How does electronics degrade over time
What is the environmental balance of electric cars?
"When a study appears, the assumptions are often out of date because of the dynamics of the market" (Peter Kasten, Öko-Institut)
However, the calculation looks significantly different if real green electricity from additional systems actually flows into the tank. Then the electric cars are unattainably clean in all balance sheets. According to the ifeu study in Heidelberg, around 190 grams of CO are generated in the life cycle of diesel2 per kilometer when you add all the factors together. For electric vehicles with wind power, there are around 60.
Incidentally, there is a national temptation in these numbers. With the significant savings in the usage phase, Germany could improve its own emissions balance and gallantly overlook the fact that the large CO2-Emissions during battery production in Asian countries, especially in China, are recorded. The greenhouse gases, however, change the climate completely regardless of the side of the earth's borders on which they entered the atmosphere.
Fourth chapter: ifs and buts
The interim balance can be shifted in both directions by a number of factors. Disadvantages arise, for example, if the electric car should necessarily have a range of 400 instead of 150 to 200 kilometers. Then it needs a battery twice as large and would have to travel an unrealistic 300,000 kilometers to remove its ecological backpack.
The fact that it is cold and foggy in Germany in the winter half-year also has an influence. The heating and fan of an electric vehicle are always at the expense of the battery, while the heat required in a conventional car is a waste product. In extreme cases, this can increase the consumption of a battery-powered vehicle by half.
Another disadvantage is when electric cars are charged at the wrong time, as soon as there are millions of vehicles. Increased energy demand at a time when little renewable electricity is available can have a negative impact on the electricity mix. The cars should therefore have an intelligent charging controller that can communicate with the network when it is cheap to refuel.
The advantage, on the other hand, is that the official consumption figures for electric cars are similar to those for combustion engines. As annoying as this is because the absolute environmental impact of all vehicles increases, it also increases the difference between the two technologies accordingly. This contributes to the fact that battery-powered vehicles remove their ecological backpack more quickly.
It also has a positive effect on the balance if the vehicles are driven and refueled in Denmark, Austria, Switzerland or another country that has a very high proportion of renewable energy in the electricity mix. In Austria, for example, around 150 grams of CO2 released per kilowatt hour. There, the calculated emissions of a BMW i3 drop from 66 to 19 grams per kilometer of driving distance.
Better batteries, more powerful electronics, more lightweight components: electric cars get cleaner and cleaner over time
E-cars also benefit if the batteries are not run empty or are fully charged, because both of these shorten their lifespan. In addition, the energy storage system heats up excessively if it is to continue accepting electricity over 85 percent of its capacity. Initial experience with Tesla models also shows that the batteries tend to last longer than initially feared.
Another plus point is when electric cars mainly drive in the city. With frequent starting and braking, they regain a lot of kinetic energy, while combustion engines work particularly inefficiently here. The downside is, of course, that electricity-driven vehicles have to carry their heavier weight with them when driving overland - especially if they have a larger battery in order to cover longer distances in one go.
Chapter five: the future
Electric cars get cleaner and cleaner over time. This does not only mean that efficiency gains can be expected with every model change, better batteries, more powerful electronics, more lightweight components. A battery-powered vehicle purchased in 2017 is also likely to be responsible for fewer calculated emissions in 2025 because the electricity mix in Germany is improving.
The Federal Environment Ministry states that the environmental balance per kilometer of an electric car could improve by around a third within its twelve-year lifespan. To do this, the emission factor of electricity would have to be around 350 grams of CO in 20292- Emissions per kilowatt hour fall. According to various scenarios, this is at least possible.
A lot should also happen in the years to come in battery production. Experts expect that as soon as Tesla founder Elon Musk opens his gigafactory for batteries in Nevada that is supposed to consume solar power from its own roof, the quantities of greenhouse gases emitted for energy storage should be halved. Production in a country like Norway or Iceland that use very clean electricity from hydropower and geothermal energy would be even better. Factories in Germany, on the other hand, would be only a small step towards China.
