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Electric cars: won’t somebody think of the water?

water.jpgSo, we’re all like: “yeah, I’m all about plug-in hybrids, you know? It’s so cool, emission-free and that. Saving the plant one car journey at a time, right?” and that’s good and everyone’s happy and we’re all cruising about about in our hybrids and congratulating ourselves on our all around brilliance. Well, sort of. But just when we’re settling into this plugged-in happy dream, those pesky academics have to come along and ruin it.

What about the water?

What about all the water we’re going to need to supply these hybrid vehicles?

According to academics over at the University of Austin in Texas, it’s a doozy of a problem. A recent report from two of them notes:

Converting light-duty vehicles from full gasoline power to electric power, by using either hybrid electric vehicles or fully electric power vehicles, is likely to increase demand for water resources. In the United States in 2005, drivers of 234 million cars, light trucks, and SUVs drove approximately 2.7 trillion miles and consumed over 380 million gallons of gasoline per day. We compare figures from literature and government surveys to calculate the water usage, consumption, and withdrawal, in the United States during petroleum refining and electricity generation. In displacing gasoline miles with electric miles, approximately 3 times more water is consumed (0.32 versus 0.07–0.14 gallons/mile) and over 17 times more water is withdrawn (10.6 versus 0.6 gallons/mile) primarily due to increased water cooling of thermoelectric power plants to accommodate increased electricity generation.

Overall, we conclude that the impact on water resources from a widespread shift to grid-based transportation would be substantial enough to warrant consideration for relevant public policy decision-making. That is not to say that the negative impacts on water resources make such a shift undesirable, but rather this increase in water usage presents a significant potential impact on regional water resources and should be considered when planning for a plugged-in automotive economy.


  • jumperhead
    Posted March 21, 2008 at 12:21 am

    Sorry Liz, you didn’t miss anything – Greenbang did, after managing to get the complete wrong end of the stick whilst reading the report. The report is indeed about plug in hybrids not hydrogen fuel cell cars and the story has been changed to reflect that.

  • Liz
    Posted March 20, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Did I miss something? I thought the Austin report was about generating electricity from coal-fired and natural gas turbine plants to charge battery vehicles. I don’t recall the report addressing hydrogen production. Most hydrogen is created from natural gas, a process that also consumes water, but in the US more than 50% of hydrogen created from natural gas goes into gasoline. Why not use that hydrogen in a fuel cell and get better mileage and a cleaner car while researchers keep working on hydrogen from industrial waste, biomass, algea and sewage?

  • james jones md, phd
    Posted March 19, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    1st the water can be recycled. Water coming off a fuel cell is essentially free of contaminates. Hydrogen “burned” yields water back to the atmosphere.

    Water needed depends entirely on how you’re making Hydrogen, if it’s electroylsis then you need a butt ton of it. If it’s thru some bacterial formation, then you can probably use gray water.

    it’s not an insurmountable problem, unless the only source of hydrogen is electrolysis. There is some early research on using nanotubes to desalinate water that looks very promising. and running that thru a fuel cell before you drink it might not be a bad idea..

  • David Nicholson
    Posted March 19, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    The water required to produce the electricity to create hydrogen is a concern, particularly if the water comes from the lakes, rivers or the acquirer. Once the electricity is created additional water is needed for the electrolyser to break the water into hydrogen and oxygen. That amount is approximately 54 pounds per 1,000 cubic feet of H2. Go to http://www.windhunter.og to see a system that uses sea water and wind power.

  • Peter
    Posted March 19, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Funny, I was pondering this only today.

    Well, not the water bit as it seemed we have enough of that (but having watched ‘V’ in the 70’s, you should never take such things for granted) and figured it was just going to come back in a cyclical manner, serving merely as part of the energy transfer process.

    Plus a quick question to Arnie: why does it have to be a 6/7 litre Hummer? No H2 Civics around, I guess.

Comments are closed.

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