Fully Charged Discusses Electricity Use By Fossil Fuel Refining

MAY 5 2014 BY MARK KANE 44

Fully Charged Discusses Electricity Use By Fossil Fuel Refining

Fully Charged Discusses Electricity Use By Fossil Fuel Refining

The most recent episode of Fully Charged is interesting in that it covers electricity use by fossil fuel refining. (beginning at the 5:00 mark)

“A very comfy drive in the hybrid Lexus is300h, and some musings on the scale of electricity use by fossil fuel refining.”

Robert Llewellyn refers to United Nations Statistic Division and data for UK, which indicates that UK refineries used over 5,600 GWh of electricity in 2005.

Probably after calculations of total output, we see the most interesting data – average of 4.5 kWh of electricity per 1 gallon of fuel.

If this is more or less an accurate number, then this is a significant amount and will likely lead to arguments on the debate of emissions.

Fully Charged Discusses Electricity Use By Fossil Fuel Refining

Fully Charged Discusses Electricity Use By Fossil Fuel Refining

Fully Charged Discusses Electricity Use By Fossil Fuel Refining

Fully Charged Discusses Electricity Use By Fossil Fuel Refining

Fully Charged Discusses Electricity Use By Fossil Fuel Refining

Fully Charged Discusses Electricity Use By Fossil Fuel Refining

Fully Charged Discusses Electricity Use By Fossil Fuel Refining

Fully Charged Discusses Electricity Use By Fossil Fuel Refining

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44 Comments on "Fully Charged Discusses Electricity Use By Fossil Fuel Refining"

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This is not surprising at all. I’ve been saying this for years when they try to make the coal-powered-car arguments.

Yeah, everyone’s car is actually an “electric vehicle”. It’s just that the gas-powered ones are terribly inefficient at using the electricity.

Wow! That’s higher than I would have ever guessed.

Interesting calculations:

My i-MiEV has a 16kWh battery. That equates to 3.5~ gallons of gas.

My car travels ~80 miles in the city. (Yes, really.) A gas car would only have to attain 22.5 MPG to do the same on the 3.5~ gallons of gas.

This doesn’t account for the gas itself, nor transport, storage, pumping, etc.

Ok, so just to be sure my maths are still good : let’s say an average car does 30 mpg. So just for the refining of a gallon of gas, it consumes 4.5 kWh.

So if a leaf does around 3.5 miles per kW, it means that only with the electricity consumed for refining gas, it can travel 15.75 miles. And this doesn’t take into consideration electricity for extracting petrol, transportation, service stations, etc.

At the end of the day, can we say a leaf consumes as much electricity as a ICE car does? Implying that there will be no needs for new electrical inputs with only EVs on our roads?

“At the end of the day, can we say a leaf consumes as much electricity as a ICE car does?”

No, because following your analysis you’d have to cherry pick a car that got only 15.75 miles per gallon, to arrive at the equivalent electric consumption. This assumes you’ve accounted for losses at the wall. So, if at cocktail party and talking to Range Rover guy, who’s probably proud of his gas consumption anyway, you could add he’s got you beat on electricity, too 馃槈

4.5 kW路h/gallon is just for refining (plus it’s at the lower end of the various estimates I’ve seen). You’d need to add oil extraction, transport etc.

All accounted for, yes actually, an EV uses about as much energy to run as the average US car at ~25MPG takes to just fill up.

Details here: http://insideevs.com/ride-future-kick-gas-lessons-learned/#comment-433921

The “1 gallon needs 4.5kWh” is one amazing statement.

If this ratio is universally true, it is great news for the transition from gasoline to electricity, because half the electricity needed by EVs will not require any capital investment, but come from existing power generation sources.

I say this because
– Assuming they meant imperial gallon, it comes to 1kWh per liter.
– A gas car can travel about twice as far on a liter of fuel as an EV travels on 1 kWh of electricity

The 4.5kWh/gallon figure is *just* for the refining stage. Extraction also takes a lot of electricity. And the entire process, starting with exploration, all the way up to pumping fuel into the vehicle’s tank need to be accounted for. A lot of natural gas is used in refining – and electricity and other energies are used to get that. Same goes for water used in fracking – extraction and transport add more energy overhead.

Nissan showed 7.5kWh/gallon on a graphic a few years ago. And with lower quality crude oil and non-conventional extraction only increase the energy overhead. I have heard numbers as high as 13kWh/gallon when tar sands bitumen is the “oil” used to make gasoline.

Oil is a dirty business, in more ways than one.

Remember, Robert Llewellyn is probably using the UK gallon, which is roughly 1.2 US gallons. Also cogeneration and renewables are used in addition as electricity source for refining oil. There is a difference in the energy requirements to extract and refine from light crude and from tar sands.

