Image courtesy of Renault Dubai
EVs in any of their version, EV, BEV, PHEV, FCEV, PZEV, etc. are promoted like a solution to all our pollution problems or at least the ones resulting from cars.
Cities and countries are considering the ban of ICE vehicles (Internal Combustion Engine) starting from dates that are so close and ranging from 2025 to 2050; No doubt we're like living a green revolution and an early happening of the future but are EVs really environment friendly?
Battery powered vehicles
Fully battery powered EVs often called BEVs rely on the power used to recharge them for being or not environment friendly.
Let's make it easy and consider for a while that we're now all driving BEVs.
At the planet level and since since 64% of the energy on the planet is still produced by fossil fuels, weather liquid, gaseous or solid (2018 stats: 38% Coal, 23% Gas, 3% Oil, source iea.org), then one can easily tell that such vehicles are "64% emission vehicles" and not zero emission vehicles.
But is it as simple?
First, and at a local level, this simplistic perception can change to better or worse: take the Canadian example where the energy mix for generating electricity is as follows:
Electricity sources in Canada (2018):
If all Canadians were to drive BEVs, then cars in Canada would be 19% emission vehicles. That's already quite better knowing that there are indeed counter-examples which are worse, not better.
Second, and coming back to the planet level, one should not forget that gas is a particularly clean source of energy burning better than gasoline or diesel while the efficiency of a utility size power plant is also higher than the one of a small ICE engine; That makes it better to shift the combustion away from cars and rely on the grid. To complete the efficiency comparison, the electric power train takes it over by far on the ICE power train which adds to the overall gain.
One major issue remains however: how will utilities cope with the increased demand on electricity when a significant amount of electric vehicles will end up hitting the roads? How will the energy mix be impacted? Will it profit to the low carbon sources or to the fossil fuel plants?
Third, and regardless of the extents to which BEVs will end up being cleaner or not, a major advantage will remain and is that cars won't pollute locally anymore, rather add on the pollution generated by the power plants.
This is good news for cities in particular, houses and apartments on each side of a road, pedestrians, bikers, etc.
It could solve partially at least SMOG problems, but this also extends to other kinds of pollution since BEVs generate less noise than ICE vehicles.
Hybrid vehicles do combine an electric motor to a petrol one which result is as efficient as a diesel engine. Any investment to keep making cleaner diesels would have been probably better.
Hybrid vehicles where the electric motor is combined to a diesel engine do constitute a progress over ICE as they generate even less CO2.
The problem for both relies in the fact that the technology consists of coupling an electric motor to an ICE which is technically complicated, expensive and leads to a heavier vehicle.
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles - PHEV
These are hybrid vehicles with an oversized battery that cannot be recharged by the only electricity generated when decelerating or by any recharging device built-in the car itself.
You need then to plug them in for recharging the battery that is however not as large as the one of a BEV.
So you drive a few tens of miles as a 64% emission vehicle, then hundreds of miles as an ICE vehicle.
One wonders if such technology is really worth it. Why not having then a larger battery and getting the rid completely of the ICE even if he range will be lesser.
On the positive side, one can think about commuters who would cross the city on the electric motor then drive on the highway thanks to the ICE...or vice-versa.
Car owners living in suburbs could then benefit from such technology provided the total distance they cross daily is more than what a BEV can offer.
Fuel cell electric vehicles - FCEV
FCEVs are electric vehicles. Their power train is pure electric.
The electricity is not provided by a battery that temporarily stores the grid power, rather a static electricity generator built in the vehicle.
The so called fuel cell, requires a renewable fuel, hydrogen.
When turned into electricity, hydrogen combines to oxygen and the vehicle emits H2O or water vapor if you prefer.
This seems to be the ideal mean of transportation...provided storing and distributing the highly explosive hydrogen are mastered and made available everywhere, also that such highly explosive gas does not lead to explosive crashes.
But things are not as ideal as they would, since water vapor is a greenhouse gas exactly like CO2. CO2 emission by cars had already been boosted by emission standards imposed on ICE engines which worsened the global warming; the new debate is then about measuring how H2O emissions emanating from FCEVs could impact the global warming.
The choice is still between more pollutants and less greenhouse gases or less pollutants against more greenhouse gases...
Since individual transports cannot be completely eradicated regardless if the vehicle is self-driving or not, the various power trains known to engineers and scientists can only generate pollutants or greenhouse gases which are both harmful to our closed system planet.
The solution would consist of rethinking vehicles as a transport mean and come back to the basics of physics and common sense:
Thanks for reading...