Elon Musk Takes to Twitter to Dispute “True” CO2 Impact of Electric Cars


Musk Isn't Thrilled About Several of These So-Called "Ture" CO2 Impact Studies Released on Electric Cars

Musk Isn’t Thrilled About These So-Called “True” CO2 Impact Studies Released on Electric Cars

Something has riled up Tesla CEO Elon Musk and we’re thinking it was this report, titled “Unclean at Any Speed,” which was authored by Ozzie Zehner.

Zehner claims that electric vehicles are among the dirtiest forms of transportation in the world.  As Zehner stated:

“Most electric-car assessments analyze only the charging of the car. This is an important factor indeed. But a more rigorous analysis would consider the environmental impacts over the vehicle’s entire life cycle, from its construction through its operation and on to its eventual retirement at the junkyard.”

A Critique is Coming...Promises Musk

A Critique is Coming…Promises Musk

It’s through this more thorough analysis of electric vehicles that Zehner concludes they’re far dirtier than we’ve been led to believe.

In steps Elon Musk, who took to Twitter to begin his dispute of Zehner’s claims.

When you rile up Musk, you’d better be prepared to be on the losing end of the stick.

Musk says, via Twitter, that he’s working up a draft that will rebut all of these false CO2 “sources” by providing “true” figures.

We fully expect Musk to use facts to easily shoot down most of the erroneous claims made by Zehner and others.  And we’re sure it’ll be a compelling read.

We have no clue when Musk’s finished paper will come out, but you can bet we’ll post it here.

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20 Comments on "Elon Musk Takes to Twitter to Dispute “True” CO2 Impact of Electric Cars"

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The argument people make about strip mining is always odd to me. Is it better to pollute a small geographic portion of the earth’s land mass, or pollute the entire atmosphere that everyone has to breath no matter what part of the planet they live on?

uh oh Elon the god is about to speak, everyone…. have a seat

Haven’t we already talked about this guy, Ozzie, at length? I feel sad he’s a fellow Kettering Alum, because I think his head is up his @$$. I write it off as trying to be controversial just to sell a book. (think Rolling Stone cover)

Hey how are you going to beat solar PV charging of an EV when it comes to clean?
Try it with a gas car.

Zehner and Musk seem to have similar rhetorical styles, but I have a feeling Zehner will be outclassed – simply b/c the facts are grossly *not* on his side. No matter how far you try to nit-pick and exaggerate life-cycle-analysis of EVs, there’s not too much to bite on there.

Conversely, I wonder if anybody’s ever taken the time to calculate all the massive wells-to-wheels CO2 footprint of gasoline – yes, with wars, regime failure, spills and Deep Water Horizons all included. Will Musk do a thorough job of it? I hope. Will make the blog post I planned to write about the very same question, far easier to write.

Anyway, Prepare your popcorn, this will be a fun show.

Whats really sad is most of these arguments start and end with EVs pollute just as much as Gasoline cars. Firstly, that isn’t true. EVs produce 0 emissions once rolling on the road. Gasoline powered cars emit plenty of emissions once rolling. Secondly, where most people stumble is to compare the “cleanness” of electricity to the emissions of gasoline cars. That is the wrong place to start. If you want to compare apples to apples then you have to look at what energy was used to create the fuel source for the gasoline powered car (just like is being done with the EV). The fact is it takes roughly 4 to 7 kWh to produce a gallon of gasoline. That is JUST distillation. That doesn’t include survey, drilling, pumping, transport of crude, transport of distillates etc etc. So, if 7 kWH of power from a dirty coal plant was used to power an EV it would go roughly 20-30 miles. The amount of distillate from the same amount of power spent (ignoring all the other factors that go into getting the fuel into the tank) will result in the same emissions release (from the power plant) and the gasoline car… Read more »
“Gasoline powered cars emit plenty of emissions once rolling”. The vast majority of gasoline cars emit substantial pollutants while stopped at an intersection or even when turned off and parked. “The fact is that it takes roughly 4-7 kWh to produce a gallon of gasoline.” True. That’s about how much energy is spent in the refining process turning crude oil into gasoline. “So, if 7 kWh of power from a dirty coal plant was used to power an EV it would go roughly 20-30 miles.” It doesn’t work that way. The 4-7 kWh of energy used during the refining process isn’t in the form of grid electricity. Only a fraction of a kWh of utility grid electricity is used on average during the refining of a gallon of gasoline. The vast majority of the energy comes from fossil fuels (with their energy measured in kWh instead of Joules or calories). Some of it is (unsaleable) refinery byproduct derived from the crude oil itself and most of the rest of it is natural gas. You could, of course, burn those fossil fuels in an electricity generator and then use that to power an EV but you would have the usual large… Read more »

Natural gas plants are 60% efficient. So if the energy from the natural gas was used at a power plant instead of a refining plant, 60% of it, or 4.2kWh could be used to power an EV. With that amount of energy, I can drive 20 miles in my EV. My old gas car could go about 20 miles on a gallon of gas. So just the energy ‘wasted’ to refine a gallon of gas could be used to power an EV the same distance.

