Today, we like to talk about how e-mobility is standing at the threshold of a new golden era, and how combustion engines must be, for environmental reasons, replaced by electric vehicles. Are we really at the brink of a new era? Is e-transport the best way to help save our planet? And why is education in this area crucial?
The onset of e-mobility is, without a doubt, one of the biggest challenges that the automotive industry has ever faced. When we look back into the past, however, this is an interesting paradox. Did you know that e-mobility is actually older than combustion engines? Electric vehicles were able to maintain their lead, in terms of their ergonomics and practicality, for about two decades after the launch of the first petrol car. However, their users progressively demanded a longer range, combustion engine cars got technically improved and, through mass production, they managed to target a wider clientele, one which couldn’t afford an expensive electric car. Back in the day, EVs lost their battle and, at the snap of a finger, they faded into the background. Despite their past, we’re now talking about another golden age of e-mobility, and, increasingly, people are calling for combustion cars to be replaced by electric ones, for environmental reasons. Are we really standing at the threshold of a new era? Is e-transport the way to help save our planet? And why is education in this area so crucial?
WE SHOULD LEARN FROM OUR PAST, DEVELOP NEW TECHNOLOGIES AND ADVANCE IN AN ECO-FRIENDLY WAY
Electric vehicles became the main mode of passenger transport in the US at the turn of the 19th century. At the time, however, people looked at e-mobility from a different perspective. Its success was not a matter of environmental protection, but a result of a short technological window, in which e-vehicles achieved a higher efficiency than steam engines and Henry Ford had not yet begun the mass production of his Model T petrol car. Even though many electric car models were developed in the second half of the 20th century, their sales never exceeded more than a few thousands. Why did EVs not become successful at the time? Firstly, the batteries were technologically immature and the charging infrastructure was lacking. Secondly, the main reason was the cost inefficiency in comparison to combustion engines. Back then, this line of thinking was completely understandable. Today, however, the public should look at e-transport from a different perspective. We should consider this past experience a good foundation for the contemporary developments in e-mobility — learn from the technological flaws of the previous inventions, move forward, and support education that prioritises the importance of sustainable transport. We’re trying to do just that at InoBat Auto. Besides the research, development and manufacturing of the first eco-friendly and intelligent batteries in the world, we’re also aiming to educate the public. Currently, we’re doing so through the year-round educational program BATTERYacademy, which was launched in January. In the first episode, I had a chance to talk a little more about the history, but also functionality, of batteries themselves. If you’re interested in this topic, make sure to have a listen!
Let me travel back in time, once more. The discussion about sustainable transport only caught steam in the 1950s-60s, with the worsening air pollution in big cities. The topic of alternative fuels was raised to a higher, strategic level in the 1970s, after the first oil shocks. Even then, the environmental impact of e-mobility was only considered a positive side-effect. The potential of e-mobility as a global solution for a greener planet was only recognised in the following decade, in the context of global warming. Still, this didn’t lead to a mass implementation of e-vehicles. I feel like real changes are only beginning to happen today, several decades later. In the last few years, the environmental arguments for e-mobility have finally come to the foreground, and these go hand in hand with battery development. The new generation of batteries, which will definitely include the ones made at InoBat, will be safe, fast-charging, with a high capacity and great longevity. The costs are also decreasing. Today, you can pay around 130 USD for a battery pack’s KWh — a price that was 9-times higher in 2010. A big range of subjects is growing more aware of the latest charging trends — from service providers, through developers, energy companies, gas station operators, manufacturers, all the way to programmers. The environmental arguments are the main reason behind the current progress. They have, thankfully, become a matter of political priority — which has led to stricter emission quotas and regulations, forced the director boards of major automotive industry players to put e-mobility on their agenda, and, in the end, started benefitting the consumers.
THERE WILL BE MORE AND MORE ELECTRIC VEHICLES. BUT ARE THEY REALLY A WIN FOR OUR PLANET?
