THE ALL-ELECTRIC FUTURE: NOT SO BRIGHT AFTER ALL?

EVs are, without doubt, the future of personal transportation.

But that future is far, far beyond the 2030 cutoff date for the last internal combustion engine vehicles to be produced for the UK. And if that sounds a bit controversial – because of climate change – then you’ll really want to read this all the way through…

There are one billion passenger cars in the world today, all of which are increasing the CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere. CO2 levels are indeed rising – this is irrefutable. But what is causing CO2 levels to rise?

Cars with internal combustion engines are absolutely contributing to the problem. If you put a box around a normal petrol or diesel-powered vehicle, ran it, and then measured the air inside the box – you’d find CO2 (amongst other things).

But if you put a box around an EV, ran it, and then tried to measure CO2 – you wouldn’t find any. And that’s how we come to the conclusion that EVs are “zero emission” vehicles.

What if we told you that this is completely wrong?

Let’s say we’ve expanded our imaginary box to include everything; not just the CO2 output of the vehicle, but the CO2 input… The amount of carbon released during its manufacture, transport – and sourcing its power.

And all of a sudden, EVs start looking dirtier than diesel itself.

We humans get most of our power globally from coal. But that isn’t sustainable, so we also burn natural gas and oil. All of these produce CO2, and so – are not sustainable either. So, we’re trying to transition into solar panels and wind power, at least in western countries. But we have to look at things on a global scale; how much of the world’s electricity is produced by burning fuel which creates CO2?

About two-thirds. 

Which means that the likelihood that any given electric vehicle is producing CO2 from being charged up is extremely high. It just isn’t being measured.

The automotive industry cleverly found a way to move the problem, not solve the problem. Measure the output, not the input.

And things look even worse when you realise how much emissions are produced during the life of the vehicle.

Cars get scrapped after around 180,000 miles on average. And over those 180,000 miles, a conventional ICE vehicle would have produced about 30 tons of CO2.

But a huge amount of CO2 is produced just by making a vehicle. You have to dig raw materials out of the ground, transport those materials into factories where they can be formed into car parts, before finally being assembled into vehicles.

Each step requires energy, which is likely to create CO2.

A conventional vehicle arrives in the showroom having generated about 6 tons of CO2.

What about the EV? Well, making a battery isn’t easy.

The materials required are harder to find and more intensive to mine. Components and raw materials travel all around the world to come together. In short, a battery cell requires a huge amount of energy to produce. And so, a typical EV has produced about 12 tons of CO2 before it has even driven a single mile.

You’d have to drive it around 90,000 miles before you offset that CO2 penalty. And this brings us to range, which isn’t just a convenience problem.

A normal ICE vehicle has a 400 mile range. A typical EV might have a 125 mile range. That’s not really comparable – so really we need to be comparing a 400 mile range electric vehicle. But  a longer range requires a larger battery, which means a larger CO2 penalty… and now you start to see the problem.

Over its expected lifetime, a comparable EV has emitted more CO2 than a conventional vehicle. It has contributed more to climate change than the conventional vehicle.

It’s produced more CO2 – but we’ve measured none, because we tried to measure the exhaust fumes alone. Still happy to continue to call these zero emission vehicles?

We want to be clear, though; we’re not against progress! EVs are the future, for sure. Just not the immediate future. We need to find cleaner battery tech, and cleaner ways of producing power on a global scale.

And until then? We should go all-in on hybrids.

Hybrids are far more efficient than conventional vehicles. At low speeds, where the engine is inefficient, the electric motor compensates. But the really important part about a hybrid is that it has a small battery – so the initial CO2 penalty is similar to a conventional vehicle, but the end of life emissions are far lower.

We could be decades away from the all-electric future. But we’ll only get there by seeing personal transportation as an ecosystem – and not just the isolated stats in emissions testing.

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