MONEY Environment

Why “Green” Cars Are Still Destroying the Earth

Tesla Model S.
Tesla's battery makes it cleaner than gas-guzzling alternatives—but think about what else it's made of. Tesla

In 2013 Tesla‘s TESLA MOTORS, INC. TSLA -1.6921% Model S won the prestigious Motor Trend Car of the Year award. Motor Trend called it “one of the quickest American four-doors ever built.” It went on to say that the electric vehicle “drives like a sports car, eager and agile and instantly responsive.”

What is remarkable about the car’s speed and agility is that it’s powered by a battery and not an internal combustion engine. Because of that it produces absolutely no tailpipe emissions, making it both better performing and cleaner than its gas-guzzling peers. That said, the company does have one dirty little secret: It’s not as clean as you might think.

The secret behind Tesla’s success

While the power driving Tesla’s success might be its battery, that’s not the real secret to its success. Instead, Tesla has aluminum to thank for its superior outperformance, as the metal is up to 40% lighter than steel, according to a report from the University of Aachen, Germany. That lighter weight enables Tesla to fit enough battery power into the car to extend the range of the Model S without hurting its performance. Vehicles made with aluminum accelerate faster, brake in shorter distances, and simply handle better than cars loaded down with heavier steel.

Even better, pound-for-pound aluminum can absorb twice as much crash energy as steel. This strength is one of the reasons Tesla’s Model S also achieved the highest safety rating of any car ever tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But it’s not all good news when it comes to aluminum and cars.

Aluminum’s dirty side

Aluminum is the third-most abundant element in the world, behind oxygen and silicon. In fact, it makes up 8% of the Earth’s crust by weight. However, despite aluminum’s abundance, it’s not found in its pure form because it’s so reactive; instead, it is found in combination with more than 270 different minerals. Aluminum wasn’t even isolated until the 1800s when the predecessor company to Alcoa ALCOA INC. AA 0.7219% discovered how to transform a raw form called alumina into the metal.

Before alumina can be converted into aluminum its source needs to be mined. That source is an ore called bauxite, which is typically extracted in open-pit mines that aren’t exactly environmentally friendly. Bauxite is then processed into the fine white powder known as alumina, and from there alumina is exposed to intense heat and electricity through a process known as smelting, which transforms the material into aluminum.

Aluminum smelting is extremely energy-intense. It takes 211 gigajoules of energy to make one tonne of aluminum, while just 22.7 gigajoules of energy is required to produce one tonne of steel. In an oversimplification of the process, aluminum smelting requires temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius to melt alumina, while an electric current must also pass through the molten material so that electrolysis can reduce the aluminum ions to aluminum metals. This process requires so much energy that aluminum production is responsible for about 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Carbon Trust.

There is, however, some good news: Aluminum is 100% recyclable. Moreover, recycled aluminum, or secondary production, requires far less energy to produce than primary production, as the following chart shows.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Recycled aluminum, which in the U.S. primarily comes from beverage cans and automotive parts, doesn’t require as much energy because the aluminum is simply melted down in a furnace that is usually fired by natural gas. As illustrated in the chart, this segment’s energy consumption is just a fraction of that of the aluminum sector as a whole.

Still, Tesla, which doesn’t specify whether its aluminum is from primary or secondary production, is using a very carbon-intensive metal for its Model S. Moreover, even if it did use purely recycled aluminum, Tesla is still creating demand for aluminum by taking supply from the metals marketplace to make its cars. One way or another, new primary aluminum production will be required to increase overall supply, which will only create more emissions. This means Tesla’s success will require more aluminum to be produced in the years ahead.

Investor takeaway

While green technologies might be better for the environment, none is completely clean yet. Somewhere down the line a dirty material is being used to make green technology. Aluminum production could be a lot greener given how much less energy is required for recycled aluminum. That’s why Tesla and other automakers looking to the material to reduce weight and increase performance need to make an effort to push for increased aluminum recycling. Otherwise, we could be replacing one dirty technology with another.

Matt DiLallo has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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MONEY Autos

Why Hybrid and Electric Cars Have Lost Their Spark

2015 Nissan LEAF
To entice buyers to purchase a Leaf, Nissan launched a free charging promotion this past spring, promising new owners access to public charging stations at no cost for two years. Nissan—Wieck

The Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius, BMW i3, and other electrified cars were projected to take over an ever-increasing chunk of the auto market. Only sales have gone flat in 2014. What happened?

