Electricity source, battery manufacturing and autonomy are questioned by its detractors. However, while not a magic bullet, electric vehicles have far more climate benefits than combustion vehicles.
Do electric cars really help save the planet? Their detractors believe the environmental benefits are exaggerated, but when it comes to global warming, studies show that they emit less greenhouse gases than combustion cars.
It is important to distinguish the impact on climate from other aspects, such as pollution from mining. AFP has verified three allegations circulating on social media about electric vehicles.
A frequent argument is that these electric cars would emit as much greenhouse gas as thermal cars, because the electricity they use is produced by power plants that use fossil fuels like coal.
But according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, an electric car charged in St. Louis, Missouri – one of the states most reliant on coal for electricity – produces an average of 247 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per mile (that is, approximately 154 grams per kilometer), compared to 381 grams for a thermal vehicle.
The carbon footprint of an electric car depends on the region or country where it was charged: it is higher in countries such as Poland or Asian countries, which produce a large part of their electricity from coal, than in France, where it depends largely on electricity. nuclear power power.
And when we take into account the entire life cycle, including the production of raw materials for batteries and going to end-of-life recycling, internal combustion cars still emit far more CO2 than electric cars, concludes the expert organization. International Council on Clean Transport (ICCT) in a thick study.
Dirty mining extraction
Battery manufacturing is an energy-intensive process because some components are extracted and raw materials must be transported around the world for assembly and sale. Recycling them is expensive.
According to a post shared on Facebook, it would take 227 tons of earth to excavate to extract the metals needed for a single electric car battery.
That estimate appears to come from an analysis published in 2020 by the Manhattan Institute, a climate-skeptical research group.
But, according to several experts consulted by the AFP, these numbers are misleading. “This is a huge exaggeration,” said Peter Newman, a professor of sustainability at Curtin University in Australia. According to him, it all depends on the region of exploration and the type of battery.
In addition to the climate, mining has other negative impacts: 70% of cobalt, one of the components of batteries, comes, for example, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where children are exploited in mines.
Access to components also presents strategic sourcing issues, many of which come from China, according to the International Energy Agency.
However, drilling for oil, with its significant environmental impact, is not the best solution, according to Georg Bieker, an ICCT researcher.
The risk of global warming caused by greenhouse gases is much greater for humanity, recently concluded the UN climate experts (IPCC).
“In any case, it is clear that the social and environmental impact of global warming is catastrophic and of a much greater magnitude than that of battery mining,” argues Bieker.
The risk of getting “stuck in the snow”
After a snowstorm in Virginia, in the United States, in January, people shared posts on Facebook claiming that electric cars were at risk of breaking down in traffic, leaving their passengers stranded without heating inside and lengthening the lines of cars again.
Several fact-checking organizations have attempted to verify this claim and have found no evidence for these claims.
The issue of over-consumption of electric cars when it’s cold is debated among experts, with some claiming that internal combustion cars end up consuming more because they need to keep the engine running to run the heat.
The British magazine Which? tested the battery of an electric SUV simulating a traffic jam in the summer, with air conditioning, radio and light inside, in addition to a connected tablet.
In these summer (and certainly not winter) conditions, the testers consumed only 2% of the battery in an hour and a quarter, or the equivalent of 13 km of autonomy.
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