People living within 10 miles of an oil refinery had a much higher risk of multiple cancer types than those living between 20-30 miles from a refinery

Top stories – December 2020

In a new study published in the December issue of the  Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a robust statistical analysis showed people living within 10 miles of an oil refinery had a much higher risk of multiple cancer types than those living between 20-30 miles from a refinery.

Twin Tesla stories dominated readership in 2020: One of them was a look at some of the first Tesla solar roof tile installations in the U.S., more than three years after the product’s introduction. The article included a detailed look at some of the first solar roof installations, including this customer video.

And, Eric Wesoff also took a critical look at the company’s claim of “introducing the lowest-ever cost to go solar.” He spoke with one installer who described Tesla’s purchase and installation process as “ludicrous and full of pitfalls for consumers.”

The future of cars is electric – but how soon is this future? Rounding out the top stories of 2020, I dove into a Bloomberg New Energy Finance claim that 58% of global passenger vehicle sales in 2040 will come from electric vehicles, yet will still make up less than 33% of all cars on the road.

Dec 2020

When introducing new technologies like these we should consider the emissions generated through the whole life cycle of their production and use. In this regard batteries fare well: recent research looked at the overall global warming impact of eight different ways to store electricity, including as hydrogen, compressed air or in various types of batteries, and found that reused electric vehicle batteries had the lowest impact, followed by lithium-ion.

If large scale lithium-ion batteries are to be sustainable they will also need to be recycled effectively. Starter batteries in petrol cars are a nice example of what could be achieved: around 99% of the lead in these “waste” batteries can be reused to make new batteries.

Naturally lithium-ion has some competitor technologies. There are sodium sulphur batteries, which store energy in molten salt kept at high temperatures (around 300℃), or batteries based on the metal vanadium which offer a lengthy lifecycle and low flammability.

There is also developing vehicle-to-grid technology that aggregates many electric vehicles and enables bidirectional charging to essentially use them collectively as one huge battery. Currently a trial called Bus2Grid is underway in London. As the batteries are owned by whoever owns the vehicle, and so are “free” to the grid, this potentially offers the lowest cost storage. However it is yet to develop at a larger scale and will require lots more people to switch to electric vehicles.