Have you taken into account the pollution caused by the production and transportation of the fossil fuels? And not just the normal case but the pollution caused by spillage?


There is a larger "womb-to-tomb" picture that applies to all types of cars (and everything else as well). This article talks about the difficulty (impossibility?) of getting the "all-in" picture. One interesting point they make is that keeping a car (running) for many years is a good thing because it means spreading that initial (high) environmental cost for the mining and manufacturing across a longer time thereby reducing the average annual impact.

In the case of the hybrid battery components, you have to look beyind the lifetime of the car itself since those components can be recycled (and Toyota does that). There is also the cost of recycling that has to be considered but that is probably a much better option than more mining and throwing the old one in a landfill.

This paper (by a freshman University student) tries to highlight the negative aspects of hybrids. It raises some legitimate points but I think that he is trying too hard to make the case (but it does highlight some of the myths, half-truths and misinformation that exists around this topic):

  • Disposal: Toyota doesn't dispose of the hybrid batteries it recycles them.
  • Aluminum: I believe that the Camry and the Camry Hybrid (as an example) are essentially the same car (except for the Hybrid components). I don't believe that the hybrid version has a significantly higher use of aluminum. On the other hand, Ford is now using a much higher % of aluminum in its (non-hybrid) F150 pickup.
  • Charging of Hybrid battery: Most of the Hybrids on the road don't have a plug-in capability. The power to charge the battery mostly comes from regenerative braking: power that would be dissipated as heat otherwise.
  • Mining: The article raises the issue of the impact of strip-mining (for copper and coal). There is no doubt that strip minimg has negative impacts but if you look at the global use of copper, the amount used in hybrid electric motors would be a very small drop in a very big bucket. There are a lot of other things that you would have to look at as inefficient or inappropriate uses of copper before you ever got to hybrid electric motors. To make it fair, you would also have to look at the environmental impact of extracting and transporting oil, especially high impact methods such as fracking and extracting from the oil sands.
  • The break-even point (env cost vs payback). There is a legitimate point here that most of the hybrid benefit is from city driving. He references an 88 page study that was done on the hybrid break even points. I haven't read through that yet so I can't comment on it.

If the costs in the marketplace really included the cost of environmental impacts; then they would become part of the equation based on how much we are willing and able to pay. Since that doesn't happen, the cost of these impacts is hidden and we buy based on what does impact us directly. This is a much much bigger issue than the decision to buy a hybrid car or not. This may be one of the few instances however; where we are actually given a choice (even though consumers still don't have all of the facts in front of them). We should be looking at all of the choices that we make and the real environmental impact of those choices but that isn't high on the agenda.


Batteries have different environmental problems (toxic waste rather than CO2 & air pollution)

I don't think that's quite accurate. The recent battery technologies used (mostly NiMH for hybrids, and various Lithium-based systems elsewhere) are not actually "toxic waste", because they are mostly non-toxic, except for some exotic metals in their integrated electronics (like any other electronic device). They are recycled mostly to (1) make a profit (cheaper than mining), and (2) avoid the environmental impact of mining. With the older technologies (NiCd and Alkaline), they are indeed toxic waste and need to be recycled or otherwise disposed of properly, but these technologies are being phased out in favor of the modern alternatives.

And those are extremely high for the mining and processing of the materials needed for the batteries in hybrid cars.

How much different is that then the pollution caused during normal car manufacturing?

Well, it's true that mining and processing of materials that go into batteries can have a significant environmental impact (which is one of the main motivations for recycling them), but you have to keep things in perspective here. Mining for almost any kind of mineral has a significant impact. There isn't really a dramatic difference between the main constituents of batteries and common metals used in many other applications. This depends a bit on the exact chemistry used in the battery, but most of the materials are actually very common and used in all sorts of very common things (like engine blocks, steel alloys, electronics, etc.). Think about it, nickel, cobalt, manganese, aluminium, iron, are all found in standard alloys of steel. And many of the rare earth minerals are also used in many other things (e.g., electronic components). The point here is that compared to whatever they replace (e.g., a gas engine), batteries do not have a significantly higher impact, because producing something like a modern gas engine also requires the mining of many metals including rare ones and these products have their own toxicity level as well.

It's very complicated to really trace down all the environmental ramifications of something like that. And sadly, it is often very one-sided, from both sides, if you understand what I mean. On the one side, environmentalists far too often focus solely on tail-pipe emissions because that's where you see the biggest difference. And on the other side, people hype up the environmental impact of manufacturing batteries (and related production and waste impacts) while neglecting the environmental impact of producing and maintaining the alternatives.

At this point, I have no conclusive evidence about which options have less impact overall, because I haven't seen any study out there that I found satisfactory in terms of being unbiased and thorough. However, as a mechanical engineer, if I had to make an educated guess as to hybrid vs conventional cars, I would have to say that the environmental impact of hybrids is most likely appreciably less than conventional cars.

If a hyrid indeed needs to be scrapped after only a decade, half the expected lifespan of its non-hybrid cousins, that's another major environmental impact factor that's not taken into account.

There is no particular reasons why a hybrid car would have a shorter lifespan than its conventional cousins. In fact, from the technology alone, they could last much longer (but we don't know yet, obviously, mature models haven't really been around long enough). Of course, early models probably have their faults like any early model of any car. But a mature and well-designed hybrid car should last even longer than an equivalently well-designed conventional car. The reasons for that are mainly that:
(1) a lot of the electric drivetrain (generator, motor, power elec., etc.) are taken directly from rugged industrial-strength designs which are made to run 24/7 for 20-30 years without failing and with minimal maintenance (i.e., this is extremely mature technology compared to gas engines, which have very rarely been designed up to any comparable standard of quality, and a far more complicated to design for longevity);
(2) the dynamic load on the gas engine is significantly reduced since it is made to run at a far more even pace, because what causes the bulk of the wear-and-tear of a gas engine are the rapid accelerations and decelerations ("engine brake"), we call that dynamic load. By that factor alone, the lifespan of the gas engine is at least doubled from what it would be if it was fitted into a conventional car.
(3) the gas engine tends to be mostly operated near its peak efficiency cycle (which is, btw, where you get the better mileage from, it's not because of the battery (or electric powertrain), it's because the gas engine runs at a better regime), which means that it is much easier to design it for longevity because of the very predictable lifecycles.

To be honest, regardless of environmental concerns, if I just wanted to come up with a good and reliable design for a car's powertrain that is geared towards easy maintenance and longevity, I would design a hybrid powertrain (unless fully-electric was an option, of course). There is no doubt in my mind about that. And therefore, in the long run (after all initial problems are resolved, if not already, now), hybrids will certainly end up being more durable than conventional cars. Well, that's not considering "planned obsolescence", of course, which is a whole other issue.


those are extremely high for the mining and processing of the materials needed for the batteries in hybrid cars

They are also extremely high for some up and coming oil-extraction methods: polar drilling, tar-sand mining.

When it comes to mining you can't win, even most food is grown with artificial fertilizers which contain large amount of phosphorus which is obtained by strip-mining.

Edited by Agilemind


My wife and I will be touching down in Las Vegas in two days (April 5) and we're super excited. We've never been and in fact we've only been as far south as Sioux Falls SD. Can't wait to see the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam. It's going to be 5 great days there, super stoked!


That's mainly for people who spent too much time on the floor in the casinos and can't afford the price of the ticket home...


I've got one night slated for losing money in the casino. That's also the night that I get really drunk with the free alcohol! :)

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