At first glance, the electric car market appears to be pretty darn electrified. Tesla just chose Nevada as the site for its $5 billion “gigafactory” to produce batteries needed for EVs, and Tesla shares hit an all-time high this week after the company was praised by analysts. What’s more, Nissan reported that August was the best ever month for sales of its plug-in Leaf, with 3,186 units sold. Sales of BMW’s new plug-in, the i3 were also strong in August—1,025 sold, which just about matches the total of the previous three months combined.

At the same time, however, the overall electrified car market appears to be flat, even in a bit of a slump. Auto sales are booming in general through 2014, and last month reached the highest sales pace since before the Great Recession. Yet hybrids and fully electrified plug-ins haven’t kept pace with the rest of the field. “The whole automobile market has grown,” Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell explained to the Los Angeles Times. “We’re not seeing electric vehicles as part of that growth.”

According to Edmunds data, through August 2014 hybrids and electric vehicles captured 3.6% of all auto sales this year. For the same period a year ago, hybrid and EV sales represented 3.7% of the overall market. That wouldn’t seem like a big deal except for the fact that for years analysts have been forecasting that hybrid and EV sales would rise steadily, more or less indefinitely—reaching 7% of global auto sales by around 2020.

How can all of this be explained? First off, the increase in sales of the Nissan Leaf is mostly an anomaly. Nissan launched a free charging promotion this past spring, promising new buyers access to public charging stations at no cost for two years as an incentive for the purchase of a Leaf. Local subsidies in states such as Georgia, which provides a $4,000 tax credit for EV purchases and boasts inexpensive electricity to boot, have helped juice sales. (Federal tax credits for plug-in purchases amounting to up to $7,500 off are still around as well.)

Even in Atlanta, however, which has become the #2 urban market for electric cars (after San Francisco), EVs account for only 2.15% of new car registrations. Nationally, EVs constitute only 0.38% of new car registrations. Hybrid vehicles, which are more practical because they run on gas as well as battery power, have regularly sold in far higher numbers than pure electric-powered plug-ins. And sales of many hybrids and non-Leaf EVs aren’t faring well in 2014. MarketWatch reported that through August, sales of the Chevy Volt, Toyota’s plug-in and hybrid Prius, and Honda’s lineup of hybrids and plug-ins were all down at least 10% compared to the same period in 2013. Tesla doesn’t provide sales data, but according to estimates from InsideEVs.com, sales of the Model S totaled approximately 500 and 600 in July and August, respectively, after hitting 1,000 or more monthly from February to June.

What’s been holding sales of hybrid and electric cars back? Reasonably flat, reasonably inexpensive gas prices have certainly played a role. A survey from a couple of years ago indicated that the majority of Americans wouldn’t alter their lifestyles until gas hit $5 per gallon. Not only are we still far off the $5 mark, but prices at the pump have actually been on the decline, recently dipping to the lowest Labor Day gas prices in years.

Edmunds.com’s Caldwell also told MarketWatch that sales of EVs and hybrids may be down because they’re no longer new and novel in the marketplace, and the fascination with owning one is quickly diminishing. “Stable gas prices have a lot to do with it, but there’s also a possibility that the prestige of owning an electric vehicle or hybrid has died down,” she said. “This year may not be able to top last year, which is kind of sad given how well the overall market is performing.”

With the novelty of owning an electrified vehicle disappearing, consumers are left considering the issue as a purer matter of dollars and cents. Hybrids and EVs generally have higher sticker prices than their gas-powered counterparts, so the hurdle electrified cars must clear is convincing drivers that they’re worth the extra money. Lower gas prices obviously mean lower potential cost savings from owning a car that runs on electricity, so the state of gas prices is a strike against EV sales. Traditional gas-powered vehicles have made great strides increasing their fuel economy, which again hurts the argument for opting for an electric-powered car for the purpose of saving money.

Even the improvement in the economy seems to be hurting sales of EVs and hybrids. As the Associated Press noted, consumer demand for SUVs and crossovers has been particularly strong, at least partly because buyers have felt comfortable enough financially to afford larger, pricier vehicles. (The rise in subprime car loans is surely a factor too.) Because so many drivers are interested in SUVs, automakers and car dealerships have felt forced to offer larger-than-usual discounts and incentives on compact and midsize vehicles to convince customers to bite.

And when a gas-powered compact with excellent mileage and no need to ever worry about running out of battery power or finding a recharging station is available at an especially cheap walk-away price, that’s one more reason that many consumer are finding that the math isn’t adding up for the purchase of an electric car.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 2

dv1940073
Teacher Standing in Front of a Class of Raised Hands Digital Vision.—Getty Images

1. As we approach the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, President Obama should make good on his promise to expand this vital program.

