Is the electric car ecologically faultless?

For several months, car brands have been making sensational statements. Volvo has chosen to exclude internal combustion engines from its catalog with immediate effect. Toyota will invest 12.9 billion francs in the development of new batteries. Audi will introduce its last thermal model in 2026 before offering only electric motors from 2033. As for Daimler, it plans to put 40 billion on the table to reach 100% electric by 2030.

The car fleet will experience a real revolution in the next ten years. A situation “encouraged” by certain political decisions. On July 14, 2021, the European Commission announced its intention to ban the sale of gasoline cars from 2035. But some countries want to go even faster. Norway has set the date of… 2025 – that is, tomorrow! – sell only new cars without CO emissionstwo. The UK and Israel are giving each other another five years to achieve the same result. And Switzerland? In Parliament, some are also campaigning for a ban on the sale of heat engines from 2030. “To achieve climate goals, fossil fuels must be stopped by 2050,” explained Martin Winder, project manager at the Transport and Environment Association. , quoted by RTS .

Hybrids: not terrible…

We will not cut… Electric mobility is on our doorstep. And those who wanted to make the smooth transition to a hybrid vehicle found their momentum interrupted by a study commissioned by the canton of Valais on the consumption of plug-in hybrid vehicles – presented by manufacturers as a solution to reduce consumption of fuel. fuel. CO emissionstwo: the results are not revelers. They do show that these vehicles “have only very small advantages (if any) compared to a conventional thermal car,” says the Impact Living report. Upon reaching only the value of 118 grams of COtwo per kilometer, plug-in hybrid cars will not meet the targets set by Switzerland and the European Union for 2025. After the dieselgate with Volkswagen, would automakers continue to lie?

The consumer will soon have no choice: it will be electric or nothing! But are these vehicles ecologically faultless? When buying a Renault Zoe, a Tesla Model 3 or an Audi e-tron, are we sure that we are fighting global warming and preserving our environment? The question is deliberately provocative. The answer has evolved with the development of this technology, popularized by one Elon Musk but long seen as a billion-dollar fad by automakers. Did you know, however, that this mode of propulsion existed long before its thermal version? The first commercial model dates from 1852, ten years before the arrival of the internal combustion engine. It is also an electric motor that for the first time surpassed the 100 km/h mark in 1899. Since then, gasoline, leaded or unleaded, or diesel have reigned supreme. Until global warming becomes a major problem…

The weak point? Drums

Obviously, an electric vehicle pollutes less, as it does not generate exhaust gases. But what is your true ecological footprint? A study carried out by the Paul Scherrer Institute shows that the electric car has a worse balance than other vehicles during the first kilometers covered. The more you drive, the higher your CO emission ratetwo will decrease. The reason? The researchers take into account the production of the bodywork, the construction and maintenance of the roads, the wear of the tires… Nothing very original! But what weighs the most in this first review is the battery. Its energy comes mainly from “special metals mined in distant regions and transported to the manufacturing site”.

Indeed, China dominates the rare metals market. Its mines are full of essential resources for the production of lithium-ion batteries, composed of 80% nickel, 15% cobalt, 5% aluminum, but also lithium, copper or manganese. Refining plants use methods that pollute the soil and consume… coal. We are far from Epinal’s image. “But the electric car largely compensates for this defect while in motion,” the study continues. As long as the source of electricity is also blameless. “It can be an advantageous product or a problem, it all depends on what is at the end of the socket”, explained Denis Bochatay, sustainability consultant, in “Time”. “The energy used to recharge the battery of such a vehicle is not necessarily renewable.”

lack of electricity

This is not the case in Switzerland, as electricity mainly comes from hydroelectric and nuclear power – green power plants. “The Swiss electricity mix generates at full capacity more than 100 grams of COtwo per kilowatt-hour, taking into account imported energy”, specifies the study by the Paul Scherrer Institute. In Germany, for example, where half of the electricity is still produced by coal and gas plants, an electric vehicle would produce more greenhouse gases than in our country. Clearly, this means that homo helveticus, behind the wheel, would have a greater influence on global warming by opting for an electric car.

There are still two questions to be raised… What to do with a battery at the end of its life and, above all, with the metals it contains? Here, too, the ecological footprint is not the most immaculate. “Appropriate industrial recycling processes already exist for these batteries,” explains Christian Bauer of the Paul Scherrer Institute. “These raw materials can be easily recovered. Another solution could be to use second-life batteries to store electricity at home.” The second issue more simply concerns the production of electricity in Switzerland to support the conversion of its car fleet – which would imply a 20-25% increase in electricity consumption. Although we have already set the end of nuclear power in 2050, and while electricity shortages threaten the country by 2025, one might ask how to recharge all these batteries in the cleanest way possible. Especially if that energy comes from somewhere else.

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