Electric cars will save the planet! Do they actually?

    Battery electric vehicles (BEV) are well-established for being an environmentally friendly solution to achieve the ambitious climate goals of several governmental bodies all over the world, especially within the transport sector. Therefore, we decided to have a closer look at the emission balance of electric cars in contrast to internal combustion engine vehicles (CEV).

    The invention of electric cars dates back to the year 1828, when Ányos Jedlik created a small model vehicle powered by an electric motor. Following this invention, electric-powered taxis became available in London and New York in the late 19th century. By the turn of this century, 38% of the cars in the United States were powered by electricity. However, nowadays, the market share of BEV in the US totals to only 1.5%.  

    Despite the shift away from BEV in the 20th-century, sales figures and market shares gained drastically since the year 2010, within commercially purchased vehicles. Besides, the vast majority of available scenarios predict massive gains as well within the consumer market in upcoming years.

    Let’s get started…

    The table below provides detailed information on selected countries and the carbon emission of grid-powered electric vehicles in g CO2e/km. The variation is solely due to the energy mix of the nations, as the manufacturing process is assumed to contribute a basis of 70g/km to the equation. Green bars implement a high percentage of renewable and nuclear energy.  Red bars point out predominant fossil fuels enclosed by the energy mix. In contrast to the substantial COvariation in BEV’s, CEV’s on the other hand, merely vary between petroleum and diesel-powered cars, showing a significantly lower margin. 

    Table of carbon emissions per country


    Table 1: DEFRA, GHG protocol, IEA, EPA, GREEN, LCA

    Having a closer look at the table, we derive the following statement: ‘It’s all about the juice!’. 

    To have a bench-mark standard of CEV emissions, a regular Volkswagen Golf causes between 91 – 164 CO2e/km depending on the models available.   

    Comparing fossil-fuel-powered cars to electric cars in regards to their environmental impact, following KPIs are to be considered: (i) resource mining, (ii) manufacturing process, (iii) energy mix, (iv) usage emissions, and (v) disposal. 

    Table 1 is showing, the high intensity of manufacturing electric cars (70g CO2e/km) as well as their usage emissions. However, not all of the above mentioned KPIs have been included in the calculation. The environmental impact of Lithium mining is not included, due to its low extend of research; Neither is the fossil fuel extraction of CEV within comparable studies. Furthermore, the disposal of batteries is not weighted for the very same reason mentioned for resource mining.

    The energy mix is the core of the topic to probe the environmental impact of BEV. Whereas table 1 distinguishes between the mixture of fossil fuels and renewable energies, no separation of nuclear power has been taken into account. For example, the energy sources of electricity generated in France states a massive 71.6% ratio of nuclear power in FY2017. This crucial information adds a spicy twist to the data provided as nuclear waste and the dangers of nuclear power plants haven’t been considered. 

    Additionally, another challenge society will have to face, once the market share of BEV increases, will be the lack of required infrastructure, e.g. charging stations. Furthermore, the grid is in no way capable of enduring the eager goals defined in several environmental plans like the Paris 2050 Agreement. The increased peak demand for power, caused by millions of BEVs plugged in at the same time, would exceed not only the current grid’s capabilities but also scenarios of highly developed plans.

    To put it in a nutshell, we think that BEV will not be the final answer within the transport sector due to insufficient infrastructural conditions as well as the heavy dependency on nuclear power. 

    What is your experience in battery engine vehicles? 

    1 Comment

    1. I agree. Electric cars is not the final solution but it is a start. We do not have other green options that provides easy and efficient transportation like electric cars.
      Nevertheless, you have raised a good point that there are plenty of things to look out for if we do change to electric cars.

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