“Electric mobility is virtuous”

It’s done. By 2035, thermal cars will be banned from sale. So decided by the European Parliament. Condemning for the same the hybrid models. The electric car would therefore be the model of all ecological virtues to save our planet. One thing is for sure, we have to count on it for our mobility of tomorrow. But is this really reasonable, or even realistic? To find out more, we meet an expert, François Gatineau, founding head of the Mobilesse design office,

Because the questions are many. From the number of charging stations to the production of electricity, through the treatment of batteries and the inevitably rare and finite resource of the metals contained in these same batteries, the all-electric model seems to pose as many problems as it solves. We asked the question:

Before getting to the heart of the matter, can you introduce your company Mobilesse?
François Gatineau
: Mobilesse (pronounced Mobilise, editor’s note) was established in 2016. It is a consulting company and a certified technical design office, specializing in electric mobility and therefore an expert in all service topics around this subject.

Have you always worked in this area?
: Before, I worked on IT and telecom service platforms, connected objects. Terminals are connected objects. I was the head of a Business Unit.

In terms of electric mobility, could the first obstacle to its development be the low autonomy of batteries?
: The race for autonomy is not necessarily a very virtuous race. If we want to move towards carbon-free mobility, we will also have to make efforts to be sober. That is, being able to say to yourself: I am enjoying my time.

Electric mobility is therefore not synonymous with time savings.
: Yes, you will have to adapt your way of life, be more zen. This is the opportunity to rethink time. We must not forget that we live on a planet with finite resources and today we are pushing the limits of many of them. We’ll have to be a little more parsimonious. It is important to maintain mobility, but we are going to do it differently. I’ve been in an electric car for 4 years. To do Paris – Vannes, I now stop for a good half hour instead of the traditional 15-minute coffee break. is manageable

Does virtuous mobility imply such a 100% electric model?
For now, there are no other solutions. If we manufacture locally, if we produce electricity in a low carbon way, electric mobility is virtuous and fights for the reduction of greenhouse gases. It still emits, but much less.

Let’s try to challenge the all-electric system: if the car fleet becomes 100% electric, the number of charging stations will quickly saturate!
FG : The way of supplying energy to the vehicle changes radically. It is no longer the vehicle that goes to the pump, but the energy that reaches the vehicle. It’s like with your smartphone: you plug it in where there’s an outlet. For the car, that’s where it stops: at home, on the road, at every light pole, for example. But also in the work parking lot… In the end, 90% of the recharge will be done when the vehicle is parked. The famous recharges needed on long trips will represent only 10% of demand. It is a measured need that will represent 100,000 recharges in France that are said to be open to the public.

How many public top-ups does France have today?
The latest numbers advertise between 60,000 and 70,000. The 100,000 target was set by the government at the beginning of the year and is expected to be reached by the end of 2022. By 2023, there will be one million electric vehicles in the fleet of 36 million cars in circulation. Today, they are mainly company or company vehicles, but it is becoming more democratic.

How many terminals do you estimate are needed to supply the 36 million cars that circulate in France?
All accommodation must be equipped. It is estimated that there are 30 million such charging points. And 10% of this total refers to travel recharges. About 3.5 million terminals. In projections, there are 17 million electric vehicles in 2035. Europe recently voted to ban the sale of new thermal vehicles in 2035, which also concerns hybrids. At the moment, in France, we sell one million new vehicles a year. Therefore, it will take time to reach 100% of the electric park.

And on the energy supply side, 36 million cars will need to rethink our electricity policy!
: This new need will only represent 15% of electricity consumption in France. That is why we are considering reinvesting in nuclear energy, given the discontinuation of coal and fuel oil. And supplement that with renewables that remain intermittent, however. They are often on the market when not needed. But we can be smart: electric vehicles are batteries on wheels that can therefore store and refuel. We can imagine – and we are starting to test it – that cars return energy to the grid (what we call V2G, Vehicle-to-Grid), to the home or to the company. And that’s when energy is too expensive or too scarce. One can imagine that 10% of batteries can be donated in this way. You recharge the battery when it is windy or sunny during the day and recharge at night when consumption and therefore prices peak.

So doesn’t the solution for all-electric mobility imply an exponential increase in the nuclear fleet?
FG : No. The objective is to de-correlate this a priori and think of a smart electrical grid of which electric vehicles are a part. These are intermediate storage points that we can place in different places on the network as there will be sockets almost everywhere.

Another sensitive point: waste treatment. Unlike nuclear power, will we be able to handle end-of-life batteries?
: The lifespan of a battery is at least 10 years in a car. We are starting to see batteries on the market that last 12 to 15 years. The idea is to turn them into second life batteries. They are repackaged for use in the context of intermittent energies. You carry them when it’s windy or sunny and wear them at night when there’s demand. Manufacturers will develop a business on this new service in the form of a small box or technical cabinet. An ideal solution for individuals. The other clue is obviously recycling. From the very beginning, in the battery manufacturing sector, mainly in Europe, the recycling process is already integrated. In particular the Swedish company Northvolt which will test 100% of its recyclable battery. It’s the future. The important thing is to locate production and regain a kind of industrial sovereignty by manufacturing locally as close as possible to the vehicle’s assembly line. Making batteries in China to assemble them in Europe is of no interest!

Is this the case today?
: No, the European battery manufacturing infrastructure is not yet big enough to meet the need. But factories are growing. There will soon be three operatives in France.

What will be the total lifespan of a battery?
: Between 20 and 30 years with increasing energy performance. Manufacturers are mainly working to improve vehicle consumption. Currently, a vehicle consumes between 15 and 20 kWh per 100 km. The equivalent of a liter for a combustion engine. The goal is to reach 10 kWh per 100. On average, a car has a range of about 450 km on the road. Tomorrow it will be 650km. We have reached ranges comparable to those of thermal cars. *

Can we imagine going beyond that?
: I really don’t believe it. I think we need to downsize vehicles and become a little more reasonable. In the same logic, we are also working on reducing the size of the batteries.

Last point, the rarity of ores used to make batteries. We are entering the same logic as fossil fuels, which is the end of their exploitation. A downside to the all-electric solution?
: The problem is that these ores are concentrated only in certain areas. This is what makes your supply difficult at times. Some advances allow avoiding the use of cobalt, for example. Battery chemistry is improving and making it possible to use components that are less difficult to find. We are also trying to find new deposits. For example nickel in New Caledonia. But the goal is to reprocess all these elements. When everyone is equipped, we will have no choice. But there is still a lot of work. What if, in the meantime, if we have to say to ourselves “let’s drive less” and let’s drive less!

Is the real competitor to electric mobility hydrogen?
. : No. Hydrogen is not a mature technology. There is a lot of loss in the whole chain. Still, the main problem is production. Currently, hydrogen is made from petroleum…

And can nuclear power plants produce hydrogen?
: We can make what we call green hydrogen from the defragmentation of the water molecule. For now, current techniques consume more than they produce. The balance is currently not positive. Electric mobility is now possible. The hydrogen solution, we still have to work on it.

Given the loss rates in electrical power transmission, the solution remains local on the production side.
. : If everyone could produce their energy, it would be very healthy.

Will this be the end of the EDF monopoly?
: We’re not there yet! But that’s not a bad idea!

interview by Hervé DEVALLAN

Also read, the interview with Thierry Mallet, head of Transdev

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