The Many Faces Of Sustainability

There are as many different ways to fool ourselves into making choices we believe are sustainable as there are ways to move in the direction of sustainability. For example, focusing on just miles per gallon (MPG) is not going to get you there. Focusing on hybrid, fully electric, or any other powertrain alternative will not get you there, as that is only a modification of the drivetrain. Sure, a hybrid eases the pressure on the wallet as far as gas prices are concerned but for the most part, does very little to mitigate the total waste stream from an automobile. There are even some elements to hybrid and electric vehicles that can easily do more to harm the earth than an Internal Combustion Engine (I.C.E.) based vehicle. 

If you manufacture an I.C.E. based vehicle to be extremely durable and engineered to be maintained with ease, requiring very little maintenance to do so, and is upcycled at the end of its useful life into another refurbished vehicle is the beginning of an authentic version of sustainability. ECE engineering would require that consumables, such as seat cushions would be compostable, as compared to standard petrochemical-based seat cushions in engineered obsolescence-based modern vehicles including normative modern electric vehicles. In comparison, in a conventional engineering solution framework the total waste stream picture would add up to many losses in the comparative waste streams between an ECE-engineered vehicle, even compared to a modern electric drivetrain-based vehicle. 

Not to say that all of the aforementioned details couldn’t be applied to an electric platform, of course we can, but, there are many instances where the electric platform cannot meet the needs of the end user. So, this project has been an examination of all end-case use needs, not just a powertrain replacement model and forgetting about the rest of the waste stream. Additionally, by producing the vehicle in a way that it can be up-cycled as much as possible in order to produce remanufactured units, utilizing as many components as possible from the expired or salvaged vehicle a profoundly significant reduction in waste-stream volume will be realized. 

Whatever consumables cannot be refurbished would utilize base materials that are actually recyclable and or even compostable at the end of their useful life. Even though the vehicle with an I.C.E. powertrain, as described above was not an electric vehicle, if you were to compare the standard being set here as opposed to how we currently manufacture electric vehicles, the total waste stream picture would be very low with an I.C.E. vehicle compared to an electric vehicle. At the end of the day focusing on MPG and or modifying the drivetrain represents a very minimal degree of change of trajectory in the total waste stream. The vast majority of our waste is still ending up in landfills and oceans of the world. 

Whether or not you as an individual believe that human activity that releases CO2 into the atmosphere is a climate forcing factor or not, we have no business polluting in any way, and at any level, if there is an alternative process available to us. It is our obligation as planetary stewards to utilize any alternative in materials selection or process. There is a significant scientific consensus that states that we are changing the weather patterns of the planet, is it worth the risk to not better manage how we cohabitate on this finite resource biosphere we call Earth? Why pollute when you don’t have to? Maybe CO2 is pollution, maybe it is not. The more important thing to grasp is that there are ways to reduce all of our waste streams including CO2 emissions, and out of general common sense it seems that if there is not a need to take a risk, why take one. 

Reframing the CO2 emissions debate from one of whether or not it is a climate forcing factor to one of waste stream reduction would seem to be an issue of common sense as opposed to a scientific debate. It makes sense to most individuals to not throw your garbage out the window of your vehicle as you drive down the road, and instead dispose of the waste in a more responsible manner, this perspective is no different than that. 

Let’s unpack the electric vehicle platform as it is currently being produced a little more to see why this platform is caught in the same predicament as most other illusory attempts at creating sustainability. For example, creating Lithium battery packs is a very resource-heavy process. Not only is it a resource-heavy process, but there is still no solid plan of how to mitigate the waste stream of all of the batteries. Furthermore, even if you do have a reclamation process configured, 30% of the cell is composed of plastic, and contrary to popular opinion, plastic is unfortunately not very recyclable. Polyolefin separation layers within the cell, will most likely not be able to be made from recycled sources. As the structural demand of the layer is so high that the chemical stability of virgin material will be necessary in the role of cathode and anode separation. Dendrite formation in particular from fast charging, and other factors really push the limits of the boundary layers. But, once again this type of minutia of the total topic will have to be explored elsewhere in greater detail in other sections of the ECE online platform. 

Then you have the conundrum of how to recharge vehicles from an electrical grid, even if it were energized with all wind and solar, these choices are still producing a waste stream of unimaginable size. Even hydroelectric energized grid power is riddled with issues regarding environmental impact including species extinction due to the drastic changes to the rivers that power them. Beyond issues that surround the charging process, electric vehicles suffer from liabilities that are not as impacting to their I.C.E. counterparts. The harder you work an electric platform vehicle by towing trailers and traversing rugged terrain, going up long hills, or even just very cold or hot weather the differences in efficiency between an I.C.E. based vehicle and an electric vehicle becomes razor thin or even start moving in the other direction. 