By the Editorial Board of the New York Times

2. Journalists still believe they’re writing for the same old reasons, but the data shows they’re chasing clicks, changing the nature of their work.

By Angèle Christin at the Nieman Journalism Lab

3. A dangerous new trend of policing faculty speech at American universities is threatening academic freedom.

By David M. Perry in the Chronicle of Higher Education

4. “Infoladies” bring digital services – from filling online forms to collecting health data – to the people of Bangladesh, and could be expanded to serve many more.

By Syed Tashfin Chowdhury in Al Jazeera English

5. The new batteries coming from Tesla’s “Gigafactory” should remove the final barrier to mass-produced electric cars.

By Daniel Sparks in The Motley Fool

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

MONEY Investing

13 Things to Do with $100,000 Now

domino stacks of $10,000 bills
Ralf Hettler—Getty Images

Oh, if only six figures landed in your lap tomorrow. Hey, you never know. In case it does—or in case you're lucky enough to have 100 grand put away already—you'll want to have these smart moves in your back pocket.

1. Say “yes” to a master
Unless you live in one of the few areas where the real estate market hasn’t come to life, the decision of whether to move or improve is likely tipped in favor of remodeling, says Omaha appraiser John Bredemeyer. A new bedroom, bath, and walk-in closet may cost you $40,000 to $100,000. But it’s unlikely you’d find a bigger move-in-ready abode with every­thing you want for only that much more, especially after the 6% you’d pay a Realtor to sell your current home.

2. Burn the mortgage
If you’re within 10 years of retiring, paying off your house can be a wise move, says T. Rowe Price financial planner Stuart Ritter. You’ll save a lot of interest—$24,000, if you have a $100,000 mortgage with 10 years left at 4.5%. Eliminating the monthly payment reduces the income you’ll need in retirement. And as long as you’re not robbing a retirement account, erasing a 4.5% debt offers a better return than CDs or high-quality bonds, says Ritter.

3-5. Buy a business in a box
One hundred grand won’t get you a McDonald’s (for that you’ll need 10 or 15 friends to match your investment)—but there are a number of other good franchises you can buy around that price, says Eric Stites, CEO of Franchise Business Review. Here are three that get top raves in his company’s survey of owners:

  1. Qualicare Family Homecare (a homecare services firm)
  2. Window Genie (a window and gutter cleaning service)
  3. Our Town America (a direct mail marketing service)

6. Tack another degree on the wall
On average, someone with a bachelor’s degree earns $2.3 million over a lifetime, vs. $2.7 million for a master’s and $3.6 million for a professional degree. The payoff varies by field: In biology a master’s earns you 100% more, vs. 23% in art. So before applying, find out how much more you could earn a year, research tuition, and determine how long it’ll take you to recoup the investment.

7. Make sure you won’t be broke in retirement
More than half of Americans worry about running out of money in retirement, Bank of America Merrill Edge found. Allay your fears with a deferred-income annuity: You pay a lump sum to an insurance company in exchange for guaranteed monthly payments starting late into retirement. Because some buyers will die before payments start, you get more income than with an immediate annuity, which starts paying right away. A 65-year-old woman who puts $100,000 into an annuity that kicks in at age 85 will get $3,500 a month, vs. $600 for one that starts this year. In the future you could see deferred annuities as an investment option in your retirement plan; the Treasury Department just approved them for 401(k)s.

8. Get a power car that runs on 240v
For just over $100,000 (after a $7,500 tax rebate), you can be the proud owner of an all-electric Tesla Model S P85, with air suspension, tech, and performance extras. Yes, that’s a pretty penny. But you’ll help the planet, eliminate some $4,000 a year in gas bills—and get a ride that gets raves. “The thing has fantastic performance,” says Bill Visnic of Edmunds.com. It goes from 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds and drives 265 miles on a charge, which requires only a 240-volt outlet.

9-12. Put hotel bills in your past
Think you missed the window on a vacation-home deal? True, the median price has jumped 39% since 2011, according to the National Association of Realtors. “But while you can’t buy just anything, anywhere, for 100 grand anymore, there are still decent deals out there in appealing ­places,” says Michael Corbett of Trulia.com. Here are four markets where the price of a two-bedroom condo goes for around that amount:

  • Sunset Beach, N.C./$96,000
  • Fort Lauderdale/$116,000
  • Colorado Springs/$117,000
  • Reno/$117,000

13. Tone up your core
The average American saving in a 401(k) has nearly $100,000 put away ($88,600, to be exact, according to Fidelity). With this core money, you’re likely to do better with index funds vs. active funds, says Colorado Springs financial planner Allan Roth. “The stock market is 90% professionally advised or managed, and outside Lake Wobegon, 90% can’t be better than average.” His three-fund portfolio: Vanguard’s Total Stock Market Index, Total International Stock Index, and Total Bond Market.

