Environmental Impact Articles on Batteries (WSJ, Peterson, others)

Environmental Impact Articles on Batteries (WSJ, Peterson, others)

I have read a few different articles now that talk about all the harm that is done from producing the batteries for electric vehicles. John Peterson on has had a few articles, and now today there's another article in the Wall Street Journal about the "Dirty Secret".

I have been digging through a lot of the source documents for these articles and it's fascinating how little the people who are making this research "understandable" for the public understand.

For example, one of John Peterson's articles he was talking endlessly about the impacts of a battery electric vehicle (BEV) and then linked all these studies to prove his point. When I went digging through all his sources I found that the estimates for the BEV were all coming from an initially small pack that was then "scaled up". So for example, maybe the original research was based on a 4 kWh battery pack. Then Peterson and the others multiplied the figures by 15 or 20+ to get to a Tesla 60 or 85 kWh battery pack. They simply fail to mention that all the errors of measurement then have to be multiplied by 15 or 20+. When you take into account the large error introduced by scaling, all of the results are meaningless. A small error in the initial model translates into a huge error at the final analysis and renders meaningful statistical comparison impossible.

Today's WSJ article there's a similar problem. This article and Peterson cite this article from the Journal of Industrial Ecology: "Comparative Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Conventional and Electric Vehicles"

Dig into the source article, and you find this statement about how they estimated the size of the battery for their electric car:
"Battery masses of 214 and 273 kilograms (kg) were selected for LiNCM and LiFePO4, respectively, so as to have equal charge capacities of 24 kilowatt-hours (kWh)."

Well here's the problem... the Panasonic cells used by a Tesla are about 46 grams each. There's 7000 of them, meaning the weight of the cells in the Model S 85kWh is around 322kg. Maybe you could use the total weight of the pack, which I think Tesla has said is closer to 450kg.

But if you scale up the 24 kWh pack used in the study by a factor of 3.5x, you would find the study implies an 85kWh pack should weigh 758 kg. That's double or more the true weight of the batteries used in a Model S.

The Journal of Industrial Ecology article also seems to use a scaling methodology for results based on another study. While I couldn't find the other study online, it looks like the author is going to have the same problem where scaling a small battery pack up is going to magnify all of the errors.

I don't know how long Tesla is going to stand by while all these "researchers" spew out B.S. I for one would like Tesla to have a serious study undertaken about the environmental impacts of a Model S.

jaycweber | 11 maart 2013


Though Peterson is a curmudgeon with questionable motivations (ties to lead-acid battery manufacturing), a rebuttal could backfire and raise the profile of his misinformation campaign.

mahesh.johari | 11 maart 2013

I agree. The approach is not to go after Peterson but rather address the source research directly. That's where the errors are anyway. An academic quality piece that directly addressed the other academic articles would go a long way IMO.

You'd think Elon would be able to arrange that easily with all his Stanford connections.

kenliles | 11 maart 2013

I've followed that stuff for 2 years now; Virtually all of it debunked for many of the reasons you point out and many more - wrong economic assumptions and way off future projections.

J Petersen has been wrong about virtually everything Tesla related since publishing. He used to argue things like - running out of Lithium- Tesla uses rare-earth metals (they don't) - on and on; Just recently he wrote at length Tesla's late SEC reporting was to delay 'going concern' and cash-less etc.
In fact, he's done more to dis-able his own reputation than anything tesla could ever do;

Agree with @jaycweber - stay focused on the source data, etc.

Captain_Zap | 11 maart 2013

Keep in mind that J Petersen is paid for each view of his "articles". I avoid them at all costs now.

AAMOF, I don't bother with looking at any Seeking Alpha articles anymore. Also, he has been getting his blogs published elsewhere lately and I accidently paid him a couple times.

David Trushin | 11 maart 2013

Mjwantsanx Thanks for posting the article. One interesting sidelight of it is that ICEV's could actually decrease their impact on the environment during production significantly by not incorporating catalytic converters. But that would impact the use phase. So some environmental compromising for ICEV's is ok to reduce use pahse emissions, but evidently that's a problem for BEV's.

Objective1 | 11 maart 2013

@Mjwantsanx :

Thanks for posting your analysis. This is the kind of discussion that is needed.

Another issue: if carbon-intensivity of the batteries mostly derives from the quantity of electricity used in producing them (including their ingredients), then perhaps batteries will vary quite a bit depending on the carbon-intensivity of the electricity used to produce them.

What that says about Tesla's Panasonic batteries (from Honshu I presume), I don' know.

kimmok | 21 maart 2013

My father is +60 years old electric company entrepreneur and car enthusiastic. He is part of the group of people who could be potential owners of the Tesla cars. I introduced the model S to him via few youtube videos and words about the car. After few weeks he said that "I don't believe in these electric cars. They cannot replace combustion engine cars since the battery problem would be too much of an eco-catastrophe. In addition I don't believe they would be reliable enough in our conditions (we live in Finland where it is +5- -30 half the year)".
I think many representatives of the money generation has similar thoughts. Probably Tesla should put some share of their advertisement costs to correct these understandings?

