Electric propulsion, an elitist dead end more than a solution for human mobility?

Niklaus Ramseyer (infosperber.ch)


A man who knows more than anyone about mobility and propulsion systems does not share this enthusiasm: if we calculate the total impact on the environment (of which CO2 and exhaust gases represent only a part), the famous electric car of the American brand Tesla, for example, is ecologically “a disaster”, says engineer Mario Illien de Graubünden. He says: “Electric cars are not a solution to the global climate.”


Marco Ilian. © DR

Why? “The overall efficiency of a system is important, not just a way to cultivate its image and appease its conscience.” Mario Illien calculates that of the energy used to charge their batteries, electric cars end up putting only 11% on the road in the form of thrust through their drive wheels. The much-maligned diesel is twice as efficient, at over 20%. The most efficient gasoline engines, on the other hand, have an efficiency of 50%. They are Formula 1 engines where efficiency decides victory or defeat in the race. In the field of motorsport, it is very difficult to ensure that the lightest engine possible, with as little fuel as possible, brings maximum power to the circuit. Mario Illien, soon to be 72, has spent his life working on this issue. And he has consistently applied his findings as the designer of the world’s finest high-performance engines. Today, for the Redbull F-1 racing team: if its Honda-powered cars suddenly overtake the Mercedes cars so far in the lead, that success has a name: Mario Illien.

Reserved and rather modest, he studied mechanical engineering at the engineering school in Bienne after completing an internship as a draftsman at EMS Chemie. Even in his younger years, Mario Illien built very successful racing engines for Simca. With his company Ilmor (Illien-Morgan), established in Brixworth, Great Britain, he contributed to establishing Mercedes’ success in Formula 1 all the way to the title of world champion. Today, the Honorary Doctor of the University of Leeds still runs a small engine research and development company under the name Ilmor Engineering. He is currently testing a new, extremely economical five-stroke engine. He is also available to the world’s largest engine manufacturers as a consultant. He is currently optimizing the turbocharger for the Redbull Formula 1 team’s Honda engines.

The “catastrophic” ecological balance of electric cars

Mario Illien is used to approaching problems holistically and globally. For him, it is clear that electric vehicles have “at most a certain justification in urban traffic”. That is, he specifies, in a niche where wealthy elites can assuage their bad conscience (due to their strong ecological footprint) with their Teslas. The “abyssal” (sic) efficiency of electric motors is the least of the problems: the ecological balance of electric cars becomes “catastrophic” as soon as they are produced and mainly because of their batteries, which can weigh several hundred kilos.

On July 17, NZZ calculated what it takes to make a single Tesla battery: 85 kg of copper, 56 kg of nickel, 7 kg of cobalt and 6.6 kg of manganese. So, just to replace diesel and gasoline cars with electric cars in Switzerland, “40,000 tonnes of cobalt would be needed, or a third of the world’s annual production.” Caption of the article: “Electric cars have a weak point: batteries made from raw materials that are becoming scarce around the world”.

“Already short”, should read. Because with only 10 million electric cars out of a total of 1.4 billion vehicles, there is only one electric car among 140 motor vehicles in the world. That’s a paltry 0.7%. Mario Illien takes these troubling facts into account in his efficiency calculations. He says: “Replacing the remaining 99% – that is, more than a billion cars, most still with internal combustion engines – with electric cars well before the end of their maximum lifespan, with public subsidies, would be a gigantic waste. . This while battery production will never be environmentally sustainable. “Our resources are limited and it should be in our interest to use them sparingly and reasonably”, recalls the engineer.

Battery disposal: an unresolved issue

Battery-powered cars that accelerate with a single occupant from 0 to 100 km/h in just 3 seconds with 1000 horsepower or more certainly have nothing to do with this common sense. But these electric cars already exist. With harmful consequences for the environment: “Overexploitation, pollution and the destruction of landscapes and lives should concern us in relation to electromobility”, asks driver Mario Illien. Specifically, he notes: “Lithium is washed out of the rock by water. There are deposits in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile or Peru, that is, in very dry regions where there is not much water. And now the local population is also deprived of groundwater for this process. There is no consideration, whole valleys are turned upside down.” And battery disposal is another largely unresolved problem at the other end of the chain: just for the trendy e-bikes (popularly and maliciously, but aptly, called “Viagra-Velo”), Switzerland last year amassed 44 tonnes of used batteries that were being disposed of somewhere.

