Embodied energy of our vehicles

Did you know that we should take into account the embodied energy when we compare the consequences of our energy use and transportation? WattzOn provides tools for us to track our energy consumption and compare it to a recommended 2000 Watt lifestyle (as a sustainable lifestyle). Eightlines on Twitter alerts us to the embodied energy of bicycles and e-bikes, which are both much lower than a typical energy efficient car such as the Toyota Prius. (The embodied energy is the energy it takes to create the object, which is then divided over the lifetime of the object.)

It comes as no surprise that a steel frame bicycle has a very low embodied energy at about 7.9 Watts (these numbers are necessarily ball-park). The bike only makes up a tiny fraction of the "2000 Watt lifestyle".

The car is another matter. This calculation was based on the Toyota Prius, one of the more energy efficient cars on the road. The embodied energy makes up 13.5% of the recommended energy use.

Last, the e-bike comes in at 2% of the recommended lifestyle. While the embodied energy is is an order of magnitude larger than the steel bicycle, it is still much smaller than the car. So if you choose an e-bike you might not come off as clean-looking as the bicycle rider, you can still save your guilt for something else (such as newspapers which happen to have a huge embodied energy component - twice that of cars!). E-bikes not only require much less energy to manufacture they require much less road and parking as well as less energy to move.

You may ask why watts? This is their explanation: in order to reduce our carbon footprint, we will have to take into account energy reduction.

A watt is a unit of power that indicates the rate at which you are using energy. For WattzOn, we normalize all of your profile answers (say, flights per year or miles driven per week) down to the second, so that you can see the average power that you are using in every moment of your life.

We chose watts because we want to change the conversation on personal accountability in climate change away from the common "carbon footprint" and towards collective energy reduction. Measuring in power rather than carbon emissions recognizes that it will not be possible to support our current lifestyles with any energy technology that we could implement in the near future - our needs are not sustainable. While there certainly needs to be a reduction of fossil fuel reliance by increasing alternative energy infrastructure, energy reduction will need to be part of any solution to this global challenge.

Comments

respectively ask if anyone really cares. For decades people have gone on about cycling and how good it is for the environment. Has the message resonated with anyone outside of a small minority of people who would ride no matter what?

I have never seen a study where choosing to cycle for the environment has ranked in the top 5.

A warped sick mind might add that cars reduce the stress on the planet by killing off people who consume, poison and destroy.
Not me, though! ;-)

The fact that there is a way to reasonably measure the environmental effect of different types of vehicles would obviously be more relevant if we started regulating such things; I can see it happening one day.

For now, it is interesting to note that the full size SUV idling beside me has roughly the same environmental effect as 1500 bicycles.

it's just a bit old for some of us oldies I guess.
Yes, bikes are best, older bikes even better. But if you're actually into the total environmental impact of vehicles, please explore the impacts of using a lot of aluminum for both 2and4 wheeled vehicles as there are some permanent and high-impact greenhouse gases associated with use of Al, as good as Al is for lightness, and some strength.
We also need Environmental Assessments that measure materials throughputs, assuming that we can get an EA in the first place as the Bloor/Yorkville EAvasion shows - EAs aren't a priority of either the city nor the province, and the blah-blah of the progressives on how "green" we are is not borne out by the realities.
This includes Jarvis St. in my view, as my limited understanding of that EA is that it is not, not keeping the existing sound road/bed but replacing it, yet a short hop away, Sherbourne St. is a horribly jarring bikelane ride. Hmm.
Also the City doesn't even begin to measure the CO2 contribution of concrete/cement in its profile of the ghg emissions in the City - we clearly don't use any concrete in our roads and buildings.
And sometimes, with this embodied energy concern, I think there is merit in keeping something that is existing in use, if it isn't too too bad and used infrequently eg. an older car.

It is truly bizarre to see a bike's lifespan given as 15 years, but a car as 20. How many cars last 20 years? I would be willing to wager that the vast majority of cars made 20 years ago are scrap metal today.

On the other hand, my Schwinn is just as good today as the day I bought it 31 years ago. Better, actually, since it now has puncture-resistant tires. Until I got my Pashley, the Schwinn was my everyday vehicle. Yes, I've replaced the normal wear items - tires, brake pads, etc. But that's normal. A high-quality bicycle such as the Schwinn or my Pashley should last a lifetime. I fully expect to be owning both bikes 50 years from now when I am 96 years old and considering reducing the distance I cycle.

How often do one see cars from 1989 on our roads today?

How often do one see bikes from 1994 on our roads today?

A quality bicycle is worth fixing, your 20yr old lexus or bmw? not so much; the difference being caused by the absolute expenses of the repairs and demoralizing depreciations involved. The value of a typical car 20yrs from now is virtually nothing and the car itself is complicated enough to render repairs continuously on going and extremely expensive. So the car is basically a consumable and not worth re-investing in.

Anyways, I take these facts to be self evident so maybe I'm flogging a dead horse.

P.S. That e-bike number seems to also be for the light e-bikes not the eScooter types.

please explore the impacts of using a lot of aluminum for both 2and4 wheeled vehicles as there are some permanent and high-impact greenhouse gases associated with use of Al, as good as Al is for lightness, and some strength.

We could try sequestering carbon dioxide in bike frames.

one eg. is a Planet bike from my dad's second hand biking in TO - and he always has warned about the streetcar tracks by the way...
on one pay to ride the public highway ride for heart, this Planet bike was pretty good, despite its two-speed limit of sitting down and standing up.
sometimes there's a reason or five for people putting bikes out though.

Bikes last way longer than 15 years- more like over 30 years.

Also, how much energy do public transit riders use, and how does it compare to cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians?

This is all a rather unimportant digression from the point of the article, but...

Bikes CAN last longer than 15 years, but that doesn't mean they do. Considering the rate of accidents, some are obviously lasting much less that that. =)

And though the steel for your frame may last 15 years, I doubt the rubber for your tires & tubes will make it through a decade...

It's also quite interesting that a car is responsible for only 269 Watts when the average US consumer has an 11,400 Watt lifestyle. Does "Transportation 12,038km" mean "gas used", including drilling, processing, etc?

It's also quite interesting that a car is responsible for only 269 Watts when the average US consumer has an 11,400 Watt lifestyle. Does "Transportation 12,038km" mean "gas used", including drilling, processing, etc?

I think those numbers are just for the manufacture of the car and the transportation of said car from the factory to the dealer. Daily usage comes under the transportation category on the site.

Only a small minority of people read and post to this forum, Darren. So this is the perfect environment to bring this up.

Regardless of our consumption habits and reasons, we are all still citizens and voters and can decide to vote for politicians and platforms because they wish to do something about climate change. We engage in discussion and debate not just because we want to change people's buying habits but to encourage policy changes.

What if you also compared the human toll of each product. What is the difference between a car built by people making union wages building cars compared to those who work in near slave like conditions building the mid- to lower- valued bikes and accessories. I am sure that at the end of the day the bike will still come out ahead by a large gap but it is something that needs to be considered.

"...e-bike number seems to also be for the light e-bikes not the eScooter types."

Believe you are correct. From the link posted:
"Bike with an electric powertrain (250W) and an Aluminium Frame."
tks
LoK

Hi all

Can anybody tell me how much difference in embedded energy between steel framed and aluminium framed bicycles ?

On the WattzOn website it says this:

  • bicycle - steel: 7.9 Watts
  • bicycle - aluminum - 17.8 Watts
  • bicycle - carbon - 36.7 Watts
  • e-bike - 40.7 Watts (a bit too generic to be accurate IMHO)

Reminds me of this classic youtube vid: