EcoMotors Chief Don Runkle: "Electric Vehicles Are Not 'Zero Emissions'"

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The chief executive officers of two very different clean tech startups, Brammo and EcoMotors, discussed the relative merits and limitations of clean vehicle technology at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York on Wednesday.

Oregon-based Brammo designs and manufactures all-electric motorcycles and the battery technology and software that powers them, while Michigan-based EcoMotors designs and makes more efficient combustion engines.

EcoMotors’ CEO Don Runkle roundly criticized clean tech advocates who say all-electric vehicles (EVs) are “zero emissions.” Causing a bit of a stir in the conference hall, Runkle, the former VP of engineering at GM, went on to claim that EcoMotors’ engine technology enables car companies to produce diesel-powered vehicles that have a lower, overall carbon footprint than any electric automobile available today.

Given that electric vehicles don’t produce diesel exhaust, and don’t use fossil fuels, how can this be? Runkle explained: more than 50 percent of the world’s power is generated by the burning of coal, today, and that had to factor into the “carbon footprint” assessment of all-electric vehicles.

Brammo CEO Craig Bramscher said that he refrains from calling his company’s plug-in, electric motorcycles — including the Enertia, Empulse, Engage and Encite (some models have yet to hit the road) – “zero emissions vehicles.”

During a live broadcast backstage following the session, Bramscher noted that power generation is changing, and coal will become a smaller piece of the overall energy equation over time. He also said, “The argument you have to burn coal to generate electricity is true but [electric vehicles] still 92 percent more efficient [than combustion]…”

On the main stage, Bramscher said that personally, he didn’t want his children fighting to defend an oil field as petroleum resources become strained. He would be much happier when they grow up if they could find work designing or making batteries, instead.

Watch the video from the session on Disrupting Transportation (above) and the backstage interview with Craig Bramscher (below) to learn more about emerging clean vehicle technology from Ecomotors and Brammo.

[Ed's note: TechCrunch founder and editor Michael Arrington makes a cameo appearance with Craig Bramscher.]

Image in excerpt: Michael Arrington test-drives a Brammo Enertia inside of the #tcdisrupt conference hall at Pier 94 in New York City.