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  1. #1
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    'Green Cars have a dirty little secret' says the WSJ

    Found this interesting--electric cars start in a CO2 emissions hole, and are likely never to get out:
    A 2012 comprehensive life-cycle analysis in Journal of Industrial Ecology shows that almost half the lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions from an electric car come from the energy used to produce the car, especially the battery. The mining of lithium, for instance, is a less than green activity. By contrast, the manufacture of a gas-powered car accounts for 17% of its lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions. When an electric car rolls off the production line, it has already been responsible for 30,000 pounds of carbon-dioxide emission. The amount for making a conventional car: 14,000 pounds.

    While electric-car owners may cruise around feeling virtuous, they still recharge using electricity overwhelmingly produced with fossil fuels. Thus, the life-cycle analysis shows that for every mile driven, the average electric car indirectly emits about six ounces of carbon-dioxide. This is still a lot better than a similar-size conventional car, which emits about 12 ounces per mile. But remember, the production of the electric car has already resulted in sizeable emissions—the equivalent of 80,000 miles of travel in the vehicle.

    So unless the electric car is driven a lot, it will never get ahead environmentally.
    Full article here
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  2. #2
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    Interesting, thanks for the link.

    It depends on where the car is driven. In the PNW, electricity is almost all hydro, so that is different than charging your car on coal.

    The other main benefit, imo, is that it moves emissions from millions of tail pipe to a couple hundred point sources where the potential for CCS and other pollution reduction measure can be put in place.

    Ironically, at this point in time, tail pipe emissions are cleaner than anything coming out of a coal fired power plant stack, but I wouldn't say electric cars should be abandoned. Just that the whole idea of "zero emissions vehicles" is totally bogus.
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  3. #3
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    Mine has over 200,000 miles on it. Then again I don't drive it to be green. I drive it because it was given to us, and it gets somewhere between 40 - 55 mpg depending on the time of year and types of roads driven. And to be honest because my wife won't let me sell it so I can get small pick-up

    Just realized that my hybrid isn't the same thing as the electric cars the original post was talking about.

    So how does it stack up? Even worse than conventional because of the batteries?
    Last edited by Dwayne Barry; 03-12-2013 at 06:09 AM.

  4. #4
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    Electric cars won't catch on until they're affordable like the average sedan. Charging $40-50k for a car that gets 100 miles per charge is not cost effective for the middle class American. Now, if one got 1000 miles to a charge and cost no more than $25000, then it'd be worthwhile. If we can find ways to produce graphene oxide and, in turn, graphene supercapacitors more cheaply, we will achieve that goal.

  5. #5
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    He may make a valid point about the footprint of the EV production. I don't know, the article is pretty brief and sketchy on details/sources. In 2009 44% of US electricity production was from coal, according to the US Energy Information Association. I think the post production carbon footprint argument is weak. People will often point fingers at the dirty side of electricity production and neglect the same aspect of gasoline production. Emissions from ships (oil tankers) are a major source of global pollution. Refining oil into gasoline also isn't pretty. Once the gasoline is produced, it's loaded onto a big rig and driven to a gas station. Once electricity is produced, you're pretty much home free from the emissions standpoint. An internal combustion engine is about 30% efficient in converting the stored energy in the gasoline into forward motion (think of the heat and exhaust produced by the car), an electric vehicle is about 90% efficient. There's the added benefit of reduced noise and particulate pollution as well.

    I think it's the right thing to do. I'm a new EV owner.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by paredown View Post
    Found this interesting--electric cars start in a CO2 emissions hole, and are likely never to get out:
    That's actually untrue, if you look at the figures you quote from the article:


    A 2012 comprehensive life-cycle analysis in Journal of Industrial Ecology shows that almost half the lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions from an electric car come from the energy used to produce the car, especially the battery. The mining of lithium, for instance, is a less than green activity. By contrast, the manufacture of a gas-powered car accounts for 17% of its lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions. When an electric car rolls off the production line, it has already been responsible for 30,000 pounds of carbon-dioxide emission. The amount for making a conventional car: 14,000 pounds.

