[Chronique de Gérard Bérubé] slow electric turn

Until the ban on the sale of new gasoline vehicles from 2035, the transition to zero emissions remains strongly influenced by the level of prices at the pump. As for the overall impact of this transition, much remains to be demonstrated.

A survey conducted for the manufacturer BMW by Maru/Blue of over 1,200 Canadian licensed drivers in all provinces indicates that four out of five respondents are concerned about the level of gas prices and the operation of their internal combustion vehicle that this entails. But they are 25% considering purchasing an electric vehicle (EV) within two years.

The results of another survey published in June by the company EY among people looking to buy a car underlined that 46% of them looked to the side of EVs. That’s a spike and increase of 11 percentage points from 2021, which was more a reflection of rising gasoline prices than a sudden environmental epiphany, and which was still below the global average of 52%. British Columbia (54%) and Quebec (51%) respondents expressed the greatest interest.

Environmental motivations also seemed to be subordinated to rising fuel prices. The main barrier to buying an EV was the initial price, for 66% of respondents in the 2021 EY survey. This reluctance was mentioned by only 38% of respondents last June. Many of them said they would be willing to pay more. Among them, 80% confirm they are willing to pay a supplement, and nearly two-thirds of consumers would not mind paying up to 20% more, we were able to read.

But despite the good intentions, it emerged from the research that much remains to be done to put the necessary charging infrastructure in place. The charging capacity and speed, as well as concerns about the variety of EVs, discourage buyers. There are also doubts about the raw materials used in the manufacture of vehicles and the volume of batteries.

the chinese example

Especially since the overall impact of this transition from gasoline to electric on the environmental footprint is still difficult to define. One can think of the lack of scientific consensus on the climate impact of the zero-emission vehicle when its entire life cycle, including recycling, is taken into account. The nature or origin of the battery’s power source cannot be ignored either.

Environmental expert Will Dubitsky gives the example of the Chinese economy, which is heavily fueled by coal. He recalled on his website, Green Transition, that China is home to the world’s largest vehicle market – 1.7 times the US market. Electric vehicle sales accounted for 30% of all new passenger vehicle sales in August. “If the growth rate seen to date continues, new vehicle sales in China will be 80% to 100% all-electric by 2025,” he wrote. But that said, what do you think?

towards plastic

Will Dubitsky adds that the transport sector monopolizes 60% of the world’s oil consumption and that road transport accounts for 80%. With the transition to electric vehicles becoming the “new normal”, the oil industry is being forced to realign itself. Recognizing the impacts of migrating to renewables and electric vehicles, large fossil fuel companies are refocusing their investments on petrochemicals – plastics in particular – products that traditionally accounted for 10% of oil consumption.

The gas sector is also interested. Particularly shale, which suffers from an excess due to cost reduction. “Shale gas is becoming the fossil fuel of choice for the production of plastics. Natural gas from fracking sources reduces the raw material cost by two-thirds,” writes Dubitsky.

The International Energy Agency predicts that plastic production will double by 2040 to represent the fastest growing segment of the oil industry in the next decade, and reach half the increase in oil demand by mid-century, it points out.

Research and consulting firm Wood MacKenzie’s assessment predicts growth of around 10 million tonnes per year in the petrochemical sector by 2050, fueled primarily by plastics and other related products. The transformation of ethane into ethylene is highly greenhouse gas generator, it is insisted, and this operation requires large amounts of water.

In addition, advanced plastic waste recycling methods pose a problem. At least, they still haven’t been able to demonstrate that the process works. The US organization Natural Resources Defense Council called advanced plastic recycling harmful to the environment. “Of the 30 advanced recycling facilities around the world, all are operating at a conservative level of production or have been closed,” highlights Will Dubitsky.

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