Exploring the Environmental Effects of Electric Cars

Exploring the Environmental Effects of Electric Cars

Can you imagine the weight of 1.8 billion tonnes? I can’t. I can only try to put this number in relation to others. 1.8 billion tonnes, that’s the weight of all carbon emissions caused by private transport in 2009. 1,8 billion tonnes, that’s 6,4% of the total carbon emissions from fuel combustion, emitted by all countries and all sectors in 2009 (see IEA’s 2011 “highlights” report on CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion, page 67).

Sustainable Strategies: Drive Less, Use the Bus, Get an Electric Car

1,8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, blown in the atmosphere, that’s what happens when more and more people have a fossile fuel powered car, and when more and more people drive more and more miles with their fossile fuel powered car. When our common goal is limiting global warming to 2° Celsius, we need to drive less. And we need to use public transport. And we need the electric car.

These three solutions are typical representatives of the sustainable strategies. Driving less clearly represents the sufficiency approach. Using public transport somehow resides between consistency and efficiency, while the electric car, obviously, focusing on technical progress, represents the efficiency approach.

And that’s where we have to be particularly critical. There are many cases, where technical solutions did not solve a problem, but transmitted the problem’s effects to the future, and sometimes generated a bunch of new problems you could never have imagined beforehand.

Complete Life Cycle Reveals Detailed Environmental Impact

Even though I love the idea of silent, renewably powered electrical cars, I believe that we should evaluate every new technical approach with calm deliberation. Luckily, there are always some wise people, who remain focused on holistic thinking, in spite of the euphoria of the moment. Concerning e-mobility, the project eLCAr supported by the European Commission is a step towards holistic life cycle assessment of different cars by providing guidelines and recommendations for doing LCA in e-mobility. It will be based on the ILCD Handbook and will refer to the results of projects of the Green Car Initiatives, a Public Private Partnership.

Solving the Limited Mileage Issue: Battery Swap Stations 

The limited mileage of a 100% electric car is an issue many of us are familiar with, especially those who considered buying one of the increasingly available electric car models themselves. Even though the vast majority of car trips are short-distance trips, we seem to need the theoretical possibility to drive far away. We suffer from some kind of emergency-exit escape complex, it seems to me…

Aiming at a breakthrough for electric mobility, Shai Agassi and his company Better Place, cooperate with several countries to offer nationwide recharging infrastructure, including battery changing stations. Empty battery out, fully charged one in, there you go.

Here’s a video showing that the automated battery change only takes one minute:


Perfect Distribution of Battery Change Stations

Where to locate these stations, is what explored a team of eight students from Oldenburg, Germany. In their project eCarUs (not to confuse with the other eCarUs project in Munich, where students built their own electric buggy), they provide us with an algorithm and a sophisticated software for optimal locations of battery swap stations. Because eCarUs also explores the possibilities of smart navigation for car drivers, the project team was rewarded with the German youth informatics award 2011. The smart navigation is able to reserve batteries at a certain station, compare prices and calculate the remaining mileage.

I hope these two projects, eLCAr and eCarUs provide an attractive insight into the challenges of the electric car era. By the way, Germany officially expects 1 million e-cars on German streets, in nine years from now!

Article picture edited by Moritz Bühner. Original picture by David Villarreal Fernández shows the 2009 Renault Z.E. Concept at Geneva Motor Show.


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