Sustainability Considered

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Can the disposable be sustainable?

A smartphone does lots of things, many of them astounding. One thing it doesn’t do is last very long. Generally two or three years before it gets thrown away. Usually because it’s not worth buying a new battery for it relative to the value of the phone itself at this point – and also because by this point, the phone itself  is becoming outdated.

Even if it still works – and even if you decided to buy a new battery for it and damn the cost-to-value ratio, maybe because you really like the phone – the phone will become useless soon enough regardless because it won’t “supported” by its manufacturer. All those neat things the phone used to be able to do it won’t be able to do anymore. You can’t update it; the apps no longer work.

Useless, even if the battery works.

Throw it away – get a new one. It isn’t very  . . . sustainable.

Think about the Everest of tossed sail fawns accumulating  in landfills all over the world. Yes, they can be recycled – in theory. But in fact, many aren’t. And then there’s the energy that went into making them… and making new ones…. hmmmm.

Corded wall phones, on the other hand, lasted decades. Sometimes, generations. Pre-Millennials will remember the phone in the kitchen they grew up with and couldn’t quite reach when they were six still being there after they’d grown up, gone off to college and come home again for a visit.

It worked as well in 1995 as it had back in 1975. And probably still works today – assuming it hasn’t been tossed in favor of a sail fawn.

Very sustainable.

Like non-electric cars vs. the rapidly approaching and artificially-induced tsunami of electric cars. Which are the cell phones of transportation – and just as sustainable.

For the same reasons.

They are battery-powered, first of all. And no matter the hype about increased range, batteries – the ones actually in existence, not the prophesied Batteries of The Future (which never seems to arrive) they deteriorate over time, just like the 12V starter batteries that have been starting the engines of non-electric cars for the past almost 100 years.

Because chemistry.

Batteries store electricity, which is then drained to power something – either the starter motor, as in a non-electric car or the electric motor that propels the car, if it’s an electric car.

This discharges the battery.

In a non-electric car, the battery is recharged as you drive by the alternator, a kind of mini  utility plant that is itself powered mechanically by the running gas engine – usually via a belt-driven pulley. It generates electricity and feeds some it back it the battery, where it is stored and ready for the next cycle of starting up the car’s engine.

In an electric car, the battery is recharged externally – by plugging the EV into a charging station – the downside being the car can’t be driven while the battery is recharging.

But both types of batteries have the same downside in one respect: Their ability to accept and store a charge is finite and will decline over time – the amount of time varying according to the number of times the battery is discharged and then recharged.

Some batteries – 12 volt or lithium ion – last longer than others, especially if they aren’t subjected to heavy discharge and fast charge cycling (mark those italics, EV people).

But neither will last as long as the car.

They are disposable.

And disposable sooner.

The difference is the 12 volt starter battery in a non-electric car is worth replacing – several times over the car’s life  – because it only costs about $100. But the electric car’s battery – which costs several thousand dollars – isn’t worth replacing even once.

It makes perfect sense to put a new $100 12 volt starter battery in a 10-year-old non-electric car with a retail value of $6,000. It makes sense putting another $100 battery in the same car five years later when it’s only worth $3,000.  And it still makes sense to put a third $100 battery into the same car when it’s 20-years-old and only worth $1,500 – if the car still runs more or less well.

But it makes no sense at all to put a $3,000 battery in a 10-year-old EV that’s worth $6,000. It is economic insanity to put a $3,000 battery in 15-year-old EV that’s worth $3,000.

You throw away the electric car. Get a new one. Just like you would a sail fawn.

Which car is more  . . . sustainable?

Or rather, which cars?

One non-electric car that lasts for 15-20 years before you throw it away – or the two (or three) electric cars you had to buy over the same period of time?

How much energy – and raw materials, many of them not very pleasant and very hard on the Earth in terms of getting them out of the Earth, such as cobalt – does it take to make a single 400 pound electric car battery pack?

How about two?

