Sean Bennett Diesel engines, trucks, electric vehicles, and off-road equipment

August 1, 2022


Filed under: — techrite @ 1:18 pm

August 28th 2023       TANK-TO-WHEEL VERSUS WELL-TO-WHEEL 

Although I’m advocate of using ‘green energy’ technology in transportation wherever it’s practical, the ever-increasing use of the term ‘zero emissions’ by OEMs, transit authorities, and government needs to be called out for what it is, a myth. When Zero Emissions is emblazoned all over a BEV transit bus, the claim is justified by its tank-to-wheel emissions, a term that is technically relevant only to vehicles powered by internal combustion engine (ICE) powered vehicles. A more accurate means of defining the true emissions of a battery electric vehicle (BEV) would be to use its well-to-wheel emissions which would account for how the source electricity was generated. DoE data in 2020 tells us electricity was generated from the following sources:

  • 61% fossil fuels (petroleum and coal)
  • 19% nuclear fission
  • 20% renewable sources (hydro, wind, solar, and tidal)

Similar misleading data is used to describe hydrogen (H2) powered vehicles. Yes, a hydrogen-fueled vehicle is T2W zero emissions but currently most hydrogen is manufactured by fractioning petroleum or coal, so its W2W emissions result in high levels of carbon dump. Even when the H2 is sourced from water using electrolysers and hydroelectricity, the ‘green’ hydrogen usually must be trucked to dispensing stations before it can be transferred to the vehicle. As persons working in the field of transportation technology, we have a responsibility to gently dispel the myths of zero emissions by emphasizing that well-to-wheel is the only accurate metric.


Automobile electric vehicle (EV) sales were slower to launch in North America than in Europe and Asia. Quite simply, we use the automobile differently.  Although data tells us that the average American drives a total of 36 miles per day, we also expect our cars to make occasional long distance trips to visit Grandma or vacation somewhere sunnier … trips in which we are reluctant to pull over 3 times a day to devote an hour recharging EV batteries. But this is now changing due to increases in battery energy storage capacity.

In the automotive battery-electric vehicle (BEV) arena, Tesla have emerged as the market leader. For nearly a decade, the Nissan Leaf was the worldwide leader in BEV sales. The reason for the Leaf’s success was lower cost (often assisted by government incentives) and the car’s suitability as a compact urban taxi or Uber vehicle. The playing field changed in the late teens of this century. Tesla proved that consumers will pay more for more for an upscale vehicle with longer range capacity. Outside of China, Tesla has become the world market leader in EV sales. That said, the automobile EV sales percentage of total market share is modest in the U.S., even though they are rising exponentially.

The true successes of BEVs are more quietly taking place in the commercial vehicle sector. Especially those run by fleets operating in urban areas. All-electric package delivery vans and transit buses are now a common sight in every major North American city. Despite higher upfront costs, the ROI of urban EVs is rapid, due to reduced maintenance and about one third of the ‘fuel’ cost. Since the beginning of 2022, further commercial EV orders have accelerated due the steep rise in any petroleum sourced products.

It is unlikely that we’ll see battery-electric linehaul trucks on an interstate, in the foreseeable future but for urban commercial vehicles operating out of a fixed depot, the future is already here.  The categories of commercial EVs operating in urban areas in which adoptions are rapidly rising include:

  • Transit buses
  • Package delivery vans
  • Taxi cabs
  • Refuse packers
  • LTL carriers
  • Drayage trucks

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