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Refining oil requires more electricity than EVs

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haid · · 6 years ago

Can anyone verify that oil refineries require 4-6 kilowatts of power to refine each gallon of gasoline.

It came from an interview between Business Insider, Chris Paine, and Elon Musk

BI: At least in the U.S., most electricity is generated using fossil fuels. Mostly natural gas and coal. What's the relative carbon footprint of a Roadster or Model S, against a gasoline car? I've heard that argument from people who worked in the oil industry.

Chris: It's funny they make that argument, because they're one of the largest users of electricity in the country, to refine gasoline. That's why the power cords go into refineries. Something like 4 to 6 kilowatt hours of electricity to refine every gallon of gasoline. They're pulling that electricity from the same source as they're critiquing on electric cars and they get much less result out of it.

Elon: Exactly. Chris has a nice way of saying it which is, you have enough electricity to power all the cars in the country if you stop refining gasoline. You take an average of 5 kilowatt hours to refine gasoline, something like the Model S can go 20 miles on 5 kilowatt hours. You basically have the energy needed to power electric vehicles if you stop refining.


· · 6 years ago

Here is my page on the subject:

Scroll down to: How Much Electricity is used to run gasoline cars?

I have been trying to track down this number for 10 years now. The harder you try, the more frustrated you'll get. There is no way to "verify" any hard numbers on this. What do you count? ONLY electricity? How about the energy inputs that could have been used to make electricity instead of gasoline? All we know for certain is that the oil industry uses a whole bunch (that's like more than a bushel, but less than a butt-load) of energy to make the gasoline that we love to burn.

· · 6 years ago

Here is a long thread on this at MNL.

"The origin of the 7.5kWh figure probably is as simple as it looks: DOE says 83% efficiency, ergo 36.6/0.83 = 44.1kWh input, ergo it takes 44.1 - 36.6 = 7.5kWh needed to make a gallon of gas."

· Kelly O'Brien (not verified) · 6 years ago

If the 7.5 kWh figure is good, then that means that for 12,000 miles of driving, the energy it takes to refine the gasoline used by a car getting 23 mpg (522 gallons), would power the RAV4 EV (assuming 30kWh for 100 miles of driving) enough to drive more than 13,000 miles (to say nothing of the C02 reduction realized from not refining).

The trouble with all of this "life-cycle" type calculating is - as Darell suggests - that the more factors you attempt to consider the greater the margin of error. Do you consider the energy expended in drilling for oil? For transporting oil? For fraccing, transporting and cleaning up natural gas burned in California power generation stations?

And, while we're at it, how about considering the energy/C02 costs of getting foreign made cars to the U.S. on transport ships burning nasty bunker fuel? (I'm for EV's produced in the U.S. and used by consumers in this country).

Keeping it simple works and I think clarifies the picture rather than muddies it.

· Kelly O'Brien (not verified) · 6 years ago

And, here's a justification from Jake Ward at DOE:

The energy required to refine a gallon of gasoline can be estimated based on the energy content of crude oil and the refinery efficiency of the facility performing the energy conversion; I can provide you a reputable source for both values.

In a 2008 report, Argonne National Lab estimated that the efficiency for producing gasoline of an “average” U.S. petroleum refinery is between 84% and 88% (Wang, 2008), and Oak Ridge National Lab reports that the net energy content of oil is approximately 132,000 Btu per gallon (Davis, 2009). It is commonly known that a barrel of crude oil generate approximately 45 gallons of refined product (refer to NAS, 2009, Table 3-4 for a publication stating so). Thus, using an 85% refinery efficiency and the aforementioned conversion factors, it can be estimated that about 21,000 Btu—the equivalent of 6 kWh—of energy are lost per gallon of gasoline refined:

The documents referenced herein are publicly available, as follows:

Wang, M. (2008), “Estimation of Energy Efficiencies of U.S. Petroleum Refineries,” Center for Transportation Research, Argonne National Laboratory,

Davis, S., Susan W. Diegel, and Robert G. Boundy (2009), Transportation Energy Data Book, edition 28, National Transportation Research Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory,

NAS (2009), Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use, The National Academies Press,

It is worth noting that refining one barrel of oil yields gasoline in addition to other products, so only a portion of the refining energy used to refine a barrel of crude is truly attributable to gasoline. Even so, in terms of energy equivalencies, the preceding estimation is valid.

If I may be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me. Your interest in energy efficiency at the Department of Energy is appreciated.



