Now that EVs going mainstream is just a matter of when not if, it is time to take a critical look at EVs and their ability to achieve the stated intention of reducing emissions. Here’s a piece in The Guardian, not by an environmentalist or an automobile industry expert but the legendary comedian and actor Rowan Atkinson (of Mr Bean fame). Atkinson claims he has been an early adopter of electric cars. However, he reckons replacing internal combustion engine (ICE) based cars with electric powered ones isn’t as straight forward a case as once thought to be.
“In advance of the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow in 2021, Volvo released figures claiming that greenhouse gas emissions during production of an electric car are nearly 70% higher than when manufacturing a petrol one. How so? The problem lies with the lithium-ion batteries fitted currently to nearly all electric vehicles: they’re absurdly heavy, huge amounts of energy are required to make them, and they are estimated to last only upwards of 10 years. It seems a perverse choice of hardware with which to lead the automobile’s fight against the climate crisis.”
He reckons there are better fuels that should be explored to replace the unintended malaise of lithium-ion batteries.
“Hydrogen is emerging as an interesting alternative fuel, even though we are slow in developing a truly “green” way of manufacturing it. It can be used in one of two ways. It can power a hydrogen fuel cell (essentially, a kind of battery); the car manufacturer Toyota has poured a lot of money into the development of these. Such a system weighs half of an equivalent lithium-ion battery and a car can be refuelled with hydrogen at a filling station as fast as with petrol.”
But the most important point he makes is that we shouldn’t be junking the good old IC engine after all, for two reasons – First:
“The biggest problem we need to address in society’s relationship with the car is the “fast fashion” sales culture that has been the commercial template of the car industry for decades. Currently, on average we keep our new cars for only three years before selling them on, driven mainly by the ubiquitous three-year leasing model. This seems an outrageously profligate use of the world’s natural resources when you consider what great condition a three-year-old car is in. When I was a child, any car that was five years old was a bucket of rust and halfway through the gate of the scrapyard. Not any longer. You can now make a car for £15,000 that, with tender loving care, will last for 30 years. It’s sobering to think that if the first owners of new cars just kept them for five years, on average, instead of the current three, then car production and the CO2 emissions associated with it, would be vastly reduced. Yet we’d be enjoying the same mobility, just driving slightly older cars.
We need also to acknowledge what a great asset we have in the cars that currently exist (there are nearly 1.5bn of them worldwide). In terms of manufacture, these cars have paid their environmental dues and, although it is sensible to reduce our reliance on them, it would seem right to look carefully at ways of retaining them while lowering their polluting effect. Fairly obviously, we could use them less. As an environmentalist once said to me, if you really need a car, buy an old one and use it as little as possible.”
Second, after all the problem with IC engines are not the engine but the fuel:
“Formula One is going to use synthetic fuel from 2026. There are many interpretations of the idea but the German car company Porsche is developing a fuel in Chile using wind to power a process whose main ingredients are water and carbon dioxide. With more development, it should be usable in all petrol-engine cars, rendering their use virtually CO2-neutral.”
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