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Electric Cars, the Devil is in the Details

Electric mobility is currently experiencing a major hype as greener and more sustainable ways of transport. However, one should be aware of the disastrous disadvantages associated with having an electric car as means of transport. An electric car is not ecological and produces carbon dioxide. In addition the mining of raw materials for the Lithium-ion batteries is on the back of child labor and done under catastrophic work conditions.

Electric Cars are not CO2 neutral

Electric car manufacturers like to state that their cars are CO2 neutral. But is this actually true? E-mobility is not CO2-neutral at all. In fact if we speak about electric cars, then we can see just a separation of CO2 production and mobility. CO2 is produced when manufacturing the Lithium-ion battery.  In addition there are CO2 emissions resulting from the production of electricity. Depending on the country and the local electricity mix electricity from conventional sources can make a significant contribution to the overall  energy mix. For example in Germany the contribution of non-renewable energy was 59.8% in 2018. In total 45.5% of the electricity mix was generated by burning fossil fuels (i.e. brown & black coal and natural gas). In this article I will present a more realistic comparison of electric and petrol powered cars than outlined by M. Bertau, M. Kraft, L. Plass and H-J. Wernicke in their book “Methanol-der Kraftstoff, der uns morgen antreibt”. Here we are going to compare the electric car Peugeot iON with the  equivalent petrol engined car Peugeot 108. For the purpose of the analysis we assume that the cars drove a total distance of 150’000km. The lifetime of a Lithium-ion battery in this car category lasts approximately for  70’000km to 80’000km. Which means that we would need two Lithium-ion batteries in our calculation.

Peugeot iON: For the production of one Lithium-ion battery 2.8 t CO2 is generated, i.e. 5.6 t CO2 for both batteries. According to Peugeot the energy consumption is 183Wh/km. In the German energy mix the CO2 production caused by electricity is 446 g CO2/KWh.  We further assume that there is a 1%/100km energy loss for rectification, 1%/km loss for transport and 20%/km loss for transformation. This leads to a total CO2 pollution of 14.94 t CO2. Adding the CO2 pollution from manufacturing the battery we end up the electric car producing 20.53 t CO2 in total.

Peugeot 108: According to Peugeot the Peugeot 108  has a fuel consumption of 4.1 L/100km and has a CO2 pollution of between 85 g/km and 95 g/km depending on the version and features of the car. Assuming worst case scenario of 95 g/km the CO2 pollution produced by the car after 150’000 km is 15.25 t CO2. This number need adjusted  by carbon emission  for oil production,  oil refining and transportation of oil and petrol, i.e. the carbon emission number needs  to be increased by 15% to 19%. Again we will take worst case scenario of 19% increase. This leads to a total pollution of 16.96 t CO2 for the petrol fueled car, which is 15% lower than for the equivalent electric car.

Electric car success backed by suffering of 35’000 children of DRC

But  pollution through CO2 emission is not the worst of aspect of electric cars. The Lithium-ion batteries have strong  negative ecological and social effects. Lithium-ion batteries are mainly made from cobalt, nickel, manganese, lithium and graphite.  In this article we will focus on cobalt only as this is the biggest problem in my point of view.

The amount of cobalt reserves is estimated to be 7.1 mio tones globally. 3.4 mio tones are located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is equal to nearly 50% of world reserves. Therefore cobalt is mainly mined in the  Democratic Republic of the Congo (“DRC”) – more than 60% of global production. Even there are labor laws in DRC (introduced in 1967) which prohibit child labor and set standards for work safety, these laws cannot be enforced because of the high degree of corruption.  According to the  Corruption Perception Index 2018 published by Transparency International  Democratic Republic of the Congo is on place 162 out of 180 countries, which means that DRC is very corrupt.  There are more than 35’000 children  which is 40% of total working population is working in the cobalt mines in across the “copper belt” of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The age of the children working in the artisan mines can go as low as 6 years.  This children have to work under disastrous working conditions with no work safety.  Usually this mines are just holes in the earth which have a length in the double digit area. Current cobalt demand is 100’000 t per year, which is expected to increase to 122’000 t by 2035 and to 190’000 by 2050. This means that going forward we can expect even more children to work under this disastrous conditions to support our phones and e-mobility.

One Reply to “Electric Cars, the Devil is in the Details”

  1. This article is very convincing. It is the only article I have seen where the CO2 production of the combustion engine has been increased by reflecting CO2 emissions in oil refinery and delivery.

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