The E85 rechargeable hybrid, less harmful to the environment than the electric car?

Ifpen has changed its name, but its DNA remains unchanged. The former “French Petroleum Institute” had in fact added “New Energies” as a suffix in the 2010s. The Institute’s roots, aimed at the oil industry. So it’s not surprising to see communication more focused on combustion engines! Precisely, Ifpen made public a large study demonstrating the interest of a rechargeable hybridization with E85 sauce in pure electricity. A study commissioned for the SNPAA (National Union of Agricultural Alcohol Producers), the AIBS (Interprofessional Association of Beetroot and Sugar) and Intercereals. It is important to highlight this to contextualize…

the case study

The study is based on the case of a compact C-segment sedan© Christophe Congrega

Ifpen studied the following vehicles:

  • 100% gasoline thermal vehicle (reference vehicle) VTH G
  • Thermal Vehicle Superethanol-E85 VTH E85
  • Superethanol-E85 VFH E85 fully hybrid vehicle
  • Superethanol-E85 plug-in hybrid vehicle E85 plug-in VFH
  • Electric vehicle with 60kWh EV battery
  • Electric vehicle with 80kWh VE+ battery

Unfortunately, the Institute does not specify the models used for the test. Shame. He is content to specify that only one “segment is studied”, namely the C-segment, that of the Peugeot 308 and Renault Mégane with a conventional mass of 1427 kg. A very real case with regard to the French car fleet. The tests on the PHEV E85 model were divided as follows: 40% electric/60% E85. Ifpen carried out its tests not on the WLTP model used for homologation of new vehicles, but on the Artemis cycle, which had long been proposed to replace the old NEDC. It is therefore assumed to be quite close to actual conditions.

Less CO2, even in France

Ifpen summarizes the study with these conclusions:

  • As far as light vehicles in France are concerned, the use of a plug-in hybrid engine powered exclusively by Superethanol-E85 is, in terms of GHG emissions, at least as efficient as the battery electric vehicle. This goes for the actual use of the rechargeable hybrid, that is, 40% of the kilometers in all-electric mode and 60% in internal combustion mode.
  • At the European level, with a more carbon-intensive electric mix, the E85 plug-in hybrid does even better than the battery-powered electric vehicle.

It is noteworthy that this study is of the “well to tank” and “tank to wheel” type, that is, from the well to the wheel. Battery manufacturing (China), cereal production to produce E85, electricity for electric cars: all the main parameters were taken into account when calculating GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions for each case.

Greenhouse gas emissions for E85, electrical and thermal according to Ifpen
Greenhouse gas emissions for E85, electrical and thermal according to Ifpen© Ifpen

The Institute also highlights that the E85 associated with a non-rechargeable hybrid engine is very relevant. But it is clear today that, aside from Ford, very few manufacturers have chosen that energy. And so, even if there are many gearboxes, nothing will beat a specific development of the engine to burn E85 (valve seats and other mechanical modifications…). Unfortunately, the supply is very limited at the moment, and developments in the electricity sector are so expensive that large groups cannot afford to be on several fronts at once.

However, a small caveat to the study’s conclusions: they are valid for a period of 150,000 km. The 250,000 km graph shows the electrical outlet of other powertrains, including the PHEV E85. And it is logical: the main launches related to the production of batteries were amortized.

Biofuels, really virtuous?

And then, of course, it will remain the debate over using land to produce fuel instead of food, with very intensive use of these plots. The study probably does not take into account the potential impact of corn cultivation (very, a resource that has become sensitive), in particular, but more generally, the consequences of a very intensive agriculture on the soil, always to produce fuel instead of food. However, France remains moderate in this area: 3% of agricultural land is used to produce these fuels. In comparison, in the United States, 40% of the corn produced across the country goes into a tank instead of a plate! A recent study by the National Academy of Sciences pointed the finger directly at these biofuels, finding that they contribute more to global warming…than petroleum-based gasoline.

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