The dirt on ‘clean’ electric cars is just under the hood

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Under the hoods of millions of clean electric cars that roll on the roads of the world in the coming years is a dirty battery.

Every major car manufacturer has plans for electric vehicles to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but their manufacturers generally produce lithium-ion batteries in places with some of the most polluting networks in the world.

By 2021, there will be capacity to build batteries for more than 10 million cars that run on 60 kilowatt-hour packs, according to Bloomberg NEF data. Most supply comes from places such as China, Thailand, Germany and Poland that depend on non-renewable sources such as coal for electricity.

"We are faced with a bow wave with extra CO2 emissions," says Andreas Radics, managing partner at Berylls Strategy Advisors, automotive consultant in Munich, who states that drivers in Germany or Poland are still better off with an efficient diesel engine.

The findings, from the more bearish around, show that while electric cars are emission-free on the road, they still discharge many of the carbon dioxide that conventional cars do.

Just to build every car battery – weighing more than 1,100 pounds for utilities – would emit up to 74 percent more C02 than an efficient conventional car if it was made in a plant powered by fossil fuels in a place like Germany, according to Beryll & # 39; s findings.

However, regulators have not established clear guidelines for acceptable carbon emissions during the life cycle of electric cars, even if countries such as China, France and the United Kingdom switch to outright bans from combustion engines.

"It comes down to where the battery is made, how is it made and even where do we get our electricity from," says Henrik Fisker, CEO of Fisker Inc., a California-based developer of electric vehicles.

For the perspective, the average German car owner could drive a gas-consuming vehicle three or a half years, or more than 50,000 kilometers, before a Nissan Leaf with a 30 kWh battery would beat it with the carbon dioxide emissions in a coal-laden country, estimates by Berylls show.

And that is one of the smallest batteries on the market: BMW i3 has a 42 kWh battery, the upcoming EQC crossover from Mercedes has an 80 kWh battery and the e-tron from Audi is 95 kWh.

With such heavy batteries, the CO2 footprint of an electric car can become quite large, even outside the showroom, depending on how it is charged. Driving in France, which is highly dependent on nuclear power, will emit far less CO2 than Germany, where 40 percent of the electricity grid burns on coal.

"It's not a big change to go from diesel to German coal," said Peter Carlsson, CEO of NorthVolt AB, a former Tesla manager who is trying to build a 4 billion euro ($ 4.6 billion) battery plant in Sweden would work on hydropower. "Electric cars will be better in all respects, but of course, when batteries are made in a coal-based electricity system, it will take longer" to surpass diesel engines, he said.

To be sure, other studies show that even in coal-dominating Poland, the use of an electric car would emit 25 percent less carbon dioxide than a diesel car, according to Transport & Environment Brussels, a body that lobbies at the European Union for a sustainable environmental policy.

The advantage of driving battery devices in cities will be immediate: their silent engines will reduce noise pollution and reduce toxicity, such as nitrous oxide, a chemical compound spewed by diesel engines and dangerous to air quality and human health.

"In the center of Oslo, Stockholm, Beijing or Paris, the most direct consideration is to improve air quality and quality of life for the people who live there," says Christoph Stuermer, the global chief analyst for PricewaterhouseCoopers Autofacts.

But electric cars are not as clean as they could be. Simply switching to renewable energy for production would reduce emissions by 65 percent, according to Transport & Environment. In Norway, where hydroelectric power drives virtually the entire electricity grid, the Berylls study showed that electric cars produce nearly 60 percent less CO2 during their lifetime compared to even the most efficient fueled vehicles.

As it is now, an electric car pumps "significantly" more climate-warming gases than a conventional car, which at this stage only releases 20 percent of the CO 2 lifetime, according to estimates from Mercedes-Benz's electrical drive system integration department. .

"The life-cycle emissions in electric vehicles depend on the degree to which the car is driven to reach a crossroads on diesel engines," said Ola Kallenius, the board member of Daimler AG, which will take over the role of CEO next year. Motor Show this month. "By 2030 the problem with the life cycle will improve."

Some manufacturers have responded to the demand to produce batteries in a more sustainable way. Tesla uses solar energy on its Gigafactory for batteries in Nevada and has plans for similar installations in Europe and Shanghai. Chinese firm Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. is also looking for the power of his future German factory with renewable energy sources.

"The topic of CO2 lifetime evaluations is starting to get a better grip," Radics said at Berylls. "Car manufacturers must be transparent in this discussion to avoid troubling buyers."