Related: 35 Smart Things to Do With $1,000

Related: 24 Things to Do with $10,000

Tell Us: What Would You Do With $1,000?

TIME Autos

Tesla’s New Models Will Be Around 50% Cheaper

CEO Elon Musk said the next generation of Teslas would retail for as little as $35,000, around half the price of existing models

Tesla Motors founder and CEO Elon Musk revealed that the company’s next generation of vehicles would retail for as little as $35,000, or roughly half the price of existing models.

Musk unveiled the price as well as the name of the new electric vehicle, Tesla Model 3, in an interview with Auto Express.

The savings, he said, would come out of a thorough redesign of the vehicle that will cut the size down by 20% and install lighter, cheaper batteries from Tesla’s upcoming Gigafactory. It would also limit the range of the vehicle to roughly 200 miles, compared with a range of 265 miles for the Model S.

Tesla tapped British engineer Chris Poritt, formerly of Aston Martin, to oversee the design of the new vehicle, and most essentially its new battery technology, which could put electric cars in the same cost bracket as gas guzzlers.

Tesla expects the Model 3 to launch by 2017.

[Auto Express]

TIME Innovation

Elon Musk Pledges $1M to Tesla Museum

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk Visits Beijing
CEO of Tesla Motors Elon Musk attends the television show "Dialogue" taping at Zhongshan Park in Beijing on April 21, 2014. ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

The billionaire CEO of Tesla Motors received a tweet asking for a donation. He responded, big time.

The man who tweeted Elon Musk to request a donation for the Tesla Museum got his answer Thursday. The Tesla Science Center, which cartoonist Matthew Inman of the Oatmeal.com has led a multimillion-dollar fundraising drive for, revealed that the billionaire founder of Tesla Motors had called Inman personally to pledge $1 million to the museum and build a Tesla “supercharger” station in the parking lot.

Back in 2012, Inman had raised nearly $1.4 million on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo to repurpose the building in Shoreham, New York, which was the site of inventor Nikola Tesla’s last laboratory. But the Center still needed $8 million to refurbish the building, where in 1901 Tesla had begun a project to send messages and electric power around the world by wireless transmission — a project that he never completed.

So Inman tweeted a direct appeal to Musk, who replied encouragingly:

The appeal worked. What’s more, Musk’s donation comes just in time for the inventor’s birthday, who would have turned 158 years old today.

TIME Autos

Toyota Charges After Tesla With New Fuel-Celled Car

A challenge to Tesla

Toyota unveiled its 2015 hydrogen fuel-cell sedan on Wednesday, its closest competitor yet to Tesla’s fully-electric Model S.

The car will launch in Japan and cost seven million Yen (almost $70,000), but will not reach U.S. and European markets until the summer of 2015. The company known for the fuel-efficient Prius is one of the first to challenge Tesla after Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk announced that he would not initiate any patent lawsuits against competitors using his revolutionary technology.

But Toyota will not be going fully electric.

“Hydrogen is a particularly promising alternative fuel since it can be produced using a wide variety of primary energy sources, including solar and wind power,” the company said. “When compressed, it has a higher energy density than batteries and is easier to store and transport. In addition to its potential as a fuel for home and automotive use, hydrogen could be used in a wide range of applications, including large-scale power generation.”

The new sedan boasts a cruising range of approximately 435 miles and a refueling time of less than 3 minutes—leaving only water vapor in its wake.

MONEY deals

Drive Your Dream Car This Summer Without Spending a Fortune

2014 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
2014 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid courtesy of Porsche

What, you're not filthy rich? Don't let that stop you from driving a Porsche, Lamborghini, or Tesla this summer. It's even possible to drive a Porsche for free.

OK, free-ish. (See below—booking a room at a luxury hotel is required.)

When it comes to getting behind the wheel of a world-class sports car or luxury ride, it’s handy if you have either a trust fund or a seven-figure salary. Or both, of course. But with a little creativity, along with the willingness to turn the keys back over to their rightful owner after your time at the wheel is up, you too can afford the opportunity to hit the gas and hug turns in the primo dream vehicle of your choice. Here are some suggestions for making the dream come true:

Tesla Model S courtesy of Tesla

Do a Car Share—a Really Nice Car Share
Car sharing services such as Zipcar and RelayRides are often presented as affordable alternatives to owning a car, or renting via a traditional operator, for that matter. And while the peer-to-peer car sharing scene is dominated by basic, boring vehicles (2008 Camry anybody?), there are some genuine luxurious and sporty rides that average Joe owners are willing to rent to total strangers.