– Jacob Ward Program Analyst/PMF Vehicle Technologies Program Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy U.S. Department of Energy

· Kelly O'Brien (not verified) · 6 years ago

BTW, here's the link from which this came:

Also, BTW, even at 6 kWh, the energy used to refine 522 gals of gas still takes the RAV4 EV 10435 miles, rather than the entire 12,000 miles.

Still, bloody impressive!



· · 6 years ago

> Thus, using an 85% refinery efficiency and the aforementioned conversion factors, it can be estimated that about 21,000 Btu—the equivalent of 6 kWh—of energy are lost per gallon of gasoline refined.

The refining step is obviously a big one. I don't want to ignore the energy used before the oil even gets to the refinery... nor after it leaves the refinery.

· · 6 years ago

You know, Darelll, in so many ways, it's a game changer when discussing this issue, even when the source of energy generated is nothing but coal. So, I agree, this is not to be ignored, but instead, underscored!



· · 6 years ago

OT warning... Hi Kelly!

Yeah, we drill for the oil. We pump it out of the ground, we pump it somewhere before it is pumped into some vehicle to get it to the refinery. Could be boat or truck. Then we pump it all around the refinery (where the big energy inputs come in). Then we pump it again, and load it onto another truck. Finally it is pumped into the tanks at the gas station where we can... wait for it... pump it into our cars. And at THAT point we finally stop the energy inputs into gasoline. Now all we have left to do is add some O2 and a spark to create other airborne toxins, and we're on our way.

· · 6 years ago

There are several well to wheel studies to checkout. Nowadays eroei of us oil is 10:1, for eg. There are a good # of studies on electricity too - also car manufacturing.

· · 6 years ago

How does 10:1 jibe with 85% just at the refinery?

· · 6 years ago

10:1 EROEI is just for extraction related activities. Still need to add the trasport, refining, storage losses.

· · 6 years ago

BTW, I should add - if we are looking at Canadian oil sands, EOREI is much worse. I've seen figures of 2:1.

· · 6 years ago

Ah, got it. Yes, I've heard the 2:1 for tar sands as well. As long as the financial ROI is decoupled from the EROI, we could get to 1:1 and even beyond... which boggles the mind. But hey - it is all about the money, right? :sigh:

· · 6 years ago

Hi, Darell! *smiles*

Good comments, EVNow! Thanks!

BTW, I'm just doing a followup from a mid-2007 story, for my radio show (Life in the Fast Lane - thus, the user name) on Enhanced Geothermal Systems, also known as EGS. Turns out that Google and SMU (S. Methodist Univ) have recently produced a geothermal profile of the U.S:

It's worth having a look at, although, as Google admits, "EGS is a big challenge"... I'd like to answer the question "Is it a bigger challenge than the cost, and operational issues, associated with new nuclear power plants?" Haven't gotten that far, yet!


"The energy from the heat beneath the earth's surface is essentially an unlimited resource. What if it could be developed to help solve our energy challenges and fight global warming? Enhanced Geothermal Systems, or EGS, attempts to do just that. EGS produces heat and electricity by harnessing the energy from hot rock deep below the earth's surface, expanding the potential of traditional geothermal energy by orders of magnitude. EGS is a big challenge, but with the potential to power the world many times over, it demands our immediate attention. At Google we support efforts to advance EGS through R&D, investment, policy and information."

Enhanced Geothermal Systems Potential in Google Earth
"Our partners at the SMU Geothermal Lab recently conducted a new study on the potential for EGS in the continental U.S., incorporating tens of thousands of new thermal data points to create the most data rich maps of U.S. geothermal resources to date. The results are compliant with the new global geothermal mapping protocol, which is now recognized by the International Energy Agency and the International Geothermal Association. The project estimates that Technical Potential for the continental U.S. exceeds 2,980,295 megawatts using Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) and other advanced geothermal technologies such as Low Temperature Hydrothermal."



· · 6 years ago

"is essentially an unlimited resource"
This statement always scares me when I hear it associated with any resource. I also tend to adopt a skeptics eye to any other claims that may be associated with it.

· · 6 years ago

@ex-EV1 -

Do you get the same scare when sun and wind energy are claimed to be "essentially unlimited?" Is it the unlimited source that concerns you, or the part about capturing it? There seems little to be afraid of in regard to the source.

· · 6 years ago

Thanks for the sources and great conversation.

My brother is a Fox News junky. While I doubt I will ever convince him of anything at odds with the dogma that is shoveled at him… I try.

