The European Commission’s ‘Green Deal’ last week again drew clear criticism from some observers: All electric cars needed to meet the stricter carbon dioxide limits would have the opposite effect, or at least they would. . The ecological impact is clearly overestimated: battery production requires enormous energy, especially when the coated cell sheets are dried. And then there’s the energy mix: so much electricity still comes from coal and gas power plants.
An in-depth analysis of the non-profit organization ICCT (International Council on Clean Transportation) is devoted precisely to these questions – and leads to a clear result: battery cars are already significantly more environmentally friendly than vehicles with gasoline and diesel. Calculated from the production of battery cells to decommissioning, the emissions of the compact class would be 66-69% lower than those of comparable new combustion engines. Due to the constant improvement of the electricity mix in Europe – that is to say the increase in energy produced sustainably from wind and sun, for example – this “emissions advantage” will pass. to around 74 to 77% in 2030, according to experts at ICCT the research and use of analysis in the field of transport. If an electric car were to run entirely on electricity from renewable energies, its CO₂ balance would be up to 81% lower than that of a small gasoline car when stopped.
Hybrid vehicles could help reduce greenhouse gases, but the benefit is only 20% less emissions. Natural gas vehicles, on the other hand, would have little benefit, as would the addition of biofuels.
Taking into account the so-called climate neutrality objective in Europe in 2050 and an assumed lifespan of vehicles of 18 years, the ICCT now recommends that new registrations of combustion engines expire no later than 2035. This opinion is roughly in line with the Commission’s plans, which, however, have not yet been finalized. The European Commission led by President Ursula von der Leyen wants to reduce CO₂ emissions directly on the vehicle – that is, fuel consumption – by 55% by 2030. From 2035, only vehicles without emissions must be registered.
The auto industry, however, is concerned about whether charging networks are efficient enough across the continent and underlines the far-reaching consequences for factories and jobs. However, various car manufacturers have already adapted to these goals, such as Stellantis (Opel, Citroën, Peugeot, Fiat), the VW group and Volvo. Daimler is also expected to declare his willingness to follow that schedule this week.
ICCT surveys carry a certain weight. This think tank is supported by the European Commission and the Federal Environment Agency and helped uncover the diesel scandal at Volkswagen in 2015. For the current analysis, ICCT researchers assessed the available literature and current production data. The mass of data provides a better picture than individual studies on the life cycle carbon footprint of electric cars and combustion engines, which often lead to very contradictory results, although this is also due to methodological shortcomings. For a clear comparison between combustion engines and electric vehicles, for example, the energy consumption for the production of both types of cars, including the battery of the electric vehicle should be included, as well as the expenditure for recycling of battery or gasoline or diesel production.
In addition, the assumptions on the composition of the electricity used must be realistic, both for the production of the battery and for the operation of the electric car; Just recently, for example, an international research group led by Thomas Koch of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) announced the diesel engine with an open letter to Brussels and a position paper, arguing that the additional demand for electric cars makes all of the electricity generated dirtier – which experts immediately weakened.
All aspects of the life cycle considered
ICCT’s current analysis examines all aspects of the life cycle of different types of vehicles – from vehicle and battery production to fuel or electricity production to recycling. Emissions from battery production are expected to be significantly lower than in previous studies, which the researchers justify with a more accurate calculation model based on industrial data. Due to the great uncertainty, savings from recycling batteries have not been included. On the other hand, emissions from the construction of additional wind turbines and solar parks are included.
The ICCT has only considered incinerators that run on synthetic fuels produced from hydrogen, as such fuels are unlikely to be available in large quantities in the foreseeable future. The researchers estimate, however, that electricity consumption per kilometer is probably about six times that of a pure electric car and twice that of a fuel cell car running on green hydrogen.