    While electric-car owners may cruise around feeling virtuous, they still recharge using electricity overwhelmingly produced with fossil fuels. Thus, the life-cycle analysis shows that for every mile driven, the average electric car indirectly emits about six ounces of carbon-dioxide. This is still a lot better than a similar-size conventional car, which emits about 12 ounces per mile. But remember, the production of the electric car has already resulted in sizeable emissions—the equivalent of 80,000 miles of travel in the vehicle.

    So unless the electric car is driven a lot, it will never get ahead environmentally.
    Do the math... @ 80,000 miles driven:

    Electric car has put out 30,000 lbs of CO2 from being made, plus 30,000 lbs from being driven, for a total of 60,000 lbs of CO2.

    Conventional car has put out 14,000 lbs of CO2 from being made, plus 60,000 lbs from being driven, for a total of 74,000 lbs of CO2.

    Winner: electric car.

    Where the article seems to fark up is when it gravely intones that the electric car's manufacture has already caused 80,000 miles of CO2 emissions. Yes... 80,000 miles of CO2 emissions from an electric car. But only 40,000 miles for a conventional car, which, as the article points out, puts out twice as much CO2 for every mile driven.

    Basically, and again, going by the WSJ's own figures, the break-even point between electric car and conventional car comes at around 43,000 miles driven. After that, the electric car starts winning, and keeps pulling away as you go deeper into the lifespan of the vehicle.


    Considering that almost any car nowadays is good for far more than 43,000 miles of driving, I'm not quite sure what they're hand-waving about.

    And of course, as coal becomes a smaller part of the grid going forward, electric cars get cleaner still.
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by SystemShock View Post
    That's actually untrue, if you look at the figures you quote from the article:




    Do the math... @ 80,000 miles driven:

    Electric car has put out 30,000 lbs of CO2 from being made, plus 30,000 lbs from being driven, for a total of 60,000 lbs of CO2.

    Conventional car has put out 14,000 lbs of CO2 from being made, plus 60,000 lbs from being driven, for a total of 74,000 lbs of CO2.

    Winner: electric car.

    Where the article seems to fark up is when it gravely intones that the electric car's manufacture has already caused 80,000 miles of CO2 emissions. Yes... 80,000 miles of CO2 emissions from an electric car. But only 40,000 miles for a conventional car, which, as the article points out, puts out twice as much CO2 for every mile driven.

    Basically, and again, going by the WSJ's own figures, the break-even point between electric car and conventional car comes at around 43,000 miles driven. After that, the electric car starts winning, and keeps pulling away as you go deeper into the lifespan of the vehicle.


    Considering that almost any car nowadays is good for far more than 43,000 miles of driving, I'm not quite sure what they're hand-waving about.
    And how long do those batteries last until they need to be replaced? When they do, you get another big hit to the CO2, not to mention the environmental cost to dispose of the batteries that were removed.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by alegerlotz View Post
    And how long do those batteries last until they need to be replaced? When they do, you get another big hit to the CO2, not to mention the environmental cost to dispose of the batteries that were removed.
    Look at my post again... it's no coincidence that I use the 80,000 mile figure. That's how long the battery pack on a Prius is guaranteed to be good for. Prius is not a pure-electric, but it does use similar batteries.

    So, do another 80,000 mile cycle comparison once the battery pack gets replaced. The electric car will still beat the conventional car in CO2 emissions, again.

    Specifically... let's assume the WSJ-quoted difference in CO2 cost to make an electric vehicle versus a conventional one is entirely due to the battery pack. If so, then that battery pack costs 16,000 lbs in CO2 to make.

    But over the minimum expected lifespan of the battery pack (80K miles), the electric car will dump 30,000 lbs LESS of CO2 into the atmosphere.

    Advantage: electric. Again.
    Last edited by SystemShock; 03-12-2013 at 07:16 AM.
    Monkhouse: I want to die like my Dad did, peacefully, in his sleep... not screaming in terror like his passengers.

    SystemShock: I kicked Lance in the nuts. Err, nut.

    Platypius:
    I'd rather fellate a syphilitic goat than own a Cervelo.

    Kitty: ROMNEY LANDSLIDE! Man its gonna be fun in PO after Election Day.