That’s only true on the very latest combined cycle generators when operating under peak ideal loads. That’s like saying gasoline cars go 65 miles on a gallon of gasoline because a Prius can do that under the right conditions. In the real world, California’s relatively efficient natural gas generators are estimated to run at about 39-40% efficiency.

This argument does not work for me. Electric cars are future cars therefore we shall talk about future power generation as well. I accept future ICE argument as well. Otherwise it would be mess. Therefore the NG power plant standard is no less than 50% and coal 40%. You cam compare it to 50 MPg ICE.

In this graphic, you can see that creating a gallon of gas is 81% efficient.


So if there are 33kWh in 1 gallon, that means 7.74kWh was wasted (33/.81 – 33). If that original chemical energy 40.74kWh was used in a power plant that was ~50% efficient, that means ~20 kWh would be turned to grid energy. That is enough for an EV to drive 80 miles.

Again this is just looking at the fuel. Once we add in storage, delivery, pumping, etc., the case gets even worse for gasoline. (This is not even mentioning the environmental effects, costs associated w/those.)

Forgot to mention this is also only looking at using gas for electricity, which is only 1% of where electricity actually comes from. 40% is from coal, 20% NG, 10% renewables.

The original topic is “which is dirtier”. EV’s or ICE’s. I can’t see how gas cars will be cleaner. Heck they use tankers to ship the oil, and semi-truck to ship the gas. I look forward to Elon’s response.

I’m a proponent of efficient hybrids and plugins for multiple reasons. I drive a Chevy Volt today and plan to switch to a 200+ mile EV in 5-8 years as battery prices drop. I’m averaging 130 MPGe on EV driving, 46 mpg in hybrid mode, and 80-120 combined gas & EV MPGe on a longish commute with a conservative driving style and a moderate climate.

That said, I think we’re better off in the long run if arguments are made based on realistic typical data that doesn’t torture the math in order to get the “correct” answer. The meme that implies that refining a gallon of gasoline takes 7 kWh of grid electricity is false. Average people in typically sized vehicles don’t get 160 MPGe and utilities don’t get 60% generation efficiencies (and won’t do so on average for many years to come). Gasoline engine efficiencies are often higher than 20% and Prius-like gasoline hybrids can easily get into the mid-30 percent efficiency range with ordinary drivers.

A lot of ways to skin a cat. I’d like to see the comparison of how Ozzie’s job vs. Elon’s.

I think it takes a lot more “unrealistic math” to try to say gas cars are cleaner than EV’s.

20 miles on 4.2 kWh of electricity is about 160 MPGe. A typical EV is rated by EPA at around 100 MPGe. With typical natural gas generation efficiency and EPA EV car efficiency you would get closer to 9 miles of distance. The natural gas only accounts for around half of the energy used in refining and the remaining fossil sources would not exist in their refined form if you weren’t running a refinery in the first place. So now you’re down to maybe 5 miles of driving (out of the originally cited 20-30) for each gallon of gasoline that wasn’t refined.

Partially correct. You are building your math around the low end only (4-7 kWh). And worth stating, we are only talking about the refining portion of gas. Their is still the fact of burning this fuel at a 20% efficiency rate to make the ICE go. Furthermore, the additional usage and disposal of oil, toxic anti freeze, and transmission fluid not only makes it dirty, it’s inefficient. With a billion+ drivers soon to reach TWO billion thanks largely to the Chinese and Indian growth, this clearly is not a good use of our finite natural resources.

Look likes Elon has more on his plate.
Tesla Motors Inc. ( TSLA ) sued machinery maker Atlas Technologies Inc. regarding an arbitration agreement. In a July 16 filing with Delaware Chancery Court, the electric carmaker revealed that Atlas executives are refusing to honor an agreement to “arbitrate a contractual dispute”.

Atlas Technologies is a unit of Productivity Technologies Corp. and is based in Fenton, Mich. It manufactures equipment used in the car-production process

Tesla already has Kuka robots for their car-production process, but why Atlas Technologies?

It appears Atlas makes die change equipment, and they are partnered with Kawasaki Robotics for any robotic application.


These papers on how dirty EV’s are represent the last gasp of the ICE lovers world. They strike out like wounded animals just before they die. Elon has already put his money where his mouth is with his risk of starting a car company building only pure BEV’s, using efficient manufacturing tech, standby power plans for those batteries past their prime for grid load balancing, an important step in making intermittent renewables more practical, then the end of life car and battery recycling programs for continuous re-use of mined resources to decrease the waste of energy for getting them out of the ground. I think Elons rebuttal will be only for his cars because he possesses all of the numbers for only his cars and their manufacturing and recycling. However, if Elon is to hold to his promises, has he not said he was going to produce a paper bringing world the Hyper loop first???? Please Elon! C’mon everybody, Hyper Loop, Hyper Loop, Hyper Loop Hyper Loop…