· Peder Norby (not verified) · 6 years ago

I did a post on this October 7th with similar data points
This was picked up by the Washington Post and then by ABG. Interestingly the articles in both combined for over 200 comments and no one could say I was wrong, only a slightly lower or higher number.

As a follow up working the issue a different way I used these two sources for additional information..
this shows a refining cost of approx. 50 cents per gallon.

and then this
This shows that refineries use approx 50% of their total cost in energy. So it lands at about 25 cents fuel cost. Some electric, some natural gas,
between 5-7 kwh of electricity per gallon of gas.

lastly a recent post about the 4 basic ways that show we already have more than enough electricity to power a national fleet ov EVS.


· · 6 years ago

@Kelly, While geothermal is theoretically unlimited (short of cooling down the entire planet), in practice the individual wells have had a limited life because of local cooling effects. Geothermal wells in many places also have had problems with corrosion. And places with a large enough temperature delta for efficient power generation are limited. With more research and innovation, such as that you describe with "EGS", I am hopeful that many of the problems can be overcome. But it doesn't appear to be a panacea for pollution-free power generation just yet.

· · 6 years ago

Thanks for the feedback, dgpcolorado! I'm certainly not convinced it's a panacea, either!



· · 6 years ago

"Do you get the same scare when sun and wind energy are claimed to be "essentially unlimited?"
Yes, I do. There is zero solar for a large portion of the day for example. Also, if we start covering a large portion of our planet up with solar collection, we'll mess with the earth's albedo which will make global warming seem like children's laughter if we don't compensate somehow.
Wind is far less invasive since it mainly just affects surface winds but it, too is far from unlimited.
Granted, it will be a long time before we are likely to see any albedo affects from solar collection. Our streets, houses, and farms will likely have an affect much sooner if they don't already.

· · 6 years ago

> Also, if we start covering a large portion of our planet up with solar collection, we'll mess with the earth's albedo

You can't seriously be concerned with this, can you? You touched a bit on how absurd that is - There is no possible way we'd cover more fresh "natural" land with solar than we've already covered with buildings and pavement. Much of the solar we have, and much that we will add will go on top of nature that we've already messed up. Adding solar over a building or road or parking lot doesn't mess up the albedo in any significant way over what the building or the pavement lot is already doing. The number of square miles of solar panels we'd need to power the world doesn't come close to the number of square miles of pavement we already have in the world. And the fact of the matter is, we don't need to cover "a large portion of our planet" with solar collection. We just don't need that much to meet our energy needs.

When I think about our huge cities. Our highway infrastructure. Our parking lots. Our strip malls. How could we be concerned with what would amount to a drop in the bucket of extra albedo alteration when that extra drop actually fixes some of the other issues out environment faces?

And as I like to say so much: We can't compare the negative aspects of solar to pretty rainbows and the laughter of children. We need to compare it to burning coal We need to compare it to the millions of miles of dark asphalt freeways. How does coal use compare to solar when it comes to messing with the earth? Pavement?

· · 6 years ago

I'm not convinced that haphazard deployment of PV over already-wrecked land is an economically viable long-term solar solution. It is very expensive and not very efficient. With subsidies, it barely works economically in optimal solar radiation areas like California. My PV array (in CA) only handles my home and my daily driving use. It doesn't offset my energy consumption during the day while I'm at work, my wife's driving, or the energy to produce what we consume (food and other goods). We paid a good deal for it. PV is almost totally worthless in most of the US where sun exposure is so minimal due to short winter days and frequent cloud cover.
I see the only clear long-term solar solution for the masses to be solar thermal or possibly tracking PV deployed in large installations in the deserts of the southwestern US (and North Africa for Africa/Europe). As such, it will take approximately 100 miles by 100 miles of prime southwest desert land to handle the energy needs of today's US population. From an albedo perspective, this isn't much, however, given our planet's population explosion, should we count on solar for our energy needs, the area taken up by collection could eventually become significant.
Don't underestimate albedo. Just because Al Gore didn't bring it up doesn't mean it isn't a significant contributor to the earth's climate.
It isn't "unlimited" essentially or otherwise.
Just as kerosene saved the whales and coal saved the trees of England, solar could save us from coal and oil but it isn't unlimited or perfect any more than those other things were when they were introduced.
I do agree, however, that solar is a great solution for today, and possibly for the rest of the life of the earth - if we use it wisely and sustainably.