    Seamus: Saw Bjork poop onstage back in the day. It blew my teenage mind


  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by hfc View Post
    He may make a valid point about the footprint of the EV production. I don't know, the article is pretty brief and sketchy on details/sources. In 2009 44% of US electricity production was from coal, according to the US Energy Information Association. I think the post production carbon footprint argument is weak. People will often point fingers at the dirty side of electricity production and neglect the same aspect of gasoline production. Emissions from ships (oil tankers) are a major source of global pollution. Refining oil into gasoline also isn't pretty. Once the gasoline is produced, it's loaded onto a big rig and driven to a gas station. Once electricity is produced, you're pretty much home free from the emissions standpoint. An internal combustion engine is about 30% efficient in converting the stored energy in the gasoline into forward motion (think of the heat and exhaust produced by the car), an electric vehicle is about 90% efficient. There's the added benefit of reduced noise and particulate pollution as well.

    I think it's the right thing to do. I'm a new EV owner.
    I hadn't thought about the CO2 emissions for the production and distribution of gasoline vis a vis coal-fired electricity, but I suppose the same caveats apply to coal as well--mining and transportation to the generating plant counts here too. (We're outside NYC, so almost all fossil fuel produced expensive electricity, with one unsafe and old nuclear plant 15 miles away as the crow flies.)

    He does mention that we tend to measure only tailpipe emissions--and miss the rest of the potential pollution from a gas vehicle that you note.

    The cynic in me says we are looking at what is obvious--cars--and missing the less obvious. One piece I read recently mentioned failing or under-spec'ed office and commercial buildings as a prime source of energy waste and therefore greenhouse emissions... I posted the link on FB so the source is lost, but here's the summary that I quoted:
    "Forty percent of total energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in the US can be attributed to operating buildings .... responsible for almost 80 percent of New York's carbon footprint...SUVs account for just 3 percent of emissions...If we are to successfully tackle global warming, it's clear we have to do something about the carbon footprint of our buildings."
    It's easier to scapegoat vehicles, though.
    "When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking."

    (Sir) Arthur Conan Doyle. Scientific American, January 18, 1896

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by paredown View Post
    Found this interesting--electric cars start in a CO2 emissions hole, and are likely never to get out:

    So unless the electric car is driven a lot, it will never get ahead environmentally.
    A little 9th grade algebra indicates the WSJ is a little loose with their wording (somebody check my math):

    let Y = total lbs of CO2
    let X = miles driven

    conventional car: Y = 14000 + 3/4 X
    electric car: Y = 30000 + 3/8 X

    point at which both cars have emitted same amount of CO2: 14000 + 3/4 X = 30000 + 3/8 X

    X = 42666

    I wouldn't consider 43K a lot of miles.
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by SystemShock View Post
    That's actually untrue, if you look at the figures you quote from the article:
    Crap--should have known with WSJ to check the math--they clearly wanted to get to the rest of their point--that taxpayers are granting subsidies that are distorting markets.

    You must have had your coffee before you read it!
    "When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking."

    (Sir) Arthur Conan Doyle. Scientific American, January 18, 1896

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by feh View Post
    A little 9th grade algebra indicates the WSJ is a little loose with their wording (somebody check my math):

    let Y = total lbs of CO2
    let X = miles driven

    conventional car: Y = 14000 + 3/4 X
    electric car: Y = 30000 + 3/8 X

    point at which both cars have emitted same amount of CO2: 14000 + 3/4 X = 30000 + 3/8 X

    X = 42666

    I wouldn't consider 43K a lot of miles.
    You and SystemShock--sharp as tacks.

    I feel thick-headed and slow
    "When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking."

    (Sir) Arthur Conan Doyle. Scientific American, January 18, 1896

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by paredown View Post
    You and SystemShock--sharp as tacks.

    I feel thick-headed and slow
    Yeah, unfortunately with the WSJ you kinda have to assume Uncle Rupert Murdoch and his staff (and thus the kind of articles they pick to run) have some right-wing axes to grind, and parse accordingly. The same guy does own Fox News, after all.

    When they stick to talking about the stock market, they're generally okay.