That’s 800 pounds – roughly – of unpleasant materials and all the energy it took to convert them into two EV battery packs which will still not give the EV the economically viable service life of one non-electric car, which will generally go at least 15 years before it approaches the end of its economically viable useful service life – defined as that moment when it’s not worth spending more than “x” to keep it going because the car itself is only worth “y.”

That moment comes much sooner with an electric car because of the high cost of a replacement battery vs. the depreciated value of the electric car.

But it’s not only the batteries.

EVs are also much more electronically disposable.

The motors are simple and low maintenance but the systems which control them (and supervise the maintenance/charging-discharging of the batteries) are not. When those fritz out – or are no longer “supported” – the car is as useless as an eight-year-old smartphone, Even if its motors have another 200,000 miles of life left in them.

And that’s not very . . . sustainable.

. . .

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45 COMMENTS

  1. Also lead-acid batteries have a recycling industry around them that works. So that used up 12V starter battery that doesn’t work any more or won’t even take a charge has value. $5-$10, not much, but it’s good to get paid to get rid of something instead of paying to get rid of it. And you know there will be a charge to get rid of an EV’s pack unless re-builders for them really take off. Even then those re-builders will be paying disposal fees for the cells they remove and need to get rid of.

  2. Eric – the “Sail Fawn” companies would HATE an aging old grunt like me.

    There was a time when I had a plan, first with Sprint, then T-Mobile, for the whole “Famn Damily”…myself, wifey, and several teenagers, and we spent a shit load of money on a “family plan” and phones. Once the kids graduated, we made it clear that phone-wise, they each were on their own. Still had the “baby” to contend with, whom had her own phone when she was NINE (she’s now 18).

    Eventually wifey and I went our separate ways (the distance between “Calipornia” and “Yew-Tah” will have to do for the ‘separation’, I’d prefer between the Solar System and Proxima Centuari, for starters, there IS an Earth-sized planet orbiting that star in its habitable zone) and the “baby” is graduated and “all growed up” So it’s just yours truly, and thanks to my “customer loyalty” with “T-Immobile”, I’ve gotten what I term the “old fart’s” plan…no DATA (with WiFi ubiquitous, who the hell needs it?), just unlimited voice and text, for $20 bucks a month. I keep my 2 y.o. LG VI going with a robust case, but for backup, bought a Lumia 950 for cheap (Microsoft’s ill-fated attempt at a competing Phone OS, Windows Phone is actually quite good but simply didn’t catch on in the US) with more than enough capabilities as a backup. And with this device, there’s less “gimping” by the cell provider or the manufacturer so they can kill the old phones with their so-called “updates”, something that both Apple and Samsung have been caught red-handed doing!

    • Service for my Tracfone costs me $64 per YEAR. I had my old phone so long, that it became obsolete and would no longer work when they upgraded everything to 3G….so they sent me another phone….for free!

      Guess they didn’t want to lose my business- I’m a good customer- I turn the phone on an average of 3 times per year…..

      • I do use my “sail fawn” more than that, Nunz. I do use the apps frequently, but my daily routine is such that rarely am I out of range of a WiFi hotspot, either a “freebie” or XFinity, thanks to ComCrap. One nice thing about that miserable conglomerate.

        The one down side is that I’m subject to whatever the outfit ALLOWS one to access…for example, Kaiser and my local chain of gyms don’t allow me to access anything about guns, nor some “Alt-Right” sites like American Renaissance, for example. Soon I expect to see, especially once the quadrennial silliness over the POTUS gets going next year, OTHER sites blacklisted as “promoting hate”, like LewRockwell.com, or even ericpetersautos.com. Just wait until Comcrap starts doing that with their hot spots!

