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Study Concludes Wind-Powered BEV and Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles Best Options, Biofuels the Worst to Address Climate, Energy Security and Pollution

A combined weighted ranking of the 12 combinations of energy sources and vehicle type against 11 impact categories. Click to enlarge.

A new study by Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson (earlier post) reviews and ranks major proposed energy-related solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security while considering impacts of the solutions on eleven different factors ranging from resource availability to mortality. To place electricity and liquid fuel options on an equal footing, Jacobson considered 12 combinations of energy sources and vehicle type: nine electric power sources (solar-PV, CSP, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, wave, tidal, nuclear, and coal with CCS) and two liquid fuel options (corn-E85, cellulosic E85) in combination with three vehicle technologies (battery-electric, BEVs; hydrogen fuel cell, HFCVs; and flex-fuel E85 vehicles).

The overall rankings of the combinations (from best to worst) were: (1) wind-powered battery-electric vehicles (BEVs); (2) wind-powered hydrogen fuel cell vehicles; (3) concentrated-solar-powered-BEVs; (4) geothermal-powered-BEVs; (5) tidal-powered-BEVs; (6) solar-photovoltaic-powered-BEVs; (7) wave-powered-BEVs; (8) hydroelectric-powered-BEVs; (9-tie) nuclear-powered-BEVs; (9-tie) coal-with-carbon-capture-powered-BEVs; (11) corn-E85 vehicles; and (12) cellulosic-E85 vehicles.  His findings are published online in an open access article in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

The impact categories examined included:

  • Resource abundance
  • CO2e emissions
  • Mortality
  • Footprint
  • Spacing
  • Water consumption
  • Effects on wildlife
  • Thermal pollution
  • Energy supply disruption
  • Normal operating reliability

Upon ranking and weighting each combination with respect to each of 11 impact categories, four clear divisions of ranking, or tiers, emerge. Tier 1 (highest-ranked) includes wind-BEVs and wind-HFCVs. Tier 2 includes CSP-BEVs, geothermal-BEVs, PV-BEVs, tidal-BEVs, and wave-BEVs. Tier 3 includes hydro-BEVs, nuclear-BEVs, and CCS-BEVs. Tier 4 includes corn- and cellulosic-E85.

Wind-BEVs ranked first in seven out of 11 categories, including the two most important, mortality and climate damage reduction. Although HFCVs are much less efficient than BEVs, wind-HFCVs are still very clean and were ranked second among all combinations. Tier 2 options provide significant benefits and are recommended. Tier 3 options are less desirable. However, hydroelectricity, which was ranked ahead of coal-CCS and nuclear with respect to climate and health, is an excellent load balancer, thus recommended.

The Tier 4 combinations (cellulosic- and corn-E85) were ranked lowest overall and with respect to climate, air pollution, land use, wildlife damage, and chemical waste. Cellulosic-E85 ranked lower than corn-E85 overall, primarily due to its potentially larger land footprint based on new data and its higher upstream air pollution emissions than corn-E85. Whereas cellulosic-E85 may cause the greatest average human mortality, nuclear-BEVs cause the greatest upper-limit mortality risk due to the expansion of plutonium separation and uranium enrichment in nuclear energy facilities worldwide. Wind-BEVs and CSP-BEVs cause the least mortality.

—Jacobson 2009
Summary table of rankings. Click to enlarge.

For his analysis, Jacobson estimated the comparative changes in CO2e emissions due to each of the 12 energy sources considered when they are used to power all (small and large) onroad vehicles in the US if such vehicles were converted to BEVs, HFCVs, or E85 vehicles.

For BEVs, Jacobson considered all nine electric power sources. For HFCVs, he assumed the production of hydrogen by electrolysis, with electricity derived from wind power; he did not analyze other methods of producing hydrogen for convenience.

However, estimates for another electric power source producing hydrogen for HFCVs can be estimated by multiplying a calculated parameter for the same power source producing electricity for BEVs by the ratio of the wind-HFCV to wind-BEV parameter (found in ESI). HFCVs are less efficient than BEVs, requiring a little less than three times the electricity for the same motive power, but HFCVs are still more efficient than pure internal combustion (ESI) and have the advantage that the fueling time is shorter than the charging time for electric vehicle (generally 1–30 h, depending on voltage, current, energy capacity of battery). A BEV-HFCV hybrid may be an ideal compromise but is not considered here.

—Jacobson 2009

Wind-BEVs performed the best in 7 out of 11 categories, including mortality, climate-relevant emissions, footprint, water consumption, effects on wildlife, thermal pollution, and water chemical pollution. jacobson found that the footprint area of wind-BEVs is 5.5–6 orders of magnitude less than that for E85 regardless of ethanol’s source, 4 orders of magnitude less than those of CSP-BEVs or PV-BEVs, 3 orders of magnitude less than those of nuclear- or coal-BEVs, and 2–2.5 orders of magnitude less than those of geothermal, tidal, or wave BEVs.

