DISCUSS: Which one's greener?

 

Over the past year, there has been an explosion of
stories raising questions about the real environmental
cost of hybrids.

 

One of the most misleading ones, which has been spread
by countless blogs over the past several weeks, and
cited without verification by several sources that
appear reputable, looks to have originated in a story
last November in England's Daily Mail, a
right-leaning, British tabloid paper, which bore the
gleefully spiteful title 'Toyota factory turns
landscape to arid wilderness.' An editorial, published
last month in a newspaper for a small state university
on the East Coast, helped bring this misleading report
a new life.

 

But it isn't a Toyota factory at all. The automaker
has, in fact, only been purchasing significant amounts
of nickel from the Sudbury , Ontario , Inco mine for
its batteries in recent years, while the environmental
disaster the headline is referring to largely occurred
more than thirty years ago.

 

And that ore is at the core of a semi-urban legend
that leads to dumb headlines like "HUMMER Greener than
Prius," and others we've seen recently.

 

Toyota says that nickel has been mined from in Sudbury
since the 1800s, and that "the large majority of the
environmental damage from nickel mining in and around
Sudbury was caused by mining practices that were
abandoned decades ago." Out of the Inco mine's
174,800-ton output in 2004, Toyota purchased 1000
tons, just over a half-percent of its output. The
plant's emissions of sulfur dioxide are down 90
percent from 1970 levels, and it's targeting a
97-percent reduction in those emissions by 2015,
according to Toyota.

 

Of course, metal-hydride hybrid batteries aren't the
only use for nickel. One widespread use of nickel is
for the chrome (chromium-nickel) plating that's widely
used in trim and wheels for luxury vehicles. And
according to the Nickel Institute, which represents
trade groups, manufacturers, and nickel producers,
about two-thirds of all nickel mined goes toward
stainless steel, which is of course widely used in
vehicles - exhaust systems, for instance. Another
significant portion goes toward engine alloys -
pistons, rings, liners and the like; in general, the
larger the engine, the more nickel it's likely to
have. 
Living in the limelight

 

On to the other, more significant source of these
stories: About a year ago, CNW Marketing Research,
Inc., of Bandon, Ore., a firm with a well-established
reputation for industry forecasting, made claims last
year that that hybrid vehicles used more energy in
their lifetime, from creation to disposal, than many
SUVs. The tagline of one of CNW's releases was,
"Hybrids Consumer More Energy in Lifetime Than
Chevrolet's Tahoe SUV."

 

With the full study released in December, called "Dust
to Dust: The Energy Cost of New Vehicles from Concept
to Disposal," CNW claims to assess all stages of
vehicle production, including research and
development, raw material production and sourcing,
production and assembly, sales, operation and
maintenance, and disposal of the vehicle at the end of
its life.

 

CNW argues that its study is not geared to be an
assault on hybrids, but in interpreting its results
CNW states that environmentalists' faith in hybrids as
a more efficient means of transportation is misguided
to a degree, as many larger vehicles with lower gas
mileage actually use less energy from dust to dust.
Several outlets have held on to the idea that a Prius
does more damage to the environment than a HUMMER,
with the CNW study as their sole source. But of
course, that study aside, there's a fatal flaw in this
reporting: environmental damage and energy are not at
all synonymous. 

 

Lifecycle analysis is nothing new to the auto
industry. It's been done internally for decades with
cars and all manner of household appliances and
electronics. What is new this decade is that a
significant portion of shoppers are considering it,
spurred by the recent movement toward environmental
consumerism, and pop-culture books like 2002's Cradle
to Cradle, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart,
which focuses on the recycling of consumer goods.

 

CNW's research was done largely 'under the radar,'
using publicly available data along with phone and
mail research and on-site analysis of assembly plants.
The research included demographics such as how far the
vehicle was expected to go in its lifetime and over
how many years the vehicle will remain with its
initial buyer. Other factors included lifetime
maintenance, mechanical repairs, and accident repairs;
design and development costs; manufacturing (including
energy in employee commuting); administrative support;
transportation to retail; dealership operations; and
the cost of recycling and disposing of parts and
materials.

 

HUMMER has, for example, established a new national
network of new, standalone Quonset hut, hangar-style
dedicated dealership facilities over the past several
years, and a completely new assembly plant was built
for the assembly of the H2 SUV, which would bring
their lifetime cost up significantly.

 

After all the numbers had been crunched, among
vehicles sold in the U.S. in the 2005 calendar year,
CNW found the least expensive vehicle to be the Scion
xB at 48 cents per mile in overall energy costs. The
most energy-expensive vehicle was the Maybach at
$11.58 per mile in energy costs over its estimated
lifetime. The VW Phaeton, Rolls-Royce line, and
Bentley line followed closely behind. In all of these
instances, these are overall energy costs incurred
from inception through disposal, not energy costs
associated only with vehicle ownership.

 

To compare, the Toyota Prius involves $3.25 per mile
in energy costs over its lifetime, according to CNW,
while several full-size SUVs scored lower. A Dodge
Viper involves only $2.18 in energy per mile over its
lifetime. The Range Rover Sport costs $2.42, and the
Cadillac Escalade costs $2.75.

 

"If a consumer is concerned about fuel economy because
of family budgets or depleting oil supplies, it is
perfectly logical to consider buying high-fuel-economy
vehicles, said Art Spinella, president of CNW, in a
release. "But if the concern is the broader issues
such as environmental impact of energy usage, some
high-mileage vehicles actually cost society more than
conventional or even larger models over their
lifetime.

        
        Prius Versus HUMMER: Exploding the Myth
        
Which one’s more green over a lifetime?
by Bengt Halvorson    (2007-04-16)   Email TCC   Send
to a Friend   Printer Friendly VersionPrinter Friendly
        
« previous  1 |  2 |  3 |  4  next »  
                

Click here to find out more!

