enough time to blog, and this has caused the readership of my blog to suffer. So, I shall restrict myself to writing posts in a limited amount of time, which shall definitely cut down on their length. A moment to rejoice?

Environmental concern has become a worldwide phenomenon. Even as undergraduate engineers, we are asked to study two half semester long courses in environmental sciences. While I do not object to environmental concerns, I do object to some of the hype surrounding the issue.

One of the major concerns of the environment, at least in today's age is of global warming. The earth's atmospheric temperature has been showing a rising trend along with its seasonal cycles. Al Gore and all the others trading in carbon credits would have us believe that the sole reason for global warming is the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, and going green is all about reducing the carbon dioxide emissions. Hang on! What is the gas that plants need for photosynthesis? I think that the gas should be called green...

Al Gore supports his hypothesis by drilling into the Antarctic ice, near the shore of Antarctica. He shows a correlation between the surface temperatures and the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. However, as any high school student who has studied statistics shall inform: correlation does not imply causation. While you think it over, let me introduce another fact. The solubility of carbon dioxide in water decreases with an increase in temperature. Add to that the fact that water covers over 70% of the earth's surface and occupies 1,360,000,000km3.

However, the purpose of this post is not just to trash Al Gore's theory, but to show how a myth if perpetrated long enough can lead to significant economic gains. Carbon credits is a multi-billion dollar industry, and the people trading in carbon credits are getting richer by the minute.

At the same time, we have an increasing demand for zero emission vehicles. These vehicles are generally electric, and run on batteries which need to be recharged every 100km or so. Recently, some engineers in France have come up with a vehicle that runs on compressed air. Hey and presto! We have zero emission vehicles.

Give it a thought. Doesn't an electric vehicle contribute to emissions when it recharges its batteries? Doesn't compressing air amount to our beloved CO2 emissions?

In fact, an electric vehicle is inefficient at two sources. One is the power plant where electricity is generated. I am however, assuming that the electricity is generated through a thermal power plant running on coal or gas, as indeed is the case in a large part of the world. Only a few regions have truly sustainable power. The second is at the vehicle itself. An electric motor, though efficient is never 100% efficient. There are always some losses involved. The only time when an electric vehicle does not contribute to emissions is when it is at a standstill, unlike an IC engine powered vehicle, the motors switch off at standstill. What this means is that in certain cases, the electric vehicle may be more polluting than an IC engine powered vehicle. There is the further question of what happens to the batteries of the electric vehicle at the end of their life span, which under such intense operation may be little over a year? Most of the batteries contain highly toxic heavy metals like lead and cadmium, or alkali metals like lithium.

However, so great is the social and political demand for being green according to a canon, that people and governments encourage electric vehicles. Sales in these environment friendly vehicles skyrocket, boosted by a misguided public and tax incentives from a politically correct government.

It's time we stop blind zealous activism, and stop and think for a moment about the correctness of the entire affair.


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