· · 6 years ago

@ex-EV1 -


> given our planet's population explosion, should we count on solar for our energy needs, the area taken up by collection could eventually become significant. <

When considering population explosion, the OTHER things we do to screw up the albedo will dwarf the increase in solar installations. We're going to add more pavement. More homes. More businesses. MORE things that will change the albedo. The area covered by 100x100 miles is insignificant compared to the area of the earth that we cover by everything else we've done. And let's include in there the changes we've made to the atmosphere by making energy the old ways. I'm not discounting the effect at all. What I'm doing is pointing out that the OTHER stuff we've done is more damaging than solar will likely ever be. The other stuff we do (more buildings, more roads, more coal and oil burning, etc) just adds to our other problems of more sprawl, more cars, more pollution. Adding (any type) of solar slows some of these peripheral problems and doesn't affect the albedo nearly as much as the other stuff that screws us. We should embrace solar, and worry about the other crap we're doing. Don't cut off your nose to spite your face (or something like that). Maybe don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yeah, that's better.

Yes albedo is important. The amount that solar could affect it is a drop in the bucket compared to what we've already done... and what we will continue to do in the future. Rainforest clearing, anybody?

· · 6 years ago


Let me throw this one into the mix... I'll leave it up to you if it's a crackpot idea or a real possibility:

From Scott Brusaw's website:

"The Solar Roadway is a series of structurally-engineered solar panels that are driven upon. The idea is to replace all current petroleum-based asphalt roads, parking lots, and driveways with Solar Road Panels that collect energy to be used by our homes and businesses. Our ultimate goal is to be able to store excess energy in or alongside the Solar Roadways. This renewable energy replaces the need for the current fossil fuels used for the generation of electricity. This, in turn, cuts greenhouse gases literally in half."

· · 6 years ago

Hi Kelly -

We've discussed that in a couple of other threads. I personally see more wrong with it that right with it. But then I've been accused of not being "open minded" enough for perpetual motion machines as well. :)

· · 6 years ago

*smiles* Darell, what's wrong with perpetual moth in machines??

· · 6 years ago

@Life in the Fas...
I'll recap my issues with the Solar Roadway from previous discussions:
While I'm sure it could be made to work, it would cost a whole lot more than we can afford. If you notice, our concrete interstates can't even handle the load of the big trucks today. Making solar panels strong enough to handle them would be even harder.
My preferred alternative to trying to put PV into the roads would be to put a cover over the entire interstate highway system with a solar collecting roof. The solar collection could cover the entire right-of-way of the interstates, not just the paved parts, thus providing a whole lot more collection area. It might actually be possible to use solar thermal instead of PV even so one would get more efficiency.
I suspect that either of these approaches would be cost prohibitive, however. They would cost a lot more than putting solar collection out in the desert where it wouldn't be necessary to construct a large structure over a highway or in the highway.

· · 6 years ago

Thanks for this. i search it in long time, then i found it

· · 6 years ago

Electric vehicles are 74% more efficient than gasoline which has been proven again and again. I would know being founder of heavy duty electric truck company, Balqon Corporation. The issue is battery energy density, which is just one generation away from replacing fossil fuels in transportation sector. Here is my read on future of ev's

· Nimi (not verified) · 6 years ago

One thing you have to keep in mind is the difference between a barrel of oil and a a gallon of gasoline. Gasoline is just a bi-product of a barrel of oil. So figures are always mixed up because of that. Currently I think most refineries a breaking a barrel of oil like this;

30% lubrication oil; major industry machinery, generators etc. The single largest use of crude oil.
40% fuel oil this is all of the fuels; diesel, kerosene, regular fuel, home heating fuel, high octane fuel, jet fuel etc.
20% polymers; oil base for the creation of various plastics etc.
10% misc. very high end petrochemical products, but the main use in this 10% is for fertilizer base.

This is the problem with oil; even if we completely got rid of all automobiles we still are extremely dependent on crude oil for other things in the modern world.... arghhh.

· Max Reid (not verified) · 6 years ago

Here is the breakup based on BP Energy Stats for the whole World.
Gasolene - 32%
Middle Distillates (Kerosene & Diesel) - 36%
Heating Oil - 10%
Others (NGL, Plastics, Lubricants) - 22%.

Refineries can change the mix. Of late more and more oil is used for motor fuels like Gasolene, Kerosene & Diesel which fetch a better price and less of Heating Oil whose share is taken by Natgas and Biomass.

But heavy oil needs lot of processing to make motor fuels since they have excess Carbon content and lesser Hydrogen content. In this process they also use a lot of Natgas. Yes its better to use Electric vehicles than refine Oil into motor fuels and use them in regular vehicles.

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