Jacobson said that the intermittency of wind, solar, and wave power can be reduced in several ways:

  1. Interconnecting geographically-disperse intermittent sources through the transmission system;
  2. Combining different intermittent sources (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, tidal, and wave) to smooth out loads, using hydro to provide peaking and load balancing;
  3. Using smart meters to provide electric power to electric vehicles at optimal times;
  4. Storing wind energy in hydrogen, batteries, pumped hydroelectric power, compressed air, or a thermal storage medium; and
  5. Forecasting weather to improve grid planning.

(In 2007, Jacobson and colleague Cristina Archer published a paper in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology on the interconnection of wind farms to provide a steady, dependable source of electricity.)

In summary, the use of wind, CSP, geothermal, tidal, solar, wave, and hydroelectric to provide electricity for BEVs and HFCVs result in the most benefit and least impact among the options considered. Coal-CCS and nuclear provide less benefit with greater negative impacts. The biofuel options provide no certain benefit and result in significant negative impacts. Because sufficient clean natural resources (e.g., wind, sunlight, hot water, ocean energy, gravitational energy) exists to power all energy for the world, the results here suggest that the diversion of attention to the less efficient or non-efficient options represents an opportunity cost that delays solutions to climate and air pollution health problems.

The relative ranking of each electricity-BEV option also applies to the electricity source when used to provide electricity for general purposes. The implementation of the recommended electricity options for providing vehicle and building electricity requires organization. Ideally, good locations of energy resources would be sited in advance and developed simultaneously with an interconnected transmission system. This requires cooperation at multiple levels of government.

—Jacobson 2009


  • Mark Z. Jacobson (2009) Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security. Energy Environ. Sci., doi: 10.1039/b809990c

  • Cristina L. Archer and Mark Z. Jacobson (2007) Supplying Baseload Power and Reducing Transmission Requirements by Interconnecting Wind Farms. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology doi: 10.1175/2007JAMC1538.1



It is pretty hard to take a study that puts fool cells in second place, while relegating nuclear powered BEV's to 10th of 12.
Right, we have a relatively clean technology that actually works in nuclear, inexpensively compared to all the alternatives except coal, and doesn't require backup power generation capacity for when the wind and sun aren't optimal, and it one that isn't recommended.
If the greens weren't so popular right now, their near 'religious' zealotry would be reason enough to laugh at them.


Read the report about nuclear.

Points out the land use requirements, the CO_2 emissions from mining and transport of fuel and waste, the pollution from the mining itself, the security implications, and how in France the nuclear power wasn't available during the heatwave because the water delta t wasn't large enough... meaning that at the time when demand was highest, nuclear provided zero electricity.

My point: it's more complicated than nuclear fanboi vs. anti-nuclear zealotry.


This study is not serious, and serioulsy biased agaisnt nuclear like if the nuclear that we will build tomorrow would be the same than the one we build 30 years ago. CO2 emissions worse for nuclear than PV ? all previous studies showed the opposite, the energy required to purify Si offset the energy production of the cell during at least 4 years. Water consumption of nuclear could be 0 if build near the sea. and the worse of it land requirement of PV less than nuclear, no seriously ? effect on wildlife of nuclear worse than wind or than square miles of PV ? Mortality of nuclear worse than Hydro ? they should check their statistics, nuclear including Chernobyl has one the lowest mortality of any energy, Coal alone is 3000 mortality a year in the coal mines when nuclear doesn't have 3000 mortality in 50 years how come it can be worse in their table? this study is bullshit from A to Z .

Last but not least wind is not a penacea neither in term of energy quality or environmental, think about all the roads they have to build in the wild to install these 10 000 of thousands of concrete tower (at equal power wind consume more concrete than nuclear, concrete is energy intensive) everywhere in the landscape, on top of this wind is a scattered energy which requires 10 times more power lines than nuclear, power line requires tons of aluminum which is one of the more energy intensive and mining intensive material ever used by mankind.
bullshit bullshit and shame on the author of this paper who manipulate scientific data to support their biased opinion


Hydro power recommended ? incredible to read that, hydro damp are amongst of the most environmentaly damaging stuff ever build and extremelly devastating in case of breaking.

Incredible to read this.


Nuclear high potential mortatility because of the possible separtion in Plutonium, and then ? with a FC or BEV you can makes Tanks and weaponery as well, any energy clean or not can be used to make war and weapons, I don't see the point here.

Nick G

Wind power and PHEV's are synergistic.

Wind's biggest problem is that it produces as much power at night (or more) as it does in the day. PHEV charging will add demand at night, and solve that problem.