  3. The problem with replacing the battery pack is that it isn’t a monolithic slab like in a cell phone. The batteries are crammed in everywhere they can stuff them. The car basically needs stripped down and put back together. I remember reading an article in Wired back in the 1990s about GM’s concept they called “the skateboard” because it was a complete chassis with a hydrogen fuel cell, just bolt on whatever body you want. This is supposed to be the idea behind the Tesla model 3, but DK how true to the idea it is. It still seems like they’d need to maximize the hollow spaces of the body to jam in more batteries.

    • Most cell phones you can’t even detach the battery; it’s integral with the device. When it takes a shit, you’re done.

      However, I see plenty of relatively cheap phone for sale in the $200 or less range, and they seem to work just fine for most daily use. If their effective life is but 2-3 years no matter what, why spend more? However, I’m led to believe that the phone makers want turnover, so they deliberately “gimp” their phones with malware so that you’ll get fed up and want a new one.

      • My S5 quit charging, in fact, once you plugged it in, the battery would discharge quickly. I bought another battery and a wall charger. It’s a pain but beats buying a new one….and here’s the kicker, the S5 is still over $100 being ancient but it’s relatively fast and does what I need which is GPS, apps for weather plus the regular talk/text. I’m still running ahead since it was given to me used with a new Otterbox Pro that’s $60 or more by itself. It has to live in all sorts of rough equipment. It was nice to plug in and listen to music to sleep by. Some good tunes go a long way for an old insomniac/nerve-damaged fool. I think I might live a bit longer now that I started using CBD oil. Helps those nerve fits in the night that may go all the way from the foot to the fingers and everything in between. Of course it’s not nearly as good as the real thing but being a trucker it’ll have to do. To be honest, the strongest solutions work very well.

        • Plus I can listen to video, audio or whatever in those machines that have no radio nor anything else. I’m not hot on listening to the piggos and their stupid shit they do.

          I don’t have the option of constantly using a handheld mic and can’t talk on the phone other than a headset so I don’t spring for a 10 meter radio I’d much rather have.

  4. Keep that EV. I’ve got at least another 15 years of use left in my 05 ION with 72,000 miles on it. And it supports my decision to drop out of the whole rat race and starve the beast.

    I’ll replace what needs to be replaced. It may have been meant to be a “throw away” car, but it’s never been treated like one and never will be.

    I won’t play this game of Xperts say your car is only “worth” $$ and the repair is more than the car.

    That’s the first step on the road to talking oneself into a nice steaming load 5-6-7-8 years of debt, more taxes, insurance, registration and watching not only the money one would have spent for that repair on the worthless car, but the dollar value of the new one head to zero while having the pleasure of still making payments.

    I’m with Ken and his Regal. I don’t care what someone else thinks my car is worth. It’s worth what it would cost me to replace it.

    And I can always get a golf cart to go to the mail boxes and back.

    • When someone says your car is only worth X dollars, that’s only if you’re trying to SELL IT! If you look at it from the perspective of replacement cost, that changes the equation entirely. Your car may be worth $3,000 and you need to fix the A/C, tranny, or something else that’ll run $1,000, minimum. Many would say it doesn’t make sense to put that amount of money into the car, because it’s not worth much. However, in order to get a car that’s comparable to your $3,000 machine, how much will THAT cost? If you have a car payment, that’ll run you $400-$500 a month for how many years? 2-3 months of payments will cover your repair, and you’re good to go-assuming the rest of the car is sound.

      • The insurance companies are complicit in this, refusing to sell you full coverage on an older vehicle. Monday I met a 57 Chevy Bel Air that was white over yellow, looked like it had just been bought new. Insurance would tell you it’s worthless but probably not the insurance company that only insures classics. The windows were up and it was hot. I suspect it had a/c and it was sorta funny looking with such lightly tinted glass but damn, it looked great.

        I bet it drove just fine and those whitewalls were Coker radials. You COULD get anti-roll bars on cars back then and I suspect it had one front and rear.

        I can almost guarantee it wouldn’t do 0-60 in 6 seconds and I can guarantee the owner doesn’t care at all.