At the end of the day the more we understand and think about oil the worse it looks. So stop thinking 馃槈

This refinery* uses 8.5 million tons of crude oil per year, which results in 1.53 billion gallons of gas and diesel among other things like bitumen, propane and more. It needs 8 twh of energy to do so.

You can calculate that 1.53 billion gallons of gas and diesel could propel 1.9 million cars over 20.000 miles with 25 mpg.

On the other hand 8twh of energy could propel 1.5 million evs over 20.000 miles with 3.75 miles per kwh.

Impressive numbers, but the 8 twh of energy produce much more than just the fuel. Also it is unclear how efficient they could become electric power (lot of the energy comes from burned oil). On the other hand we didn’t include energy costs of transportation and for keeping the thousands of gas stations functioning.

*http://www.umweltbundesamt.at/fileadmin/site/publikationen/M119z.pdf – see page 24

Our current system is SO inefficient, the real problem may be how to solve the upcoming unemployment caused by our drives to efficiency…. 馃槈


I was reading a book called The End of Work which is about the fail of middle class jobs in America do to automation and robots. And this really is something we need to worry about. In that in the Jetsons most likely everyone will be unemployed with all the robots and computers around. I was working on a science fiction book idea about a alien society that is taken over by a powerful dictator. How he gets into power is he brings all the low skilled and middle class jobs back by taxing the bluegill out of the robots and automatic systems. Such as if you have a robot do a job in that place there would be a 80% tax on it and the tax money would go to support welfare to keep people from losing their houses. The same company if they replaced the robot with living working would get a major tax break. The dictator in turn rebuilds society in a strange sort of way by getting everyone back to work. One of the dedicator’s comments in the book is ya democracy is fine and dandy but it doesn’t put food on the table. When 500… Read more »

Automation alone doesn’t cause unemployment. It’s when the automation is coupled with the income gap that you lose jobs, because those benefiting from automation aren’t buying enough goods/services to create new jobs.

The foundations for this predicament have been in place for a long time, but we’ve been saved through debt creation. Those who got rich put their money in the bank, and the bank lent it out for others to spend, and the lower classes lived happily ever after. Until they didn’t.

I would very much like to see a tax credit per man-hour employed (up to a limit per SSN). If we cut out all the other tax breaks, it could be revenue neutral.

I follow, and would expand the income gap to be created for a class I wouldn’t expect will be entrepreneurial enough to replace their own jobs. Many philisophically reason necessity and the hard working spirit can rise above. On top of automation, I’d reason centralization, whether of business or government, has done a number on things as well.

The thing that hurts the society is that a lot of people don’t have the resources or the time to start their own businesses. Such as if someone is working at burger king supporting three kids. A they are replaced by robot that can do their work plus a few other jobs they really have no were else to do expect for food stamps. Also if someone did try to start a new businesses the larger fully automated ones would act like a wrack a mole game wrack them down into submission. I’m just saying we as a society that we need to address the needs of peoples who can’t go back to school for five years and take on $100,000 debut for a job they might not be good at. Such as we need to take the needs into low skilled workers into account for jobs. The Good news is that EV’s do help in this salutation in that rising gas prices does do a lot of damage to low paid workers then higher paid workers. Also higher electric car ranges would help the working power in that a lot of them have to commute more then 40 miles… Read more »

There is another major theory I have been working on about poverty and that is rising rents and lack of affordable housing. Such as they say the costs for consumer goods are going down which is good. But the biggest things that are handicapping this social progress is that rents and heath care along with collage costs are skyrocketing.

Oddly there is evidence that this is the bulk of the need to raise the minimum wage. Such as the state of Maryland had several counties in their state rise their wages to $11.00 dollars a hour for low skilled workers. But if you were to look at the counties that raised their wages they are the most expensive counties in the state with the highest rents and mortgages for housing. So the minimum wage needing to go up is natural shift to a stress placed on society in those counties by the high costs of rents and health care.

Ok… what a story. Sounds like democracy = unemployment, jobs = wealth for the poor, robots = wealth for the rich. I would realy give it more thoughts. Like: whealth in general comes from work multiplied with productivity, restricted by natural ressources. Consumption or individual wealth is about who gets how many from the general wealth. Not having to work can be a part of individual wealth. What about a slave-like-society where robots are slaves and do all the work?