Andre-nl | 21 maart 2013


You could tell your father that lithium is used in anti-depressants. It is one of the main reasons why Tesla owners are so happy ;)

Your father is conditioned with the belief that batteries are toxic. Which is understandable, because a few decades ago this was the case almost without exception. They contained mercury or cadmium or aggressive acids. Some still are toxic (think lead-acid that Petersen likes so much, oh the irony!).

It is time for your father to bring some nuance to his beliefs. A lithium battery contains no toxic elements and afaik there is no special EPA regulation for them, meaning you may throw them out with the household garbage.

Nexxus | 21 maart 2013


Some LI-ion batteries do use cobalt in the anode. Cobalt is considered a rare-earth commodity/element. Whether it is toxic or not depends on how much could or would be ingested. I don't think anyone is going to eat batteries though or get the toxicity from landfills either. New regulations for sealing of landfills and the fact none of Tesla's battery racks have gone to any landfill, precludes this from happening at this point.


Also, when the battery racks are no longer useful to the vehicles' owners, then can be recycled or used for electrical storage even if only capable of 50% SOC. 2 or 3 together would provide a nice backup system for any household/small business.

As I stated in another forum thread, the manufacture of the Model S is roughly 50% lower emissions-wise than for other manufacturer's vehicles. This is the problem with all those studies people keep referring to, they have no real-life data to do their study with, so they extrapolate the data from smaller packs/sizes and think that will suffice for larger systems. Sorry, doesn't work that way in the real world. I've been in the design engineering field for 32+ years and the development/manufacturing costs associated with scaled up models times the number manufactured is always less than for smaller units and lesser quantities. In the number these batteries are being produced, the efficiencies of scaled-up numbers outweighs their overall contribution to the emmissions cycle. The Model S also has much fewer parts to manufacture during the process than other manufacturer's. Think of the hundreds of moving parts in the engine alone that must be made and assembled. The big 3 engine plants are energy intensive all by themselves without counting the rest of the manufacturing/assembly plants. Tesla only has one plant, utilizes only 20-25% of that one only (for now) and for each ICE vehicle (think Lincoln Navigator here) they replace, removes about 40,000Lbs of CO2 from the atmosphere each year it operates. The emissions can be controlled at the point source (generation power plant) and scrubbed there, rather than the tail pipe of each ICE vehicle. Much better for the environment that way.

So what if it takes 80,000lbs of CO2 to manufacture the Model S? The average ICE vehicle is going to be twice as much to make and depending on mileage generate up to 20tons of CO2 every year thereafter (each ICE vehicle, no matter what kind) generates 19.7lbs of CO2 for each gallon of gas burned. So guess what? The Model S for the life of the vehicle will produce no more CO2.

The above is what makes going BEV the future and the more people that can comprehend this the better our future environment. Here's to the future! Go Tesla!!

Thumper | 21 maart 2013

Lithium point for anti-depressant makes sense. All those batteries are bi-polar, anode and cathode,

Brian H | 21 maart 2013

And considering that all the CO2 emitted by humans to date is having no detectable effect whatsoever on temperature or the weather, except in climate-model 'video games', it's moot.

Andre-nl | 21 maart 2013

Brian, I wish it were true.

Brian H | 21 maart 2013

It is. Flat 17 years despite ever-rising CO2. Check it out. All extreme weather indices near all-time lows, etc. Get the real stats.

gregv64 | 21 maart 2013

OK, here's the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Extremes Index:


Brian H | 21 maart 2013

It's also erroneous. There are numerous details in the fine print that relate to weighting of certain events, and many measures that have been "adjusted" with bias aforethought. NOAA is building a very bad rep recently for such shenanigans.

Andre-nl | 22 maart 2013

Brian, only taking the last 17 years and ignoring the preceding 150 years of data is cherrypicking and has nothing to do with science.

Even worse, you can only derive meaningful climatic trends when the period is at least 30 years. Your 17 year 'trend' is just noise and proves nothing.

Andre-nl | 22 maart 2013

If you plot the different kind of natural disasters separately, the trends become very clear. The trend for geophysical events is flat, while the other, climate related disasters show a rising trend.


Saying that the trends are caused by 'corrections' is a cheap shot. Where is your evidence?

Brian H | 22 maart 2013

Actually, 15 years was the time originally specified (about 10 years ago) by the climate modellers as being the duration of deviation from "projections" required to falsify them. Done, and done. You don't get to retroactively alter or withdraw such specifications.