    The best point to come out of the article (and maybe they were hoping you wouldn't read it as such) is, "Yeah, coal-fired plants are pretty damn dirty and we should use them a lot less going forward if at all possible."
    Last edited by SystemShock; 03-12-2013 at 07:49 AM.
    Monkhouse: I want to die like my Dad did, peacefully, in his sleep... not screaming in terror like his passengers.

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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by alegerlotz View Post
    And how long do those batteries last until they need to be replaced? When they do, you get another big hit to the CO2, not to mention the environmental cost to dispose of the batteries that were removed.
    Most manufacturers offer 10-year/100k-mile warranties on their lithium batteries against any defects. This, of course, does not account for wear and tear, but I haven't read much on these batteries prematurely becoming useless before most owners retire the vehicle.

    That being said, one still has to consider the cost effective (or lack thereof) nature of owning an electric car. The President wants to force an average 54.5mpg for all vehicles by 2023, but realistically there's no telling if that's achievable in a cost effective manner. Forcing manufacturers to use more expensive technology as the only feasible options isn't a way to strengthen the economy. The reason most people don't buy these newer, "greener" technologies is because it would be financial suicide. If the only options for consumers are the ones that clean out their bank accounts, then we'd just reduce the middle class back to a near-third-world state, and at that point saving the environment would become moot.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by SauronHimself View Post
    That being said, one still has to consider the cost effective (or lack thereof) nature of owning an electric car. The President wants to force an average 54.5mpg for all vehicles by 2023, but realistically there's no telling if that's achievable in a cost effective manner.
    I haven't read the 2023 CAFE standards yet, but my guess is things like electric cars and plug-in hybrids get to count as having sky-high MPG ('MPG energy-equivalent' or some such), and thus will drag the fleet average MPG of any carmaker who sells even a moderate amount of 'em WAAAAY up.

    It's also not the only way to get MPG way up... smaller-displacement engines combined with a turbo, diesel engines, automatic transmissions with more gears, CVTs, more radical aerodynamic profiles, more use of lightweight materials, etc. etc. will all help. And many of these things are not uber-expensive (if you factor in the fuel-cost savings), unless you use them to a fairly radical extent (i.e. many of them in combination, or a LOT of very lightweight materials).

    So all told, it probably can be done, and without bankrupting the consumer... and if it can't, I have little doubt the CAFE standards will be relaxed by following administrations, who, after all, would have to respond to many millions of voters howling bloody murder.
    Monkhouse: I want to die like my Dad did, peacefully, in his sleep... not screaming in terror like his passengers.

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    Platypius:
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    Kitty: ROMNEY LANDSLIDE! Man its gonna be fun in PO after Election Day.

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    When I was a kid [I am an old man now] we had flashlights. I mean REAL flashlights.... not the battery powered lights we still call flashlights.

    A real flashlight had a button that allowed the user to "flash" a burst of light for a fraction of a second. Then with the mental image of the pathways in front... walk into the darkness. Since battery life was so short... that was the only practical use of a battery powered light producing device.

    Believe it or not... people have been waiting for "the battery break-through" since when Edison was still inventing battery powered devices.

    We still wait.

  17. #17
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    If you want to do true environmental analysis, you have to get into cradle to grave. Manufacture & distribution of the car, mileage, etc... Electricity is bad carbon footprint wise. Gas, too.

    Public transport is the better.

    Riding your bike the best!!
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  18. #18
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    And do the math on hybrids as well, which will enrage all those Prius priests and cause them to scream "heresy" as they run around with their hands over their ears!

    The MSRP price of a popular hybrid is $25,990 - $27,500.
    Official milage is (highway) 43 mpg
    Fuel cost per year (12K miles, $3.70/gal) = $1,033

    Same model car without hybrid feature MSRP MSRP is $22,235 - $30,465
    Official milage is (highway) 35 mpg
    Fuel cost per year (12K miles, $3.70/gal) = $1,269

    MSRP difference for the base model = $3,755 less for the conventional model

    A driver would have to drive the hybrid vehicle about 15 years to break even on the price difference between the two.

    But wait......