As well, it is important to take into account the questions like, is it better to burn coal than it is to burn liquid transportation fuel? Is it better to produce energy through conventional nuclear power generation that creates waste that we still have no plan for dealing with, such as the spent nuclear fuel that is of nearly immeasurable toxicity, and a lifespan of toxic degradation that exceeds or is equal to the span of time that human-like species have even been on earth? All is not lost, there are ways available right now to get around these issues, which can be addressed elsewhere in time. But, for now I’ll leave it at that. 

But, credit must be given where credit is due. An electric vehicle being charged by the grid has some definite advantages, even compared to a perfectly constructed I.C.E. vehicle. There are significant mechanical simplifications of the drivetrain, and as well the idea that single-source pollution has some advantages as well. The electric vehicle, when engineered correctly, is very efficient when used in an urban environment. Regenerative braking adds a significant boost to electric/hybrid vehicle efficiency. When a vehicle with regenerative braking is operated correctly a significant (MPG/CO2 emissions only standpoint) efficiency over a standard I.C.E. vehicle is achieved. But, other than the significant reductions in CO2 emissions and the raw efficiency of electrified platforms in certain usage cases, there are small differences between the two. 

The point here is not to pit one platform against the other, the point is to elucidate that there are major holes in the thought stream of execution of ‘sustainability’ that must be addressed, and that is what is being done here. That is what the last 20 years of work done by ECE have been all about. Electric and hybrid vehicles are built with the same highly toxic interiors, as their internal combustion counterparts. Modern vehicles of any platform (gas, diesel, hybrid or electric) are rolling environmental disasters. The idea that an electric vehicle is a non-CO2-emitting machine is a greenwashing deception.  

By recognizing the shortcomings and not greenwashing the issues a more responsibility-focused and therefore integrity-based solutions can be achieved. For example, plastics are a significant environmental problem. The extraction of non-renewable petroleum resources leads to millions of tons of plastic ending up in the ocean, which results in estrogen-mimicking hormone disruption throughout the entire food chain and so on, and so on. Problems arising at this magnitude necessitate that we must engage our ingenuity to honor our finite resource biosphere. Therefore, instead of producing something with the idea that it can be recycled but simply does not get done, make the components out of materials that can be recycled, but if they don’t get recycled make them out of materials that are truly as non-toxic as possible. 

With all of this in mind, what do we do? It does appear that every avenue is a dead-end road. Luckily there are many solutions, and these solutions over time create layers of answers to the issues at hand. If you make the interior of a vehicle out of materials like cork, you have to plant trees. Planting trees creates jobs, planting trees sequesters carbon and produces oxygen. Planting trees is usually for the most part a very good thing that has many benefits beyond the few examples just given. Furthermore, take the engineering a step further in regards to vehicle design high-wear areas such as footwells and seating so that they are easily renewed and manufactured of all-natural materials. The old footwell and seating materials turn into soil when composted properly and whatever underlying supporting metal structure is either capable of being recycled or is at the very least not toxic. The same goes with door panels for example, as well as the rest of the interior. Instead of wearing out the seat, utilize a beautifully designed, simple to remove, and easy to clean seat covers. When necessary change the cover and your seat will look brand new again, and you can even change the color if you want. 

There are other very simple and straightforward engineering solutions that should have been applied to ICE-based vehicles a long time ago, such as onboard oil recycling without disposable filters. It is a well-known fact that there are ways to completely clean the oil/engine lubrication fluid, while an engine is running and to do so without the need for disposable filters. It is a scientific fact and has been known for nearly a hundred years now, but, it just simply has never been applied. At least not until now. We have a working demonstration of this very system. The waste stream mitigation of just this one simple application is staggering.

Instead of creating a new model every year, develop a timeless design that will be maintainable year after year. By not changing the vehicle, parts compatibility, supply chains, business relationships, and all levels of manufacturing and maintenance, as well as remanufacturing and/or disposal will all be streamlined for maximum efficiency. Why go through the resource-intensive process to re-tool, just to manufacture essentially the same thing, slightly different, but to no real gain? It’s an unacceptable and foolish waste, an exercise in futility, that as a species we can no longer afford. With every vehicle made by us, there will be a real investment in efficiency. Approaching manufacturing in this way will be a champion of responsibility and integrity on a large scale like the world has never seen before. The bottom line is that sustainability executed substantively is in fact another way of saying freedom. Freedom is definable as an equation. F= T/N. Freedom = Time/Necessity. The less time you spend meeting your needs the more free you are. This is the underlying goal of all substantively executed sustainability, and I believe an archetype of the human process. 

Sustainability in the automotive sector is not created by taking a vehicle and supplanting the drivetrain from an I.C.E. based platform to an electrified platform. There is so much more to it than that. It may sound like a lot, but it is a demonstration of a baseline of efficiency that should be the norm and not the exception. These are just some of the ways that the approach of Earth Centered Engineering is a reinvention of design, manufacturing, and cradle-to-grave responsibility that underlies the result of the last 20 years of analysis of sustainability that ECE will establish as the benchmark of global standards of sustainability to come. This is the story of envisioning how to adapt and apply an Earth-Centered Engineering approach to the development of personal transportation, mass transit and everything and anything beyond or in between.