The models are garbage. Did you know their (about 20 versions) wildly varying output is "averaged", after multiple averaged individual model runs, and that no individual model has ever shown the ability to be right twice in a row? Garbage Out, resulting from Garbage In (mostly in the form of garbage assumptions built-in.) They are, btw, written by modelling amateurs, and are regarded with disdain by actual professionals. Not one has been (or could be) subjected to Validation or Verification.

Brian H | 22 maart 2013

From the UK:

The Met Office figures come as a report by the Global Warming Policy Foundation claims there been no “statistically significant increase” in global temperatures in 16 years. Dr Benny Peiser, director of the foundation, said: “The biggest surprise for climate scientists is the discrepancy between the predictions and the reality of ongoing warming standing still. It suggests that the climate models on which these predictions are based are flawed. Scientists are beginning to reconsider whether their previous, more doom-laden predictions, were overegged. We should reconsider all policies that may turn out to be hugely wasteful and potentially economically disastrous.” –Daily Express, 18 March 2013

hillcountryfun | 22 maart 2013

Sorry Brian, but I'm probably going to believe a publication from a bunch of scientists out of a national organization devoted to studying weather, climate and the atmosphere rather than believe a UK market tabloid's publication.

Be careful who you get your news from, everyone has an angle but you can still make good choices.

gregv64 | 22 maart 2013

I knew this would be the case. Yes, the government organization's data is flawed, and you drag out "evidence" by people who by definition are looking to present things in a clearly biased way:

"The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) is a think tank in the United Kingdom, whose stated aims are to challenge "extremely damaging and harmful policies" envisaged by governments to mitigate anthropogenic global warming."

Sorry, I don't buy it.

Brian H | 22 maart 2013

Doesn't matter the source; your denigration is irrelevant. That was actually a very understated Brit. summary.

In order for the AGW speculation and its recommended 'mitigations' to be valid, it must satisfy all 4 of the following:

1) Temperature rise must be shown to exceed historical records, and the known range of natural variation.

2) The deviation, if any, from known natural variations must be proven to be anthropogenic (not simply assumed so)

3) The purported rise in temperature must be shown to be harmful and, indeed, dangerous.

4) Alterations in human behavior (emissions) must be shown to have enough influence to materially reduce the purported rise (without crippling the planetary economy in the process), at lower cost than adapting to such changes as occur.

In fact, it fails all 4; talk about overkill! In other words, the speculation is totally, quadruply worthless, and should be avoided at all costs.

gregv64 | 22 maart 2013

Sorry, the source is all that matters. I'm not going to believe you just because you say so, and I believe the GWPF just as much as I believe John Peterson. What I believe in is the system of peer review and scientific consensus.

Brian H | 22 maart 2013

Peer review in that field has long degenerated into pal review, by members of the circle dedicated to keeping the gravy train rolling. And actual scientific surveys find only about 40% of scientists subscribe to the "consensus", even in its mildest form ("Humans have some effect on climate").

Peer review, at its best, only does general and internal consistency checking. Real verification only comes from replication and prediction testing. What little of that is done shows massive failure and discrepancies. It's a joke how many papers end with a CYA statement like, "Despite these incompatible results, we still endorse human climate change, and urgently request more funding to establish that."

Mark E | 22 maart 2013

@Brian H: You believe tabloid newspapers from Britain above other sources? Incredible.

Don't let facts get in the way of a good story. Are you even aware of the behaviour of the UK press over recent years?

David59 | 22 maart 2013

Please stop feeding the troll. Anyone who would buy a Tesla knows that global climate change is a fact and not a conspiracy.

Sanjuro | 22 maart 2013

Hmm, I was wondering the same thing, David59. Someone who is a climate change denialist and then drives a Tesla must be an oxymoron or maybe minus the oxy.

Mark E | 22 maart 2013

Thankyou Dennis

Brian H | 22 maart 2013

Gleick is a known prevaricator and forger. And that ocean data is drivel. No such measurements have been made.

Vall | 22 maart 2013


Cobalt is NOT in the group of rare earth elements, it is a very simple and concise list of 17 elements, and cobalt is not one of them. It may be harder to get and more expensive than some of the elements in the list, but it shouldn't be "considered" rare-earth element, as that name is already used for something else. Panasonic have reduced the amount of cobalt used in the tesla batteries by something like 90% compared to standard laptop batteries. Also, when people whine that EVs use rare-earth elements, they usually refer to the Neodymium magnets in the motors, but since tesla is using asynchronous motors, there are of course no magnets.

Mel. | 23 maart 2013

David59, you stated that "anyone who would buy a Tesla knows that global climate change is a fact etc". I really hope you reconsider this silly statement. You are not the decider.. We can make up our own minds on this and other subjects. The Tesla community is not narrow minded, and you cannot put us in some silly narrow box