Faced with the challenge posed by climate change, one of the ways to combat it is by replacing cars powered by fossil fuels with electric vehicles. In fact, the European Union aims to achieve the 30 million zero-emission vehicles on its roads by 2030, and thus get countries away from transport based on fossil fuels.
But the issue is much more complex than it may initially seem and Hopes for electric vehicles may be rather unrealistic.
In a preliminary analysis we have that transport accounts for almost a quarter of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions and almost 30% of CO2 emissions, 72% of which come from road transport.
The problem is that if we stay in that preliminary analysis, we would only be counting the emissions of the vehicle in operation but not the emissions of the production process, the useful life and the recycling after its completion. With this broader vision and, as the study states the German IFO institute, the introduction of electric vehicles does not necessarily lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions from traffic.
The study is specifically focused on Germany and, assessing Germany’s current energy mix and the amount of energy used in battery production, the CO2 emissions of battery electric vehicles are at best, slightly higher than a diesel engine or much higher depending on the circumstances analyzed.
His conclusions are that the electric car really achieves CO2 emissions between 11 and 28 percent versus their diesel counterparts.
This study establishes a comparison of the carbon dioxide production of a Tesla Model 3 (electric) and a Mercedes C220d (diesel) sedan. The Mercedes would release approximately 141 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer driven, including the carbon emitted to drill, refine, and transport its fuel. For its part, the Tesla releases between 156 and 181 grams, including battery production.
In this case all Tesla emissions are valued. In other words, the extraction and processing of the lithium, cobalt and manganese used for batteries is very energy intensive. If a Tesla Model 3 battery supposes between 11 and 15 metric tons of carbon dioxide, given a battery life of 10 years and an annual travel distance of 15,000 kilometers, between 73 and 98 grams of carbon dioxide are emitted per kilometer.
The problem of battery supply and recycling
It seems that one wants to leave out of the equation that the great problem of the electric vehicle lies in its batteries, since they depend on the supply of metals such as cobalt and lithium, which are currently imported into the EU.
In addition, it remains to be seen whether, given the expected demand, there will be an extractive industry for these components that is large enough and efficient for their exploitation and, once their useful life is over, a second employability of the batteries or the extraction of their components and, above all all associated cost.
Today recycling is not profitable. Batteries can be essentially recycled through smelting, direct recovery and other processes. After its foundry, lithium is a mixed by-product and is complicated and expensive to extract. If, for example, the cost of completely recycling a lithium-ion battery is approximately 1 euro per kilogram, the value of the raw minerals recovered from the process is not even a third.
In other words, recovering the batteries means that the cost of extracting lithium from old batteries is up to 5 times more expensive than extracted lithium. It would not be strange if this involves another type of contamination, an accumulation of mountains of batteries.
If the electric car is truly developed strongly, the fate of millions of used batteries that power these vehicles will become an urgent environmental problem. The problem is not far from our days, it is estimated that by 2025, electric and hybrid vehicles will represent 90% of the battery market.
State leadership in favor of the electric car
Europe is betting on the electric car card. It seems that there is no vision of error and they are already deploying an arsenal of measures to encourage their purchase without evaluating other options.
To try to bridge the cost gap between electric vehicles and conventional cars, governments offer certain incentives to consumers in the form of subsidies, tax exemptions for the purchase and operation of vehicles or preferential or free access to certain road infrastructure. At the same time, diesel is being punished via excise duty increases.
We also have parking benefits that are addressed by local governments. At the same time, it is trying to force the deployment of the charging infrastructure – at the public level and charging options at home and at the workplace – whose objective is improve accessibility levels of electric vehicle owners for recharging.
In addition to fiscal measures and recharging infrastructure, many additional information and local action planning activities are also being deployed more widely. To increase awareness of electric vehicles, advertising campaigns are common measures at the local or national level.