How Much Oil is in an Electric Vehicle? by Nicholas LePan

LePan shows how plastics, made from fossil fuels, make up so much of a car, plus lighten the weight so the car can go further on gasoline.

Since fossil fuels are finite, many assume we’ll just make them out of plants in the future. But that’s really hard, biomass has too much other junk that needs to be removed, oxygen, phosphorous, and another 20 or so elements. These need to be removed or the many of the process steps will not work and a low quality plastic produced.

To illustrate the problem, consider that the chemical composition of plants is one reason cellulosic ethanol is not yet commercial. It’s just too difficult to break lignocellulose down into fermentable sugars. Even if you came up with the perfect enzyme for corn stover to break it down, a different hybrid and very likely some other kind of planet entirely might have a dissimilar enough chemistry to keep the enzyme from being effective.

Creating plastics from biomass also has a negative energy return: you’ve got to plant, harvest, deliver biomass to the plastics plant and use it before it composts. Then you’ll need even more biomass to power the dozens of steps (since fossil fuels are finite), fabricate the plastic to the desired shape, deliver it, and install it in an auto.

Plastics are by far the hardest to make, harder than all the other components of a toaster as you can see in this post “Toasters are toast

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report

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LePan, N. May 20, 2019. How Much Oil is in an Electric Vehicle? visualcapitalist.com

How Much Oil is in an Electric Vehicle?

How Much Oil is in an Electric Vehicle?

When most people think about oil and natural gas, the first thing that comes to mind is the gas in the tank of their car. But there is actually much more to oil’s role, than meets the eye…

Oil, along with natural gas, has hundreds of different uses in a modern vehicle through petrochemicals.

Today’s infographic comes to us from American Fuel & Petrochemicals Manufacturers, and covers why oil is a critical material in making the EV revolution possible.

Pliable Properties

It turns out the many everyday materials we rely on from synthetic rubber to plastics to lubricants all come from petrochemicals.

The use of various polymers and plastics has several advantages for manufacturers and consumers:

  1. Lightweight
  2. Inexpensive
  3. Plentiful
  4. Easy to Shape
  5. Durable
  6. Flame Retardant

Today, plastics can make up to 50% of a vehicle’s volume but only 10% of its weight. These plastics can be as strong as steel, but light enough to save on fuel and still maintain structural integrity.

This was not always the case, as oil’s use has evolved and grown over time.

Not Your Granddaddy’s Caddy

Plastics were not always a critical material in auto manufacturing industry, but over time plastics such as polypropylene and polyurethane became indispensable in the production of cars.

Rolls Royce was one of the first car manufacturers to boast about the use of plastics in its car interior. Over time, plastics have evolved into a critical material for reducing the overall weight of vehicles, allowing for more power and conveniences.

Timeline:

  • 1916
    Rolls Royce uses phenol formaldehyde resin in its car interiors
  • 1941
    Henry Ford experiments with an “all-plastic” car
  • 1960
    About 20 lbs. of plastics is used in the average car
  • 1970
    Manufacturers begin using plastic for interior decorations
  • 1980
    Headlights, bumpers, fenders and tailgates become plastic
  • 2000
    Engineered polymers first appear in semi-structural parts of the vehicle
  • Present
    The average car uses over 1000 plastic parts

Electric Dreams: Petrochemicals for EV Innovation

Plastics and other materials made using petrochemicals make vehicles more efficient by reducing a vehicle’s weight, and this comes at a very reasonable cost.

For every 10% in weight reduction, the fuel economy of a car improves roughly 5% to 7%. EV’s need to achieve weight reductions because the battery packs that power them can weigh over 1000 lbs, requiring more power.

Today, plastics and polymers are used for hundreds of individual parts in an electric vehicle.

Oil and the EV Future

Oil is most known as a source of fuel, but petrochemicals also have many other useful physical properties.

In fact, petrochemicals will play a critical role in the mass adoption of electric vehicles by reducing their weight and improving their ranges and efficiency. In According to IHS Chemical, the average car will use 775 lbs of plastic by 2020.

Although it seems counterintuitive, petrochemicals derived from oil and natural gas make the major advancements by today’s EVs possible – and the continued use of petrochemicals will mean that both EVS and traditional vehicles will become even lighter, faster, and more efficient.

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6 Responses to How Much Oil is in an Electric Vehicle? by Nicholas LePan

  1. John Matheson says:

    How much oil is in an electric vehicle? That would be about the same amount as an ICE powered vehicle. Please do not conflate problems. Too much plastic is too much plastic QED.

    • NJF says:

      Good point.

      The biggest problem with cars isn’t cars, EV or otherwise.

      The problem is our infrastructure. Instead of focusing on infrastructure that can tolerate vehicles, we made a country that can’t survive without them. Big difference.

      We had a world that could live without them. Streets that could accommodate horse-drawn carts, pedestrian traffic, etc. Roads could be built more cheaply and without a bunch of stoplights, turning lanes etc. But people wanted 70mph speed limits. They wanted suburbia. They wanted arterials and freeways. They wanted mandatory parking minimums.

      Everything but the battery in an EV is superior from an engineering perspective. An order of magnitude fewer moving parts. But our insistence on 600 mi ranges coupled with 70mph+ highway speeds FORCES car manufacturers to build these enormous, overbuilt monstrosities just to survive that kind of abuse and provide some measure of safety in the event of a crash.

  2. John Matheson says:

    As pointed out in the comments, there isn’t much difference in plastic content of car regardless of propulsion system, which makes the article somewhat disingenuous. And the article ignores the fundamental inefficiencies of ICE propulsion. The equivalent amount of energy of the fuel in a typical ICE passenger car tank is enough to drive a typical BEV 2,500 miles despite the weight penalty of the battery.

  3. John Matheson says:

    As pointed out in the comments, there isn’t much difference in plastic content of a passenger car regardless of propulsion system, which makes the article somewhat disingenuous. And the article ignores the fundamental inefficiencies of ICE propulsion in passenger vehicles. The equivalent amount of energy of the fuel in a typical ICE passenger car tank is enough to drive a typical BEV 2,500 miles despite the weight penalty of the battery.

  4. ashesashes says:

    Hi Alice,

    We have a podcast around the economic and environmental systemic issues threatening our world (ashesashes dot org). We have around 30,000+ monthly listeners and would love to have you on to discuss When Trucks Stop Running or EROEI if you’re interested. Please let us know. Our email is contact at ashesashes dot org.

    Thanks for all your work.

    • energyskeptic says:

      Ask me in a few months. I’m not very good at interviews because I write about too much stuff and so far most of those who have interviewed me gave me no clue about what they were going to ask, hard to prepare for! If I can get my darned biofuels book finished, I’ve also started one on Peak oil versus Climate change: which is the greatest threat that might be worth an interview