What triggers the democracy’s downfall in the book is that elected officials keep saying that everything is fine everything is fine. Or in case of the low wage workers who lose their jobs and don’t have the resources to retrain or unable to retrain this puts a lot of stress and frustration on them. This causes everyone to know it’s going to crap and they are being called the weak link in it. The Dictator takes over when he says people this place is going to crap and I’m going to fix it. He fixes it though a extreme reconstruction of the whole economic system to address the under lying problems. This has happened before such as during the 1930’s. Such as Hitler came to power riding on a wave of a post world war one economic break down. The US was lucky in that we had Roosevelt and the New Deal which in away was like a major economic reconstruction. In that it put repairs to the system the banks and the great depression broke apart. As for robots being slaves a example is if they can’t think on their own and not self where of themselves then they… Read more »

Is this electricity use factored into reports that compare emissions between electric and gasoline vehicles?

In particular, I’m thinking of the one from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

I don’t remember the UCS report, comparing hybrids and EVs as getting too deep on life cycle emissions for fossil fuel. The Congressional Research Service report on tar sand oil recently got an update, however.


It measures CO2 emissions in gCO2e/MJ LHV gasoline, rather than pounds/gallon. Word searching the report, they claim “4-5%” of total well to wheels coming from both electricity and natural gas used in processing. Unfortunately, they’re paired and you don’t get a good kwh stat. I think after conversion they concluded total CO2 at about 37lbs/gallon, by the time it’s out the tail pipe.

This gets very far in the weeds. I understand rail cars need to be heated, to carry tar sand oil?

I thought it was funny that when they said that 30-40% of electricity is powered by coal and gas plants, they show pictures of nuclear plants instead. at about 5:35 in video. Guess they don’t know what a coal or gas plant looks like.

No, those are hyperboloid cooling towers and are used in both nuclear and fossil fuel power plants, any thermal plant where they are a cost-effective solution to get rid of waste heat.

Three Mile Island caused them to be associated with nuclear, but they are just big empty tubes with evaporation equipment at the base.

And this is the problem with the general public… poor science education means they become adults who don’t know anything about how things work in the world around them. They end up supporting dopey politicians (who also don’t know anything) who end up implementing terrible energy and environmental policies.


I stand corrected. Whenever I see pictures of nuclear plants, those are the cooling towers shown. Whenever I see pictures of coal or gas plants, it is not those cooling towers. I live in CA, the cooling towers I’ve seen at gas plants are large square looking buildings with evaporation equipment on the bottom with a large cluster of fans on top. I would guess most don’t use those types of towers for fear of being mistaken for nuclear.

Again, local utilities pandering to an uneducated public. (And it would be really sad if all those fans are less efficient than a cooling tower.)

That’s kind of ironic (wrongness about the cooling towers aside), since in my neck of the woods, it’s been proposed that we build nuclear power stations to power the refineries we’d need to support the Alberta tar sands projects.

Maybe someday we can instead use those reactors to power our cars directly. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to get rid of Alberta’s coal power plants.

And nobody has pointed out the absurdity?

Hi all,

Thanks Mark for raising a footprint-related topic!

I online-research this topic about a year ago, and here’s some info:

1. A (US) gallon of gas holds on average the equivalent of 33.7 KWh in usable combustion energy.

2. Life-cycle analyses of vehicle footprint do ascribe an additional 25%-35% overhead to ICE vehicles on top of these 33.7 KWh. Refineries are included in the calculation (so they account for some one-third of the overhead, I guess).

It might well be that the current ICE-overhead estimates are low-balling it. I wouldn’t be surprised, b/c ICE vehicles have received far less attention in life-cycle analyses (the LCAs sure are neglecting the political/military/conflict related emissions generated by Oil). Nevertheless, refining certainly isn’t a step that’s ignored in most analyses.

More details here: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/09/16/1238550/-Dispelling-Electric-Vehicle-Myths-1-About-that-CO2-Footprint


Robert does some amazing work on fully charged.

It all comes down to price, and the price of electricity used gets added to the gasoline costs. Perversely, this operates backwards in California, where refiners from other states with cheaper electricity make gas then ship it to California.

And indeed, even in high electricity price California, electric mileage is a fraction of the cost of gas mileage. Plus, it is far cleaner than in coal fueled Brittan, and other states as well:

Electricity (2010)
In-State Generation
Natural Gas 53.4%
Nuclear 15.7%
Large Hydro 14.6%
Coal 1.7%
Renewable 14.6%

At long distance commuter costs of $5000 per year, I more than pay for the cost of my electric car. The economics is really amazing. Its also amazing the car is not more popular than it is, even here in California.

The “In-State Generation” is a bit missleading, especially in Southern CA, where there are several publics still almost 50% coal (Compton, Anaheim). Intermountain Power, in UT, and San Juan coal, are two out of state generators that come to mind.

I wonder what the import rate is for the CA ISO?

See http://www.eia.gov/electricity/state/california/

Tables 4 and 5 detail capability and actual generation, respectively, by energy source.

