Diesel scandal, emissions scandal, particulate matter emissions – the good reputation of classic petrol and diesel cars has been significantly damaged in recent months by a number of scandals and studies. Electric cars, on the other hand, are experiencing an ever-increasing boom as an environmentally friendly alternative.
But are they really so gentle on the environment? We took a closer look at the life cycle assessment of electric cars and checked whether, from an ecological point of view, it was really worthwhile to invest in electronically operated vehicles.
ARE ELECTRIC CARS ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY?
Electric cars are often cited as a solution to the climate problems caused by car traffic. Politicians also see the increasing integration of electric cars into road transport as an opportunity to reduce CO2emissions and particulate matter pollution. About ten years ago, the Chancellor called for one million electric cars to roll on German roads by 2020. However, Merkel has now had to revise this quite ambitious government target, since the share of electric cars in Germany, despite the premium, is currently only at a low 0.7 percent. The implementation of the planned project therefore seems extremely unrealistic.
Nevertheless, there are good reasons why more and more motorists are choosing to buy an electric car. The reputation that precedes this is usually decisive for sales: while diesel cars count as the biggest polluters in road traffic, electric cars powered by car electricity from an ecological origin are regarded as a clean and, above all, environmentally friendly alternative. But is the positive image of electric vehicles really justified? Are they really more environmentally friendly than vehicles with classic internal combustion engines? In order to be able to make statements about the life cycle balance of an electric car, several factors must be taken into account, such as production and electricity supply.
CONSUMPTION AND RANGE OF ELECTRIC CARS
Larger and heavier vehicles tend to have higher power consumption, of course. The differences between the individual electric models in terms of range and consumption are still very large at the moment. The highest range does not necessarily have the energy-efficient vehicle at the moment, but is mainly achieved by large battery capacities. This is why the Tesla models with a range of 451 kilometers differ best compared to the competition, according to the ADAC Ecotest. The ranges determined by ADAC vary between 112 and 451 kilometers for the different models. The vehicles consume between 14.7 kWh and 28.1 kWh per 100 kilometers.
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THE ECO-BALANCE OF ELECTRIC CARS
Studies relating to the environmental performance of electric cars have come to contradictory results in terms of the life cycle assessment. The entire life path, from production to useful life to disposal, was included in the analyses. A study by the German Federal Environment Agency for Humans and the Environment finds that electric cars perform better in their life cycle assessment than cars with internal combustion engines. A similar study carried out on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management in Austria comes to a similar conclusion. Here, too, the life cycle was better when looking at the entire life cycle of electric cars compared to cars with internal combustion engines.
According to a study by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Heidelberg, electric cars have a similar climate balance to cars with internal combustion engines, as they require significantly more energy in their production: In the production of their highly complex accumulators, tons of greenhouse gases are produced, which are released and thus pose a great burden on our planet – comparable to the pollutants that a conventional combustion engine emits in traffic within eight years. This was the conclusion of researchers from Sweden who found a negative climate balance in terms of production based on a meta-study published in 2017.
LITHIUM BATTERIES IN ELECTRIC CARS
The batteries for electric cars are extremely worrying for several reasons. In addition to the water-intensive extraction of lithium, the raw material cobalt is also used in their production. This resource, too, is only available to a limited extent, so its extraction is extremely expensive – at the expense of nature. Many of the raw materials also come from China or the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the promotion not only violates human rights, but also the environment is increasingly destroyed by the pollution of rivers and soils.
Another problem you need to consider when you’re playing with the idea of getting an electric car is the question of where to go with the battery? Lithium cannot be recycled yet. While many scientists and experts are working on a way to reuse the batteries of electric cars, research has not yet gone that far. In the future, therefore, a number of changes will have to be made in battery technology in order to implement an environmentally friendly recycling process.