    Time to replace the hybrid battery (100K life expectancy / 12K miles per year) = 8 years

    Cost to replace hybrid battery = $3,000 to $5,000

    The bottom line: A hybrid owner will never break even with the conventional car owner, and may spend up to $6,000 for the "green" car.
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluenote View Post
    Riding your bike the best!!
    Walking?

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    'Green Cars have a dirty little secret' says the WSJ

    I can't vouch for the precision of the author's numbers, but the point he makes is entirely valid. Most coal fired power plants also run at 30-35% efficiency, unless its a combined cycle ant. Then you have the power losses involved in transmitting the electricity to your home, charging the battery and then finally powering the motor. Net lifetime carbon emissions are probably close to a wash.

    Mining lithium is a hell of a lot cleaner than mining coal though. No contest there.
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  21. #21
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    Hybrids are most cost effective if you do strictly city driving since the greatest mpg disparity comes from driving in stop-and-go traffic. Also, hybrids pay themselves off more quickly as gas prices rise. With those in mind, the best case scenario one can hope for when buying a hybrid over a standard combustion sedan is that they break even after six years. This assumes you're an average driver who travels 15000 miles per year. If you drive less than that, it takes longer to break even.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by SauronHimself View Post
    Hybrids are most cost effective if you do strictly city driving since the greatest mpg disparity comes from driving in stop-and-go traffic. Also, hybrids pay themselves off more quickly as gas prices rise. With those in mind, the best case scenario one can hope for when buying a hybrid over a standard combustion sedan is that they break even after six years. This assumes you're an average driver who travels 15000 miles per year. If you drive less than that, it takes longer to break even.
    All quite true.
    Monkhouse: I want to die like my Dad did, peacefully, in his sleep... not screaming in terror like his passengers.

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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluenote View Post
    If you want to do true environmental analysis, you have to get into cradle to grave. Manufacture & distribution of the car, mileage, etc... Electricity is bad carbon footprint wise. Gas, too.

    Public transport is the better.

    Riding your bike the best!!
    I believe that is what is meant by "comprehensive life-cycle analysis". Nevertheless I agree, biking is best.
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  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by paredown View Post
    Found this interesting--electric cars start in a CO2 emissions hole, and are likely never to get out:


    Full article here
    I hate how the WSJ author doesn't cite the "study" he gets his info from...
    I hate you all

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  25. #25
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    Yup, that's what I thought. The WSJ has cherry picked the results to create drama where there actually isn't any. He has chosen one of the most extreme variations on the study and quoted it as the result. IE: total hack job.

    Here is the abstract from the LCA from the Journal of Industrial Ecology (open access at the moment).

    Electric vehicles (EVs) coupled with low-carbon electricity sources offer the potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and exposure to tailpipe emissions from personal transportation. In considering these benefits, it is important to address concerns of problem-shifting. In addition, while many studies have focused on the use phase in comparing transportation options, vehicle production is also significant when comparing conventional and EVs. We develop and provide a transparent life cycle inventory of conventional and electric vehicles and apply our inventory to assess conventional and EVs over a range of impact categories. We find that EVs powered by the present European electricity mix offer a 10% to 24% decrease in global warming potential (GWP) relative to conventional diesel or gasoline vehicles assuming lifetimes of 150,000 km. However, EVs exhibit the potential for significant increases in human toxicity, freshwater eco-toxicity, freshwater eutrophication, and metal depletion impacts, largely emanating from the vehicle supply chain. Results are sensitive to assumptions regarding electricity source, use phase energy consumption, vehicle lifetime, and battery replacement schedules. Because production impacts are more significant for EVs than conventional vehicles, assuming a vehicle lifetime of 200,000 km exaggerates the GWP benefits of EVs to 27% to 29% relative to gasoline vehicles or 17% to 20% relative to diesel. An assumption of 100,000 km decreases the benefit of EVs to 9% to 14% with respect to gasoline vehicles and results in impacts indistinguishable from those of a diesel vehicle. Improving the environmental profile of EVs requires engagement around reducing vehicle production supply chain impacts and promoting clean electricity sources in decision making regarding electricity infrastructure.
    Here is the actual article.

    Comparative Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Conventional and Electric Vehicles - Hawkins - 2012 - Journal of Industrial Ecology - Wiley Online Library
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