In 2012, less than 0.7% of California’s electricity was from coal. Petroleum has been almost completely eliminated.

OTOH, solar capability has doubled from the year before, and that’s not counting residential PV; wind has doubled from 2010.

I like where this is all going. Hopefully the rest of the US will see the light too…

Oh boy, you can’t effectively say “Look how much clean power we make”, and then go out of state, blend in all kinds of crap, use it and then say “Look how clean our power is”. It doesn’t work that way, and that is why your link footnotes: “Annual Electric Generator Report.” What you use is how most talk about this stuff.

EIA recently finished its 2013 by fuel, by state consumption reporting. I’m to sum that report, anyway, and will share it in a bit.

I may be extrapolating too much from SCPPA, who uses a lot more coal than the rest of the state. They fall out of this CA.gov link, for some reason:


The EIA data for consumption only measures fuels on their way to the plant, and not what comes out of outlets. Your “.7%” coal is fractional to 296 total Terawatt hours, but all of 85 terawatt hours are listed as “Other Imports”! On top of that, the footnotes leave off most of SCPPA’s 41 twh of production, (DWAP is more than half).

California has had Power Content Labels for a while now, and the CEC (public) and CPUC (private) have allowed these loose categories, like ‘Other’, to grow without clarification. Seriously, think of any other form of reporting where almost 30% of your data is allowed to go unexplained, and you’ll understand why I don’t trust “.7%” 馃槈

From your own link, for 2013: In-state generation: 200 TW路h In-state coal: 1 TW路h (0.5%, down from 2012) So yes, made-in-California electricity is now almost coal-free (and increasingly ‘renewable’), and that’s what I meant to emphasize when saying other states hopefully will go the same route. You want instead to consider the current grid mix, including imports from other states. While obviously different, I agree that it’s interesting and relevant too. Generation+imports: 297 TW路h Coal imports: 12 TW路h (4%; includes Utah’s Intermountain Power) Other imports: 85 TW路h (the 29% you were talking about) Also, from http://www.energyalmanac.ca.gov/electricity/total_system_power.html , the majority of then-unspecified imports are from the Northwest, a region strong on hydro, not coal. Whatever way you slice it, as @scott was saying, California’s grid, and therefore any plug-in operated there, are very clean already. http://www.ucsusa.org/EVfacts If you wanted to look at what comes from outlets instead of what fuels power-plants, the next logical step would be to focus on what actually feeds vehicles in the state. While hard to quantify exactly, I’ll point out two things: * Time-of-use rates encourage charging between midnight and 6, time at which CAISO’s ‘renewable watch’ graph shows thermal generation is at its lowest. http://www.caiso.com/Pages/TodaysOutlook.aspx#Renewables… Read more »

It is very hard to get accurate numbers on this. And I think they often generate their own electricity on-site using much of the crappy waste product hydrocarbons that they can’t refine into petrol & diesel. That electricity is very cheap for them to generate since they are using a waste product but very polluting compared to other sources of electricity. I wonder if it should be regulated strictly.

Electricity can come from many different sources, and you can produce it at your home.

You can’t make your own gasoline. Or even your own ethanol would be very difficult.

This is really the kind of debate we need to be having. So much on the internet talks about extreme cases either overly good or overly bad and in most cases overly biased.

The big thing with an EV is that it is a whole heap more efficient than a combustion engined car.

That makes sense to me start with the most efficient technology and then work backwards up the chain until you get to primary energy. I always try to keep in mind that there are different chains. The coal to Diesel plants in South Africa or refineries in China operating on the oil extracted from Canadian tar sands are going to be a much longer and less efficient than the refineries in Britain operating off light sweet crude from the North Sea. In the same way EV’s charged in Iceland or New Zealand which have high proportions of RE in their grids are going to be far cleaner than those charged in Australia where the majority of the power comes from Coal.

@Mark Kane
Robert published a separate video with the graphics only and without the boring Lexus review.
Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQpX-9OyEr4

Please change the embedded video in your posting to the pure version.

Hey Wolfgang,

Mark is writes out of Europe for InsideEVs (perhaps you can tell in his writing style), and as such is most likely sleeping atm.

…but I can change it, thanks for the new linkage! /done


Unfortunately, this Fully Charged episode is perpetuating grossly inaccurate information.

I posted a comment on the YouTube “Volts for Oil” episode as “mhoMPG” with calculations and links to source data that show the actual amount of grid electricity in UK and US refined gasoline is well under 0.5 kWh per gallon rather than the 4.5 kWh used in the video.

I’m a big supporter of plugin vehicles and own one myself but our arguments for fossil fuel independence need to be grounded in reality rather than mythology.