In California, several members of the Getaround car sharing service are willing to part with their Teslas at rates ranging from $25 to $100 per hour. RelayRides is also known to attract members renting out Teslas, BMWs, Mercedes, Audis, and at least one Porsche for somewhere between $99 and $299 per day. As for Zipcar, the world’s largest car sharing membership operator, it tends to have vehicles like the Toyota Prius and Ford Focus, with the odd Audi A3 or MINI here and there.

Who’s to say your dream car has to be a Porsche, right? But if it is …

Get a Porsche Free with Your Hotel Room
From spring through early winter, Porsche is pairing up with select hotels like the Four Seasons Chicago that are providing guests with an amenity way better than any terry cloth robe or mint on the pillow: It’s a free stint behind the wheel of one of the world’s great sports cars. Guests are welcomed to book a two-hour drive during their stay in a choice of a Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, 911 Carrera S Cabriolet or Cayenne GTS, at no additional charge.

Driving itineraries are being suggested by another partner in the program, Forbes Travel Guides, in order to maximize opportunities for scenic views and the chance to put the gas pedal to the floor. Porsche Destination Drives, as the program is being called, is available to guests at the Four Seasons Chicago from June 14 to July, and the famous Grand Del Mar in San Diego from July 26 to August 23. After that, the Porsches move on to hotels in San Francisco and Scottsdale to wrap up the tour.

Snag a Super Deal on a True Supercar
Gotham Dream Cars, which has 38 locations around the country, has a number of different driving packages that let customers take the wheel of an exotic car. And since its drives are all on tracks, speedsters can indeed drive these cars like they were meant to be driven—in excess of 100 mph. The least expensive package is the Dream Car Sprint, which consists of three laps around an autotcross rack and normally costs $249. With a deal posted at Travelzoo, though, you’ll get the same package in your choice of a Ferrari F430 or Lamborghini Gallardo for $125. Lookout for Groupons in your area too; they’ve been known to pop up with a price of $99 for the Dream Car Sprint package.

Rent One from, Like, a Rental Car Company
Big rental car brands such as Hertz and Enterprise have locations devoted strictly to high-end luxury and sports car rentals, and the rates may be cheaper than you imagine. In southern California, for instance, Enterprise charges around $200 per day for cars like the Audi A5 convertible, BMW X5, and Chevy Camaro SS convertible. A Porsche Boxster goes for around $250 daily, and a Corvette rents for roughly $350. If that’s too rich for your blood, a much smaller rental car agency, the discount outfit Sixt, works with some luxury and sports models, including muscle cars like the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro, and show vehicles from Cadillac (Escalade), Mercedes, and BMW, with rates starting in the $55 to $60 per day range.

TIME Autos

Tesla’s First SUV Will Hit the Road Early Next Year

Tesla Model X
The Tesla Model X is introduced at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, January 15, 2013. Stan Honda--Getty Images

Tesla Motors will begin shipping its first SUV early next year, the company revealed in an email to customers this week.

The Model X, which was first unveiled more than two years ago, is still on schedule to be delivered in early 2015, Tesla says — for customers who reserved it in advance, anyway.

The Model X will retain many of its prototype features that initially got car fans excited. The SUV’s signature falcon doors, which open upward instead of outward, will make it to the final version of the vehicle, as will all-wheel drive and optional third-row seating.

Right now Tesla’s flagship vehicle is the Model S, which sold about 22,500 units in 2013. The company is still scaling up the production of the Model S; it will likely take the rollout of the Model X slowly as well.

TIME Companies

Tesla Stock Takes a Tumble After Lower Profits

The company expects to deliver more than 10,000 more vehicles this year, but high costs rattled investors.

Tesla stock fell approximately 9% Thursday morning before partially recovering a day after the company announced a big drop in profits.

The maker of high-end electric cars said Wednesday that revenue rose in the first quarter but costs tapered profits. Tesla earned $17 million last quarter, down from $45.9 million in the previous quarter.

Billionaire CEO Elon Musk said operating expenses, including research and development and sales and administration costs, will continue to grow in the next quarter. That growth will be partially fueled by development for Tesla’s new crossover-utility vehicle Model X, which is expected to go on sale next year, CNN Money reports. The company’s expansion into China and construction of a new battery factory also weighed down on profits.

The company aims to deliver 35,000 vehicles this year, up 55% from last year.

At 10:35 a.m. ET Thursday, Tesla stock was down $11.60, or 5.8%, to $189.75.

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