In an opinion issued in early October 2022, Ademe (Environmental Transition Agency) shows that electric vehicles have a significantly lower environmental impact than the thermal equivalent, but a real impact nonetheless. It therefore invites us to reconsider its uses.
“Green car”, “zero carbon” or “clean energy”: there is no shortage of slogans when it comes to promoting electric cars. Formulas that are overly optimistic about the reality of the impact of these vehicles on the environment, as shown in the Ademe report, in an opinion of the Environmental Transition Agency published a few days before the Paris Motor Show. Today, electric motors make up 2% of the total fleet, but account for 16% of sales. Considering the ban on the sale of heat engines in 2035 and the achievement of carbon neutrality in 2050, the interest of these vehicles deserved to be clarified.
First of all, an electric car is never “zero carbon”. Its production, and especially the production of its batteries, emits greenhouse gases (causing global warming). Therefore, before traveling the smallest kilometer, an electric car has a carbon “debt” of 5-15 tons of CO equivalent.2, depending on the model. This footprint is 2-3 times larger than the thermal equivalent, Ademe points out.
The production of an electric car has a higher carbon impact than a thermal car
That is why there is interest in the electric car. Logically, an electric car emits incomparably less CO2 than a thermal car that runs on gasoline. This is especially true when the electricity generation is carbon-free (from nuclear or renewables), which is mostly the case in France, but not everywhere (the profits are obviously lower if the electricity is produced by burning coal). As the kilometers go by, the electric car gains an advantage in terms of CO emissions.2. The tipping point for a compact sedan is about 70,000 km.
An electric car emits less CO2 than a thermal car
Finally, considering that it will travel 200,000 km throughout its lifetime, “An electric car driven in France has a carbon footprint 2-3 times lower than a similar thermal model”, Ademe concludes his speech. According to other estimates, this order of magnitude is higher. Considering the carbon impact of extracting and delivering gasoline, the carbon impact of a thermal car is higher than current estimates. On the contrary, given recent advances in battery production, the carbon footprint of electric vehicle production is decreasing. This is how the Transport and Environment NGO, which specializes in these issues and is funded in particular by the European Climate Fund, makes its calculations. “Our own life cycle analysis shows 5 times lower carbon impact for electric cars In France”, its director France, Lucien Mathieu shows.
Reduced air pollution
Greenhouse gas emissions make up a major part of the environmental impact of vehicles, but it is not the only one. What about air pollution? In this regard, the advantage belongs to electric motors that do not emit any exhaust pollutants, especially those that avoid the emission of nitrogen oxides. These toxic gases remain a problem in several French cities, even if emissions from internal combustion cars are greatly reduced thanks to catalytic converters. On the particle side, balance is also beneficial, but less clear. Although electric vehicles emit fewer particles due to wear of brake pads, they nevertheless emit particles and possibly as many particles due to wear of tires in contact with the road and resuspension of dry ones. Moreover, electric vehicles are heavier and have larger wheels.
“Therefore, the electrification of cars does not eliminate all difficulties “, insists Ademe. To minimize them, the size and therefore the weight of electric vehicles and batteries must be questioned. Ademe sets a limit of 60 kWh for battery capacity, which is excessive “Environmental interest is not provided”. However, the reason for choosing this threshold is not well discussed. This type of battery is already significant because it can offer a range of 450 km. Therefore, it is great to replace a car dedicated to household chores, but not enough to replace a thermal car that drives several hundred kilometers a day. “It is these large tires that provide the greatest savings in carbon emissions over the life of the vehicle.Lucien Mathieu emphasizes. Size should be appropriate for use. » Current trends, with an average weight increase of 10 kg per year in cars over 30 years, are the opposite of this reasonable approach! The presentation of the upcoming electric 4L is longer, wider and heavier than its predecessor, suggesting the opposite of a sober approach.
Detach from the model
However, we need to work on sobriety, says Ademe. The use of electric vehicles is necessary, but not sufficient, to eliminate environmental impacts. You need to work at the same time “on reducing travel needs” and “on the transfer of a person from the car to other means of mobility that are less effective” : walking, cycling, public transport, using cars, car sharing, very light vehicles, etc. ” Even electricitythe car is not a sustainable means of transport and does not solve the problems of space, randomness and sedentary lifestyles” Research and Study Group on Intermediates (Gervi) said at the forum. Modeling the use of electric cars on their predecessors means reproducing a certain number of mistakes or creating new ones. Ultra-fast charging as soon as you refuel the battery in 2 minutes will be equivalent to the energy needs of 1500 households at the same time!