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E-MOBILITY Gradual expansion of e-mobility – Benefits to the environment

Feb 17, 2020

The transition from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles plays an important role on a global scale in mitigating man-made climate change. In many markets, electric cars are not necessarily beneficial for the climate at present and in the medium term. Instead, they can even cause up to 30% more CO2 emissions than combustion engines. The article presents an extensive market evaluation conducted on the status quo and the development of the world market as well as key regions.

E-mobility had been undergoing an exponential growth in sales. Under the right circumstances, EVs already contribute significantly to climate protection. In countries that generate only a small proportion of their power from fossil fuels (e.g. France and Norway), an EV saves more than 50% of CO2 emissions over its entire life cycle, compared to an efficient combustion engine. In many key markets such as USA, India, China and even Germany, electricity production is a lot less clean – to the degree that pure EVs or Plug-in Hybrids (PHEV) are only worthwhile to a limited extent or even have a negative impact on the climate in the long-term compared to an efficient combustion engine. Globally, only 26% of the power came from renewable sources in 2017. Even in 2040, according to current forecasts, only 31% of the world’s electricity demand will be provided by renewable energy – as a result, most emissions are only shifted from the engine to a fossil power plant.

Consumer perspective: The significant expense

The higher acquisition costs of EVs are only amortised to a limited extent. Ultimately, an EV will cost a driver an extra five cents per kilometre over their lifetime – in addition to an uncertain resale value. EVs and combustion engines face diverse challenges when it comes to driving restrictions. Range limitations, charging times and charging infrastructure will continue to deter many buyers from purchasing an EV in the near term. On the other hand, internal combustion engines are already subject to occasional local driving bans or registration restrictions, which prove to be quite effective to influence purchase behaviour.

Among these imperfect choices, many consumers will ultimately choose a combustion engine, if it seems to be the best solution for their individual mobility requirements. According to current forecasts, 85% of passenger cars will therefore still be produced with an internal combustion engine in 2025. CO2 emissions for these vehicles must be kept as low as possible.

Batteries – A bottleneck for EVs

Further breakthroughs with regards to battery technology are essential, since batteries are significantly handicapping EVs in several aspects:

  • Significant additional manufacturing costs (around $200 per kWh)

  • High emissions during battery production (150-200 kg per kWh) – a ‘mortgage’ that is difficult to offset even over the entire life cycle

  • Rare raw materials with sharply increasing prices, partly mined in crisis regions (e.g. cobalt)

  • Delivery bottlenecks that delay projects (e.g. Hyundai Ioniq Electric)

  • Limited range discourages potential buyers

48V hybrid technology as a viable alternative

In countries that generate most of their electricity from fossil fuels, a 48V hybrid constitutes the most climate-friendly solution now and is also viable for the long-term. For this, the conventional alternator is replaced by a 48V Boost Recuperation Machine (BRM). It employs the braking force recovery technology (‘recuperation’) familiar from Formula 1 to reduce fuel consumption up to 15%, which will be indispensable for achieving CO2 emission targets in the near and medium term. The solution also proves beneficial for consumers – in contrast to EVs and PHEVs, the additional costs of 48V are amortised through fuel savings.

Key markets: China leading the way

China has established itself as the largest car market in the world and is also leading in terms of EV sales. With a comprehensive package of measures (subsidies, local driving bans for combustion engines, CO2 targets), the government in Beijing continues to actively promote this transformation. In China, however, 70% of the electricity comes from coal, so electric cars keep cities clean, but do not yet make a significant contribution to climate protection.

The other key markets (USA, Europe and India) are similarly struggling with the energy mix. The shift towards EVs is also progressing even more slowly in these countries. USA and Europe in particular face the risk of losing their leadership role in the automotive industry. In all these regions, it is also becoming apparent that the current CO2 targets can only be achieved if emissions from combustion engines are reduced drastically. Especially the 48V and start/stop technologies have an important role to play in this regard.

Courtesy: SEG Automotive

Image Gallery

  • Range of saved/additional CO2 emissions based on energy mix

  • Historical and expected development of battery prices

  • Expected surge in demand for key metals in EV batteries

  • Jato; IHS Markit: Energy Brainpool; International Energy Agency; U.S. Energy Information Administration

  • CO2 footprint small car (50,000 km mileage)

  • CO2 footprint upper middle class (150,000 km mileage)

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