The short answer is YES. The longer one needs to start by explaining to what extent can EVs help us, and under what circumstances. The truth is that the manufacturing of a battery car, by itself, is more demanding in terms of CO2 emissions than that of a traditional car. The size of the battery is an important variable, considering its manufacturing can burden the planet with 2 to 17 tonnes of CO2. The manufacturing of the rest of the vehicle produces around 7-10 CO2. In comparison, the manufacturing of a complete combustion engine car produces “only” 8-10 CO2. It should also be noted, however, that this environmental burden depends on several factors, such as the method of material extraction, logistics, or the energy mix of the country where the cars and batteries are manufactured. It’s true that an electric vehicle can be, fresh out of the factory, up to 2.7 times worse for the environment than a combustion car. Let’s also remember, though, that each coin has two sides.
THE MATH SPEAKS FOR ITSELF!
EVs make up for their initial environmental deficit where operational emissions are concerned. In countries with a low-carbon energy mix, the deficit is made up quickly. In countries where fossil fuels are burned more frequently, the opposite is true. If we compare the most pessimistic production estimates with the operational emissions of an e-car, the US Ministry of Energy notes that a small EV with a 30 kWh battery (e.g. Mini Cooper SE) and annual mileage of roughly 12 000 km, which is used in a state with a “green” energy mix, can make up its deficit in about one year. For a larger electric vehicle with a 100 kWh (e.g. Tesla X), this process could take up to 3.5-4 years. In a state with a bad energy mix, a small car could make up the deficit in roughly 5 years, and a bigger car in up to 18 years. These are the cases where, in the name of protecting the planet, it’s better to choose plug-in hybrids or hybrids — as these have smaller batteries than cars that run solely on electricity, and they still have a lower consumption than combustion engines.
LET’S LOOK EVEN FURTHER…
The European Federation for Transport and the Environment, which also considered the battery’s manufacturing place in its calculations, has reached similar conclusions. Let’s look at an example from France, Poland, and Slovakia. A mid-range EV used in France, with a battery manufactured in the same country and a yearly mileage of around 12 000 km, has an 80% smaller overall environmental footprint than its combustion counterpart. In the case of Poland, which has an energy mix dependent mostly on coal-fired power plants, the electric alternative would still be around 28% more environmentally friendly. Let’s move on to Slovakia, though, where we have a very good foundation for e-mobility. Thanks to our low-carbon energy mix, we can save an amazing 64% of CO2 emissions throughout the lifespan of the same car.
RESPONSIBILITY SHOULD BE TAKEN BY REGULATORS, CAR MANUFACTURERS AND CUSTOMERS
Yes, the numbers speak for themselves, however I’d like to point out one more thing. It still stands, that if you were to annually drive significantly below-average distances on a car with an unnecessarily big battery, and you’d use the car in a country with a high electricity carbon footprint, the electric car wouldn’t be able to make up the deficit created through its manufacturing. However, another extremely important fact is that 30% of EU emissions come from transport, and road transport is responsible for up to 70% of these. It’s incredibly important, then, to consider not just the responsibility of regulators and car manufacturers, but also the responsibility of individual consumers. They should have access to as much information as possible, so that they can make informed decisions as to whether an e-car represents a greener alternative, in their individual circumstances. How can customers access relevant information? Discussions about e-mobility often turn into general debates on battery types or latest EV models, and, of course, they often lead to practical considerations related to cost, charging speeds, ecology, safety, or infrastructure.
In the breadth of publicly available information, how to sort through negative e-mobility facts and distinguish myths from the reality? Here, too, education is the best strategy. The 2nd episode of BATTERYacademy has focused on busting the biggest e-mobility myths — by interviewing Andy Palmer, one of the most prominent figures in the automotive industry. It’s an irrefutable fact that e-mobility will play a key role in energy transformation throughout the 21st century. I’m proud that we are leading the way towards a new world of energy, and that, thanks to working at InoBat, I can also contribute to a more ecological and sustainable future for all of us.
Project Manager in the Board of Directors´ Advisory, InoBat Auto