Are electric cars really green?

“We are asking the French to buy electric vehicles to protect our planet. But is it really an ecological solution? », asks Robert from Néant-sur-Yvel (Morbihan). Indeed, in a climate emergency context and while in France in 2019 the transport sector was responsible for 31% of CO2 emissions, the French car fleet will have to be electrified.

But electric vehicles are not perfect. They have ” significant environmental and social impacts in countries of extraction »is written in a report by the Ministry of Ecological Transition, published in February 2022 and titled “Low carbon mobility, technological choices, material issues and industrial opportunities”.

human devastation

First, battery manufacturing is an energy-intensive process, as the components come from mining and the raw materials must be transported around the world before assembly and sale. Electricity also causes human devastation: for example, 70% of cobalt, one of the components of batteries, comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where children are exploited in mines.

Access to components also poses strategic problems, for example with China, according to the International Energy Agency. According to the ministry’s report, The concentration of production and refining in geopolitically sensitive areas of Africa and Asia” leads to “scratchs” in question “to provide “.

Read too: CASE. For our smartphones or car batteries, kids dig in Africa

Thermal, many more CO2 emitters

So much for the negative aspects of electric. But when we take into account the entire life cycle of a vehicle, including the production of raw materials for batteries and going to recycling at the end of its life, the combustion engine remains much more CO2 emitter than the electric one. . This is the observation made by the International Council on Clean Transport (ICCT), an organization of experts, in a study.

An observation shared by the ministry’s rapporteurs: ” AND n France, emissions over the life cycle of an electric vehicle are up to three times lower than that of internal combustion vehicles, thanks to the production of low-carbon electricity. »

Indeed, the carbon footprint of an electric car depends on the region or country where it was recharged: 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 predominantly depends on nuclear energy. According to data from RTE, the national manager of the electricity transmission network, in France, in 2020, production was 92.5% carbon-free.

Enough to undermine – at least in France – the argument that electric cars emit as much greenhouse gas as thermal cars.

Read too: Pollution, autonomy… Five answers to the questions you ask yourself about the electric car

The recycling challenge

Another issue is battery recycling, which is very expensive. To monetize its production, it is first necessary to extend the life of these batteries, which can serve eight to fifteen years in a vehicle before losing power. But also give them a second life, in homes, for example.

The recycling potential looks huge: It could help reduce global demand in 2040 by 25% for lithium, 35% for cobalt and nickel, and 55% for copper, according to a report by the Institute for Futures. (ISF) from the University of Technology Sydney, Australia. The report by the Ministry of Ecological Transition thus calls for “guarantee, when end-of-life product flows are sufficient, recycling with high added value”.

Anyway, Robert, to protect the planet, electricity is clearly preferable to thermal and therefore to oil drilling with immense environmental impact. The risk of global warming caused by greenhouse gases is much greater for humanity, IPCC experts recently concluded.

“It is clear that the social and environmental impact of global warming is catastrophic and of far greater magnitude than battery mining”also supports Georg Bieker, ICCT researcher.

Are electric cars really green?

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