Charge buffering (G2V): 210M US vehicles, running 12K miles, at .25KWH/mile, would need an average of 72GW (an addition of about 16% over the US's current level of 450GW). That's 72GW of demand that you can turn off and on extremely quickly. You can put most of it at night - and have roughly 200GW of demand to solve wind's night-time surplus power problem. You can use it to absorb spikes in wind power essentially any time of day.

Vehicle to Grid (V2G): with 210M vehicles and, say, 4KW peak output per vehicle, you have the potential for 840GW of instantaneous peak backup power, and 210GW that could be sustained for 8 hours (with an effective 8KWH battery)!


Arbitrary weighted (%) factoring used and individual values have overbearing effects on the final results.

A combination of Wind power (used as base loads) and hydro (used as peak loads and to complement Wind during lower production periods) + a wide area DCHV grid could be an interesting solution.

Northern Canada has a lot of non-developped Hydro and very high quality Wind power. Combined together, it could supply 100% + of Canada's e-power need. Surpluses could be exported to our good neighbours south of the border.

Current Canadian coal fired power plants could be progressively shut down.

This could be an ideal anti-recession multi $$ B project with high quality long term benefits for Canada and USA.

Laid off Big-3 workers could be re-trained to become satisfied clean e-power production and distribution workers.


I'm sort of surprised that wind gets such a good ranking on effects on wildlife and footprint.

It seems to me that the construction, and subsequent operation, of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of wind towers and the transmission lines from them would be disruptive. It sure wouldn't be pretty.

Puzzle. I don't see how Wind-BEV can be ranked 10 for reliability while Wind-HFCV is ranked 1.

But I'll leave the yelling to others.

The report doesn't consider costs. Perhaps that is down in the details. But cost is important. Otherwise we could all travel on flying carpets requiring no fuel and polluting nothing.

Stomy makes a good point about nuclear requiring more resources and room than just the generating plant. The point about nuclear and the heat wave in France seems less important. Nuclear works in the USA and elsewhere when the weather is much warmer; the French temporarily getting caught with inadequate water basins doesn't impress.

I'll follow with a comment about combinations in reports.


Combination in reports.

This study illustrates the pitfalls of studying too much.

As a society we should consider how best to obtain energy and how best to use it as separate subjects. Otherwise we don't see the impact of the technologies.

e.g. here we don't see anything about NUC-HFCV or Tidal-HFCV at all. The HFCV is paired only with Wind.

And that must cloud our specific comments because every single number in the results has two or more meanings.

Kit P

I have some serious issue concerning this report.

“Costs are not examined ....”

What planet is Stanford located on?

The basic problem is that when something breaks you have to pay someone to fix it. If take into account how long it takes to build it, you should take into account early failure. The ranking is based on potential without taking into account practical potential.

“Equivalent carbon dioxide lifecycle, opportunity-cost emissions due to planning-to-operation delays relative to the technology with the least delay”

Another big issue is they do not consider existing US regulations.

“Indoor plus outdoor air pollution is the sixth-leading cause of death, causing over 2.4 million premature deaths worldwide.”

I do not know any place in the US where outdoor air pollution is the cause of death. There are a few causes of indoor air pollution causing accidental CO poisoning but I do not see the connection between generation and transportation

Kit P

“Wind power and PHEV's are synergistic.”

How that, neither works very well so together they will not work at all?

"I do not know any place in the US where outdoor air pollution is the cause of death."

Eh?? Air polution is a well established cause of premature death. Unless of course you're being very literal and thinking in terms of a lethal dose of NOx or particulates, which would be silly.

As for wind and EVs being synergistic, Nick is exactly correct. They fit very neatly as EVs will be recharged at night when other demand is low so they can soak up night time wind power. EVs and renewable energy in general are a perfect match.


I have high hopes for wave and tidal energy. I think it's under ranked. The oceans make up most of the planet surface and the water never stops moving - it's unlimited energy - just have to tap into it.


"“Wind power and PHEV's are synergistic.”

How that, neither works very well so together they will not work at all?"

plug it in when the wind blows and gas it up when wind isn't there - seems workable


Wind is really only synergistic with Hydro and/or nat gas fired peaking stations.

In general you get about 35% of the rater power of a wind system due to the intermittancy of the wind.

It isn't synergistic with PHEV, but night time demand balancing is, in a big way.

V2G will only really work if people can keep their cars plugged in all day, which is unlikely - in northern Europe, the maximum demand is from 5-7pm, which is exactly when people are driving home from work.
In warmer places, peak solar availability matches Ac demand, so there is not much left over for PHEVs.

I would say that PHEVs can be matched to ANY electricity source, which means you can separate the generation problem from the EV side of things, and generate the power any way you like, as best suits local conditions.

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