Julia L F Goldstein

How Are You Changing the World?

When Business and Personal Interests Overlap

Oct 11, 2016 by Julia L F Goldstein

There's something striking about taking a break from writing a white paper on lithium ion batteries to walk across the street and test drive a Chevy Volt. The  Volt, like all commercial electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, gets its power from a lithium ion battery.  As I learned while conducting research for the paper, the Volt is among several cars that run on batteries that contain a lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) cathode, which provides better performance than the original cathode for lithium ion batteries, lithium cobalt oxide. 

As I've mentioned previously, back in 2011 I made the unfortunate decision to buy a VW TDI diesel vehicle. VW has agreed to buy back these polluting vehicles for a substantial sum, which I will use toward purchase of a new car. The myth of clean diesel remains a myth, so I am looking into hybrid and electric vehicles. I don't yet know what make of car I will buy, but it will be one with high fuel efficiency and it will not be a VW.

MIT has done substantial research into fuel-efficient vehicles, and the MIT Trancik Lab has created the  Carbon Counter website to compare greenhouse gas emissions for various vehicles. The software factors in mileage, fuel type, and energy used to make the car to come up with a value for greenhouse gas emissions per mile for 125 different vehicles.  The chart also looks at cost per mile for each vehicle, taking into account both purchase price and operating costs. 

The Volt doesn't do too badly. Its emissions do fall below the 2030 target for emissions for the average car on the road, something that no vehicles with only gas engines can boast. Small, purely electric vehicles such as the Smart ForTwo and BMW i3 perform the best, but even those can't match the 2040 average emissions target. It appears that the auto industry has plenty of reasons to continue to invest in R&D.

I do like the Volt, which is a plug-in hybrid. It's comfortable to drive and easy to navigate through traffic - a pitfall of starting a test drive after 2:30 pm on a weekday - and it has a driving range of around 50 miles on electric power alone. But I still have more cars to investigate before I make a decision.