      • To be added is that if you do your own wrenching, you’ve acquired FAMILIARITY with the beast. A vehicle is a piece of equipment which normally DEPRECIATES, after all, the damn things eventually wear out! Sure, you can and SHOULD be diligent with the upkeep, and the biggest thing that you can do is to GARAGE it, both at home, and, where possible, where you work. Even if you don’t have a parking garage or other covered parking at work, at least take a few minutes and put a car cover over it, better than NOTHING to keep “Miss Sun” from working her “special magic” on your ride!
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kORUXftgtJI

        Most vehicles you can reliably get parts for about 15 years from manufacture. After that, IF you plan on keeping the old beast in service, it might do well to stock up on oil and air filters, plus an alternator or starter (especially if they’ve never been replaced). The days when all Mopars used a Fram PH8 oil filter are long gone.

  5. The irony of of losing longer lasting cars, appliances, other house parts (like windows hvac and water heaters) and consumer electronics in the age of green…….

    The bad old days were much more “sustainable” with a lot of that stuff. People used to keep their kitchen appliances for three or four DECADES. Now your lucky if you get ten years.

  6. Re this: “But it makes no sense at all to put a $3,000 battery in a 10-year-old EV that’s worth $6,000”

    Actually, it does make sense to spend $3,000 to turn the automotive equivalent of a brick back into a $6,000 car, thus buying maybe 5 to 10 more years of driving – or allowing you to sell it and turn a $3,000 profit versus junking the bricked car and getting nothing.

    It’s like how I recently put about $3,000 in deferred maintenance into my car worth $4,000 that had had the water pump fail, which temporarily bricked it. If I get five more reasonably trouble free years of driving, that’s only $600 per year to drive a car I really like.

    I wouldn’t do that for some unknown car with god knows what lurking problems, but I know this particular car was taken care of because I’ve been the owner, and being a Toyota, it has been spectacularly reliable.

    • Hi Jim,

      I’d rather avoid the EV that’s going to require a $3,000 (or more) “investment” years before most IC cars will hit their owners with such a cost.

      I expect EVs will age faster in other areas, too – electronics, for instance.

      • I don’t think it matters much either way now. Modern ICE are too complicated and I would guess they will ‘brick’ about the same time as the EVs.

        The bean-counters, marketing departments and regulations have made almost everything disposable.

        Often around here, 1990-2000 used vehicles are listed at 2x the price of the 2000-2010 similar model and condition. Almost all the 2000-2010 stuff has ‘engine issue’, ‘transmission issue’ or ‘electrical issue’ in the ad. The earlier stuff just seems more durable and less complicated. Be interesting to see the same comparison in 2030.

        I am sure it is all part of the grand plan to get us all the way to the no ownership, rental economy that we basically have already reached.

          • Wait, an automotive manufacturer issued a recall simply due to “old age”? That right there is proof that these corporations are hellbent on getting us consumers out of reliable vehicles.

            Here’s a snippet from that article you linked:

            “We understand that the 1993 Camry was tremendously dependable, but, honestly, there’s just no excuse for driving a 22-year-old car at this point,” said Toyota spokesman Haruki Kinoshita…”

            Oh really? And if we do, what are they gonna do? Put guns to our heads? Yeah, I think it’s high time that we hang these corporate bastards!

            • Thank Uncle, again!

              There’s no reason that a manufacturer should be responsible for something that is 23 years old; any problems not worked out in the first few years, should not be a concern for the original manufacturer.

              Are they supposed to be responsible in perpetuity for everyhting they manufacture?

              That’s the false paradigm Uncle creates…just like it does by decreeing that hospitals must treat everyone regardless of ability to pay….so then they can decree that we all have insurance because ‘to not do so would be putting a burden on society’ [But their decree forcing ‘society’ to pay, isn’t a problem…]

                • Should’ve known, Chuck! I thought the lingo sounded very elementary and not at all like what these cogs in the corporate wheel would say…

                  If it were real, it would’ve been something like: “While we strive to maintain a quality user experience for those who choose to continue to operate pre-owned legacy vehicles, we caution operators of such vehicles which have exceeded their useful service-lives that said trasnsportation appliances should be considered obsolete and not expected to perform the roles for which they were originally designed; and that being in the presence of such vehicles can be hazardous, and we urge all possessors of such vehicles to have them inspected at your local dealer’s authorized service center.”