 

The junkyard brawl ensues

Some of the greater cost of hybrids, according to CNW,
is due to the higher cost of recycling hybrids. On an
energy basis, the firm says, vehicles cost an
energy-equivalent average of $119,000 to recycle,
while hybrids average $140,000. But CNW later says
that it calculates the Prius's battery as costing $93
in energy to recycle.

 

Toyota says that credible scientific research has
found that end-of-life recycling and disposal use
disproportionately small amounts of energy. Although
CNW does say that vehicle recycling accounts for about
one-quarter of all the energy used in U.S. recycling,
it also says that much of the extra energy cost of
hybrids is due to their complexity, which requires
more energy through many stages of its life, such as
in sourcing materials and making repair.

 

"If Toyota can reduce the complexity of building
hybrids to a simple 'plug and play' system whereby
major hybrid electrics and electronics can be easily
detached and disposed of for simplified replacement,
the cost would drop dramatically. That is not the case
with most hybrids today, however," CNW says.

 

Toyota has responded that CNW's study does not include
any specific information on its methodology or data
sources, and it does not at all agree with the bulk of
scientific studies on vehicle lifecycle analysis, many
of which conclude that about 85 percent of total
lifetime energy use occurs in driving the vehicle.
CNW's study shows these ratios approximately reversed.

 

In a prepared statement, the automaker says, "Toyota
has been doing lifecycle assessment for many years to
evaluate various advanced vehicle technology.
We…believe that the best way to assess the
environmental impact of a vehicle is to do a full
evaluation of all the inputs and outputs in every
stage of a vehicle life." 
 Fueling the controversy

David Friedman, research director of the Clean
Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists,
thinks that CNW's results and apparent methodology
bring red flags. "This study has been completely
contradicted by studies from MIT, Argonne National
Labs and Carnegie Mellon's Lifecycle Assessment Group.
The reality is hybrids can significantly cut global
warming pollution, reduce energy use, and save drivers
thousands at the pump," commented Friedman.

 

CNW's figures, for example, show that the Civic Hybrid
can cost nearly $165,000 more over its lifetime, "dust
to dust," than the standard Civic, which is a
difficult figure to swallow, even considering the
extra development, materials, and disposal of the
Hybrid variant. Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA)
system is a mild hybrid system and many engineers have
admired its elegant and simple design and function,
considering the efficiency gains.

 

The CNW study fuels further controversy by alleging
that automakers - specifically mentioning Toyota -
don't include the energy that goes into modules that
are built by suppliers and then shipped to the
assembly plant. But Toyota insists that its methods
include all materials and components that go into the
vehicle, not only those manufactured internally by the
automaker.

 

Toyota concedes that there is more energy required in
the materials production stage for its hybrids, but
says that it is overwhelmingly made up by less energy
used during its driving lifetime.

 

But Toyota also says that the study uses an
unrealistically low estimated lifetime for hybrids,
and that there's no data to support its assumptions in
this. For instance, according to the study the average
Prius is expected to go 109,000 miles over its
lifetime, while a Hummer H1 would go 379,000 miles.
CNW says about hybrids: "…these are generally
secondary vehicles in a household OR they are driven
in restricted or short range environments such as
college campuses or retirement neighborhoods."

 

One other area of the study that some critics have
found to be misleading is that CNW only included the
so-called design and development cost of models sold
so far, not on the potential volume of that technology
in the long run.

 

In a section that seems to be leading to the dismissal
of existing hybrids as having technology with a short
shelf life, the study goes on to say that "…many of
the hybrid models - such as the Insight and Prius -
are early renditions of the technology that are being
or soon will be replaced by more efficient and less
complicated versions effectively making the current
versions obsolete within a few short years."

 

In a similar manner, the methodology also looks to
take into account how many vehicles have been produced
by existing factories so far, not how many vehicles
might be produced over the lifetime of the factories,
so Toyota and other automakers who have recently
established more efficient factories lose out, even
though the facilities might be more efficient. The
firm also includes the energy importance of where
assembly plants are located, in factors such as how
far, and how, its employees commute.

 
Grasping the 'social energy' of what you drive

2008 HUMMER H3 AlphaCNW also includes overall "social
energy expenditures," which it describes in very
little detail except with a coffee analogy, alleging
that while most peer-review papers only analyze the
energy demands from the grinding of the coffee
forward, the firm's report analyzes everything
including the "coffee mug maker."

 

But if the mug could also just as well be used for tea
or hot chocolate, do you still include that cost? As
you dig farther up the supply chain, the answers seem
to get fuzzier, and without figures or meaty
methodology details from CNW it's unclear what kind of
assumptions were made. The firm has not responded to
our request for comment.

 

While its methodology may remain unclear, the report
does include some useful and eye-opening information
that few car shoppers had likely even thought about.
Hopefully this controversy will spur shoppers to
demand more information about the vehicles they drive
other than emissions and mpg and consider the
big-picture impact.

 

 

Related articles

 

Nissan Plans New Batteries, Plug-Ins by Paul A.
Eisenstein (4/15/2007)
Battery joint venture could revive EV, kick-start
plug-in hybrids.

 

Zetsche Promises Every DC A Hybrid by Joseph Szczesny
(4/8/2007)
CEO says green machines are company's big goal.

 

Toyota Puts $2000 Spiff on Prius by TCC Team
(4/4/2007)
Company on track for half-million hybrids.

 

Honda Called Greenest Automaker by Bengt Halvorson
(4/3/2007)
Honda and Toyota cleanest, DC dirtiest, says group.


       
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