In view of these facts, it is clear that, as a whole, electric cars cannot be the solution to the enormous problems that the excess of human personal transport is creating. E-mobility is, at best, an elusive solution for wealthy executives around the world. And political elites are massively subsidizing (thus subsidizing themselves) this fake fad solution with tax money. At the same time, heating oil and fuel should become more expensive for the entire population. This is a new policy in favor of the urban and wealthy elites, while the poorest, especially in the countryside, with their small diesel vehicles, have to foot the bill. But in this country too, leftists and greens who believe in a liberal lifestyle believe that rising fuel prices will help the environment. This is not only antisocial, but also ecologically absurd. At least the expert Mario Illien says: “The most reasonable remains the diesel car”. This is especially true for small cars with catalytic converters if they are driven as long as possible and serviced repeatedly.

Low income penalized

On this point, this world-renowned manufacturer surprisingly agrees with the famous left-wing German politician Sahra Wagenknecht. in your new book Die Selbstgerechten (the moralizerspublished by Campus in Frankfurt), writes in the chapter Ehrliche Umweltpolitik, statt Preiserhöhungen und Lifestyle-Debatten (Honest environmental policy instead of price hikes and lifestyle debates) that small stakeholders see very well what ‘environmental policy’ hides: ‘It is not lost on them that the big talk about the world economy ultimately boils down to making heating, electricity, your fuel, your food and your holidays.” And if they have anything to say about it, then these people will defend themselves – as recently in Switzerland with the people’s “no” to the new CO2 law.

Sahra Wagenknecht makes a political call for an ‘economy two or even a liter car’ rather than ‘choking taxpayers’ money’ by promoting Teslas and E-Porsches with heavy chassis and big batteries. Mario Illien argues, on the technological level: “I have in mind a so-called serial hybrid. In other words, a combustion engine that produces electricity with synthetic fuel in the optimal efficiency range.” According to him, the decisive element is “the recovery of kinetic energy when braking and descending” (as already happens to some extent in locomotives). Thus, it is used to charge the battery instead of being wasted on the heat and wear of the brake pads.

Conversion is not possible

In any case, a general conversion to electric mobility would simply not be feasible – neither in terms of resources nor in terms of electricity production. And certainly not if nuclear power plants and coal-fired power plants, which harm the environment, were eliminated at the same time. Solar energy is also not a widely applicable solution. Mario Illien calculates: To charge a single electric car in the Zurich region with solar energy from November to February, it would be necessary to install 175 square meters of solar cells (the production of which would also have to be “eco-balanced”). When asked how he sees the future when everyone will only have electric vehicles (and they will have to be charged every night), he replies tersely: “It will take care of itself. The house lights just go out at night.”

Aside from diesel or electricity, the fundamental problem to which (almost) all politicians turn a deaf ear is the utterly exorbitant mobility of human beings. Federal Councilor SVP Adolf Ogi recognized this decades ago, when he was Swiss Minister of Transport, and summed it up with: “Äs würd i einfach vil z vil dasume gfahre u dasume karret! (we just drive too much, carry too much)”. Mario Illien puts it this way: “Do we need food from all over the world on the shelves every day? Can we recycle or repair the items? Will everyone need an SUV soon? Asking questions is seeking an honest answer.

financial shenanigans

The eco-discount for wealthy electric car buyers is already used for a lot of shenanigans in Germany. Berlin’s Economy Ministry encourages the purchase of new electric cars with subsidies of around €6,000 per vehicle and has set aside a €2 billion “subsidy pot” for this purpose. If we add to that the ecological discount of 3,000 euros granted by the producer, a new Tesla Model 3 is thus cheaper by 9,000 euros, reaching around 35,000 euros. Meanwhile, the ministry has already spent 1.3 billion euros on promoting electric cars. The presentation Car on VOX-TV revealed the games that resourceful car buyers and dealers are playing with these subsidies. On the one hand, there are individuals who buy a new Tesla after the legal waiting period of 6 months has elapsed – and who “recover” the eco-reimbursement of 9000 euros in a totally legal way. They sell used Tesla at least for the price they paid for it, or even at a profit. However, there are dealerships that guarantee the repurchase of used Teslas after six months at the original price. In return, sellers receive the latest model at no additional cost. With repossessed Teslas (and other nearly new electric cars), dealers are getting a good deal if they export them to neighboring countries where no green bonds are paid — and where new electric cars are therefore more expensive. In Denmark, for example, where a Tesla Model 3 costs up to 50,000 euros. Thus, dealers can save several thousand euros per vehicle.

The subsidy program for new electric cars, which benefits wealthy drivers and delights shrewd dealers, will continue in Germany until the end of 2021.

Translation and adaptation Bon pour la tête

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