      • eric, I got an email yesterday from Elio where they answered some FAQ’s. As for EV, they said that technology wasn’t viable at the time and ICE powered cars were still the best thing going.

      • Hi Eric,

        I agree, I wouldn’t buy one of those EV toys, either. I was just addressing the fact that a car that is currently undriveable because something broke is effectively worth nothing. So the math is, can I get it driving again for less than the price someone will pay for the car once it is fixed? If so, fix it and sell it – or keep driving it.

    • Jim – I agree. I’ll be putting about $3k worth of repairs into the 15 year old Lexus this year. “Runs & Drives” has a value all it’s own. Plus, that $3k is a bargain compared to a new car payment. Replacing it with a 10-12 newer Lexus (same model but newer) would mean I’d need a loan, and that would come with about $3500 in interest charges.

      Regarding phones – I finally had to buy a replacement for the Motorola Android I carried for years. The battery was still in good shape, but since Moto had been bought by Lenovo, they weren’t interested in pushing out security updates for a phone built by the previous regime.

      • chiph, I have a Samsung Galaxy S5 that quit charging. In fact, when you hooked up the charger, you could watch the battery discharge.

        I bought two new cheap batteries and a wall charger. I take both batteries with me in case I want to listen to videos or radio. Only just now, with the newest, highest-priced iPhone, can you get a telephoto lens. I can buy a great camera with a telephoto lens for less than $500. No fumbling around trying to find the cam button and trying to hold it steady since it has a technology that keeps it steady.

        The chinese woman in the phone still doesn’t understand some things when I used my headset. Like the wife, she’ll misunderstand time after time, like she’s on her period and drives me batty when she does. I kinda get even sometimes by screaming at her “you stupid bitch” and she’ll reply “I didn’t find “you stupid bitch” in your contacts. Just look at yourself to which she’ll say I don’t understand just look at yourself. No shit, but it’s not worth spending a grand on a damned phone with a processor that’s clearly faster than mine. I laughed when a coworker older than me was going to get my number. I called his phone and he said he didn’t know how to create a contact, he’d have to get his wife to put it in, same with the other guy I work with. Does he need a new iPhone(it’s what he has)? Of course not, he barely needs a phone.

        I don’t play games nor want to or have the time. What is that super-fast processor going to do for me, make the Chinese woman smarter?

  7. Since the total energy efficiency of the electric is LESS than that of a gas and much less than that of a diesel, there is absolutely NOTHING sustainable about them.

    At 22% efficiency, the electric inherently produces more pollution than a gas car at 30% or a diesel car at 38%.

    And by the way, Diesels can run on almost anything combustible- so renewables in the form of vegetable oil are a far better bet. Why we don’t have diesel electric hybrids is beyond my comprehension. Or even gas turbine hybrids.

      • Typical 38% at the power plant x94%(6% line losses)× x75% li ion charging efficiency x85% typical electric motor efficiency. You know, what you actually use. Though the ICE probably comes down with pipeline and transport efficiency but that’s harder to calculate.

  8. Once again you clearly have no idea how battery chemistry works. Cell phone batteries last around 500 cycles.

    Thermally managed lithium ion batteries with proper buffer zones that stay between 20% and 80% charge last around 3000 cycles. In other words the battery will last a decade or 2 before it only holds 80% of what it used to. At that point the car simply becomes a shorter range EV (grocery getter) or the battery pack is sold to someone looking for off grid storage for a remote cabin.