Strictly speaking, this no longer plays a role in the balance sheet calculation for an electric car that is now registered as a new car, because its battery is already manufactured. However, many manufacturers do not even sell their energy storage devices to their customers, but rather rent them out, also to dampen car buyers' worries about the new technology. Should the component therefore have to be replaced, there would be an additional ecological rucksack on top of the life cycle assessment, but this probably with the current, improved production conditions.
In addition, many experts are already thinking about giving car batteries a second life. If the car is at the end and the battery has aged significantly, it may only be due to a few dozen of the thousands of individual cells. Tinkerers could replace them in order to market the battery as "refurbished" afterwards. Or the unit will be installed in some cellar for a few more years in order to absorb the solar power from the roof during the day and to release it again in the evening. This is a simpler task than providing the energy for a courageous start at every traffic light and then storing electricity again a little later when braking sharply.
Daimler has already started similar projects with used smart batteries in Lünen and with a spare parts store for the energy storage in Herrenhaus near Hanover. There are also many ideas for using the batteries of electric cars that are parked in a company parking lot during the day, for example, or recharge at night in the garage at home, as a buffer for network fluctuations. The process is already being tested in Copenhagen.
In each of these cases, the ecological rucksack of battery production would have to be shared between the car and the co-users or subsequent users. How exactly this should be calculated and whether it all works economically at all is not yet known by any expert.
Chapter six: electric cars in traffic
Battery-powered vehicle buyers seem to change their traffic habits and travel a lot with their companions. Perhaps they are guided by the conviction that this is doing something good for the environment, perhaps they want to offset the high purchase price as quickly as possible with the lower running costs. In addition, as at least one Norwegian study shows, around 85 percent of them drive to work by car, while less than half of owners of normal cars do so. Accordingly, electric car users largely disdain bicycles and local public transport.
In environmental research, this is called a rebound effect: Those who buy an environmentally friendly product often tend to use it more often than a regular product, be it an LED lamp or an electric car. That eats up part of the possible savings or even turns the effect into the opposite. In addition, today's electric cars are often tacitly marketed and used as second cars. Only a minority of buyers are replacing their previous car with a battery-powered vehicle.
The electrically powered vehicles could even increase traffic, summarize the Heidelberg experts from the UPI in their detailed study on electric cars. The investigation goes beyond the life cycle assessment in the direction of technology assessment, says institute director Dieter Teufel.
In addition to the change in behavior, there is also a political fact that speaks against the current use of battery-powered vehicles. The fiction that they produce no emissions is based on a political decision in the European Union. The classification should encourage car companies to develop the electric drive, which several experts welcome or at least accept as an incentive comparable to the subsidies for wind turbines.
"But this regulation has no expiry date," complains Dieter Teufel from the UPI. It allows manufacturers to continue selling large, fuel-guzzling off-road vehicles indefinitely. "Their excessive CO emissions2 is then offset by the fiction of the zero-emission electric vehicle without the corporations having to pay fines because the fleet consumption is too high. "In some cases, the corporations are even allowed to count the battery-powered cars multiple times in the balance sheet. Each electric car allows the manufacturers to allow five SUVs sell and save 10,000 euros in fines, Teufel's team intensifies the accusation.
Seventh chapter: conclusion
In the future, electric cars can make a significant contribution to making road traffic more environmentally friendly - some even think that it is the only realistic strategy. To do this, however, the right course must be set today: The production and use of battery-powered vehicles must become more efficient, the electricity for driving should come from additionally built renewable energy sources, and luxury cars with particularly large engines and electricity storage systems are not the best way to go.
In the long run, the attitudes of customers have to change, with a car you can go anywhere at any time with all the comfort you want. In particular, the number of kilometers driven should not increase after the change, because the proportional costs and the effect on the environment appear so low. Those who pay attention to these factors can already make a contribution to environmental protection with an electric car.
Subsequent note by the author: Many reader comments revolve around the question of whether the CO2-Emission in mineral oil production was taken into account. The emissions from the so-called upstream chain of mineral oil products are actually included in the institutes' balance sheets. Only where a comparison between the CO2-Emissions for battery production and the liters of diesel or gasoline are used, this aspect is left out. For example, numbers on the upstream chain can be found here in Table 2 in the bottom two rows and the four columns on the far right.
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