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CARBON IS OUR ENEMY: LET’S USE EVERYTHING WE’VE GOT TO FIGHT IT
|Date: 29 Jul 2021
||Author Type: Press Release
|Author: Toyota South Africa
|Source: Toyota South Africa
Why we need hybrids and plug-in to
maximise our limited battery
supply and reduce carbon
Gill Pratt: Chief Executive Officer of Toyota Research Institute (TRI) and an
Executive Fellow of Toyota Motor Corporation)
I love electrified vehicles. I love them not only because I’ve worked
on their development for decades, but because I’ve been deeply concerned about
greenhouse gases and climate change since I first learned about them from my
father, who worked for the Air Pollution Control division of the New Jersey
Department of Environmental Protection.
Today, I live with my family in California, and like my neighbors last
year, we watched the sky turn orange with smoke due to extensive wildfires. On
the opposite side of the spectrum, we now see unprecedented floods in Europe.
Regardless of how much of today’s extreme weather events are directly
attributable to climate change, I feel passionately that to prevent even worse
catastrophes, we must achieve carbon neutrality, and soon.
In line with my concerns, starting in the late 1980s as a graduate
student, research scientist, and faculty member at MIT, I designed power
electronics that helped MIT’s solar-electric vehicle team win races around the
world. Later I helped our team captain, James Worden, create Solectria
Corporation, which made electric vehicle components, early electric vehicles
and photovoltaic inverters.
Today, besides owning a Toyota Sienna Hybrid Electric Vehicle
(HEV) and RAV4 Prime Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV), I also own a Tesla
model X Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV).I love them all.
You would think that with all my experience, I would be an enthusiastic
proponent of ditching the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) and switching as
soon as possible to pure Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs). I am not.
As a scientist, I know that as with many other natural and man-made
systems, a diversity of EV drivetrain types is a better way to prevent climate
change than a monoculture of only BEVs.Why is this? For two reasons:First, producing a battery cell costs money, uses natural resources, and
produces significant greenhouse gases.
I love my Tesla Model X BEV. But commuting 30 miles in it every day —
the average US commute — and recharging it every night is wasteful of the
carbon-reducing potential of most of its over 300-mile (482km) range battery.
Sometimes we take the Tesla on long trips. But most of the time, 90% of
its battery cells aren’t doing any good, and would reduce carbon much more if
they were harder at work in other types of electrified vehicles, including HEVs
Maximizing the benefit of every battery cell produced requires that we
distribute them smartly.
This means putting them into a greater number of “right-sized”
electrified vehicles, including HEVs and PHEVs, instead of placing them all
into a fewer number of long-range BEVs, like my model X. This is particularly
important because presently it is difficult to recycle the kinds of batteries
used in BEVs. If we are to achieve carbon neutrality, we must pay attention to
all parts of the “3R” process — Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
For example, we hardly ever put gas into our RAV4 Prime PHEV, which has
a battery ⅙ as large as our Model X BEV. For the same investment in batteries as
our single Model X, five other RAV4 Prime customers could reduce their carbon
Second, what is best for the average person is not best for every person.
Different people have different needs and different circumstances. In some
parts of the world, people have access to highly renewable electric power and
BEV rapid charging stations. In many other parts of the world, rapid chargers
are rare, or electricity is generated with high carbon emissions resulting in
BEVs putting more net carbon into the air over their lifetime than PHEVs and in
some cases even HEVs.
So, even if the best choice for the average person someday
becomes a BEV, it will not be the best way for every person to contribute to reducing
carbon emissions, or for the most carbon emissions to be eliminated.
Don’t I think we should try to increase battery production, lower the
carbon footprint of electric power plants, and expand rapid charging stations
as quickly as possible? Of course I do.
But I also know that in many countries (including the US) much of the
easier carbon reduction of electric power plants has already been achieved
through conversion of coal and oil burners to natural gas (lowering carbon
output by roughly half). Further improvement, such as conversion to green or
blue hydrogen, or replacement of thermal power plants by new nuclear,
photovoltaic, wind and geothermal plants will be harder, cost more, and take
longer, at time scales comparable to and beyond the lifetime of new vehicles.
Ending Carbon Emissions ASAP. So where does this leave us?
The atmosphere accumulates carbon over long periods of time, so the
carbon we emit now will be with us for a century or more. Our responsibility is
clear: We must eliminate carbon emissions as soon as possible.As a
scientist, I know that, to paraphrase Einstein, the solution of how to
eliminate carbon as soon as possible should be as simple as possible, but no
As a result, I believe, as does Toyota, that it would be a tremendous
mistake for governments around the world to prescribe narrow solutions like
insisting that all vehicles be BEVs. Instead, the better solution is to allow
manufacturers to innovate across a diversity of drivetrains and drivers to
choose the low-carbon drivetrain that suits their circumstances best.
Carbon is the enemy, not ICEs. In many parts of the world for some time
to come, PHEVs and even HEVs will generate comparable or less lifetime carbon
than BEVs. We have open-sourced a modelling and simulation tool that shows this.
Now to be clear — I still love BEVs, and Toyota expects BEVs and FCEVs will
make up 15% of its U.S. sales by 2030.
We are also heavily investing in R&D on new types of batteries, including
solid-state batteries and AI tools for discovering and optimising battery
performance. But neither Toyota nor I think this is all we should make. By
keeping HEVs, PHEVs, BEVs, and FCEVs in the lineup, 70% of Toyota’s vehicles
will be electrified by 2030.
This approach — of diverse solutions for diverse circumstances — is
exactly what the phrase “think globally, act locally” means to me. And I
sincerely believe it is the best way to reduce the most carbon emitted into the
atmosphere as soon as possible.