    • Batteries including in Teslas have been found to have less than 50% charge in the cold. Also here in MN the 120v wouldn’t even charge a battery when it got below 0 degrees. You had to drive out to the high speed charger and then theres the line. Imagine an old battery.

  9. I don’t see why these EV’s can’t be outfit with energy regeneration devices that could replenish power as you drive. Like use the wheel’s momentum to create power.. I realize that it couldn’t recover ALL the power as you drive, but I think focusing on these improvements could in theory increase range. Thoughts on this?

    • “I don’t see why these EV’s can’t be outfit with energy regeneration devices that could replenish power as you drive.”

      Regen braking does exist.

      OR, and I hope not, were you suggesting an overunity type system?

      I ask because I have heard people suggest that a windmill on top of an EV would ‘increase its range by harvesting energy while driving’. Several unsuccessful efforts at trying to explain ‘losses’ and ‘coefficient of drag’ to them mean I no longer try.

      • Hi anon,

        I have done NO research in this topic. And know very little, but it seems feasible to me that some form of generator (maybe that does employ wind drag) could be outfitted to at least power the accessories. I was curious and didn’t feel like googling it. Figured someone here would be in the know.

        • Conservation of Energy doesn’t allow that. That energy has to come from some where. Regenerative braking works because you are transferring the momentum of the vehicle back into the batteries in an attempt to slow the vehicle down. You can’t do that and still keep the vehicle in motion; the power either goes to the motor or stays in the battery. The best you could do is put a solar panel on the roof to absorb some solar energy, but even on a sunny day that’s barely enough to run the accessories.

    • I suggest you acquaint yourself with a little ditty known as the “Second law of thermodynamics”. In brief, you can’t win and you can’t even break even.

      The only way to do this in any meaningful fashion would be to reclaim energy that is otherwise being wasted. (Regenerative braking has already been mentioned. In normal brakes the energy of motion is dissipated as heat, and thus wasted. In an electric car this can be used to generate power instead.)

      Trying to capture anything other than waste energy from the vehicle’s motion is a losing proposition.

    • ***”I don’t see why these EV’s can’t be outfit with energy regeneration devices that could replenish power as you drive”***

      Only thing preventing it, are the laws of physics…..

      It takes a given amount of energy to propel the car; if there is a surplus to recapture, it means that either too much was generated to begin with- which ultimately uses MORE energy….or that the car is getting a free ride, like when going down hill (That can be done). And of course, regenerative braking…which is just the recapturing of wasted energy.

      There’s no free ride…..unless one is a collectivist and thinks that making other people pay for what they get at no cost equals “free” 🙂

  10. Have a 1998 Regal…. NADA claims its average value is $2300. (lol) Good luck getting that from people today that allegedly cannot come up with $500 for a emergency. So why do I keep a 22 year old car…. because it pays me an average of $6000 per year using an average car payment of $500. This car can go to $0 book value but will still keep me from making payments on a new vehicle. So if I have the A/C repaired at a cost of $2000,,, I’m still ahead by $4000.

    Now an EV…. I don’t care how much they hype tech…. there’s a finite limit on battery lifespan. I would suggest 8-10 years. A Chevy Bolt battery will cost approx. $15,000. Today’s American would likely have to take a loan to buy one.

    By the time the EV is as old as my Regal I would have spent $30,000 verses the $8,000 I have spent on the Regal. Not only that but even with a engine needing major work the Regal would still be viable. Trying to sell a car that needs a $15,000 dollar battery will be difficult at best. Yes, surely their will be cheaper batteries…. these cheaper batteries currently are the ones that explode.

    For an electric vehicle to become as “useful” as a ICEV it will have to have an energy source other than a storage battery.

  11. I am, by no means, an EV proponent, but if they could have a refurbishment situation, that’d be kinda neat.. and probably a little more sustainable. I’ve bought refurbished electronics on many occasions and have never had a performance issue, but have saved a LOT of money versus buying new.. yeah, my phone doesn’t have the latest outside, but the gutty works are new.. just a thought.

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